The Four Cornerstones of Driving Traffic

I recently held a garage sale (how suburban of me, eh?) and, while it was a success, it could have been much better. Definition:  I didn’t sell everything I would have liked to sell.

The issue, I have surmised, was not a question of our inventory or our location or our quality level – it was simply a matter of driving the appropriate traffic. [Note:  a follow-up report from the garage sale indicated that we converted sales at approximately a 25% ratio:  for every four people that came by, one made a purchase.  Not bad.]

While I covered all the requisite bases, there was a lot more I could have done.  It reminded me that small and midsize brands face the same traffic issues every day.  Whether you’re a website, a local retail shop, a restaurant or even a midsize b-to-b service provider, driving and sustaining traffic is central to your survival.

Irrespective of the media you choose, or the vertical you’re in, or the market(s) in which you operate, here are four critical cornerstones to understanding and driving traffic that I’ve branded as the “TMX2” approach.  These are in no certain order, and in many respects, have to be considered simultaneously.

The first cornerstone:  Targeting
Driving traffic begins with a clear understanding of the prospects you WANT.  If you’re working with a media company who’s doing planning for you, you can probably get to a very decisive target.  But if you’re not (maybe you’re small, maybe you’re not sure,) you can ask yourself important questions:  who is the “ideal” customer?  What is the ideal “deal” for that customer?  How can I provide that structure?

Two important targeting sub-themes here:  think virally and think in segments.
First, in the age of social media, ask yourself another targeting question:  Who will be likely to “spread” my message post-purchase?  Second, don’t be afraid to segment.  You can’t be all things to all people, but you can be one valuable thing to one segment, another valuable thing to another segment and so on.  For more information on segmentation, check out the VALS Framework, pioneered by SRI.

The second cornerstone:  Timing
Two facets of timing are essential.  First, give your offer or your brand or your new product launch ample time to sink in and make the requisite impressions.  So often, marketers have great ideas and fantastic solutions to offer, but we bail when we don’t think it’s happening quite quickly enough.  We already know that the American consumer (or business owner) is inundated with zillions of marketing messages every day.  Sure, you have to cut through the clutter with good messaging and solid creative, but you also have to allow for the message to seep in…there’s a reason “frequency” is a cornerstone of every media plan.

The second facet of timing is more delicate – you have to offer your consumer what they’re looking for, at a price he or she is willing to pay, at the right moment.  Not quarter.  Not month.  MOMENT.  This is why the term “real-time” is being bandied about so often in marketing seminars and business conferences around the world.  See articles on real-time marketing on Mashable.

The third cornerstone:  Message
While it’s impossible to cover everything about messaging in an overview, be clear about this:  you can target the right customer, deliver your communications over the right medium, time it perfectly and still not influence or stimulate demand if your message doesn’t resonate with your customer.  So how do you make that happen?

It’s not simple, but make sure you cover at least the following:  Claim the highest possible emotional benefits that speak to your audience (or segment.) Add rational support for choosing your product or service.  Be absolutely relevant.  And don’t be afraid to be a little unexpected – a little cooky.  As long as those other aspects are covered, cooky can work and usually does because it’s more memorable and more entertaining and more differentiating.

The fourth cornerstone:  Mission
Here’s a cornerstone of driving traffic that can easily get overlooked.  Very often, we achieve results when we undertake a marketing effort.  But sometimes, the early returns can influence our perceptions about what we’re trying to achieve.  If things are going great in the first month of a new campaign, everybody starts to project HUGE numbers for the program, and forgets that you had an objective to only move the needle by 10%.  If things start out slow, we may assume that “this is never going to work,” and we forget that we only want to move the needle by 10%, so we crush the program before it has time to sink in.

The best way to avoid abandoning the mission is to document it.  Write it down where EVERYONE involved can see it.   That’s right.  Everyone.  The client.  The agency.  The vendors.  The investors.  Everyone.  “WE WANT TO SELL 22 MILLION WIDGETS AT 19¢ IN THE NEXT YEAR.”  Or “WE WANT TO INCREASE WEB TRAFFIC TO 100,000 UNIQUES PER MONTH IN THE NEXT TWO QUARTERS.”  Whatever it is, keep it sacred and don’t abandon it.  You’ll find that it absolutely aligns every stakeholder and, if you build on the other cornerstones, you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised at the traffic jam just up ahead.

Article first published as The Four Cornerstones of Driving Traffic on Technorati.

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Sampling: a 20th century model perfect for 21st century marketing

Ever try a piece of that mystery meat in the supermarket?  Ever been to a trade show and strapped on some gizmo to “see how this thing really works?”  Ever take a free bottle of thirst-quenching ade at an outdoor event or concert?  Ever taken a test drive at your local auto dealer?  Then you’ve engaged with a sampling program and, perhaps, one of the most underrated routes to marketing success.

Sampling – sometimes called product sampling, or product seeding –  is the simple act of giving products and even services (think massages) away to get prospects to engage with the experience at no cost.  Typically, the results are very positive, as prospects that interact with or try a product at low risk tend to enjoy the interaction and tend to favorably recall the experience.

Sampling jumpstarts many of the most desired marketing outcomes:
–    creates brand and feature awareness
–    is an engaging and memorable experience
–    is real-time, and therefore creates immediacy
–    is a trial-based experience (perhaps the most important facet here)
–    is a strong acquisition tool

Sampling may reach more prospects than you might consider.  According to a 2008 study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, nearly 70 million consumers aged 12 and older sample a product every quarter. And talk about lift:  about one out of every three consumers who try a sample buy the sampled product during the same shopping trip.  Further, sampling can impact future buying decisions, as the known experience creates a bond to the brand: six out of 10 consumers who sample products plan to buy these products again. That’s a pretty convincing ROI.

Now, no one here is saying that sampling is so monumental an option that you should abandon your other tactics and shift all your dollars into a seeding program.  However, there are aspects of sampling that simply outgain many of the more known marketing approaches.  For instance, advertising, long accepted as the heavyweight champion of marketing communication, can, at best, only serve to stimulate demand for a product.  Sampling, on the other hand, induces trial.  It’s simply a matter of scale: if advertising didn’t have the benefit of riding along the broadcast channels, it would lose to sampling as a model of efficiency.

Does sampling have any drawbacks?  A few minor shortcomings are evident.  Sampling is hyper-local, and with that comes a scaling challenge. [You can get around this by including a product sample in your next physical mailing program…scaling problem overcome, but watch out for postage fees.] Also, sampling creates a minor headache if you’re bent on attribution.  It’s easy to see same day sales lift, but long-term brand building and incremental sales gains are hard to attribute unless you’re isolating markets or specific product varieties.

Finally, sampling does have a few parameters that must be considered…it’s hard to sample large or expensive products outside of the confines of the test-drive model.  You do have to eat the manufacturing costs of the products you’re giving away as you hedge your bets against future sales.  But regardless of these minor drawbacks, you can gain advantages in your market through sampling.  And if you do it with an intelligently conceived, creatively executed program, promoted through social media and even mobile alerts, chances are you’ll be enjoying those advantages with newly acquired customers for years to come.