This is part of an ongoing startup advice series where I answer (anonymized!) questions from readers, like a written version of Smart Bear Live. To get your question answered, email me at
asmartbear -at- shortmail -dot- com.
Adventurous Advertiser writes:
I’m ready to spend my first $1000 on something other than AdWords.
There’s lots of options and I don’t know where to start. How do I pick?
Since you didn’t say what field you’re in, you’d think I have no answer, but I do!
There’s a thousand places to advertise and a hundred ways to do “lead-gen,” i.e. getting CSV dumps of contact information for so-called “pre-qualified” people who were tricked into downloading a whitepaper you’ve supplied.
Which are best? Are any actually good at generating sales?
At Smart Bear I tried literally a hundred campaigns: paid search, trade shows, postcard mailers, newsletter sponsorships, and magazine ads (yes, print!). I eventually built a system that could measure campaign efficacy with pinpoint accuracy, even with traditionally different media like print. (I once promised an article describing this system and have yet to deliver… I’ll remedy that…)
So here’s what I learned:
Nothing. I learned I have zero ability at predicting which campaigns would produce. The only way to tell was to ensure accurate measurement was in place and try it. And negotiate a lower “first time” rate for the trial.
Also the quality of the campaign would change over time. When I first started with Dr. Dobbs magazine I had a little 1/4-page ad in the back. (“In the zoo” I’d say to the ad salesmen, who disagreed with my characterization of their remnants.) It worked great, and a full-page ad worked better. But as the years wore on it became less and less effective, like clockwork, and I kept demanding a lower and lower price.
“But our readership is increasing” the ad salesman would say, pointing to their BPA stats (a 3rd-party “auditor” who always certifies strong growth and a monied readership). “Besides that, you’ll lose credibility if you stop advertising. People will wonder whether you’ve disappeared.”
The magazine went under a few months later.
But remember, three years before it died, it was one of the top lead sources. Things change. Can’t predict.
So here’s how you decide which to start with. Of the dozen possibilities in front of you pick the one that maximizes these things, in this order of precedence:
- Measurable — you have to know objectively if the value to the company is greater than the amount of money spent. Generally online is easier to measure than offline, but that’s not true for things like contests or special offers or secret landing pages.
- Quickest time to discover whether it worked. Fast learning means you get to a working advertising model faster.
- Cheapest. At this stage the valuable thing is seeking/learning what advertising works, not trying to maximize total revenue right out of the gate. Once you’ve got a handle on how to spend money to make money, it then makes sense to pour money on it as fast as possible.
- Comfortable — something you like, like a news site you already read, or a Twitter contest-runner that seems particularly smart about it. Since your gut isn’t too useful, you might as well pick something you like, especially if you already understand the culture of the site, and therefore could build an ad perfect for that audience. For example at Smart Bear I was particularly successful on StackOverflow, which I was an early beta user in, and on Coding Horror, which was was a long-time reader of.”
So don’t waste time fretting about picking the “right” campaign. You can’t. So make sure these key things are in place, and just go.
Add your advice to the discussion section!