Tree.com Climbs to New Heights1 Nov, 2008 By: Thomas Haire Response
Creating Successful Campaigns
Tree.com plans on expanding on the use of DR marketing within all of its businesses. LendingTree itself utilizes DRTV, the Web, E-mail and radio as tools. The company also uses some branding television in conjunction with its DRTV. However, Lebda says the original business plan was "a complete DR model."
"The thing that helped during the boom times — and also helped meet the challenges of a market correction — is the hyper-metric notion of our cost-per-qualification form," Lebda says. "We have to know the cost of acquiring a prospect measured against the expected value of that customer — for our own business and that of our partners. It's a classic DR model. Still, nothing of what we do is pure DR, nor is it pure branding. Everything we do is a mix, because the two work well together."
Lebda says each of the company's DRTV spots feature a specialized mix, including a six-second product demo, specific messaging and a strong call-to-action (CTA). Online, he contends the company's mix is a little more aggressively targeted. "We use banners and buttons, affiliate marketing and, because we have a great brand, more pure online direct response works for us," he says. "Because of the brand, I can pay less on Google and drive more revenue from search queries. When people see a LendingTree ad, they're more likely to click on it, which factors into the Google algorithm."
Lebda believes that lack of brand recognition hampers his competitors, especially online. "When you try to run pure DR, especially online, without that brand halo, the margins can be ephemeral," he contends. With that branding advantage, however, Lebda can focus more on the DR aspects of his campaigns.
"If I think of my aggregate, year-long media plan, the whole thing is built through DR," he says. "We want to drive a new customer for company X and monetize the needs of customer Y. Every bit of marketing we do is designed to hit an ROI."
Still, as with any DR-driven marketing plan, there are failures to go along with the many successes LendingTree has encountered over the years. "Of course, a major success was the Stanley Johnson 'in debt up to my eyeballs' campaign," Lebda says of the 2001 TV spot that became a sensation, even being discussed on TV shows like "Oprah."
LendingTree created the Stanley Johnson character for its brand and DRTV spots, and this campaign "got into the public's psyche, and was used and re-used all over by our team," according to Lebda. "The idea was as a lead in to other ideas about the plight of the American consumer. We've used derivatives of the ad on radio, online and in print. It was a brand message with a direct CTA, but it was also humorous and broke through into pop culture a bit."
On the other hand, Lebda points to an online sweepstakes campaign that flopped as a failed campaign that taught a good lesson. "The sweepstakes was done in a very contextual way online," he says. "We thought it would work well because it was placed in media that was very directed, we thought, to possible consumers. It was part of a plan of contextual Web advertising. We got our clock cleaned for a couple years, buying premium ads in highly contextual areas. Then we saw a rise of broad reach ads from competitors and even from our lending partners that, to us, made no sense how they were placed. However, lenders told us how well it was working. We were about a year behind and had to play catch up with our competitors. It was a math, technology and testing game. We used thousands of ads, placements and landing pages. All of that made a certain placement work but not another. Technology was key to mine through it all and find gold."
In the end, the LendingTree team found that, according to Lebda, "For a brand like ours online, DR is more effective on a bigger scale of numbers. For us, true DR online has to play with a larger group of consumers. We want them to see an ad with a CTA everywhere. With that broader reach, even though the buys aren't very contextual, the cost-per-thousand (CPM) and click-thrus are so low that the math works out."