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Was it merchant John Wanamaker or soap magnate Lord Leverhulme who once said, "Half my advertising spending is wasted. I just don't know which half"?

Historians are fuzzy about which legendary marketer first uttered those words. Regardless, the sentiment is growing for advertisers investing in pay-per-click ads via search engines, directories, and online yellow pages. The model has certainly proved successful for many, but marketers are beginning to question how and when they should spend their budget in this area.

One emerging trend is investment in technologies and services that drive phone leads from the Web rather than click-throughs to a business's Web site. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) view this as a powerful way to get more qualified leads when they may not be able to make the Web investments of their larger counterparts (in fact, they may not even have a Web site). Likewise, larger corporations are leveraging phone leads to facilitate complex transactions that their customers may not be comfortable completing on the Web.

Click-to-call, the technology that enables instant phone leads, has garnered considerable attention from a range of businesses. With the click of a button, buyers can be connected immediately over the phone to advertisers from any Web site or ad listing.

This technology enables pay-per-call advertising models, which allow advertisers to pay on a per-call basis for leads generated online. The success of pay-per-click advertising revolutionized advertising for online merchants. It's a model that works great for simple, low-cost online transactions. But, as mentioned, for more complex sales of products and services, or for smaller advertisers that do not have a formidable Web presence, a phone call still works best for closing the deal. That's why major Internet brands are experimenting with offering click-to-call to their advertisers.

However, local advertisers aren't the only ones seeing the benefits of click-to-call. For years, companies like DaimlerChrysler and Ogilvy have integrated click-to-call applications on brand Web sites, email campaigns, banner ads, and other online communications in an effort to...

1. Increase sales conversion

2. Reduce site abandonment

3. Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty

Both local media and enterprise businesses have seen the benefits of giving customers a direct response mechanism that puts them in contact with a human being. And though there are some differences between local media and enterprise click-to-call solutions, one thing is certain: A click-to-call solution is much more complex than simply connecting a phone call.

Before getting into the details of how local and enterprise click-to-call solutions may vary, let's first acknowledge the four key traits that both share:

  1. Call connections. There's nothing like the power of voice to close a deal and to build a solid customer relationship. For large enterprises and local advertisers, click-to-call solutions connect online prospects directly to their businesses, enabling productive dialog.

  2. Strategic Web placement. Based on behavioral triggers (shopping cart contents, keyword searches, and other analytics), click-to-call creates cross-sell and up-sell opportunities for businesses by allowing them to engage prospects whom they deem to be of high value, by offering them a chance to call the business directly from their Web site or online ad.

  3. Customer experience integration. Customer experience is a crucial part of increasing revenue online. A recent study by Jupiter Research found that for high-value, complex transactions, most customers still prefer live voice interaction over other methods of contact, including email, text chat, and FAQs. Click-to-call allows customers to maintain the continuity of their online session and prevent the frustration of having to start a transaction over when they jump from the Web to the phone. In short, no more dealing with interactive voice response (IVR) hell!

  4. ROI metrics. In both local media and the enterprise space, the bottom line is the bottom line: Click-to-call allows businesses to gauge the effectiveness of their online channels and marketing efforts in real time.

Regardless of the medium, click-to-call is all about generating quality leads from across channels.

Local Media Click-to-Call

Recent media attention has focused on the rise of "pay-per-call" advertising. The term "click-to-call" is sometimes confused with "pay-per-call." However, it's important to note that "pay-per-call" is a business model for ad listings in search engines and directories that allows publishers to charge local advertisers on a per-call basis for each lead (call) they generate. "Click-to-call," along with call tracking, is a technology that enables the "pay-per-call" business model.

A number of online directories and yellow pages—including Verizon Superpages and European directories like Yahoo UK & Ireland and PagesJaunes—have been offering similar click-to-call services to their advertisers for quite some time as a value-added service, as a premium service for ad listings, or on a pay-per-call basis.

One company that has seen tremendous success offering click-to-call to its local advertisers has been SpaFinder, the world's largest spa marketing and media company. It offers an online directory service (SpaFinder.com) that puts people in touch with spas and resorts in their area.

SpaFinder is tasked with proving a return on investment to its advertisers. To do this, it needed to implement a tracking system that would show spa partners exactly what calls SpaFinder was generating on their behalf and where those calls were coming from. "We suspected that we were delivering a lot of reservation calls to our partner spas, but we had no data on how many," said Angela Tassone, ecommerce director for SpaFinder.

Using click-to-call, SpaFinder was able to determine that it was delivering more than 5,000 leads per month to its network of resort, destination, and medical spa advertisers. "We have been able to demonstrate exceptional ROI to our directory advertisers," according to Pete Ellis, chairman and CEO of SpaFinder. "Using this service, we are able to convert call volume to revenue generated for our spa partners, and prove the value of working with SpaFinder."

In the case of one spa, with click-to-call technology SpaFinder was able to connect more than $160,000 of revenue in one month to the once-skeptical advertiser.

Enterprise Click-to-Call

As mentioned, hundreds of large enterprise marketers have implemented click-to-call solutions to their online campaigns over the years. Some companies, such as Jenny Craig, have used it as a means of extending their brand messaging across channels. Using click-to-call, Jenny Craig is able to deliver a message to its customers from spokesperson Kirstie Alley whenever calls are initiated from the Web to a local Jenny Craig location.

Others have incorporated click-to-call as part of their viral marketing campaigns, such as when Comedy Central used the technology to help spread the word about the premiere of "Crank Yankers." Using click-to-call technology, people were able to send audio clips from the show to their friends.

However, click-to-call has seen the greatest adoption when it comes to online transactions. It has become a preferred customer service contact method, for many organizations, when the goal is to close a sale. Using click-to-call services, companies have found, on average:

  • A 22-25% reduction in Web site abandonment from pages with click-to-call services

  • As much as a 100% increase in transaction conversions from click-to-call users compared with toll-free callers

  • That 88% of click-to-call users say they are more likely to contact a company that offers a click-to-call service than one that does not

Recently, DaimlerChrysler deployed click-to-call to put prospective car buyers in touch with their local Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep dealerships. Click-to-call conversion rates were twice those of standard inbound marketing calls. Plus, in many cases, click-to-call has helped to accelerate the sales cycle. Today, click-to-call leads account for 10 percent of the car manufacturer's call volume.

Conclusion

Local and national marketers are realizing the benefits of integrating click-to-call solutions in their campaigns. With click-to-call, they are providing direct response methods for customers using a form factor they're familiar with: the phone.

To gain competitive advantage and effectively capture the potential of the Internet for online commerce, marketers must implement strategies that integrate the online channel into their companies existing sales, marketing, and communication channels as well as recognize the unique characteristics of the online experience.

With click-to-call, it's now possible to bridge the gap between the online and phone channels, and track the effectiveness of both.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of John Federman

John Federman is chairman and CEO of Dailybreak Media.

LinkedIn: John Federman

Twitter: @jhfederman