Web Advertising: Targeting Gets Personal
— Friday, March 23, 2012As web advertising graduates from the “next big thing” in educator marketing to a valuable and indispensable asset in the marketing mix, there are important lessons to be learned from its predecessor in digital marketing: email.
Email marketing was the flagship of digital marketing to educators. Comprehensive and current data segmented to target specific audiences—even down to a teacher’s job title—allowed marketers to create relevancy that had a powerful impact on response rates.
The granularity of the data also opened up new vistas in analytics, allowing marketers to see exactly who was responding and who was not. The more marketers used segmentation to create relevancy and targeted messaging, the better response they saw in their overall email programs and the more likely they were to hold or increase ROI, even in a decreasing response world.
Email Marketing: More Is Less
Email marketing is now in a mature state as a channel for the education industry. As more and more marketers have flocked to it, email boxes have become overcrowded. Those who continue to be successful are using data to increase relevancy by focusing on subject-specific messaging and, on the back end, using trigger messaging to get back to those who expressed interest by opening a message or clicking a link. These marketers have begun to see email as one avenue of contact in a nurturing process that ultimately results in a lead, rather than simply a direct response opportunity that succeeds or fails.
To Find, You Have to Search
The success of email marketing has opened minds to the opportunities of other digital marketing options. Search has always been a good alternative but remains somewhat limited in reach. There are only so many searches executed a month on a given topic. For marketers hoping to capitalize on those searches, high-performing search keywords are competitively fought for and expensive to secure. The bottom line is that just because there are 100,000 people searching for the word “math” doesn’t mean there are not millions of other potential math customers who are not taking the overt action of searching.
Learning How Teachers Use Social Media
Social media means different things to different people, but most marketers appreciate its value for lead generation, commerce, product branding, brand advocacy, engagement, and generating buzz. For education marketers, there are hurdles to sites like Facebook, which is often blocked on school networks. And trying to build a competitive branded social site is a David versus Goliath battle.
MDR’s WeAreTeachers takes a different approach. Rather than trying to supplant Facebook, the WeAreTeachers online community engages teachers in contests or grants for product discounts or giveaways in exchange for submitting and discussing teaching ideas. Teachers from always cash-strapped districts get exposure and access to products as well as valuable content from other teachers. Marketers can intersect with teachers in a neutral but context-specific venue.
From Email to Web Advertising: A Quick Evolution
While web banner ads have increased in popularity over the past few years, they still rely on inferred targeting: the assumption that the web traffic for a page includes the optimum prospect pool. For web advertising to achieve the levels of targeting and relevancy that have become the expectation for email marketers, there has to be a corresponding increase in the accuracy and depth of data powering that relevancy.
For early adopters of web advertising, ROI was elusive. Education marketers gravitated toward publishers’ sites and sites that offered relevant subject matter, i.e., putting the commerce within the context of the content. The limitation of that approach is that not everyone coming to a site is known to be a prospect. And not every person you want to target is visiting that site on a regular basis. Even when site visitors are a good fit as prospects, on the highest-probability sites there is strong competition for ad space with marketers needing to make exclusive deals or pay more for placement.
Another type of web advertising is tied to online behavior: an action a browser has taken to indicate interest or subject alignment. This data can be used to further target the ad placement, and it offers somewhat higher conversion as there is a reasonably good chance that a person who searches on a topic is in the market to buy. But searching for math lesson plans does not make someone a
buyer per se.
Inferred Versus Implicit Web Ad Targeting
The next evolution, implicit targeting, is the leap forward that has convinced MDR that web advertising has matured to a level that makes it a valuable option for education marketers.
Implicit targeting applies the best practices learned from email marketing to web advertising. The intelligence gained from email marketing on what segments to target and what messages are most effective can now be applied in web advertising because of the depth of data available.
This insight broadens the reach of web advertising beyond a single site to anywhere an educator browses. So rather than relying on less than detailed information from inferred behavioral targeting or site-destination traffic, a marketer can say, “I want math teachers in the state of New Jersey to see this ad” and be assured that impression will happen wherever the prospect goes on the web.
Now more than ever, education marketers need to embrace a multi-channel marketing approach. With more customized digital solutions available to the education market than ever before, the opportunity has never been better to be successful.
Focusing on Leads, Not Attribution
As education marketers add digital channels to their marketing mix, it raises questions: How do you adequately track all these different channels in the field, and how do you assign marketing credit for a lead that has benefited from impressions made in multiple channels? Is it the last touch that wins?
More sophisticated marketers are realizing they cannot look at lead generation in that linear of a view. It is often a cumulative effect, with each channel playing a part that prompts a prospect to convert. Existing tracking systems allow only one channel to get the “credit” for a lead, so assigning weight to the right channel is not easy. Whatever the conversion metric is—a lead, a sale, or a form—the focus has shifted to lead generation versus direct response.
The next step forward for marketers will be the capture of all digital touch data into a marketing automation or CRM system that can parse the role search, web banners, emails, placement ads, etc., played in the ultimate conversion. Only then will marketers get the full story of all the impressions along the way that lead to that moment of conversion.
What to Expect From Digital Marketing
Multi-channel digital marketing creates unique opportunities to increase sales by leveraging all online efforts toward a unified goal of capturing leads. Full attribution reporting is coming down the road and will allow marketers to identify exactly the right digital marketing mix to drive results.
These opportunities challenge marketers to think differently about their online efforts. Batch and blast is long gone, replaced by a more nurturing process that sees each channel and touch as part of a continuum. Marketers should be strategizing now on how they will use the coming explosion of data to create a successful multi-channel digital marketing plan.