International: The Biggest Risk Marketers Can Take Is Not Taking One

International: The Biggest Risk Marketers Can Take Is Not Taking One

Author | Source: Advertising Age | Tuesday, Oct 23,2007 8:32 AM

International: The Biggest Risk Marketers Can Take Is Not Taking One

Are you struggling to get your CMO to record a few podcasts? Or even just shift some money into search marketing from your large TV budget? Many CMOs feel that each new internet-marketing technique seems "too risky" at first. Why?

Blame it on their successes in traditional marketing, which has always been a risky venture. Companies can spend wads of cash buying air time and developing TV ads -- none of which can be easily canceled or quickly changed. No wonder CMOs have learned to carefully consider risk. Under those circumstances, mulling things over to ensure you "get it right" is wise.

But the internet is different. You can buy an ad on Google this morning, discover its woeful click rate at lunch and tweak the ad copy before dinner. The best companies do small experiments online, working to expand and perfect the winners.

Amazon.com has been doing this since its inception, when a debate erupted over whether the shopping cart should be placed on the left or right side of the screen. No matter how long marketers argued, no compromise was possible -- the cart couldn't go in the middle. So, Amazon experimented, trying the cart on the left one week and the right the next. With sales 1% higher for the right-side cart, that's where it stayed.

CompUSA's Al Hurlebaus recalls the reaction when he proposed adding customer reviews to CompUSA.com to raise conversion rates: "I don't think one executive thought there'd be any change." So they experimented -- trying it on one product to see if conversion rates increased. (They did, markedly.) In a more fearful company, Al's bosses might have said "no" instead of "give it a try."

Internet marketing rewards experimentation over playing it safe. I like to challenge marketers to "do it wrong quickly." No, you're not intending to do it wrong -- you're merely admitting that most things we try are wrong. If we dedicate ourselves to listening to the feedback of what our customers say and do, we can try another (smarter) experiment next.

Internet marketing may feel risky, but it's nothing compared to the risk of staying on the sidelines.

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