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Jun 18, 2002
Case Study

Failure! The Story of an Online B-to-B Marketing Test That Bombed

SUMMARY: Last Wednesday a business-to-business marketer in the Chicago area had a brainwave to sales lead generation from a Web site. Thursday the Web designer redid his site to take advantage of the big new idea. Friday results began to pour in. Or rather, not. Ouch.If you have ever had a marketing idea that was so great it just had to raise sales (only it did not), or if you are struggling with ways to improve sales lead generation from your company's site, this is the Case Study for you.Enjoy!

Have you ever had a sudden brainwave of an idea to improve your marketing that seemed so great you just had to put it into action immediately?

It happened last week to one of our readers and he just called us up to share the results.

Last Wednesday, Marketing Pilot CEO Ken Kornbluh get together with "a very smart guy" Web design consultant Sonny Cohen of duoDesign to kick around some ways MarketingPilot's site could garner a higher percentage of sales leads from visiting traffic.


One of the site's most successful tactics has been to offer visitors a useful library of about a dozen white papers and analysts' reports. There are links all over the site to the library so you can not miss it.

When visitors clicked on any of these links, a very simple registration page appeared (see link to sample below). "It's a very soft opt-in," explains Kornbluh. "It says please register, but if you don't it's ok. If you do, you get on our mailing list, but it's not required." Whether the visitor registered or not, they could then click through to go to the library page.

The simple registration page did not say much more than that. There was little copy, no detailed descriptions of what was in the library. Until Cohen had his brainwave.

"He said, hey that's not so smart," explains Kornbluth. "You're putting a hurdle in front of them, but you're not telling them what's in there. You're just hoping they'll have enough sustained interest to register and go in."

As we all know in Web marketing, surfers have very little patience for extra clicks or interest in hurdles.

Kornbluh immediately agreed. "Of course, I thought, how could we be so stupid to do it the way we do it?! It's so counter- intuitive." Both men decided the obvious course of action would be to add some copywriting to the registration page that would be compelling enough that more visitors would click through instead of abandoning the site at that page.

Excited by the potential "incredible increase in our library downloads," Kornbluth hurried back to his office and ask his in-house Web designer to spend the next day (Thursday) redoing this page. (Link to sample of new page below.) The project took about four hours including restructuring, relinking and testing.

The next day (Friday), Kornbluth rushed to the office and eagerly awaited the results of this change.


Ouch! "The thing went dead silent," Kornbluth says, "and downloads dropped to virtually zero." His first impulse was to test all the links again to make sure the site was not broken. No such luck.

At first Kornbluh did not give up hope. "Friday is typically a slower day, our traffic is off 30-50% from Tuesday-Thursdays. And the obviousness of the concept was so compelling; we thought things would take off. We thought, ok, that's weird but every once and a while you'll have a day like this. Perhaps it's coincidence. It's Friday, let's go home."

Monday morning rolled around with more bad news. Kornbluh knew from experience to expect about 30 library downloads over the weekend. He was stunned to learn the site had only gotten "a couple" instead. He decided to wait out Monday to see if it would be any different. It was not.

These results seemed so strange that Kornbluth called Cohen for advice. "Sonny said, 'What do you mean you're not sure what do do? You go back!'"

After working late last night, MarketingPilot's Web designer got the old registration page back in place again in time for Tuesday morning traffic. "The minute we went back the results came back. The sales department was jumping up and down asking 'What did you guys do?'"

More useful numbers:

- About 7-10% of people who visit the site with the normal library registration page ultimately download something from the library. On average they download slightly more than one document; some as many as five.

- About 50% of people who click through the registration page opt-in to MarketingPilot's list and about 50% do not.

- Offline campaigns, such as direct mail and print advertising in business magazines, which drive traffic to the site cost about $500 per sales lead collected at the library registration page. Although these leads cost a lot, they convert the best out of all leads the Company receives.

- Traffic-driving campaigns that take place online, such as paid search engine listings, search engine optimization and links from related sites, cost a mere $30 per lead collected at the library registration page and provide medium-quality leads. They are fairly strong, but not as good as the offline-driven traffic.

- MarketingPilot's library gets loads of traffic and downloads from professionals in emerging economic powers such as India. However these leads are so rarely in the market to purchase a $10,000 software system that the Company's sales team generally does not spend any effort trying to convert them.

- Outbound email campaigns, including broadcasts to rented lists and ads in email newsletters, have not been a success for Kornbluth so far. He blames the quality of the opt-in lists available for rental in his niche marketplace today, and also wishes email list owners would let him test creative more easily.

"When we change copy in paid search engine campaigns it can make a dramatic difference to results. I wish email newsletters would be flexible enough to let you test the issue-by-issue." We told him to negotiate with sales reps, because often this can happen.

Kornbluth is still scratching his head over the registration page test results.

"It's so counterintuitive. Is it just us? I don't know. Is it our marketplace? I don't know. But boy is this wild."

Useful links related to this article



EDITOR'S NOTE: We received a bunch of reader letters after this
Case Study was published. Here is one that pretty much sums up
most folks feelings:

Dear MarketingSherpa,

I think the answer to why MarketingPilot's recent change in registration failed is this:

If you analyze the underlying pschology at work in their registration process, what you have is a promise made to the prospect.

The promise made to the prospect in the original registration process was, just sign up with this quick form and "I promise" to give you immediate access to very beneficial information.

The prospect "took the bait" and the promise was fulfilled just as they EXPECTED.

With the new registration form, a promise was also made; just click any topic of interest and you'll get that document. The problem is that when the prospect clicked the link, the promise was broken. Why? Because they were issued a sign-up form that they were not expecting. In other words, you said that if I click this link, I'll get what I want, but instead you gave me a form.

While this may seem subtle or even innocuous, I believe it is a big issue to an unsuspecting prospect -- promise made, promise broken. That generates instantaneous mistrust and many times dissatisfaction or even anger.

I also believe another psychological process is involved. In the original registration process, curiosity is at work... sign up and get a surprise, a gift, etc. While anyone in advertising knows that the "Curiosity Headline" is one of the weaker headlines to use, it still does have a certain degree of attraction power.

I think that the leaders of MarketingPilot made a simple mistake that many of us have made. Their idea made sense, but the execution of that idea was where the flaw was hiding.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond,

Don Mondell, CEO
Promote, Inc. Advertising, Marketing & Public Relations
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