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Jul 28, 2003
How To

ING DIRECT's Banner Secrets & Samples: How to Acquire New Customers from Low-cost Banner Ads

SUMMARY: If you ever see banners from ING DIRECT when you're surfing, stop for a minute to pay your marketing respects. The folks at ING are truly number crunchers and testers. If a campaign is running for a while - that means it's working really well. In fact ING's VP Marketing Jurie Pieterse told us that banners have the best cost-per-acquisition of any marketing tactic they use right now. Wow. Here are his tips on:
o Creative
o Media selection
o Results tracking
"Everyone says banners have a pathetically low clickthrough rate," says Jurie Pieterse, VP of Web Marketing, ING DIRECT. "But we've proven that they can be a successful staple of a direct response campaign."

In fact ING DIRECT's banner campaign for their Orange Savings Account, got them new customers at a lower CPA than any other campaign they ran.

Through testing and re-testing (see link to samples of more than two dozen banner tests below), Pieterse learned what works in six key areas.

-> #1. Creative Tips : Spend the money to test different ads

"It's difficult to find that balance if you're spending just a little money online, where the cost of developing creative is a large part of the budget," Pieterse says. "But as your campaign grows, spending a little bit on new creative is small if it increases your clickthrough rate."

By developing different creative units and testing them, Pieterse learned to make the best use of color, animation, and text.

For example, he discovered:

- ING DIRECT consistent use of the color orange really works. It stands out without being flashy or irritating. Changing it would only lessen consumer recognition.

- Animation works well, but only in moderation. "You want to attract attention, but don't want to be cheap," Pieterse says. "Try to keep it simple."

- Though it's tempting to cram every last selling feature into an ad, people just won't read it. So, text should focus only on one single key message.

ING focused on what sets the Orange Savings Account apart from competitors' offers: great rate, no fees, no minimum -- just enough to get consumers to investigate further.

-> #2. Media selection: Predicting results is impossible.

Analyzing the audience and metrics of each potential site before advertising doesn't always go far enough.

Pieterse and his team tried it and learned that they're not great at predicting the performance of an ad on a particular site.

Instead, they learned to look at past performance of ads on the site similar to the one they were considering. They also looked at the historical performance of their own ads on other sites that were of the same unit size being offered on the new site.

Then -- you guessed it -- they tested and tracked, often every day. "The first two or three weeks with a new publisher or ad, we track on a daily basis," Pieterse says. "After that, only once a week."

The first few weeks are enough time for Pieterse to know whether the ad is working.

If it doesn't meet expectations, he works with the publisher to explore different placements and creative. Then, only after working actively with the publisher, will he pull an ad if it still doesn't live up to expectations.

This is a very different tactic from media buyers who yank ads only a few hours or days if they don't perform.

-> #3. Results tracking: Look beyond Cost Per Click (CPC).

Beyond cost-per-click and the number of new customers acquired, Pieterse's team track cost of acquisition, what balance the customer originally deposited, and how profitable a customer they became.

He learned that knowing when in a new account's lifetime to track is critical.

"When people open an Orange account online, they start with a small balance. They want to test drive it before they deposit more money to make sure it's for real," he says. "So the initial perception would be that this isn't working, but if you look at it 60 days later, that customer is becoming very profitable."

-> #4. Landing pages: Different pages for different consumers.

When Pieterse and his team began out testing different landing pages, they hoped they would find one champion page that would out-perform all others.

No such luck.

"It differs from what kind of audience or site the business comes from," Pieterse says.

For the financially savvy Bloomberg audience, a page comparing the ING account to other national accounts, with lots of financial details and graphs, works well.

With a more consumer-focused audience, that didn't fly. A simpler page, with some of the icons from the TV advertising and without the graphs, performed better.

-> #5. Completion rate: Boosting completed registrations.

Getting people to fill out registration forms is always a challenge, and opening a savings account online requires even more information than most.

Consumers expect that opening a savings account will be a long, painful process -- and this may actually have worked to ING's advantage.

So, ING's forms feature reassuring copy that explains to customers that they can open an account far more quickly than they think: "Open and fund your Orange Savings Account in less than five minutes!" It goes on to tell them right up front exactly what info they'll be asked to divulge.

"Being up front in terms of what they can expect helps us in terms of completion rates," Pieterse says.

-> #6. Search engine listings: Different text strings can double performance.

Pieterse found that "We could get double or triple the performance and it could be the result of changing one or two words."

But because changes in interest rates or even what competitors are doing can affect performance, Pieterse and his team go two or three weeks before they change a text string.

"You need to test long enough to be sure that outside variables aren't affecting it," he says.

For example, he changed one listing to include the words, "Open in less than 5 minutes," and it yielded a 23% increase in click- through rate.

He also learned to monitor search engines frequently for companies infringing on trademark or using it to mislead consumers.

That's a result of simple manual labor, he says. "We go into search engines and type search strings and see if people come up in paid-for listings where the title text would say ING DIRECT but it would take you to a competitor Web site."

Finding that, they go straight to the advertiser who's doing it and explain why it's an infringement. They find that it's more efficient to approach the advertiser directly than to have, say, Google do it.

"I don't want to create the impression that it's a Wild West outlaw area," Pieterse says, "but it's worth checking."

Two useful links related to this interview:

-> ING DIRECT won Best in Show at the 2002 AD:TECH Awards. The entry forms for the 2003 Awards are now available if you have a campaign you'd like to submit. Here's a link to more info:

-> Link to inspirational samples of two-dozen ING Direct banners - including the awards winners:
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