Don Skarzenski, Sr VP Sales & Marketing at NetMason, an e-marketplace builder for companies in the energy industry, is also well known as a font of banner wisdom in the i-advertising email discussion group for Web marketers. In these days of banner nay-sayers, we thought it would be a good idea to get some tips from a marketer who's actually made them work.
Q: What's the most critical action a B-to-B marketer can take to make sure his or her banners are successful?
Skarzenski: You need a good landing page. It must be tightly integrated with the message of your banner. If it has a specific offer, then users should be taken to a page that is either the first page of the application form or directly into the application form itself.
For example, if you are driving people to a site in order to get them to sign up for a white paper, your campaign may fail if it's extremely hard to find once they get there. That's a problem I've seen on any number of sites.
Also, if the form happens to be five pages long, or hard to read or figure out, then your campaign is going to be a failure no matter what your click through rate is. Your total number of questions shouldn't be much more than seven to fifteen maximum.
Q: How about some creative tips for the B-to-B banner itself?
Skarzenski: Stick to the basics -- they work! Understand what your prospect's problems are and try to realistically and believably suggest you have a viable solution. Address their needs.
Business buyers are more thoughtful and analytical than consumers. Flashy, glittery, colorful creative is less important for the B-to-B audience. A lot of research indicates business buyers are put off by extra colors and photography. If you go too far your banner will be identified as being "marketing" and they don't want that.
Q: You've designed some incredibly effective banners in your time. How did you get well above average click throughs?
Skarzenski: I constantly searched the Web looking for lists of the most effective banners! I'd go to CyberAtlas, AdRelevance, AdResource, BannerTips and other sites and then design a bunch of banners borrowing from other people's experience.
Then I'd immediately track results. I might put a banner up and 12-36 hours later swap it out. So, I'd have lots of banners and buttons already created, ready to go. I'd tell sites we wanted quick input. I'd try to form a personal relationship with them. They would tell me what wasn't working and what was on their particular site. For example, one site told me red didn't work, I should switch to green. Within 20 minutes I sent a green button over to them. We were one of more than 50 advertisers on that site, but our click through rates consistently ranked number one or two!
I've had letters from a couple of sites saying no one does this but you, and we don't know why they don't!
Another factor is that every site has specific design elements, colors that identify them, etc. Some of your banners might clash, or get lost against their background color. A green banner might look great on one site and poorly on another. You need to make sure design is appropriate for the site.
Q: Are there any banner sizes or placements on the page that work better than others?
Skarzenski: I found out that buttons and tiles can be much more efficient than full size banners. Some research shows buttons and tiles midway down the right hand side of the page are highly effective. Other research shows bottom of the page placement works.
A banner at the top of a home page is not good! I learned this from people who sell them.
Q: B-to-B online media can be pretty expensive. Rate cards range from $50-$125 CPM or more for targeted sites. Got any media buying tips?
Skarzenski: B-to-B banner prices are not going to be fantastic bargains for 2001. To get a really tight focus, you may have to pay extra to reach your targeted audience, but the extra money will give you far more quality. I'd start by making the smallest buy a site will accept and tracking it very carefully.
I negotiate price by saying "I've got a big budget and if my banner is successful on your site, I promise I'll spend a lot more money with you. Let's work together on price for the test." Some sites won't give much in price, so I'll ask what else can they offer? What bonuses can they give me? They may want to maintain their price, but can give you other freebies such as a text ad in their newsletter.
Of course if I made promises, and got reasonable results, then the next month I would increase my buy on that site. If you lie to a rep, then don't ever call there again!
Q: Email campaigns are becoming more popular with B-to-B marketers these days. Do you have any advice on that front?
Skarzenski: I love email marketing and would certainly spend more money on it now. I know its effectiveness has dropped, but it's more targetable now.
It's important to write your creative very carefully, to target your user. At NetMason we rent our registered list so the agency sends me a couple of dozen pieces of mail to approve for rental every week. So many start with, "Company XYZ is proud to announce that...."
The you-attitude is missing! Other mailers just don't have an offer, there's no call to action, no "go do this!" It's just a blah announcement.
One of them started, "Thanksgiving's almost here." So?
Q: So how do you write email copy that works?
Skarzensky: I work together with my list vendor. You can get somewhere beyond just a business relationship to something that's more personal. I ask questions about my campaigns, "Should I do this?" and I often get back a constructive piece of input. If a vendor is really interested and good, they may know more about it than I do.
I'm also very careful to target mailings. I got 14, 18, 23% response on very small lists that were highly targeted. If you can spend the time on direct email, you can get very good results.
That's one of the problems today: we can do things so quickly that sometimes we forget we shouldn't!
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