Campaign Optimization: Not Just for the Direct Guys Anymore

Be Prepared to Shift on the Fly

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Milan Martin Milan Martin
On Friday I was getting on the morning ferry from Hoboken into New York when I saw a young woman standing on the pier with a stack of handouts. As hurried commuters brushed by her to get on the ferry, she would extend her hand, offer a handout and say, "Would you like a flier?"

It should come as no surprise that not many people were interested in her offer.

As I passed by her, I recall having some kind of nerdy ad-guy thought go through my head like, "Good media choice ... lots of people ... but bad messaging." Needless to say, I quickly forgot about the whole event as we floated across the N.J./N.Y. border.

Upon returning that evening, while getting off the ferry in Hoboken, sure enough, there was the same young, enthusiastic flier lady. But this time, something was different. As I approached, I noticed that she was handing out fliers left and right. People were actually reaching over each other to get one. As I got closer, I heard her pitch. The morning's offer of "Would you like a flier?" had evolved at some point over the course of the day to "Free Coffee!"

Now, don't ask me how she got access to that much free coffee. Presumably she was enterprising enough to cut a promo deal with the local Starbucks. Or the perhaps there was a fine print disclaimer that read "Free coffee limited to one Sanka in my basement apartment available from 1-1:15." Ignoring for a moment that she went from giving away nothing to giving away free coffee, what made me smile was that this young woman optimized her campaign based on real-time, in-market data -- in a matter of hours!

That got me thinking. In my early days of advertising, campaign optimization was something for the direct guys to think about. After all, we just spent $1 million to produce a couple of :30 spots and a print ad. "You got what you got, Mr. Client, but don't worry, it takes a few weeks for a campaign to really gain momentum. Just sit tight. So, lunch at The Ivy?"

Campaign optimization ain't just for the direct-marketing guys anymore.

With the tools and the technology we have today, there's no excuse for an agency not to measure, optimize and then measure again.

But here's the trick: The agency-client relationship needs to be open and collaborative enough where there's an agreement that even with all the pre-campaign quantitative and focus-group data in the world, the learning and insight you get from in-market campaigns is king. At the end of the day, the agency needs to be confident enough to look at the data, make that call to the client and utter that least-heard phrase: "The campaign's not working, but here's how we fix it."

Sure, at first it's a bitter pill to swallow. But it's the right long-term decision for your clients' sales, their jobs and for your relationship with them. And it's the second part of that sentence that's really important: "Here's how we fix it."

Most likely (well, hopefully) it's not the entire campaign that's not performing, so you're not talking about ripping and replacing. You're probably talking about specific ad executions, particular media outlets, a social-media site, etc.

It's never a bad idea to anticipate some of this and plan some alternative messaging and media options so you're not caught flat-footed.

Brand advertising is the exception to the rule, right?
"Well, what if it's the brand advertising?" Hey, in 2009, there's simply no excuse for campaigns that aren't built to create measurable action.

If brand advertising is ultimately about allowing people to experience the taste, smell and feel of your brand, then online is most likely a huge part of the campaign plan -- and that is definitely the easiest place to start the measurement and optimization.

Brand engagement is a phrase that's been thrown around a lot lately. But isn't it just a fancy way of saying a customer who spends a lazy Sunday afternoon with your brand, sharing common interests, will create a stronger bond? So how much time are people spending on your sites? Are you testing A-B splits to see how different messages and different imagery affect time and depth of engagement? Are your PR efforts coordinated with your paid-search programs to ensure all the gears are touching and moving the wheels of the campaign forward?

It even applies to the more traditional offline communications. Are the different ad executions "talking" with people in ways that are enticing them to come to your home and hang out? Or is there just an obligatory corporate URL that coldly stares your prospect down? Which print ads, publications, bus stops, sandwich boards are driving people to spend time with your brand? And, just as importantly, which aren't?

Optimizing a campaign without a plan to do so beforehand is next to impossible, but if you collaborate with your clients, agree that there are almost definitely going to be campaign elements that don't pull their weight and plan for the event, you'll see both success rates and client trust grow exponentially.

The principles are simple: Plan for the imminent, hypothesize for what may not work, recognize what's not working, and have the courage to admit it and the ability to quickly adjust. Hmmm, reminds me of someone I once met on a pier in Hoboken. If anyone's interested in hiring a great director of measurement, I know where you can find her.

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Milan Martin is president of GyroHSR, New York.

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