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How to Avoid 13 Pitfalls in Direct Response & Performance Marketing Campaigns.

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Performance marketing is not for the faint-hearted or those firms, including non-profits, who like to take big leaps without looking. Let me outline potential disasters awaiting the inexperienced or untested performance marketing ideas.

Probably the first thing to get straight is the blog post’s title. Response (through any medium) is the name of the game. With a typical outbound telemarketing contact now costing over $20 or indeterminate effectiveness of institutional advertising efforts, the price tag on Facebook ads, Google Ads, or webpush campaigns – 50 cents per click if you are good – looks incredibly attractive.

But there are performance marketing campaigns which work, and those which do not, and a performance marketing medium of your choice may not be the way to go.

Two Simple Rules to Follow

So, rule #1 is to determine your objective. First – and then find out whether your chosen performance marketing medium is the best, or only, or one of, or in no way, the route to reach that objective.

Rule #2 is “lean on the experts.” You can find out enough in a few quick phone calls to a few knowledgeable specialists to tell you whether you are equipped to run a direct response operation without the help of a consultant or not. If a lot is involved, buy the best consultant you can locate.

If the world does not rest on the result of a given test, you may wish, for cost considerations, to wing it for yourself. (But if it involves media buying at scale, at least talk to experts in the traffic buying business, as they can improve almost any result you can obtain by yourself by a significant multiplier.)

People are eager to purchase your products and services if you only give them the opportunity. Success is frequently only a matter of avoiding the pitfalls that others have made.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #1

Too high expectations. About twice a year (it used to be once a month) a friend of a friend comes over to me with a ‘proven’ business idea. For some reason these are often infoproduct and dietary supplement business ideas. “You help me get traffic at $0.1 a click, and I will run the show – and if we hit 1 percent conversion rate, we’ll both make out like bandits.”

As softly as I know, I point out that if infoproducts or dietary supplements at $35 a piece could achieve 1 percent conversion rate (10 orders per 1,000 clicks – or $350 per 1,000 clicks at an unattainable rate of $0.1) that everybody and his brother would be in the business. (Maybe it felt like that in 2001!) It so happens the usual response to this type of offer is under 1/10th of 1 percent (less than 1 per 1,000 clicks) and traffic cost rate may be several times higher.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #2

Gauging results on what is sometimes called “A continuous series of one experiment.” A great deal of performance marketing efforts by most small organizations consist of one offer couched in one grouping of words, wrapped in one promotional piece, and used one time, with one traffic source. What you know about such effort is what one offer did with one traffic source. That is a pretty unsafe and unsatisfying way to go.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #3

Buying the best copy, employing the best web development department to lay out the piece, using the best graphics, worrying over the typography, and selecting the best possible offer and product – and then sending your junior staff to get traffic or media bought. Response is affected more by traffic source / list selection / media planning than by all other components of a performance marketing campaign put together.

It is better to use a poor creative, thus, with a good traffic source, than a good creative with a poor traffic source. Traffic sources, media, and lists are markets.

You need to know markets to choose media, traffic sources and lists. And you need to know able marketers to help you choose them intelligently.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #4

The belief that performance marketing is “easy,” anybody can make a success of it. In truth, each form of direct response has its own unique problems, and relatively few who start, out of thousands, do a really good job of it.

Some stop due to the cost to buy buyers; some stop because they lack staying power; some stop because they have not understood the iron rule of mathematics in this business; some stop because they cannot handle the need to service the consumers who convert. This business was never easy.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #5

Very few direct response campaigns to cold prospects make a “profit” on an initial sale. Most marketers “buy” customers at a loss.

This is true of fund raisers seeking donors, magazines seeking subscribers, or ecommerce marketers offering products or services for sale. If you are planning to use performance marketing strategies as a one-step means to add money to your coffers, be very careful – or every dollar you spend will be lost.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #6

Marketers rarely ask their customers to buy often enough. Customers like to receive offers from the businesses they support, like and trust. For every performance marketer which is concerned that it may be mailing, texting, calling customers too often, there are 99 where the customer house list is not used often enough.

It is a hard lesson to learn – but your customers are not your exclusive property. Your most responsive individuals can usually be found on a number of other business’ customer lists… and they are asking him or her for money.

A customer file is not truly homogenous It consists of current customers, old customers, former customers, dead customers… in effect cells of customers with distinctly different characteristics. And you need to differentiate between them – and cultivate them differently.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #7

In the building of a customer database in any ecommerce field, only the rare marketer is foresighted enough to recognize the need to record every customer by source and type and number of products bought. Those that do can do a splendid job of upselling, cross-selling, personalizing the messaging and increasing the overall effectiveness by way of segmentation.

