When Mark Littrell landed the job as Marketing Manager for business software company Information Management Research (IMR) two years ago, the CEO told him they loved his email marketing experience.
He dutifully set about renting targeted permission lists for lead generation campaigns. The promos were fairly standard white paper offers.
The results were pretty bad.
"In past jobs I did a ton of list rental and had good results. But, by 2002, results weren't respectable anymore. It was too expensive per lead generated."
List quality is the number one driver of results. So, Littrell began to cast a wider net, testing a variety of lists, especially lists in highly targeted verticals. "It was still just too expensive and we weren't getting the leap in response to justify it."
When researching the client database to look for even better verticals, Littrell discovered there was no hope for an undiscovered niche. "It's a horizontal product line and we had customers in every single SIC code."
He expanded his tactics to include PR, print ads, and search marketing. But, he needed more qualified leads in the pipeline at a reasonable cost per lead than these could generate quickly. He had to find a way to make acquisition email campaigns to outside lists work.CAMPAIGN
"You've got to cut through the email noise," Littrell decided. "The best way to do that is to talk to people who've subscribed to something in their area of interest so you know they're paying attention when they open that email."
i.e. advertise in email newsletters that your prospects adore.
Littrell began to look for opt-in newsletters to run test ads in. His five rules of thumb:
#1. "Kick ass content"
#2. The ability to run a three-issue test at a reasonable rate prior to signing a long-term media buy deal
#3. Monthly or twice-monthly frequency to ensure more readership (Readers of dailies and weeklies don't tend to read every single issue the way that less frequent pubs are read. Unless you can get extremely low ad rates or pay on cost per acquisition, you may not be able to afford a frequent-enough run to reach all readers in your target.)
#4. Few or no other ads to distract from your offer
#5. Text-ads placed in the body of the newsletter rather than banners or even text ads placed at the side. ("You want your text ad buried in the newsletter, so they come across it as they're reading. People just tune out banners.")
Littrell began to run copy and offer tests in as many newsletters meeting these qualifications as he could find that were remotely related to his niche. Tests included white papers by famous name analysts versus lesser-known (or in-house) writers.
He kept his headlines pointed and body copy short (even when the newsletter gave him extra space) "When you get up to 75 words, it may be too much. They look pretty big to read."
Aside from saying "Sponsored by IMR", ad copy didn't waste the reader's limited attention on info about the company. Instead it focused 100% on the topic of the white paper or educational offer. "I pull out a quote or stats from the paper that will tease them enough to want to clickthrough and see it." (See two ad samples in results section below.)
When measuring test results, Littrell ignored click rates (in fact he couldn't tell us what his averages were, although he knows his other metrics like the back of his hand.)
"Clicks don't matter. If they don't fill out my registration form on my landing page, I don't care. All that matters to me is cost per lead and cost per opportunity."
He defined cost per lead as the total ad spend -- both for a particular issue and trends over the past three issues -- divided by the total number of submitted forms from his landing page (link to sample below.) This is a number he could run within a week of the first ad.
Cost per opportunity was defined as total ad spend divided by qualified leads. "That's after the sales person has looked at the leads and decided if it's worthy to put in the pipeline. If a prospect has the interest, the budget, and a buying timeline, that's a real lead."
This final number could take several months to determine as warm leads became hotter ones during Littrell's follow-up process.
When you're marketing to a niche universe, your media choices are limited. So, you need to make media buys that work, work for a long period of time -- hopefully years. Littrell did this in three key ways:
o Alternating offers over time
He set an in-house production schedule for new white papers and webinars to offer. The best were timely topics, so although he couldn't schedule topics far out, at least he knew he had a new offer mark to meet on a regular basis.
o Alternating offers to duplicative lists
If Littrell suspected two different newsletters had highly duplicative readerships, he'd swap out offers so each newsletter got a different one. This is the exact opposite of what a brand marketer would do, but works best for direct response.
o Resting and retesting slumped buys
Here's where the three-issue response metrics come in. If you see the trend over time is for lowered responses, first you'll want to tweak and test new offers. But, if the bell curve is on an inevitable downward turn, you have to pull out.
That doesn't mean a list won't work for you again. The best practice is to give it a rest for several months and then retest. Ask to see how many new subscribers are added to the file per month as one indicator of when a good time to retry would be. Littrell knew from past experience that association member newsletters could be the best possible lists, if the newsletter had useful content beyond member news and association offer promos. Makes sense, paid members are proven to be buyers in the industry.
Upon discovering the top association in his niche didn't have a newsletter, Littrell campaigned relentlessly until they agreed to launch one. He sent them examples of great content newsletters, and said, "I'll help you pay for it - I'll advertise in it."
Then association made the typical beginners' mistake of deciding ads should be banners. "I didn't want that, but I said ok, let's grow together. Then over time I convinced them to switch to text ads in the copy."
Newsletter ads have proven so successful that they now compose 45% of Littrell's total direct response marketing budget. He's been able to generate more than 10,000 leads in the past two years from email newsletter ads, and met his goal of paying $30 or less per new lead.
The association newsletter has been the most consistently successful, partly because Littrell keeps a steady stream of fresh offers moving through and because it's a monthly featuring regulatory news and advice from Washington DC. (Compliance is always a hot issue.)
He's discovered for his market at least the brand name of the white paper writer or Webinar speaker matters far, far less than the topic. White papers written in-house have outperformed famous-name analyst's papers because the topic was spot on.
So if you might consider spending your white paper budget on prospect pain-point research rather than brand-name authorship.
Monthlies have outpulled twice-monthlies, and Littrell has actually stopped most ads in more frequent newsletters. (Although he'd start again if the price were right - because remember it's cost per lead that matters, not click rate.)
When Littrell was digging in his files for samples for this story, he discovered one more factor you should consider. Turns out many newsletter publishers have Web departments that are overeager to shut down ad-tracking redirect links and newsletter HTML images.
Newsletters that were only a few months old sometimes had stopped being properly clickable or viewable. This is a big problem with monthlies because readers often file them for later reading. You might be missing out on responses you should be getting.
Here's the copy from Littrell's best performing ad ever (link to more samples below):
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Click here for a FREE White Paper!Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples of more IMR newsletter ads and a typical landing page: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/imr/ad.html