My Story – From Direct, To Internet To Content Marketing
I didn’t set out to be a marketer. I wanted to be a psychologist. But by chance (and the economic climate), I landed a job at a direct marketing company. Since then I have never looked back, although I have often used my psychology background in marketing. I can’t think of a career that has evolved more in the last few decades. Every day is different, and there is always something new to learn, but the fundamentals can always be applied to the next wave.
From Direct Marketing —->>
Now, this was in the day before Direct Marketing was cool. The “real” marketing was being done not on computers, but in glossy magazines, television spots and billboards. We, the direct-marketers, were in basements and down long, tiled corridors where they kept the large mainframe computers. We were selecting lists, creating and testing offers, mailing different sized envelopes, entering data and generating reports. There were no fashion models, no martini lunches, and no bonuses.
But we had something they didn’t have. We had measurement and analysis. We had spreadsheets. We could tell our clients exactly how much every catalog inch, every list target, and every copy test made or lost, for every dollar spent. And we could predict, repeat, and improve performance. We lived in a continuous cycle of create, test, measure, improve. Our marketing plans were also detailed forecasts. We tracked everything and understood what worked and what didn’t; something that traditional marketing was not able to do. This was an awesome experience and one that influenced me as a marketer.
Here is what I learned from Direct Marketing:
- If you aren’t measuring, you are wasting resources.
- The closer you get to the target market, the better the result.
- Make the copy easy to understand and the offer compelling.
- Tell people exactly what you want them to do.
- Small changes in offer copy and design can have huge impact.
- Good marketing requires a good technical platform.
- It doesn’t matter what you think will happen. Test, test, test.
- Giveaways work. People like “Free” but they have to believe it has value.
—->> To Internet Marketing
After a few years I left the agency side and went to work in the software industry. Now this was cool. An industry was growing up, PCs, software, games, networking, start-ups, venture capitol, and stock options! Whew! And although now I was doing plenty of “general” marketing, I still applied the forecasting, testing and measurement models to traditional marketing. So our print ads had 800# numbers, at trade shows we collected names for our database, we made decisions based on bottom line return, and so on.
And then came email. And the web. And everything changed about marketing – practically overnight. All of sudden we could create and drop a campaign in days, not weeks or months. We could reach customers, not for 50 cents per impression, but for practically nothing! It was a gold rush. They opened, and clicked and ordered. They signed up, opted-in, and read our stuff. But alas, as all booms must do, it busted. It was too easy. Although most responsible marketers didn’t want to, they were pressured to, and over-mailed their customers. Spammers flooded in-boxes, ugly banners flashed annoying messages, pop-ups choked the web pages and our once eager audience became angry and jaded. They ignored us. They practically hated us. Good Internet marketers had get savvy to earn back their trust, restore attention, retention and results.
Here is what I learned from Internet Marketing:
- Build your own list. Everything else is SPAM.
- Your list is a major asset. Guard it like gold.
- Be transparent and honest at sign up, and don’t overuse your list.
- Be relevant fast. You only have a few seconds to grab attention.
- Deliver value. For every 1 time you ask for the order, make sure you have 5+ impressions where you offered excellent, relevant, free content.
- Have a Welcome campaign for new customers/prospects because otherwise in the low-barrier, Internet world, they won’t remember you.
- Test in small numbers and roll out the winner to the larger audience.
- Match your online forms to your strategy. Want higher quantity? Go for short, simple forms. Want a more qualified audience? Ask detailed questions, or double opt-in.
- Assure and re-assure about privacy and security.
- Qualify your audience. Larger numbers do not automatically translate to larger profits.
—->> And on to Content & Conversion Marketing
When the software industry imploded in the dotcom bust, I went to the publishing industry. I remember thinking at the time that it would be a good place to hang out until software came back. By comparison, it seemed a bit low-tech. I was hired to do online marketing, but as it turned out, it took me a year to do any because I had to build the marketing systems first. We didn’t have a real email system (we had a list-serve) or e-commerce engine (we had some basic forms on the site). In fact we had only recently launched a full website.
But one thing we did have was quality content, lots and lots of excellent content. Thousands and thousands of pages of content. Each article was long and had an abstract that was free in front of the firewall. And as a result, we had hundreds of thousands of visitors, which over the years became millions and millions of visitors. And just as importantly we had an excellent brand, and a targeted, niche audience in the medical vertical market.
Content drove the traffic. Visitors came to us. And because it was full of rich keywords and linked to and cited by many other pages on the web, the search engines favored it. As publishers, our “push” model of publishing became a “pull” model. Yes we still mailed print copies to our subscribers, but now ten and one hundred times that many readers came to the website to consume content.
And in the age of a proliferation of free information on the web, diminishing readers for print, and not enough time to read deep, long articles, the marketing challenge became; drive qualified traffic, covert traffic to registered users, create and manage relationships, sell subscriptions, retain customers, drive engagement.
Here is what I learned from Content & Conversion Marketing:
- If you have a brand people like and trust, people want to engage with you.
- All traffic is not equal. Only traffic qualified to convert is worth chasing.
- SEO drives high-value, qualified traffic.
- Teach people who write and architect your site about SEO so they help, not hurt.
- Do both SEO and PPC on your best (especially brand) search terms.
- Make sure your blog in an integral part of the main site and supports it goals.
- Give people a good reason (and an easy way) to get on your list.
- Make “surround” campaigns. Banners, emails, landing pages, all need to work together with the same message, offer and theme.
- Make sure all of your social footprints, link to each other and back to the site.
- Put tracking parameters in ALL your links – emails, social posts, banners, guest blogs, you will “see” where that “direct” traffic is coming from.
- Looking at your analytics data is like being a mind reader, a detective, a psychiatrist and a time traveler all at once. Make time to use it.