This is one of those rare, cross-over posts related to my work at ion, but the concept at play is something that I think you’ll find relevant in many contexts.
The recent popularity of two posts of mine — 8 dimensions of excellent landing pages on Search Engine Land and the 7 levels of landing page optimization on ion’s own Post-Click Marketing Blog — made me realize a common theme between them: sophisticated marketing arising from simple executional tactics.
Atomic marketing has nothing to do with energy policy or national defense. Instead, atomic marketing is about how simple components — search engine ads, Twitter messages, emails, landing pages — can, in quantity, collectively grow into major marketing programs.
This is a recurring pattern in digital marketing, where the economics of producing individual marketing elements — such as a new PPC ad or promotional email — are asymptotically approaching zero. It’s the management of the entire ecosystem of all these tiny parts that constitutes the big picture of new marketing.
Landing pages are a great example.
3 atomic revelations from landing pages
Broadly speaking, a landing page is a specially-crafted web page that a marketer creates for respondents to a particular ad, affiliate link, or email promotion. It might actually be more than one page — such as a microsite or conversion path — but its scale is intentionally small and very focused.
In the sprawling rainforest of online marketing, any single landing page is a tiny and simple worker ant, humbly carrying its piece of respondent sugar back to the larger enterprise. Per my original metaphor, it’s merely an atom.
Yet hidden in that simplicity is a much richer universe than first meets the eye.
Having been working on landing pages intensely for the past 4 years — see the story of post-click marketing for a bit of background — I continue to be amazed by how many layers of opportunity arise from such a simple concept.
The sophistication that arises from these simple landing pages falls into three categories — and I think they’re applicable to many other kinds of atomic marketing as well:
1. When you think creatively, there’s a lot you can do on a small canvas.
In art and engineering, constraints can actually be inspiring — think of the CO2 filter improvised from spare parts for Apollo 13 or the brilliant back-of-business-card art of gapingvoid.com.
By limiting ourselves to constructing great experiences within the form factor of a landing page, we’ve pioneered landing page ideas with behavioral segmentation, Flash, video, social media, dynamic rules, conditional forms, widgets and more. Things that would be unpleasantly complicated to implement on large web sites end up being quite feasible — and immensely effective — at the scale of a landing page.
Things that would otherwise be restrictions become the genesis of innovation.
Actually, this revelation of the infinite creative potential on a small canvas struck me at the various search marketing shows I’ve attended (SES, SMX, Search Insider Summit), where I’ve heard panels go on and on about the approaches for writing great search engine PPC ads — all within the constraints of a 25 character headline, two 35 character description lines, and a 35 character friendly URL. If an entire advertising sub-industry can be built around 130 characters of plain text, suddenly landing pages seem like gigantic canvases in comparison, wide open for imagination.
Meta-lesson: treat the small canvas of atomic marketing elements as an opportunity, not a handicap.
2. Context matters tremendously.
Landing pages don’t exist in a vacuum. People arrive at them from particular ads, via particular placements and keyword queries. And often — if you’ve done a good job — people move from the landing page deeper into your marketing funnel. While the pieces of this end-to-end experience may be assembled by several different parties within your marketing team, from the perspective of a respondent it is — or should be — one continuous, linear flow.
What often differentiates excellent landing pages from mediocre ones is tight continuity along each step of that flow. Consecutively setting expectations and meeting them with each subsequent click. My colleague Anna Talerico calls it “message match” — or “message mismatch” when it fails — and it has a huge impact on the outcome.
But now you see the next level of sophistication. It’s not just about having a good landing page. It’s about coordinating the production, content, and ongoing lifecycle of that page to maintain continuity upstream and downstream in the marketing funnel.
Meta-lesson: the “neighbors” of atomic marketing elements are a source of powerful synergy, even when they’re only loosely-coupled.
3. Many atoms together make an elephant. Or a tiger. Or an amorphous pile of goo.
The breakthrough we had at ion was the realization that landing page optimization is most effective when you’re not just optimizing a single page ad infinitum to diminishing returns, but rather when you optimize the systematic process by which your organization produces, tests, and analyzes all its landing pages.
With a single page, you optimize its content and audience — but it represents only a sliver of your overall marketing. Any one landing page usually has a pretty low upper bound on how much impact it can have on your business, even when it’s a spectacular success. With landing page process optimization, however, you can impact your entire post-click marketing universe. You reap dividends across your whole portfolio, all of your campaigns. This is landing page management, a high-level marketing operations capability.
A single landing page is a tactic. Your entire universe of landing pages — and how they’re entwined with the rest of your marketing — constitutes a strategy. Is that strategy deliberate, emergent, or unattended and left to random chance? If you can proactively take control of the sum of these atomic elements, and shape and orchestrate them as a cohesive whole, then you can turn a pile of unrelated atoms into a living, breathing multicellular organism. Like a tiger, rather than a puddle of primordial glop.
In the context of search marketing, it’s not an individual ad or keyword — it’s your portfolio of 10,000 keywords. In email marketing, it’s not a single message, it’s your overall operations for hundreds of messages and nurturing subscription streams.
Meta-lesson: take a higher view of how atomic marketing elements fit together into a larger mission and optimize for the collective structure and results.