Important Information Inside?

I recently received a very serious-looking letter from Bank of America, with “Important Information Inside” emblazed on the envelope. Upon opening it, I learned that I had been pre-approved* for a home loan at an interest rate as low as 2.9%, though the fine print related to the asterisks basically explained that I wasn’t pre-approved for anything at all, other than the right to receive bulk mail from Bank of America.

What does this have to do with search engine marketing, you ask? Imagine if Bank of America followed the same marketing strategy on AdWords -- a deceptive call to action in the company’s ad text followed by further deception on its landing page. For example, let’s say that its ad text said “Exclusive Loan Offer for San Francisco Residents Ends Tonight!” but there was no mention of an exclusive offer or San Francisco on the landing page. And what if the landing page had a standard form on it with a headline that read “guaranteed loan approval results within 60 seconds” -- but after submitting the form, users only got a message noting “a representative will get back to you in two to three days with more information.”

The results of this sort of campaign on AdWords would be disastrous. For starters, the bounce rate from the ad to the landing page would be very high (simply because the benefit promised in the ad text is not communicated on the landing page), potentially leading to Quality Score decline and wasted spend. Second, the campaign could prompt user complaints and/or a review by the AdWords policy team for false claims.  And those unfortunate consumers who made it through the entire conversion funnel -- would they really want to entrust Bank of America with their mortgage after already being duped twice?

In direct marketing (or email marketing, for that matter), the goal is often to drive a high “open rate”: the percentage of people who open the envelope (or the email) and actually read what is inside. And the best technique to achieve this is to appeal to basic human emotions: fear, greed, vanity, and exclusivity. So when a bank sends me a letter promising “important information inside,” my “fear” quotient is raised enough to open the letter. Did I get a late charge, miss a payment, inadvertently get foreclosed ? I had to open it.

But let’s remember that the ultimate goal of any form of marketing is to get people to actually buy something from you. If I all I wanted was to increase my click-through rate on AdWords, I could certainly come up with some great -- and totally inaccurate -- ad text, to drive droves of users to my site (it would probably involve free money or lascivious celebrity pictures).

Seasoned SEMs know that simply focusing on getting clicks and increasing your CTR is great for Google, but usually ends up winning the battle and losing the war.  Good marketing starts with enticing but accurate creative, a landing page (or piece of collateral) that follows up on great creative with a strong call to action and benefit statements, and ends by actually delivering what you promised in the first place with outstanding service or product. And while it is true that egregious violations of these principles will get you kicked off AdWords for policy violations, most businesses will probably fail long before the AdWords policy team acts, either because of wasted clicks with low conversion rates or an utter lack of customer retention.

We all think our marketing offers are “important” -- it’s just that most consumers don’t share our sentiment, and ultimately, their definition of the term is the only one that matters. The most successful companies know that building long-term relationships with customers drive far more profit than short-term marketing trickery.

9 comments about "Important Information Inside?".
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  1. Keith Huntoon from LiftEngine, June 25, 2013 at 12:34 p.m.

    Hi David, I agree the BoA mail piece was deceptive, highly annoying and hurts the BoA brand. I also agree long term relationships drive profit.

    However, I disagree that the goal of direct marketing is often to drive a high open rate. Direct has, and is, only measured on ROI, which ultimately means purchases. The 'Open Rate' is just the first measure analysts consider.

    To clarify, Direct Marketing includes ANY effort targeting a known consumer. This can include outbound campaigns via postal, email, Facebook or other social channel, mobile, retargeting, telemarketing, etc, as well as inbound real-time targeting of upsells/cross sells across platforms, including retail/POS.

    With the explosion of Big Data and the ability to hyper target across virtually all digital and non-digital channels in real-time, the practice of Direct Marketing is what most of us preach, whether we know if or not. I will now step off my soap box…

  2. Zachary Rischitelli from FiG Advertising and Marketing, June 25, 2013 at 12:45 p.m.

    Thanks for the article David. Though I agree that deceptive marketing practices can be very damaging to a brand, I would like to posit that you are drawing a false equivalency between Direct Mail and Search Engine Marketing.

    As strategic brand marketers we use both of these methods as appropriate for our clients. Direct mail has the disadvantage that people have not opted in to the process as they do with a search.

    Because a user takes an action, by entering a search phrase, SEM can jump past the "open rate" metric and can focus entirely on CTR and, as you correctly point out, more importantly, conversions. Direct mail has to get someone to take notice by opening the envelope or not tossing it directly in the waste bin.

    Another disadvantage of direct mail is that the cost is invested up front for each and every piece whereas SEM costs far less until someone takes an action by clicking. You could be less aggressive if you only paid for the direct mail piece once someone opened it.

    Both methods have their place, but you cannot judge them equally in their execution.

  3. Cece Forrester from tbd, June 25, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.

    "...ultimately, their definition of the term is the only one that matters."

    IMHO that's the biggest marketing insight of this piece. But it requires a whole different mindset from the one that's commonly reflected in the examples cited.

  4. David Rodnitzky from 3Q Digital, June 25, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.

    Keith, I agree with your point and I didn't mean to imply that the point of direct mail was open rate. What I meant was that - for unsavvy marketers - the open rate is the end goal - and that is the wrong metric.

  5. David Rodnitzky from 3Q Digital, June 25, 2013 at 6:42 p.m.

    Zachary, this is a fair point but I would retort that it is possible to both a) drive awesome open rates in your direct mail and b) still be honest with consumers!

  6. David Rodnitzky from 3Q Digital, June 25, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.

    Cece, thanks for the comment. I do believe that marketing is slowly shifting from the "puffery" of yesteryear to more honest dialog with consumers. Companies like Zappos are leading this charge by thinking about the customer experience before, during, and after the purchase - the 'before' part being the marketing element.

  7. Cece Forrester from tbd, June 26, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.

    David, let us hope you are right.

    I will add that part of thinking about the customer experience is not leaving anything out of the definition of experience--even down to whether a package attacks them while being opened, or a checkout machine asks impertinent questions. Which means marketers have to be honest with themselves as well.

  8. Kevin Horne from Verizon, June 26, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.

    BofA, and others, have been doing this for way longer than you know. See this nearly exact same blog post about BofA from five years ago....

  9. David Rodnitzky from 3Q Digital, June 26, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.

    Kevin, thanks for sharing. Your post sums up my argument even more succinctly!

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