It's that time of the year when many of us are up to our necks in strategic planning for the upcoming year. Are you looking at your 2009 media budget and figuring out where to allocate your dollars? This is exactly what I'm doing right now, and it's as if every media company and sales executive can smell the dollars coming out of my pores. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not really. The more options I have to spend my media dollars, the better choices I'll likely make.
Even with all of the options out there, does your media plan for next year look surprisingly the same year-to-year? If so, get out of the street because you're about to be run over by a fully loaded Mack truck.
Are you comfortable? Watch out!
When I started working at AccuQuote, there were several companies in our niche that were bigger than us. Six years later, most of these companies are either struggling to maintain growth and profitability, have had their assets acquired by us or have gone out of business. All the while, we continue to grow at a blistering pace. Why? Because we refuse to get comfortable.
I've seen our marketing strategies evolve from strictly radio advertising, to purchasing third-party spam-generated leads, to all pop-ups, to a balanced mix of online placements coupled with our offline advertising. It's been an evolution throughout the years. So what's the difference between us and our competitors? At each of these steps, one of our former competitors decided to hold on tight, not test anything new and ride its existing marketing media into the ground.
What are you testing?
Do you have an answer to this question? If not, you're likely to get left in the dust down the road. Don't take my approach as saying that you should spend the lion's share of your budget on the unproven, but refusing to test is sure-fire way to find yourself out of a job. My philosophy on testing is that we are always testing. It's ingrained in our DNA as marketers.
Things that I thought were a sure bet have failed just as often as things I didn't think had a shot in hell succeeded. Over time, my intuition has gotten stronger and stronger, but I still continue to test often. "Test small and then funnel the budget to the winning horses," is a line that all of my publisher and agency partners have heard over and over from me.
Where does emerging media fit into the picture?
When I hear the term "emerging" media, all it means to me is an opportunity to test, learn and create another medium for positive ROI advertising. Given that there are so many things that are constantly considered emerging, it's often difficult to know where to start.
Once you've made the commitment to carving out a portion of your media budget to testing, you need to evaluate which new advertising or customer engagement media fit within your brand strategy. Are you strictly focused on direct response? Are you looking for places where the audience is highly engaged? Are you looking for strong reach against your target demographic? Or are you looking to broadcast your brand message in line with your offline advertising? Your overall strategy is going to dictate your approach.
For example, we've tested advertising within both blogs and podcasts. As a very conversational business, our tactic was to join the discussions surrounding personal finance topics and follow an educational approach similar to what we do in our own blogs and podcasts. It's been a great learning process that we continue to fine-tune in order to strike the perfect balance between engagement and ROI positive direct response.
Testing means that sometimes you'll knock it out of the park, sometimes you'll get a good learning experience or you'll find a medium that is just a little too new to work for your specific goals. For example, mobile has not proven to be a good direct response mechanism for us. This doesn't mean that I won't test mobile ever again, but it does mean that I'll focus on testing other media and come back to mobile in the future.
Just like ad networks change ad inventory, publishers gain reach, and technology vendors increase service offerings, many emerging platforms will perform well within your media mix at some point in time. Just because something doesn't work now doesn't mean you should refrain from ever testing that medium in the future.
What about dollars and common sense?
When it comes to the amount of budget you spend on testing, it's all about common sense. For some companies, this means carving out 5 percent of your overall media budget. For others, 25 percent is the right number. The best advice I can give when it comes to the wallet is to spend as much on testing as you feel comfortable with. But it needs to be enough to learn from. Anything less, and you're wasting your time. Anything more, and you're potentially being careless with your budget.
As you go through this year's media budget, if it looks identical to this year's budget, rip it up, shred it, smoke it and start planting new seeds.
Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.