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1 Sep, 2008 By: Response Contributor Response

How ING Direct built an $80 billion direct response business by smart investments in traditional advertising.


Funny Business


"Humor has played a very important role as a differentiator," says Jackie Feinberg, advertising manager. "Our brand prides itself on speaking directly to the consumer and having a voice that you can relate to."

Generally, 50 percent of ING Direct's print marketing budget goes to direct mail. Direct mail is one of the company s strongest DR tactics for acquiring new customers.
Generally, 50 percent of ING Direct's print marketing budget goes to direct mail. Direct mail is one of the company s strongest DR tactics for acquiring new customers.


For ING Direct reps, sometimes this entails donning an orange cow suit and handing out freebies in downtown Chicago to promote the business. This particular campaign was one of many clever community-driven events that educated and excited consumers about ING Direct.

"One of the initial challenges we faced was how to have a local presence in the market when we are a direct bank, and create a reputation that people would trust," says Feinberg. "One of the first things we did was create an outdoor presence. We tried to have a very local flavor by adding humor that would relate to that specific marketplace."

Philadelphia, for example, is notorious for its hardcore sports fans. One of the billboards in that market read, "Higher interest. No bank fees. Sorry sports fans, nothing to boo." In Houston: "Saving money isn't rocket science." And in Los Angeles: "Augment your savings."

"If you're going to try to have a little bit more humor, there's a risk that you could potentially offend someone, but one of the goals of our creative is to be memorable," says Feinberg. "People will smile, and that will help them to remember the ad and hopefully think more highly of our brand as a result."

One of the company's most memorable and successful branding campaigns was tied in with a strong direct response initiative on the back end.

"About two years ago we did a 'station domination' of Grand Central Station [in New York]," explains Feinberg. "We wanted to leverage that additionally with some response mechanisms. So we partnered with the MTA and distributed The New York Times to all of the commuters that morning. We wrapped them in a cover and there was a [free-standing insert] inside, which had all of the response information."

Response rates were tracked through reference codes and 800 numbers and provided a great indication for how well the campaign worked.

"The nearest thing that sort of mirrors [the station domination] is when we do a market launch," says Darren Mahoney, director of online marketing. "We'll tend to do things that are a little more overt on a Web site, more rich media, more on the page that would just get increase awareness and grab the user versus a typical banner ad."

When the orange cash cows were passing out free hot dogs and parking passes in Chicago, Mahoney led the online efforts, which integrated the branding with an online campaign to complement the event. During ING Direct's launch into Chicago, the people in cow suits gave away free parking and jumbo hot dogs downtown while Mahoney purchased rich media ads across a variety of financial and local Chicago sites. The online ads were cash cows that walked across the screen onto the ING Direct banner ad, which read, "Beef Up Your Savings."

"The [non-direct response] assets that we tap into the most are the tone and voice," says Mahoney. "We use that a lot, whether it's banner ads and testing different headlines as well as the language that we use on landing pages. I really feel like that's providing a fluid experience for people."


The 80-20 Rule


"When you look at the marketing programs that we've put out, the majority of our budget and volume is focused on what we call classic direct response activities," says Pieterse.

These DR classics include direct mail, including flyers and newspaper inserts, and online advertising. According to Pieterse, 20 percent of ING Direct's marketing budget goes to branding and 80 percent is invested in direct response. But it is important to remember that the 20 percent spent on branding is actually an investment behind the DR. If all goes according to plan, Pieterse expects his small investment to yield a 40-percent boost on response rates.

"What we see of great importance, to give us a long-term competitive advantage and to make direct response work, is really the work that we do creating a distinctive brand," he adds.

Most marketing initiatives are conducted regionally using direct mail and local cable TV spots. Online advertising is used to supplement direct mail on a local level and to hit target demographics nationally.

Some of the company's primary markets include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia and, more recently, Seattle, which tied into the company's acquisition of ING ShareBuilder, an online brokerage based in Washington state. In 2008, ING Direct has set its sights on a relatively smaller market with enormous potential — the Hawaiian Islands.

Before launching into a new marketplace, Pieterse and his team test consumer response using a highly targeted and hyper-local direct response campaign, which typically includes direct mail and online advertising on local Web sites. Response rates are always tested before any budget is spent on traditional advertising.

"Direct mail and online are almost equally strong in terms of how we grow our business and acquire new customers," says Pieterse, "although direct mail gauges inches ahead as our primary channel of acquiring new customers."

According to Tim Tarr, director of direct marketing, print advertising is generally 50 percent direct mail and 50 percent newspaper inserts. Direct mail tends to drive more new accounts, while newspaper inserts reach a larger audience and are better suited for more integrated branding.

The "Savers" campaign was a successful print campaign that was implemented in three different ways. There was a "Saver's Quiz," a "Saver's Want Ad" and another aspirational message called "The Wealthy Save." Tarr explains that each of the three mail pieces consistently generated more response from targeted groups than traditional rate-driven messages.

"The goal of the direct mail Savers campaign was to position the act of saving as an everyday behavior which is demonstrated in various ways," says Tarr. "By relating the act of 'saving money' to getting 'free drink refills,' a natural conclusion is drawn that everybody can save money and the Orange Savings account is a great tool to help."

He adds, "Not a lot of people are trying to do it," says Tarr. "I've yet to see anybody do mail the way we are."


Measuring Success


Pieterse contends that measuring the success of branding and direct response efforts is as important as tying them together. And, contrary to what many believe about traditional advertising, there are ways to measure its performance.

"One of the neat things we've been doing with our online advertising, as we drive people to the Web site, is a media spot with our CEO about what the brand stands for and why it's important to save your money," says Pieterse. "We added that to one of our landing pages that linked from a banner ad and through that we saw a 16-percent increase in conversion rate. I don't think people would normally anticipate or expect to see a video from a bank's CEO on the Web site telling them about the brand, but clearly that's worked extremely well for us."

After an event or any activity geared toward brand-awareness, the conversion rates in the accompanying direct mail campaigns are the true indicator of how well the branding efforts performed. Or with video, how many minutes have people been viewing the content.

"The Web site really complements our direct mail," says Pieterse. "Somebody feels a certain level of comfort with the information they receive in the direct mail, and then they come to the Web site and they're like, 'Yep, I got all the information I needed. I know I can get great rates; they have no fees on a savings account; I want to open up.'"

It's also about staying in context when reaching the consumer and knowing when to show the casual and often humorous personality of the brand and then also being smart about providing the essentials to convert them into customers.

"By the time that direct mail arrives at someone's home or when they see our online advertising on a financial Web site, we're hoping to contact the consumer in more of a conversion moment," says Pieterse. "Simple information is perhaps more important than too much humor and fluff."

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