October 05, 2005
Case Study

How to Use (and Measure) Print Ads to Drive Ecommerce Sales

SUMMARY: At last, here's a Case Study that answers the age-old online form design debate: do drop-down boxes work better than type-in answer fields to gather customer info? The data may surprise you. Plus great info on print advertising (that works) from eretailer Y Lighting.
CHALLENGE High-end modern furniture and accessories are an unusually competitive niche online. Buyers are more likely to be wired (and male) than any other decor and decorating demographic.

Which meant marketers at Y Lighting, an ecommerce site specializing in high-end modern lighting, wanted to expand their campaigns offline to build a national brand that in turn could translate into even stronger online sales.

This means in addition to the regular bag of eretail marketing tactics (especially loads of search marketing), the team decided to invest in print advertising in newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times to W.

Jeff Zwelling, Y Lighting Founder and former CEO (now President of stealth start-up EchoSign.com), explains why this was such a tough decision. "It's hard to measure."

First the team tried running ads with special URLs to track clicks. No luck. "We've never had any success in trying to get them to go to other URLs, they just go to YLighting.com," says Zwelling.

What's an analytics-based marketing team to do?

CAMPAIGN Zwelling shared with us five tactics the team use to make print ads measurable and to get the best results.

Tactic #1. Tracking through a question in the checkout form

The Web team added a question just under the name and address fields in the checkout process to ask customers, "How did you hear about us?" They tested two different layouts to generate a response rate.

Test A: Drop-down box with a list of options

Test B: One-line open-field box for people to type their answers into

Note: If you let folks type in anything, you'll wind up with messy, unreliable data. So, the team added a list of named magazines and newspapers directly under the type-in box and rewrote the headline to read: "How did you hear about us? Please use the list below." (Link below to sample.)

In neither case was the question a required field. The team didn't want the answer enough to risk checkout on it.

Tactic #2. Phone sales associates were required to ask for source

Y Lighting's typical customers order via phone the first time and online for subsequent purchases.

Therefore it's even more critical for the call center to track print ad influence. When orders come in via the phone, the sales rep must fill out the form in the same way a customer would online. So when the rep gets to the question, "How did you hear about us?" they see the exact same list of choices as an online customer. The order process can't move forward until the call center rep fills out that field.

Tactic #3. Compare print CPM to online campaign CPMs

Zwelling evaluates his print media buys in terms of CPM. Here's how:

If he buys an ad in a magazine like Metropolitan Home, for example, and pays $10,000 for a circulation of 500,000, he knows the amount he is spending per person. He compares that number to the CPM he pays for an online ad. "So the first metric is, is the ad even reasonable?"

Assuming that is a reasonable amount to pay, he moves forward with the ad, knowing that the ad must bring in 60 sales (based on the average order value of his customers) to equal what he would make on an online ad of the same CPM. "If I get that, it's as good or better than Google, and it's worth it to me."

"That's not what big advertising agencies would like us to do; they would argue that if there's a half million total circulation, there's actually 1.1 million readers," Zwelling says.

Smaller publications are actually more expensive from a CPM point of view because, while their circulation may be one-tenth that of the larger pubs, their ad inventory is never one-tenth the cost. And, because measurements depends on a percent of buyers to answer the "How did you hear about us" question, small pubs don't always generate enough sales to track. "That's why from our prospective it's better to go for big things than little."

Tactic #4. Print ad placement in the book

Zwelling suggest that marketers spend the extra money to be adjacent to editorial, in the front half of the book, and not in the "gutter."

But on the smaller circulation magazines, where his CPM is higher, he won't even consider advertising unless he's on the back cover. For example, he's in negotiations right now to get the back cover of a niche magazine with a circulation of about 50,000 for the rest of the year.

"If you're on the back cover of those 50,000, you have a fifty-fifty chance that it would be on the coffee tables of those readers," he says.

Tactic #5. Print creative vs Web creative

Web marketers used to crafting ads that are tall on calls-to-action and short on aspiration may have a difficult time changing focus. "The ads are very different than online because you have a lot of space. The approaches that focus on a call to action are misguided for us," says Zwelling.

Rather, his creative focuses on aspirations and lifestyles. He wants readers to think, "These are cool people, I want to live where they live, I want to buy the stuff they buy."

The ads contain mostly a photograph, which changes depending on the publication (high-end products for magazines such as Metropolitan Home, good values for magazines such as Domino). The copy is "pretty much our value proposition," he says, and it doesn't change much from magazine to magazine.

RESULTS Since Zwelling's marketing team figured out print measurement, the percentage of marketing budget going to print has leapt from 2%-3% to 25% percent today.

Why? Turns out print ads for Y Lighting consistently generate four times a return on investment.

Key test results: Don't use a drop-down box to ask "Where did you hear about us?"

As soon as Y Lighting was advertising in more than a handful of places, the drop-down stopped working effectively. "Our options were so broad that nobody ever scrolled all the way down."

When the team replaced the drop-down with a one-line open-field box for people to type their answers into, far more people answered the (non-required) question with reliable data. Roughly 70% of customers now type in an answer.

Up to now, Y Lighting hasn't invested substantially on the creative side of the print ads. "But because of our success in it, we're about to do a full photo shoot of some of the models to get creative to use through the end of the year."

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Y Lighting: http://marketingsherpa.com/ylighting/study.html

Y Lighting http://www.ylighting.com

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