I’ve been involved in building and marketing new websites for at least 10 years now and one of the most frustrating things about promoting a new site is converting offline impressions into online visits. In this post I want to talk about some of the things that have worked for me but more importantly I want to tell you about some things that DIDN’T work.
My partner and I launched Safarium.com, an online vacation rental by owner website, in 2003 to compete in a fairly new market. Of course we purchased online ads, launched an affiliate program, and even posted online classified ads for some of our property owners and saw a decent amount of traffic – but we wanted to reach vacation owners who might not be aware that a service like ours existed online. In the fall of 2003 we posted a $75 ad in the Denver Post Vacation Rental classified section about our website and waited. And waited. Not a single property owner in Colorado joined in the month that followed.
In 2006 I was working on an e-commerce website, messengerapparel.com, and my partner and I decided to try a direct mail campaign to increase awareness of our online store. We chose Birmingham, AL as our test region (so we could monitor the success of the campaign via our web analytics) and sent out more than 200 letters to leaders in our target market. The result? Nothing, not even a single hit to the website from Birmingham for almost 2 weeks.
When we first launched singletracks.com in 1998 we sent homemade flyers to bicycle shops in the southeast announcing our site and asking the shops to help promote our trail database. Though we didn’t have sophisticated analytics in those days I’m pretty sure the flyers had little to no effect. However, in the spring of this year we revisited the idea of marketing our site in local bicycle shops and so far things look promising. We’ve received several emails from shop owners in response to our mailing and friends have reported seeing our promotional material prominently posted in shops around town. So far so good, though it is still difficult to tie any increase in site traffic to this particular campaign.
Singletracks also sells t-shirts and we even give away free stickers to just about anyone who asks (and some to folks who don’t ask!). Our internal market research shows that out of 1,500 responses only 12 people say they first heard about our site when they saw a sticker or t-shirt. That’s less than 1% for those keeping track.
Based on these experiences and combined with some things I learned in business school, I’ve shifted my focus from building direct traffic on offline campaigns to simply working to increase brand impressions. You see, it often takes several “impressions” before consumers decide to take action with regards to a product or service. For example, a mountain biker may see our promotional map in a bike shop and tells himself “I’m going to check out that website when I get home.” Of course, he forgets but then one day a couple weeks later he sees a Google Ad for singletracks and it sounds familiar somehow – so he clicks. Once on the site, the logo is familiar and the customer is much more comfortable signing up for an account because the brand was first validated outside the online space. The promo in the bike shop didn’t directly drive the traffic but it prepped the customer to be more receptive to our message once they saw it a second time.
If you’ve tried offline campaigns in the past and haven’t seen the results you expected, consider that your message may not drive direct traffic to your site but may simply prepare consumers to hear your message a second or third time. Offline campaigns can help you build your online brand in a way that online ads and links cannot and should be a part of any internet marketer’s site promotion plan.