Web U: Pieces of the Puzzle

Fragmentation leads to different approaches

My 2-year-old loves jigsaw puzzles. I mean, he loves them. I enjoy watching Ankur sort through a handful of chunky cardboard shapes, trying to find the right fit (and occasionally putting them in his mouth). On the one hand, I'm obviously proud of my child's interest in problem solving and hitting other developmental milestones,
but it's also fun to watch him experiment with trial and error.

It reminds me quite a bit of how online marketing has matured. Consider the good old days of interactive marketing, back when you only had a few channels at your disposal. Search was still in its infancy, existing solely as an action model. Media buying was comparatively uncomplicated: Publishers offered simple ad units and easily understood pricing structures that enabled you to essentially mimic your traditional offline programs in the "new digital economy." But what was once a five- or ten-piece puzzle now requires sorting through legions of options in order to find what works. There are a dizzyingly complex array of advertising choices, all clamoring for an increasingly lighter bag of marketing money. In such a fragmented online space, what pieces do you put together to solve a complex marketing picture?

To answer this question, you have to think about your brand and how your target consumer interacts with it. It also matters what sort of advertiser you are. Brand advertisers typically fall into four groups. Master: You have it all figured out, and we are all awaiting your next move in order to follow it. You might be a fictional
character, but whatever; put in a good word for us with Santa Claus. Journeyman: You are very active online, utilizing multiple channels in a coordinated marketing mix, but you are looking for another one that will add incremental revenue or exposure to an already successful campaign. Apprentice: Your brand has been online long enough for you to see the importance of the channel, and you may have tested a few options. Given the shortage of both marketing and consumer dollars, you want to test the options that have the greatest likelihood for a good return. Novice: You are new to the online space. You might be unconvinced that search is more effective than cramming coupons in with the Sunday circulars.

At the Journeyman and Apprentice levels, the first piece of your online marketing puzzle to examine is your paid search campaigns. Can you get more granular with them? What about your match types? Experimenting with broader (or narrower) match types is a fairly inexpensive way to discover if your brand can benefit from added exposure, especially on non-branded terms. Add negatives and make your ad-group copy as specific as you can. Have you tried A/B testing of landing pages and creative executions? This is also a cost-conscious way to squeeze some more return out of a good campaign. Finally, geotargeting and day-part bidding strategies are good tactics to stretch the budget of an experienced online brand.

As for the Novice online advertiser, you'll want to start with paid search. At the very least, own your branded terms, be diligent about how others utilize them (in other words, police affiliates) and cover the key elements of your brand and its product in nonbranded search. Additionally, when you get into search, you should have at least three pieces of creative running per ad group.

Finding the perfect media mix is a puzzle of Rubik's-cube proportions, and it's even trickier when the economy's in the E.R. with a very expensive I.V. drip. However, if you are careful with the pieces you select and where you place them, you can assemble the most valuable image and maximize your ad spend.

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