For the past 18 months Libby Hankey, Net Marketing Specialist for
MLT Vacations, has faced the local online ad challenge.
The brand she's promoting, Worry Free Vacations, only originates
flights in 10 airports - such as Denver, Minneapolis/St Paul, and
Dallas. Plus, in these markets, she has to compete against the
big nationals such as Travelocity.
We interviewed Hankey for her six tips and lessons on what works:
-> Tip #1. Measure local campaigns over time - not over clicks
Hankey tracks clicks' activity over time to see how valuable each
click is. She's learned for some markets, it takes consumers an
average of 10 days after first clicking on her ad to actually
purchase a trip.
She suspects that part of the conversion process may be that
consumer seeing MLT banners repeatedly during that time between
the first click and the final purchase. So it's important to
have a sustained banner presence on sites with high repeat
Plus, when you're competing against more famous household brands,
every banner you run is doing double the work -- helping your
name get known and asking for the click. That's why Hankey's
shortest site tests are generally six months.
She's not running ads for a day, or a week, or even a month and
expecting it to give reasonable results.
"The majority of sites ask for a year contract, but generally we
will ask for six months evaluation time and the right of first
refusal for other airlines to come in an advertiser."
During those six trial months, Hankey runs a wide variety of
tests trying to find out what creative works best on that
particular site. She doesn't assume her proven creative from
other markets will always work; and she doesn't assume early bad
results mean that the site is definitely a dud.
-> Tip #2. Test a wide variety of sites in each market
Hankey attacks each local markets from two directions:
a. Segmented selections of national sites: She works with
national sites such as Travelzoo, TravelFleaMarket.com and
Overture to present offers to searchers looking for specific
b. Banners on local sites: Hankey tests a wide variety of
local sites in each market - including newspapers, television,
radio, and even sites dedicated to local sports teams. She
usually ends up with a combination of two or more local sites
that work best for the long run.
(Interestingly, the local sports team sites such as Broncos.com
tend to work especially well for Vegas vacation offers.)
No matter what, Hankey advises that you never assume a site will
be a "home run" until you've got plenty of test results. The
fact that it may have worked in one market never means a similar
site will work in another market.
-> Tip #3. Be flexible with non-competes
Blocking off all competitors from advertising on the same sites
is impossible, especially when the competition has deep pockets,
However, sites appreciate Hankey's commitment to long-term deals,
so they are often willing to try to work something out. In
exchange, Hankey doesn't force unrealistic demands about who else
"If they really want us, they're going to fight to put placement
opportunities that make both parties happy. Also, we'd rather be
right up there next to competitors than not be there at all.
There's something to be said for just being there."
-> Tip #4. Build close relationships with sites that work
Hankey considers rolling out the same campaign and creative
across all sites to be a false economy. What you save in time
and effort, you lose in terms of response.
When a site performs well with her standard creative, Hankey
takes the next step, getting to know her sales rep really well,
asking them what else works on their site, and brainstorming
Example, with DallasNews.com she ran a co-branded March Madness
campaign for the NCAA tournament. Winners got a vacation,
courtesy of MLT. "We were able to get our logo into the
newspapers and on the home page, and throughout the site."
-> Tip #5. Locally branded email files work well
With vacations to give away, MLT runs sweeps and contests on a
regular basis. However, Hankey makes a point of not renting
sweeps-generated files for these, because these consumers'
primary motivation may be getting something for nothing.
Instead she uses tight segments of travel lists and local lists
that will send her offer with their brand and name in the From
and on the creative (see link below for sample.) So the offer
gets a legitimacy boost from the brand name sending it.
She also often will mix offers in an email -- there might be two
or three specific vacation offers with a click button to "book
now" and then below that a sweeps offer to mop up the consumers
who weren't interested in the specific offers but might still
like to hear from MLT.
Her email landing pages are always specific to the offer - you'll
never be sent to the home page. And we think her sweeps offer
landing page is one of the best in the business because the entry
form is surrounded by additional selling images and copy to turn
more clicks into conversions. (Link to sample below.)
-> Tip #6. Assume campaign results will vary between regions
The number one thing Hankey has learned is "you can't say
something works across the board."
Every marketplace is different - some because the population are
more or less Net savvy, others because a local branded site has
more or less traction. "The top newspaper Web site doesn't work
for each market. It's trial and error."
In terms of banners, old fashioned 468x60s are "not really
working." In fact, Hankey only buys them if it's the only way
she can get a toehold on a site she wants to test. "It's not our
As many other marketers have reported, Haney has great success
with skyscrapers. She's found in tests of one-offer vs multiple
offers on the same skyscraper, that multiples tend to win.
For text-link campaigns, search ads, and email subject lines, the
copy that's working best is "price-point and offer. We try not
to have too much text."
Useful links related to this article:
Samples of MLT's banner ads, email, and a great sweeps offer
DallasNews.com - a site Hankey advertises on:
Internet Broadcasting System - a network of local TV and cable
sites in 60 US local markets that Hankey cherry-picks from: