May 2007 - Targeted Marketing

PriceRunner employs RSS technology to hone in on exactly what consumers are looking for in the latest products.

By David Lustig

You’ve got a problem. Your company has a state-of-the art website featuring merchandise that’s among the finest of its kind. But you aren’t effectively reaching out to online consumers. Hundreds of thousands of would-be customers soar through cyberspace daily, oblivious to your website’s existence. Off the online consumers’ radar screens, your website sits fallow-drawing few visitors and failing to fulfill its grand potential.

Your problem is not a new one. In the 19th century, a company based in, say, Baltimore that marketed brooms, ploughshares or anvils had a hard time getting the word out to the rest of the country.

So if the people you were trying to reach couldn’t communicate with you, you did with them. Thus, the drummer was born, a town-to-town salesperson who, loaded with his company’s products, took the train, stagecoach or other conveyance throughout the country, visiting businesses and interested private individuals alike to introduce them to his company’s products, convince them they couldn’t do without it and hopefully bring home a few orders.

As technology advanced, so did the ability to get the word out.

Drummers were replaced by the catalog, which in turn was shunted aside by radio and then television. When the Internet came of age, the world really opened up with interactive two-way communication.

But something was missing. You could have an excellent website, but people had to remember to come back. Spam had become a dirty word in cyberspace, but opt-in messages alerting consumers to the arrival of a new product or special offers on a real-time basis were more than welcome.

That is the world of Really Simple Syndication (RSS)-an overall term covering an umbrella of technology that allows website viewers to sign up for notices, information and other data as it becomes available. No longer do you have to continually search for it; it now comes to you. A website offering a variety of products-anything from newsletter updates to the latest in digital cameras and MP3 players-can set up individual RSS feeds so that only a message on those particular product lines the customer is interested in, will be sent.

An example of a website using RSS technology is PriceRunner, headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif. It’s a division of ValueClick, a provider of media, technology and related services that enables advertisers, agencies and publishers to reach consumers on all major marketing channels.

Founded in 1999 in Europe and with an expansion in 2005 to the United States, PriceRunner offers consumers a broad range of products from online and offline retailers throughout the country in specific categories: clothing and accessories, cameras and camcorders, computers, home appliances, kids and family offerings and multimedia, among others.

Entering the PriceRunner website, even novice online buyers can quickly and easily comparison shop competing products and find the best prices at stores and other retailers. The company keeps the site up to date by sending squads of its own employees into the various outlets to shop, take notes and report back. Part of the site even allows shoppers to evaluate any outlet’s performance as experienced by its own shoppers.

The world of online comparison shopping, however, is a crowded one, and PriceRunner wanted to get as much of an edge as possible on its competition. The answer, its management realized, was RSS.

Those who frequently surf the Internet, whether it’s a shopping site or a blog, might notice a small square orange icon with a dot and two arcs inside. Once they click on it and fill out the form that pops up, they will be able to subscribe to a particular segment of what the site offers.

For example, a consumer might be looking for a new digital camera and wants the best price, the latest features and the newest model. By subscribing to that category on the PriceRunner website, he or she doesn’t have to remember to go back to it to see if anything has been updated.

In short, the website is allowed, through an individual’s RSS subscription, to send the pertinent information that he or she has requested the very moment it becomes available. It’s instant, it’s wanted and it’s targeted.

When the U.S. arm of PriceRunner launched in 2005, it wasn’t long before some form of RSS-type strategy emerged.

“We started researching a number of companies,” says Martin Andersen, PriceRunner’s general manager. “Before engaging in RSS, we were doing only display marketing, e-mail campaigns and other traditional forms of online advertising.” Now RSS has joined the many advertising possibilities available to the company-adding that the other forms of advertising still are actively being used. The introduction of RSS into the advertising mix, Andersen says, has increased readership and sales.

Andersen further explains that by closely watching which form of advertising is doing better in any particular time segment, additional budgetary resources can be drawn from other areas and re-directed to where it is most beneficial.

Ultimately, PriceRunner settled on Pheedo, an RSS marketing firm based in the San Francisco Bay area, to handle all of its RSS needs.

In 2006 after some initial tweaking, PriceRunner launched its RSS feeds.

According to Bill Flitter, Pheedo’s founder and vice president of marketing, it seemed like a perfect fit.

“For PriceRunner it was a brand new channel for them,” says Flitter. “They were aware of RSS and knew it was relatively low risk. We gave them ease of use and entry into our database any time they had an update.” A deal was struck in 60 days.

PriceRunner went online with Pheedo in early 2006, and after some initial modifying, found a comfortable and satisfying middle ground.

Providing the RSS ad server, Flitter explains that PriceRunner supplies them with a feed of ads, which in turn are distributed across Pheedo’s network. Pheedo gets paid from PriceRunner when someone clicks on one of the PriceRunner ads.

Flitter says that a key strategy advised by Pheedo, and employed by PriceRunner, is the concept of “telling, not selling.” PriceRunner, he explains, could have easily placed ads that simply stated, “compare PDA prices at” This form of selling, he contends, is not effective in RSS feeds.

“They’re looking for us to give them the best option,” continues Flitter. “They’re looking at click data. Something is always changing, sometimes daily, sometimes an ad might last two or three weeks or longer, depending on the budget.”

Andersen adds that PriceRunner is always looking for new marketing channels and trying different methods of advertising.

“You have to watch your advertising all the time,” Andersen says. “You can’t just let it go,” explaining that RSS feeds attract people to smaller items like digital equipment rather then giant televisions.

Andersen also states that PriceRunner’s partnership with Pheedo is working very well and he is looking toward the future and additional RSS market share.

“RSS is evolving,” explains Flitter. “RSS in general is a new technology and we’re constantly learning from the way users are reacting to it.” It has flourished, he says, in part because people were sick of the spam problem of receiving unwanted information from companies. With RSS, the user chooses what information is sent to him or her.

“Many people are scared of something new,” contends Andersen. “Don’t be.”

People are very focused on paid search, he says, adding that using RSS in the advertising mix is easy and manageable.

“We serve two customers,” notes Flitter, “the advertiser and the publisher. They’re buying our service.

“For publishers, we are providing advertisers. For advertisers, we are providing them with places to put their ads to attract the consumer.” The users, he adds, determine what is working and what is not, and can control the flow of advertising.

“This is just the beginning,” says Andersen. “The clicks are growing and there is still a lot out there we haven’t explored. We’re taking it easy and building up campaigns on a measured basis.”

You can read more about RSS technology in the September 2006 feature entitled “Are You Ready for RSS?” To access this article, visit the “archives” section found at

David Lustig is a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer magazine.


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