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Ecommerce Dilemma: "What is the Right Time to launch a mass media campaign?"

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9th Jul 2012
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ecommerce

This post is in continuation to the the last article by Gayatri about whether an eCommerce company should have a TV presence?

What does a Diva, a stand-up comic and a politician have in common? Their sense of timing! Not too early, not too late, because they know the value of creating impact. This holds true for the launch of good mass media campaign too.

One may wonder, Isn’t this true for all marketing campaigns so why is it so much more important for ecommerce companies? Well, to begin with TV campaigns are a huge dent on the bottom line especially for cash-strapped ecommerce start-ups and then they have the option of safe Search advertising, so opting to advertise in mass media is fraught with risk.

When it comes to timing, one thing is definite Ecommerce start-ups that advertise without fixing the basics are committing hara-kiri. By basics I mean, that the web site should have a decent conversion rate of minimum 2% (on Visits), low Page load time and low bounce rate from its core landing pages (less than 20%). These are imperatives, because mass advertising brings in a wider pool of audience diluting the conversion rate. It is possible that the campaign is a runaway success and the volumes make up for the drop in the conversion rate. But, remember we are talking about de-risking, if it does happen it will be icing.

The high page load time is another big barrier to a successful campaign. Despite the best assurances of technology teams, on the launch day best of the sites go into a tizzy. The search slows down and bugs pop-up in the crucial path of shopping. Whatever your exaggerated traffic expectation, please double that and give as target to IT folks because they will half it when planning tech-resource!

The high bounce rates in the meanwhile are an indicator of how the web site is not ready. If over 30% of the traffic is not getting into the inside pages of the sites, it points towards several problems – UI, technology, poor design or poor merchandise. It is money wasted if these are not fixed.

Besides what you do right on the web site, the other variable to consider is competitive environment. If the web site is first in its sector and anticipates clones in near future (group deals, books and electronics, branded sporting apparel, travel etc) it is best to go for the mass advertising early on. The mass advertising creates a gap, which followers will find difficult to bridge. Of course if you are as unique as a Facebook you don’t need advertising in the first place!

The logic being, as the market gets filled with similar sites, companies are unable to create preference for their brands as all the offers and the merchandise are similar. By creating awareness early on the web site will create preference; in fact even if competitors advertise the first mover generally gets the benefit.

The time of the year when to advertise is another aspect to consider. This is part of any good execution strategy irrespective of whether you are in an ecommerce industry or not. I still bought it up because every good plan needs it. For companies that don’t have huge spikes in sales led by festivals, weddings, weather or any such seasonal flavor this aspect of launch doesn’t apply. In fact it is best to avoid the ad clutter and higher advertising costs that one will encounter during the festival season. However, the date of launch is critical if sales are seasonal.

Ideally, the brand should be visible just when the customers are getting into the cycle of researching a prospective purchase. Indians are culturally not big on planning so purchases don’t have a long consideration-2-purchase cycle. It lasts anywhere from six to eight weeks. Here, I am not taking into account the time the first thought of shopping is planted more when serious research begins.

Viewed from financial planning aspect, large marketing spends are better when front-loaded in a financial year. A successful campaign shows decreasing costs and higher growth, music to the ears of investors. And when even the well-laid plans go awry, it is good to have time on your side to make any amends. Getting back up makes a compelling story too!

Next week we will look at how to measure ROI of offline media campaigns.

About the author:

Gayatri Buddha is the Director at Signum Tree, a Marketing and Business Consulting company for internet companies. In her last stint, Ms Buddha was Assistant VP - Marketing and alliances at MakeMyTrip. In her 15 years of experience, she has been associated with successful launch of two internet brands in India - MakeMyTrip and Monster.com. She is among the few online marketing professionals who have deep understanding of both online and offline media. She is currently pursuing her MBA at Kellogg's.

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