As a marketing tactic, Overstock routes web traffic to articles that showcase the retailer in a positive light.

To get the most out of news articles that feature Overstock.com Inc., the home goods and mass merchant retailer is dedicating its marketing dollars to traffic going to certain news publications rather than to Overstock.com.

Overstock is typically featured in anywhere from 10-40 articles each month, says Mark Delcorps, Overstock’s senior director of public relations. The number of articles featuring Overstock increases during major news events, such as when CEO Patrick Byrne‘s recent resignation made headlines nationwide. But normally, publications feature Overstock in a steady cadence because of its public relations initiatives of pitching news organizations and making its executives available for interviews.

When an article features Overstock and hits on the brand values the retailer wants to highlight, Overstock will choose to “amplify it” or create advertisements promoting the article on social media or on open display spots on websites. The retailer will try to target the piece at consumers in its shopping demographic—females ages 18-44.

While Overstock could have allocated this marketing spend toward traffic in its target demographic going directly to Overstock.com, the retailer knows consumers value outside input about products from resources other than the retailer or an advertisement.

“When we look at the value of it, it’s no secret a third-party opinion is more impactful than me telling you, ‘This is a great couch.’ Of course I’m going to tell you that, I’m from Overstock,” Delcorps says.

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Instead, shoppers are finding out about Overstock, or one of its products, from a resource that the consumer may have read before and finds credible. Shoppers might think, “’If it’s good enough for them, I know it’s worth my time,’” Delcorps says. “It’s like being introduced to a date from a friend rather than a dating app.”

This is a much “softer touch point” than an ad to introduce a consumer to a brand, says Hung Nguyen, vice president of media at Onclusive, which is the public relations measurement firm Overstock uses.

“This idea of a third-party endorsement in the upper funnel is a really nice way to introduce a consumer to a product,” Nguyen says. This also “extends the shelf life” of a good article, he says. For example, one of Onclusive’s clients still promotes an article that is years old because it shows the brand positively and still drives consumers to convert, Nguyen says. Although, typically a promotion campaign will last roughly a week, he says.

When Onclusive sets up ads promoting the article, it uses a specific URL for the article and uses a browser tracking cookie, Nguyen says. The vendor can then tell how long a consumer visited that article page, if she ever visits Overstock.com and if she makes a purchase.

Additionally, once the consumer finishes the article, Onclusive asks the consumer to take a survey of three multiple choice questions regarding how she feels about the brand. This is an important step to gauge a reader’s sentiment, Nguyen says, as a reader can spend a relatively long time reading an article, but have a negative impression of the brand. Retailers can expect 5-20% of consumers who read the article to take the survey, he says.

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This “feedback loop” is important to Overstock, as it helps the retailer understand what messages resonate with shoppers. For example, one article Overstock considers a success ran on home design and lifestyle site MyDomaine headlined, “8 Overstock Shopping Secrets You’ll Wish You Knew About Sooner.”

The article highlighted many of the points Overstock likes to showcase about its brands, such as its loyalty program and 3D product models for consumers in its app. Overstock decided to use Onclusive to advertise for this article on social media. After consumers read the article, Onclusive surveyed them, and about 11% of consumers took it, Delcorps says.

The survey revealed that roughly 60% of the consumers who read the article are more interested in shopping with Overstock now than before. Of people that had never shopped at Overstock, 51% of them were now interested in shopping there, Delcorps says.

“It’s giving us a better chance to make it home by starting on second base,” says Delcorps, who declined to share any conversion data. Although, Overstock is “happy” with the campaign’s results, such as how the perception of its brand changes after reading an article, Delcorps says.

Many online retailers struggle with quantifying the effectiveness of PR and marketing, says Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner at firm Retail Systems Research.

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Similarly, there is no “right amount” of marketing spend that should be allocated to public relations, says Rebecca Lieb, a co-founder and analyst at market research firm Kaleido Insights. “Every product, every brand has its own needs and hopefully, its own marketing strategy,” Lieb says.

Overstock evaluates each piece of content published about the brand and based on how the retailer is featured and what aspects the article highlights, it determines if it wants to drive traffic to it, Delcorps says. It only has amplified a handful of articles, Delcorps says, citing budget constraints as a reason why it doesn’t use this marketing tactic more.

About 20% of Onclusive’s clients are retailers, Nguyen says. Onclusive’s fees start at $3,000 a month or $36,000 a year for its analytics package, he says. This does not include marketing dollars to promote an article, which a retailer can do on its own or use Onclusive for. Nguyen says about 30% of its clients elect for Onclusive to manage marketing articles on their behalf.

Overstock is No. 47 Internet Retailer 2019 Top 500.

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