Online education, casual games and online insurance – hidden marketing gems

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education_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — With ample justification and data to boot, much of the sky around the advertising industry has been falling in recent months for newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Why? Because advertising in these media is quickly becoming a relic of the past.

Traditional media and therefore most traditional advertisers failed to, or did not want to, adapt. The opportunity was there, to be sure, as customers and audiences migrated to other untraditional platforms, consuming content, products and services differently. The concept most missed along the way was that advertisers and brands need to go where their customers are, regardless of the platform.

I know from experience and used to work for an offline publisher. I was one of “those guys” heading up the online/digital division (which happened to be heavily based on direct response disciplines at the time) who seemingly “did not understand the brand”, but rather was trying to take every opportunity I could to grow traffic and convert it into paying customers.

The alpha dog in the company, I was not. With hardly any budget, I sat in meetings where people told me to my face that my lack of understanding of “brand” was a limitation, if not “destructive.” Meanwhile, my team poured over data every day, did A/B testing, utilized new web platforms to market on cost-effectively, tailored new marketing messages and embraced new media with ideas that few understood.

But a funny thing happened: we grew the division into profitability that was followed by years of successive revenue and profit growth.

One thing did not happen: with all of this “scrappy” direct marketing activity, the brand did not go away nor was it tarnished beyond repair. In fact, we could pay our bills, reach more people in a variety of different ways, bring some of the “cool” factor to bear to the multitudes of people who we could only reach via the web because usage patterns had shifted and grow our paying customer base. As this happened (despite more internal nose-thumbing I’m sure) we built the basis for an economically responsible, sustainable and fully accountable business.

That equates to growing the brand.

Now, the only silver lining these days is online advertising, and even those forecasts have been ratcheted down compared to forecasts from earlier in 2008 and 2007. But for online advertising, it is clear this is not the Great Depression. In fact, this period might be the best thing to ever happen to online marketing. Want to know why?

Take a look at the record-breaking attendance in Las Vegas this week for Affiliate Summit. That is a trade show where the savviest marketers on the planet, as well as some brand-conscious advertisers, come in droves to talk about business and how to make money.

Most of the attendees had to travel to get there. Most had to stay in hotels. And with all that added expense in a down economy, the show was sold out. As Platinum Sponsor, our company even got asked if we had any cancellations within our team so that more passes could be made available to the public. Perhaps this is evidence that more are seeing the light and that this is the start of the Internet’s hey-day in advertising. Even when markets come back, and ad dollars flow back somewhat into traditional media, the world will not look the same.

Surely, with this segment seemingly vibrant, there are positives out there, and – as always – there are opportunities even in this historically negative time for our economy.

So what is happening at shows like Affiliate Summit that isn’t happening in the broader economy, or even across the advertising industry?

Real commerce, which includes discussions about communication platforms, traffic, conversion, retention, offers, advertisers, agencies, web publishers, networks, social media, volume caps, Facebook, payment terms and how this all equates to brand-building. Scary topics and words, to some.

Everyone knows that credit is tight, unemployment rates are high, and that consumer spending is down and will likely remain a challenge for advertisers for some time. Much like big brands can’t just throw away their dollars on traditional media anymore, consumers can’t spend dollars willy-nilly. Where are advertisers seeing success?

Education: The dark side is that the unemployment rate is obscene. The sunny side is that many forced out of the workplace are considering going back to school to either brush up on a few things or expand their skill sets. This has given rise to a significant number of online education programs.

Casual Gaming: With more people out of work, some are turning to online casual games as a way to de-stress and have fun. This phenomenon is not solely limited to people in their late teens or early 20’s either, people of all ages are playing casual games with increased velocity.

Online Insurance Quotes: What is the thing that most people are looking for nowadays? Ways to save money. Whether it’s for their money, homes, cars, or lives, people are looking to save money on their insurance policies. Insurance is clearly at the top of the list as a fairly large (but necessary) expense for people.

This is only a handful of verticals that are showing relative strength. Turn on a TV in the middle of the day and see what advertisers are running on major cable networks these days…it looks a lot different than it did 6 months ago. There are a lot of direct response advertisers getting premium time and space, and with good reason – the onus is on advertisers to generate a clear ROI these days and who knows how to do that better than direct response advertisers? But it represents a real opportunity for advertisers or agencies not previously disposed to direct response-like advertising to thrive if they are smart and jump on board.

What we are starting to see, which some predicted last year, is that online advertisers are starting to think differently than they do in the offline world or in traditional media – because they have to.

Direct response and branding in the offline world is a lot like church and state; I believe the uniqueness of the online medium will continue to chip away at that.

For marketing executives who are still confused by the Web, still wondering how to spend those millions of dollars that used to go to TV or print, you better fall in line quickly. The opportunity exists like never before for online advertisers to gain more customers, truly interact with them, listen to them, make them happier and keep them longer – all part of true brand building – and to do all this from a dizzying number of platforms and techniques.

The best part about it is that you actually can make some money along the way and there are more and more companies able to guide you in your efforts.

— Express your opinion, comment below.

1 COMMENT

  1. We have seen a large spike in the number of people requesting insurance quotes – both for those that currently do not have coverage and those looking to reduce/change their current coverage. Consumers are cutting expenses, but intelligently, and that means using comparison shopping tools whether they are buying a TV or getting insurance coverage.

    I’m sure many of the Adotas readers are self-employed, so here are a few tips we posted on our blog that can save you money on your coverage – straight from the mouth of a former insurance executive: http://www.gohealthinsurance.com/blog/coverage/entry/20090107

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