A few months ago Cynthia Mackey, VP Marketing at
Boston's Museum of Science, was handed a $250,000 budget to
promote $20 ticket sales to their hot new exhibit, 'Quest for
Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt.'
Normally Mackey promotes ticket sales through offline media such
as local TV, radio and outdoor ads. However, she had noticed that
up to 1/3 of the Museum's Omni Theater ticket sales generally
came through their website.
With a hot new exhibit to push, why not test outbound emarketing?
Mackey decided to dedicate 10% of her total budget to online and
email, with three goals:
1. Sell more tickets online
2. Generate awareness that might translate to offline sales
3. Run as many tests as possible to find out what works for
online ticket sales
Mackey says, "We really wanted to do some experimentation." The
question was: How many useful tests can you squeeze out of a
$25,000 budget? CAMPAIGN
Mackey hired a specialist emarketing agency, e-
tractions, to create online and email campaigns that would be
integrated with the design and messaging of the larger offline
efforts that her traditional agency, Gearon Hoffman, handled.
Their first task was to build a custom stand-alone landing page
that all the test campaigns could link into.
Mike Gauthier CEO e-tractions says, "We've done tests with side-
by-side comparisons between a landing page and driving people
direct to a client's site. We've seen much higher results with
the landing page."
(Note: For marketers with larger budgets, we strongly advise you
also add landing page design tests to your plans instead of
relying on 'your best shot' at one.)
The page (link to sample below) uses Flash, because of its
animation capabilities and the opportunity to position offers
more visually than with HTML (Gauthier: "It's all about catching
the eye and getting people to click.").
The layout follows a deliberate structure:
a. Present a short introductory message to remind people why
they are there
The visual and copy elements reflected those used in the
creative (which were consistent across all media
placements), to ensure a clean transition from
advertisement to landing page.
b. Present calls-to-action
The landing page does not feature traditional web page
elements like navigation menus or "contact us" links.
Instead, a number of call-to-actions appear in quick
sequence: "membership," "send to a friend," "buy tickets,"
"sweepstakes," and "about Quest".
The sequence ends with "buy tickets" highlighted most
prominently, and copy text which offers reasons for
buying, namely the quality of the exhibit and the fact
Boston is the only Northeast venue on the Quest tour.
Gauthier says, "Once you get a visitor, try to shake as
much activity out of them as you possibly can. We tried to
position a reasonable number of offers in a structured
Next the team researched their online media buying options. With
no prior online marketing campaigns to go on, they took the
psychographic and demographic audience profile developed for the
offline campaign and matched that with websites with the highest
number of that group in their declared audience.
They then further narrowed the choice by comparing advertising
rates, placement opportunities and availability, and making "a
judgment call" on those sites most likely to perform well.
Finally, it was time to conduct a structured testing program
Although driving direct ticket sales was important, Mackey needed
to know which media placement would reach her audience and what
kind of messaging worked best. Here are five of her core tests:
Test #1: Returns from different paid media placements
The team purchased:
- Sponsorships of two email newsletters (geotargeting New
- Banner ad buys on a Boston-oriented local portal site (see
link below for creative)
- Keyword buys at PPC search engines
Test #2: Value of "no-cost" online promotion
Since Mackey had already bought considerable TV-time with
local stations, she was able to get banner placements on the
stations' online properties as a no-cost add-on to the
The team also sent two email promotions (separated by 6 weeks)
to the museum's opt-in house list of just over 23,500 valid
addresses. The first mailing was a general promo for the
exhibit, the second included a sweepstakes offer (see below).
Mackey team also asked existing museum sponsors and trustees
to put up banners on their websites or to send the email
promotion to in-house employee mailing lists.
Test #3: Impact of sweepstakes offer
A seven-night stay in Egypt was offered as a sweepstake prize
mid-way through the campaign, and the offer added to banner
and email creative to see if this affected performance.
Test #4: Email subject lines
Using the same house list, one set of emails contained the
subject line "Ancient Egyptian artifacts coming to the Museum
of Science," one set the subject line "Exclusive Egyptian
exhibit coming soon."
Test #5: Google vs Overture
The PPC search engine buys were split between Google and
Overture, with both receiving the same budget and targeting
similar keywords: Egypt-related words and phrases, and
keywords used by people looking for visitor and events
information in the Boston area.
The online campaign drove over 25,000 visitors to
the landing page, of which over 15,000 (60%) went on to take
some kind of action. Approx. 4,000 (16% of visitors) clicked on
the "buy tickets" link and 7,000 (28% of visitors) clicked
through for more information on Quest.
Based on these results, MacKay expects online marketing to become
a regular fixture in her marketing mix. "We really need to think
about this for the future."
Some other key results:
- Cost per click from the different media placements varied
between $0.62 and over $8 (!). Contrary to expectations, the
local portal proved the worst performer. PPC search engines were
the cheapest source of paid visitors.
- For the same total spent, Overture sent twice as many visitors
to the landing page than Google. However, Google produced eight
times as many clicks on the "buy tickets" link than Overture.
- Offline advertising, which promoted Quest's homepage (as
opposed to the online campaign landing page), drove some 50,000
visitors to the site, double the number from the online
campaign, but with roughly nine times the budget (of course,
offline campaigns are also driving awareness and walk-in exhibit
- Some 2,000 (8% of traffic) people entered the sweepstakes and
1,800 (7.2% of traffic) added their address to the in-house list.
Note: The sweeps only started part-way through the campaign, so
these percents would have been higher for the whole.
- The first emailing to the house list produced about 20,000
delivered mails (after removing bounces), of which 74% were
opened. CTR from opened email was 7.8%.
- The second mailing to the same list, this time with a
sweepstakes offer, some 6 weeks later produced 17,000 delivered
mails, of which 59% were opened. CTR from opened email was 13%
(almost double that of the first mailout).
- The "Ancient Egyptian artifacts coming to the Museum of
Science" email subject line drew a 30% better response than the
- The other no-cost promotions were "hit and miss" in terms of
results, but Mackey and Gauthier think they are well worth
pursuing (especially now they can concentrate on the known
"hits;" the TV stations' sites out-performed the portal, for
More key lessons Mackey's learnt:
o Tracking is critical, now she knows which paid media
placements are best for her audience, she can cut her cost per
visitor by over 90%.
o Do not limit tracking to clicks, follow visitors through to the
end of the desired process; sales conversion and beyond. Though
visitors from Overture were half as expensive to attract to the
site, visitors from Google were 16 times more likely to hit the
"buy now" button.
o Do not rely on assumptions. Before the campaign, the local
portal was expected to perform best, it performed worst.
o Leverage existing relationships for low-cost ad placement. For
example, if you are buying a lot of offline ads, see if you can
get website space for very little or nothing as a bonus.
Samples of banners tested
Campaign landing page
Museum of Science 'Quest' homepage
Gearon Hoffman http://www.gearonhoffman.com/