Get prepared for Q4 2010 – What DR Focused Online Retailers Should Think About This Season

Posted By Katelyn Watson On September 28, 2010 @ 11:03 PM In Ad Networks, Media Planning & Buying | No Comments

I published my first iMedia blog article yesterday and it inspired me to focus all of my blog posts on lists of tips, best practices, advice etc. People seem to like lists, and practical advice, rather than random rants, so that is what my blog posts will focus on.

When it is all over, and it is time to analyze all of the charts and graphs behind your Q4 media plan, here are some tips to ensure the sales follow the media strategy you intend, so that when impressions and spend is up and to the right, sales follow. There are a lot of tips that can help you maximize ROI without having to take on any additional huge initiatives. If you aren’t doing these things, you should think about them for Q4 2010, or any super seasonal time frame, for that matter.

This is heavily focused towards direct response campaigns that use ad networks or CPA networks, but can also be valuable for non-network buys as well.

  1. Spend earlier rather than later – While you want to ensure that you flight your budget according to seasonal forecasted sales and demand, you also need to pay attention to where you are pacing on spend for the month. It is easier for networks to project what they can spend early in the month, and as the month goes on, it gets harder to project. In that case, ensure you add any incremental budget early in the quarter, and allow it to be spent accordingly. If you get to the second or third week in the month, you may be out of luck.
  2. Include a padded budget – For the same reasons above, it is challenging for CPA networks to forecast. What they say they can spend in some cases, they can’t. Sometimes they will claim they cannot spend your budget and then run hot for the month or quarter. I have found that when you put a 2%-5% padded budget in, then they usually come out right on the money. You can apologize for that rounding error later when you show the increase in revenue that followed.
  3. Flight based on previous seasonal sales – if you have a strong understanding of your sales curve from previous seasons, flight the media spend based on that curve. Do this by week, or month, because it is impossible to do this by day and accomplish the above two items. This ensures that you are spending at the right time, and are not wasting impressions.  Map out sales from the previous year and impressions from the previous year (or two) and see if there is a correlation, or a lack of correlation. If impressions shot through the roof on lower sales weeks, you may have wasted quite a bit of your plan.
  4. Frontload flighting based on your time to convert If your average time to convert is three days, then ensure that you are flighting accordingly. When you look at your impression volume to sales, there should be a small lag over time based on your time to convert.
  5. Funnel messaging made easy – We always tout right message, right person, right time, but it isn’t always so easy. Multiple creative versions, xml feeds, multivariate and complicated set up strategies sometimes do not allow businesses to move forward with what has been a marketing principle forever. Think about smaller ways to target your audience based on their stage in the funnel, if you don’t think you can go full force. A great place to start is just segmenting those who have been to your site vs. those who haven’t. A very different type of customer, with different messaging needs, but literally 2 segments. This alone will increase conversion. Take it one step further – of those who have visited your site, were they frequent visitors or one time visitors? Another simple segmentation that speaks volumes about customer behavior. Check to see what your ad server can quickly accommodate and you can tweak your creative to fit the segment.  Think about simple segmentation with simple message targeting instead of avoiding it altogether because it sounds complicated.
  6. Optimize for peaks – Ensure you are focusing on seasonal peaks and times when competitive pressures could be high. Focus on CyberMonday, Black Friday and other key high period times. Even if you are working with networks, most networks, specifically Specific Media and Adconion can tailor your network buy to include heavy ups, and roadblocks, or more high-impact units only on those days. Look at competitor traffic for the previous holiday and heavy up on their high traffic days as well.
  7. Keep promotional messages dynamic – No surprise, holiday is a huge time for promotions, watch your competitive promotions daily and ensure that you can be flexible with yours. Use an xml feed within your banner ads, so that you can quickly change out a promotion message if you see something competitively increase their offers. Go with your gut, don’t test too much, just put the best offers that you have out there for the world to see. This is what consumers are looking for and you want to be there when they are. If you use an XML feed within your banners to easily swap out offers, you no longer have the need for multiple creative executions, and it can be changed on the fly.
  8. Maintain flexible IOs to adjust to consumer demand – Ok, so after all of the direction on flighting to a specific strategy and ensuring that you capture seasonal holidays, as well as frontloading flighting, now I tell you to let the networks do what they do best, and spend your money how they want to. Sounds crazy right? Well, just like you now your business better than anyone else, so do they. They can anticipate fluctuations in inventory, demand and competitive pressures within their own network. If they see some inventory open up – let them spend, if they see demand increase – let them spend, if they see competitive pressures heating up – let them spend. This will ensure that you are allowing impressions to be used efficiently and at the right time. This is where the partnership really comes into play with your publishers. I say this with caution, if you can review a daily or weekly report on your own to ensure this rule is not being abused I would. You can also set monthly caps to ensure you don’t blow your entire Q4 budget in the blink of an eye.

Cheers to a fantastic Holiday Season! Happy Spending!

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