Case study: A 60% CTR and still counting

How do you stand apart from the crowds of the holiday season when everyone -- from the big-box store down to the mall kiosk, from the major manufacturers to the niche retailers -- is inundating consumers with messages of sales and discounts?

That was the challenge facing Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc., when the company decided to promote its new in-dash navigation models -- AVIC-Z110BT and AVIC-X910BT -- with holiday rebate offers.

The company's solution: target its audience with razor-sharp precision by finding them in online forums, and let the message speak for itself. Pioneer turned to PostRelease, which provides an automated way to insert sponsored posts into relevant forum discussion threads.

Before using PostRelease, Pioneer advertised heavily in car audio and automotive enthusiast magazines. Over the past four years, these audiences shifted away from magazines and moved to online forums. Pioneer knew its enthusiast audience was on these websites, but there was no good way to reach them. Banner campaigns on these forums resulted in exceptionally low click-through rates.

When PostRelease was presented as an advertising option, Pioneer saw it as a way to reach its target enthusiast audiences with content. Pioneer was able to provide information that its audience wanted in a way that was less "advertising" and more informational.

Forums offer a highly targeted audience ready for product messages
Forums are online gathering places for people who share a similar interest, communicating with each other by posting messages. There are millions of highly targeted online forums, for people who want to talk about cars, video games, music, fashion, sports, hobbies, and the list goes on. 

People often are there precisely to discuss products or services, even specific brands. They pose questions to the community, ask for guidance, or simply look to connect with people who share their passions.

A challenge when targeting audiences in online forums is that it's time-consuming to find the right forums, identify the relevant discussion threads within those forums, and manually contribute content and manage replies to those posts. Also, it's usually against the forum's rules to post promotional messages. But PostRelease has relationships with a network of forums, giving them permission to post relevant messages. The PostRelease software fully automated the identification of relevant forums, insertion of Pioneer's message into these forums, and the tracking of the reads and clicks that the campaign generated.

PostRelease and Pioneer crafted a sponsored forum post that included product images, direct links to the product web pages, and the rebate page on Pioneer's website. (See one of Pioneer's posts here.) 

The campaign ran as a sticky post -- meaning the post remained in the lead position -- in relevant audio-related discussion categories in 55 automotive-themed forums, from Nov. 2 to Nov. 9, 2009. The post was clearly marked as from PostRelease and Pioneer and, once unstuck, moved down the page as a regular forum post would. It remains part of the forum content for the life of the forum.

The five forums to generate the most clicks and reads for Pioneer's holiday campaign were ClubFrontier.org, Camaroz28.com, DuramaxForum.com, Z06Vette.com, and 300CForums.com.

Hyper-targeting has residual benefits
Pioneer achieved a 60 percent click-through rate by using PostRelease to target automotive enthusiasts in online forums. Pioneer had past experience with PostRelease and expected the high click rates and targeted reads. The pleasant surprise for Pioneer was the fact that the posts continue to generate response months after the paid campaign has completed. Pioneer continues to benefit from posts run months earlier, from a campaign for which it only paid for one week's run.

The reason? Forum posts contain content that can be discovered in search engine results, driving traffic to the ad not only from the audience of the forum in which it appears, but also directly from organic search listings.

After the seven-day campaign, Pioneer's click-through rate was 57 percent. Today, six months later, the click-through rate is averaging 65 percent. The PostRelease campaign shows up in Google, Yahoo, and Bing search results on the first page for keywords "pioneer navigation rebate," averaging a 7.2 position.

These results are typical. In fact, sponsored forum posts, clearly marked as advertisements, increase in ability to drive response over time -- by an average of more than 100 percent one year after a paid campaign has ended, according to an analysis conducted by PostRelease. After 60 days, the total number of click-throughs increases by an average of 40 percent, and after 180 days, it increases by an average of 77 percent.

Since Pioneer's offer was valid for a limited time only, one challenge was how to handle sending the residual traffic to an expired offer. The solution was to update the landing page with the latest offer information so that residual traffic would see current programs.

The one thing Pioneer would do differently in the future is to add social media "bumpers" to each post. A new feature from PostRelease, these bumpers would link to Pioneer's Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, and website, to take full advantage of the consumer's focused attention in the moment.

Justin Choi is president of PostRelease.

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