Counter-Intuitive Marketing

By , October 13, 2010

I first became interested in “internet marketing” in 1995 because I was an estate-planning attorney seeking clients.  One of my early lessons was that sometimes, marketing success can come from counter-intuitive strategies. Here’s an example.

One of the earliest “banner advertising networks” was a company called SmartClicks, whose advertisers could select specific categories where their ads would appear, or could allow all or a portion of their advertising to be displayed across the entire network of web sites, with SmartClicks’ algorithm determining which categories performed best and then allocating more exposures to those categories.

I decided to experiment, choosing some specific categories like “finance & investment” for my ads to appear, promoting my legal services related to estate planning, probate & trust law, but I also allocated 20% to 40% of my advertising for SmartClicks to allocate and optimize.

After a couple of weeks, I checked SmartClicks’ reports and I was astonished to find that after initial testing, SmartClicks had decided that the best-performing category for my advertising was “astrology.”

Initially, I was outraged; I view astrology as a silly diversion, and I was certain that people visiting astrology web sites couldn’t possibly be interested in my estate planning services. I first assumed that the high proportion of clicks on my ads from astrology web sites was due to fraud.

But then “something clicked” in my brain, and I made the connection. People visit astrology web sites because they are concerned about their future, and some people rely on astrology to help them plan for the future.  As an estate-planning attorney, “planning for the future” was my business.

I also recognized that many more women are interested in astrology than men, and probably 80% of the visitors to an astrology site would be women. This was important, because I also knew that in married couples, it was usually the wife who was more motivated to choose and hire an estate-planning attorney.

The conclusion, for me, was that it made sense to continue spending a small amount to test the results from low-cost advertising on astrology web sites. Unfortunately, SmartClicks didn’t provide geographic targeting, so I couldn’t limit my ads to appear only in Northern California, so eventually I stopped advertising on SmartClicks (which is now defunct).

However, I learned an important lesson: don’t over-rely on logic or intuition when making decisions. Whenever possible, start advertising campaigns by scattering advertising more broadly, and then use the early data to make decisions about how to optimize the campaigns.  Sometimes, the most logical and rational planning is proven to be completely wrong, and of course, we always profit if we’re willing to learn from our mistakes.

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