Those that do not, are destined to repeat the same waste in prospecting over and over again or experience the cost of going back to original records to find out.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #8

Choosing a product that has not been tested. If I had $5 very entrepreneur who has approached me seeking assistance in launching a “revolutionary” invention, I could retire. Simply said, there is no getting around the fact that consumers only purchase things that they want.

As a result, anything you sell must be genuinely appealing. Products that are really innovative and new are unlikely to be successful. What appears to work much better are classic, tried-and-true product concepts that have been given a new twist.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #9

There is no persuasive offer to be found in the promotional piece. Some marketers are just unwilling to make a deal that is better than the standard one. In technical terms, the price represents an offer. However, pure discounting is a sloppy offer.

Over 100 time-tested offers are available for you to select from, each of which is more potent than your price – a free trial, a powerful guarantee, payment methods, add-ons, you name it – and any of them is more powerful than your discounted price.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #10

Getting confined to a single medium. In the same way that certain plants do better in one climate than another, some products do better in some media than others, depending on the product. However, this is not a justification for neglecting other forms of media.

Breaking out of your normal routine and experimenting with new ideas is the true goal here. If Facebook advertisements are effective, that is fantastic. But what about email? Or print magazines and direct mail? How about radio? It is not the media that are the problem. Selling is.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #11

Failure to adequately educate your call center (or use it at all). It is tough to make progress when your call center is not doing its job properly. In addition to taking orders on time and being somewhat informed about the offer, they must also execute the proper upselling and cross-selling, gather tracking information, or do other fundamental tasks.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #12

Leading prospects to your usual ecommerce page with numerous products vying for his or her attention. In order for them to take advantage of your offer, it is critical that you direct them to an exclusive landing page dedicated to that offer – and nothing else.

For many businesses, this involves developing a separate, dedicated web site with a URL that is easy to remember and type. Although it is easier to direct visitors to your usual product description page, they will be on their own to keep focus on the product they are looking for, and you will lose the majority of them as a result of their lack of concentration.

Performance Marketing Pitfall #13

“The usual response in performance marketing is 2 percent.” This is nothing but errant nonsense. Five major factors influence response:

  • Copy. The words you use.
  • Format & Design. The “dress” your copy comes in.
  • Offer. The theme your copy, format and design, attempts to convey.
  • Timing. The period in which your campaign is received.
  • Traffic source or database segment / list. The market or market segment you are seeking to get your message to.

Two percent can be fabulous for one offer, and close to a disaster on another. Offers can vary by 300 percent; traffic sources by 1,000 percent… which underlines two answers to every direct response question:

  1. “It depends.”
  2. “Test and find out.” (For every performance marketer who tests too much, there are 999 who do not test enough.)

This is something I have preached a thousand times: avoid making mistakes before attempting to achieve greatness.

Although that can be interpreted as bitter, I choose to think of it as inspirational instead. It demonstrates to me that you do not have to be a visionary in order to succeed, and that almost anyone, with appropriate education, can be successful in selling a product or service to others.


Performance marketing is a strategy that aims to deliver measurable results, such as sales or leads, through targeted campaigns. It can be an effective way for businesses, including non-profits, to reach their objectives, but it can also be risky if not done properly. Here are some potential pitfalls to avoid when using performance marketing:

  1. Having unrealistic expectations. It is important to set realistic goals and understand the limitations of your chosen performance marketing medium.
  2. Failing to properly test and iterate. It is important to test different offers, messaging, and traffic sources to optimize your performance marketing campaigns.
  3. Neglecting traffic source and media planning. The success of a performance marketing campaign is often more dependent on the traffic source and media planning than the creative elements of the campaign.
  4. Believing that performance marketing is easy, and anyone can do it. Performance marketing requires knowledge and experience in markets, media, and marketing. It is important to lean on experts and seek professional help if necessary.
  5. Not properly tracking and analyzing results. It is essential to track and analyze the results of your performance marketing campaigns to understand what is working and what is not.

If you like this blog post and want more expert advice on performance marketing, direct marketing, direct response advertising, please share it. Thank you!

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The expert's thoughts on direct response - growth hacking - performance-based marketing activities - DIRECT MARKETING

About Me, Rafal Lipnicki.

the direct / performance marketing consultant with a strange sounding name


Not your usual "guru" but a real-world performance marketing & innovation consultant based in Europe and an experienced senior executive at leading multinational companies.

What and Where.

I am a consultant for hire, working remotely and on-site all over the world (but Europe is always preferred). See my consulting services page for details.


Contrarian advice most of the time. Document-based audits, workshops, one-off projects, mentoring programs, and more.