Applied Marketing 101: Diving for PURLs

As I write this, I am flying back to the East Coast after an exceptionally successful series of Shows in Las Vegas. In many respects, the mood at JCK was the best I’ve seen for at least six years, as retailers jammed what is increasingly becoming a Gems One booth that, with only five work stations, needs to become significantly larger (and since we just can’t seem to get more booth space, I think we may have to look into building a second story for our booth next year). What fun it is to be on a roll!

Our growth has come by combining innovative marketing ideas with properly priced, quality products, and for the coming Fall season, we are taking another significant step forward. I thought you might be interested to hear about some recent technological advances that are now allowing us to increase the efficiency of our advertising platforms, so this month, I’m writing about an amazing new set of marketing functionalities that will yield even higher response rates.

At a very basic level, there are fundamentally two kinds of advertising: Brand-based advertising, and Direct Response advertising. Brand-based advertising seeks to communicate your Unique Selling Proposition, express your company’s Brand Identity, and create Top-Of-The-Mind awareness. Direct Response advertising, on the other hand, seeks to fill your store with customers. Simply stated, the four stage methodology for Direct Response marketing is as follows:

  • Discover what consumers want
  • Develop an effective message delivery system that communicates the extent to which you have what consumers want, at the perceived value level required to trigger a buying response
  • Determine the right time to deliver the message so as to maximize ROI
  • Replenish the product as needed

The historical challenge for Direct Response marketers has been to develop a single message with the broadest possible appeal. But imagine a scenario in which we take advantage of the extraordinary power of relational databases and variable data printing, so that we can fine tune the message, and speak directly to each individual consumer in ways that specifically relate to him or her.

Increasingly, print advertising is becoming the gateway for driving consumers to the internet, where they can learn more about your offer, and even provide further information about themselves so that you can subsequently communicate more effectively with them.  And what better way to engage your customer base than to create individual website addresses for each individual, in which their first and last names are actually part of the URL. Welcome to the world of the Personal Website address, or PURL.

PURLs come in two varieties: Static, and Dynamic. A Static PURL allows us to go fishing for new customers, by engaging them through print when variable printing isn’t an option, and then driving them to a landing page on the internet, where we can then engage them by asking questions (including, for example, their birthday and anniversary) and allow them to register to receive a special offer. Possible applications include inserting this landing page address in a newspaper ad or a generic flyer, in a mobile app, or even in a TV or cinema ad.

Dynamic PURLs, on the other hand, incorporate the consumer’s name in the URL (for example, www.briansmith/, which significantly increases the interaction rate. But the real magic occurs when we add data that we can obtain from companies like CoreLogic which maintain relational databases that are chock full of info about every American consumer. By knowing more about Brian, we can take advantage of the ability to make the online offer variable, so that it more precisely fits what Brian might want to buy.

Let’s say, for example, that we’d like to vary the message based on Brian’s economic status. We will then build the PURL landing page so that when Brian hits “Continue”, CoreLogic instantly fills a data tree with information we can then use to modify our offer. In this case, we might create four offers: one if Brian rents, one if his house is worth less than two hundred thousand dollars, one if his house is worth between two hundred and five hundred thousand dollars, and one if his house is worth over five hundred thousand dollars. Each of these is called a “Trigger” offer, because it’s triggered by the information we get from Brian, enhanced by the information we get from CoreLogic. As consumers on the mailing list visit their respective PURLs, we can monitor the results and adjust the offers based on real time info about response rates.

This is just one extremely simple example of how we might segment the offers.  Just imagine if we sampled the CoreLogic data pipe more comprehensively with additional information like marital status, age, net worth, and creditworthiness, so we could really ramp up the desirability of the offer.

With Static PURLs, by building the questionnaire so that it includes the consumer’s name and address, the CoreLogic database will auto-activate when the consumer submits the form by pressing the “Continue” button, and we can then sample the data pipe so that even when we’re fishing for new customers, we can send trigger offers that are uniquely well suited to the recipient. In this way, even with consumers who aren’t in your customer database, we can still take advantage of this incredible functionality to drill down to specifics about each consumer who responds. So whether it’s Static or Dynamic, the PURL can engage CoreLogic, and make the magic happen.

If you think this is cool, you’re right, but it gets even better. Remember how we asked Brian a few questions about his birthday and anniversary, so he could qualify for our special offer? We’re also building timed trigger offers based on those responses, so we can automate the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) process moving forward, and make sure that he gets e-mails and offers immediately preceding his birthday and anniversary.

It’s important for you to understand that this isn’t something we’re working on for the future. This is something we’re doing NOW. And since it’s all fully automated, the cost of doing these things is literally pennies per transaction. Last year, we produced median response rates exceeding 6 percent in December with catalogs sent to our customers’ customers, and that was without PURLs. This year, I expect double digit response rates to become the norm, as we tailor the offers to match the recipients.

If this seems like science fiction, you need to recognize that your chain store competitors are already implementing these strategies for the Fall. This is all part of an ongoing advertising evolution, as print increasingly becomes the vehicle for driving consumers first to the internet, and then to the retailing environment. Recognize that one of the majors typically sends me nine printed advertising pieces between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15. This year, I’ll speculate that at least five will be on variable data platforms, and at least two will drive me to PURLs.

In order to fully grasp what’s going on here, consider a Fundamental Marketing Principle called Market Segmentation, which addresses the reality that different segments of consumers have shared likes and dislikes. The classic academic paper on Market Segmentation from the 1960s dealt with how the toothpaste market could be divided into three consumer groups: those who wanted whiter teeth, those who wanted fresher breath, and those who wanted cavity protection. Predictably, this drove toothpaste makers to create brands like Pearl Drops or Crest, possessing Unique Selling Propositions that addressed the three target audiences. But today, you will see at least nine different variations of Crest toothpaste on drug store shelves, as marketers seeking to further segment the toothpaste market developed products so as to more perfectly address the desires of specific subsets of the original three segments.

Relational databases and PURLs are now allowing creation of exceedingly sophisticated advertising approaches that will ultimately allow marketers to individually segment entire consumer audiences, enabling advertisers to achieve significant ROI. We are actually somewhat behind other industries in this regard, but I am confident that billion dollar corporations like the major retail jewelry chains are not going to miss the opportunity to rev up their advertising productivity using these methodologies. I hope you’ll consider revving up your advertising as well. The future of your store may ultimately depend on it.

Class Dismissed!

George Prout is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Gems One Corporation, and can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or at Gems One’s New York office at 800-436-7787.