Monday, January 28, 2008

The Siren Song of Cheap Marketing Tactics

Sometimes, in the world of web marketing, you get what you pay for…

Their siren song is hard to resist… get big and famous by spending next to nothing on marketing. Just SEO the heck out of your site, for example, and you’ll appear at the top of Google, which is all you’ll need to attract a huge audience. I recently spoke with the CEO of a web based consumer company who ticked off his preferred marketing tactics like a shopping list at the dollar store: Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Partnerships, “Viral” marketing.

And there’s nothing wrong with any of these. In fact, I have utilized them all, sometimes with great results. But all too often, managers stop at these tactics without recognizing their significant limitations. And perhaps more dangerously, they ignore the big potential business drivers that they should be focusing the bulk of their resources on. Here’s a look at these seemingly magical tactics one by one:

SEO – search engine optimization.
The promise: Load your site up with enough links, pixels, and key words, and you’ll float to the top of any search engine, including Google, MSN and Yahoo. Search engines are consumers’ first stop when looking for any product online, and SEO costs are minimal –so why wouldn’t this be the cornerstone of your marketing plan?
The reality: Many sites do commonly have issues that interfere with search engines’ ability to spider them properly, such as an overabundance of flash content. Removing these hurdles can raise your rankings, so it’s more than worth looking at. But most search engine methodologies are highly propriety, and the first sign of “gaming” the spiders can get you blacklisted from search engine results. And, most search engines factor traffic rankings heavily into their algorithms – so this tactic can only take smaller and newer sites so far.
The bottom line: A good baseline tactic, but this should supplement (not replace) your marketing plan.

SEM – Search Engine marketing
The promise: You can’t game the search engines so you’ll simply buy your way to success, bidding on keywords like a day trader until you have crafted the perfect acquisition machine.
The reality: I have used SEM and it was actually one of my most efficient marketing tactics. But there’s a real natural limit to how much you can devote to this tactic. The more words you buy, the more expensive the “clicks” as you buy out the most efficient keywords and widen the competitor pool. And at some point (often early on), it becomes cost inefficient. Example: I consulted for a company paying $5 per click for keywords, who only made a variable margin of $25 per purchase. Thus, 20% of their “clickers” would need to make a purchase just to break even – and their purchase rate was less than one in ten.
The bottom line: a great tactic that suffers from a similar drawback as SEO – it can get very inefficient very quickly.

Viral Marketing
The promise: you seed a blog, a UGC, or some other hot 2.0-ish destination with a piece of content promoting your brilliant product. Millions discover it, view it, pass it on and turn it into the next Facebook, Second Life, etc. And, you didn’t spend a dime in media placement.
The reality: a good idea if you have the type of product or content that truly inspires buzz. Some good candidates for this technique might be Britney Spears’ agent, the producers of that last indy flick that barely squeaked by with an “R” rating, or the campaign manager for a presidential candidate that has a lot of indiscreet rivals.
The bottom line: very difficult to generate without a naturally sexy product or message. One exception is a boring product with something interesting to say: Dove’s campaign for real beauty,for example, which featured a provocative video that received millions of views on YouTube.

Affiliate Marketing
The promise: cut a few deals, or a few hundred deals, with more popular ecommerce providers, paying them on a “bounty’ basis for every buyer they send to you. Shell out a few bucks, but only pay when you score a sale.
The reality: There are some deals to be had, but this sales channel often tends to be very expensive and even margin busting. And these deals can be a lot more high maintenance than they appear. Contracts must be negotiated, assets delivered, relationships managed to insure productivity. They can be a drain on resources that can be better spent elsewhere (more on that later).
The bottom line: Another B+ marketing tactic with as many limits as merits.

So what’s a marketer to do if these bargain basement tactics only take you so far? Well, you can focus on the basics, for one thing, like site design, buying process and messaging. Watch for part two of this post for a deeper discussion of these less sexy elements, and how a focus on them can even make the cheapest tactics a lot more efficient.

1 comment:

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