December 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: Online Marketing

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NetElixir, which works exclusively with online retailers in the United States and the United Kingdom, launched its NetElixir Retail Intelligence Unit (NRIU) in the past year that tracks the key performance trends for pay-per-click campaigns for the 32 largest online retailer advertisers in seven retail categories in the U.S. Aggregated results are published by NetElixir quarterly.

Picture this

Given today’s economic conditions, retailers are always looking for new ways to gain a competitive advantage. For example, a new opportunity emerging in paid search is the ability for retailers to include images in their pay-per-click ads. According to Kaminski, doing exactly that can enhance the likelihood a consumer will click on an ad because often shoppers want to see a product before deciding to click through.

“This is particularly relevant for apparel. For instance, providing a photo of an apparel item in a PPC ad can help consumers determine if it’s what they are looking for right away,” says Kaminski.

Beyond experimenting with such new opportunities, Kaminski recommends that retailers also focus on the basics, such as integrating organic and paid search. “Fully integrating the two channels will help retailers boost the overall efficacy of their search efforts,” says Kaminski. “Ideally, retailers want to capitalize on the learnings they net from one campaign and integrate them into the other. But doing so requires a continual investment in testing and refinement.”

Striving for integration isn’t the only search effort that will benefit from that continuous cycle of testing and adjustments. Kaminski advocates that retailers employ the same approach with their ad copy and landing pages. “If retailers really want to see an improvement in results, they need to be willing to cull their analytics data, look for trends, adjust their ad copy and landing pages accordingly, and then test it out again, and again.”

The crucial first step

Just as retailers must find new ways to leverage pay-per-click ads to convey the value of their brands, they face the same challenge in e-mail marketing. Indeed, competition in the inbox is fiercer than ever, and consumers are getting choosier about which e-mails they even bother to open. One of the ways consumers make that decision is by scanning an e-mail’s preheader, the few lines of text at the top of the e-mail message that is visible even if the recipient previews the message rather than opening it.

Marketers that make intelligent use of the preheader can improve their open rates. For example, a consumer that scrolls over an e-mail message from a retailer of bedding may see a subject line that says “Our 2 for 1 deal is back by popular demand” and a preheader that says “Buy any Ralph Lauren 400 thread count top sheet and get the bottom sheet free”, and a link that says “Click here to purchase now.”

“The preheader is precious e-mail marketing real estate so the more information included in it, the less likely the need for the consumer to have to open the message to decide whether to make a purchase,” says Bronto’s Wall. “An effective preheader gives more information than the subject line and contains a link so the consumer can make the purchase immediately. The goal is to create an e-mail marketing message that is visible, regardless of the web browser or e-mail client they use, if the consumer chooses not to open the message.”

Bronto Software provides such features as advanced reporting, web analytics integration, and dynamic content that enable retailers to deliver relevant, timely e-mail messages.

Test it

While there’s much new in online marketing, one truism remains: Before retailers roll out any new marketing strategy they must decide what they want to achieve and then test and measure the execution of the campaign. In the case of e-mail marketing, retailers ought to be testing segmentation, and, of course, such standard elements as content, subject lines, and mailing frequency, executing an engaging strategy that matches the customer’s agreed-to relationship with the retailer.

“Customers in the early stages of the relationship are going to be interested in different kinds of messages than a customer in the later stages of the lifecycle or a customer that is an inactive shopper or has not opened a message in a while,” says Yesmail’s Harrison. “Consumers spend less than eight seconds on average scanning an e-mail so hitting on the key value points that resonate with them at their particular point in the relationship lifecycle is crucial.”

Retailers also can define through testing how long it takes to reach a particular point in the relationship lifecycle, such as when a customer is no longer considered new. “It is best to think through all the variables that go into marketing campaigns on the front end, how they will deliver upon the strategy set forth, which channels are best suited for the campaigns, and how to measure them in order to get meaningful test results,” Harrison adds.

List segmentation can also deliver a significant boost to e-mail open and click-through rates. Mailing lists can be segmented by products that interest the customer, past purchases, and current behavior patters.

“No message is going to appeal equally to every customer segment,” says Wall. “Slicing and dicing the mailing list into segments, no matter how obvious, provides retailers a better understanding of which messages to send to which customers.”

Wall cites the example of an apparel retailer that boosted response rates simply by segmenting mailings about menswear and womenswear by gender. “As simple as that tactic sounds, they weren’t doing it previously,” she says. “Once they made the change their mailings become more relevant and response rates rose.”

Marketers are on the lookout for any tips-old or new, simple or sophisticated-that can generate sales in this still-difficult economic climate. Savvy marketers can limit the peaks and valleys of sales by effectively coordinating marketing channels, and that increasingly means making sure a wide variety of marketing channels are reinforcing each other.

“Successful retailer marketers understand that in today’s economic climate, each marketing channel has to be viewed as part of a larger, more complex and deeply interlinked ecosystem,” says NetElixir’s Bose. “Marketing channels can no longer be viewed in isolation. Instead, retailers need to understand how campaigns in each channel work together to influence customer acquisition, retention, and building their brand.”

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