`What should I consider before launching an online ad campaign?’

Before getting involved in any kind of marketing activity, get a firm grasp of three key factors: objectives, expectations, and resources. Objectives are your ultimate metrics for success. Expectations are the quantifiable benchmarks used to gauge performance. And resources are simply the financial and human support for the commitments you’re prepared to take on.

Closed-loop analysis tools, such as DoubleClick DART for Advertisers or AdKnowledge, can track users from the point of seeing an online ad through to the point of purchase. They work by tagging a user when he or she clicks on an ad and then, once the user has gone through and purchased, looking at the tag to see where he or she came from. Because few advertisers operate in a vacuum with online-only campaigns, however, you can’t rely on these sorts of measurements alone.

That said, I believe that every online advertisement can boost a marketer’s bottom line in six – count ’em, six – ways:

1) Direct response. Say what you will about declines in the effectiveness of banner ads, but some users do actually click through (or click within for certain rich-media applications) and buy, register, or whatever within one session.

2) Delayed response. According to Forrester Research, 67% of online shoppers abandon their shopping carts during the ordering process. But although these users may not complete the desired action in that session, they may return later by directly entering your URL into their browser. Certain closed-loop analysis tools can measure this sort of traffic.

3) Branding. For our purposes here, I’ll avoid the definition others often give this term, which is “anything we can’t account for.” Rather, let’s consider branding the value realized when users don’t react immediately to an ad but at some time in the future – whether it’s moments or months later – do visit your site and perform the action you were hoping to spur.

4) Lifetime customer value. There’s a reason Amazon.com doesn’t have a problem paying a couple of hundred dollars to sell one $12.95 paperback. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos believes, rightly so, that if his business can fulfill and even overachieve a user’s expectations in a consistent manner, that user will be loyal. Many times, especially when an advertiser’s promise is fulfilled, customers will return time and time again. Take this into account when determining an appropriate cost per acquisition.

5) Viral value. Bezos would be quick to point out to anyone who doubted his customer-acquisition strategy that not only will a customer with a $200 lifetime value buy $200 worth of product over time, but he or she will also spread the good word about Amazon, thereby bolstering its user base.

6) Offline value. Online ads have the ability to influence offline behavior – good news for multichannel marketers.

So next time you’re planning an online marketing strategy, think through your objectives, expectations, and resources before beginning any execution whatsoever, and trust me, you’ll be better off. At the same time, keep in mind that pure direct response is not the only way to measure ROI.

Whether your yearly advertising budget is $5,000 or $50 million, answering the following questions will help you prepare your business’s online ad campaign:

n What is the value of your site and your service? The sooner you establish the value of each component of your site and service offerings, the sooner you will be able to target your audience and hone your marketing projections using substantiated numbers.

n Have you fleshed out your marketing model to define your objectives and budget levels? Your marketing plan should focus on a core idea, such as building a unique online brand or leveraging partnerships with established online businesses. The plan’s execution, typically encapsulated in the media placements and creative pieces, must support the core idea, though you should reevaluate the core idea two to four times a year due to the rapid changes in the online environment.

n What is your competitive set? Identifying your competitors and their offerings is one of the fastest ways to differentiate your products or recognize weaknesses in your service offerings. Additionally, treat any industry-specific advertising statistics you find as a gold mine because they will provide an initial set of guidelines as to the performance you must match or beat.

n Are you willing to experiment and be creative online? The Web may seem like a risky venture; our experience proves that is not the case. The Web does, however, require abandoning what may seem like universal truths for new learning. This means that your first dollars should be spent on testing everything, including your message, creative, target audience, and sites selected for advertising.

For most companies, marketing and advertising budgets are not unlimited. But the Internet’s highly specialized content targeted at clearly defined audiences allows online advertisers to reap the rewards of traffic building, brand awareness, and response targeting, and an impressive return on investment. And after all, isn’t that what you’re looking for?

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