Category Archives: digital media

You’re The Customer Too, Dummy

We haven’t had a screed in a while in which I point out the on-going silliness of many of us in marketing, so let’s start the week with one! There was an article in the eMarketer newsletter about a recent study. I’m just going to quote it directly:

In an August 2018 survey of 103 ad agencies, publishers and marketers in North America conducted by Pressboard, 27.2% of respondents said they use an ad blocker to block ads on the websites they visit. These figures are similar to those found in the general population. According to eMarketer forecasts, 25.2% of US internet users will use an ad blocker in 2018.

Pressboard’s research showed that advertising professionals are more likely to rely on their friends than on ads when they decide whether or not to purchase a product. Nearly eight in 10 respondents (78.6%) said that word-of-mouth from friends influenced their recent purchase decision. Just fewer than 16% of those surveyed reported making a purchase after being influenced by banner ads.

I hope you can see immediately why this precipitated my response. It’s might be easy to shrug this off. I mean, what does it really say? Marketing and advertising professionals are humans too? How is that a surprise? Well, it’s not, but it does point out a fundamental problem. Apparently, when they put on their business hats and get to work they forget how they feel as consumers. After all, if they react badly to banner ads and rely more on word of mouth, why do they persist in figuring out how to invade the consumer’s website use in as many ways as possible? They use ad blockers because, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater’s campaign slogan, in their hearts, they know it’s right. The state of web marketing is akin to that of an Arabian bazaar or a NASCAR driver. Ad blockers at least make the web tolerable.

The message to any of us is that we’re customers too. We need to think like customers and not as marketers when we’re figuring out the best ways to interact with our audiences. How can we solve their problems? How can we deliver information that’s useful to them and not just scream at them? Keep that in mind and not only will your customers be better off, but you will be as well. Make sense?

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Me And Mr. Jones

You might have read the news this morning that Apple has banned Alex Jones and Infowars from their podcasting platform. They join Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube in tossing this material off their distribution channels. Some of you will see this as a political move, stifling free speech. I don’t want to look at it that way today. Instead, I’d like us to focus on some business issues.

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Jones, he’s a conspiracy theorist who has claimed, among other things, that the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School were staged by paid actors and that the government is poisoning children to make them gay. Do you remember a guy walking into a pizzeria with a gun to free the children being held there as part of a sex ring? An Alex Jones listener, who heard that the Clintons were running the ring on Alex Jones’ program.

Following the ban, some folks are yelling about freedom of speech and the First Amendment. Sorry folks. Some speech is not protected. I can’t make things up about a product and knowingly advertise false information. I can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. The most relevant type of speech that’s not protected is this:

Government may prohibit the use of “fighting words,” which is speech that is used to inflame another and that will likely incite physical retaliation. Likewise, language that is meant to incite the masses toward lawless action is not protected. This can include speech that is intended to incite violence or to encourage the audience to commit illegal acts. The test for fighting words is whether an average citizen would view the language as being inherently likely to provoke a violent response.

That’s exactly why this material was banned. It violates the platforms’ terms of service. Frankly, it disappoints me that it’s taken so long and it raises a business point we all need to consider.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms from liability when people publish on their platform. This prevents me from suing a platform when a third-party writes something completely false about me, and it’s a great idea. The problem is that too many platforms hide behind this, feeling as if they begin moderating the obviously false or hateful content that they might, in fact, become liable. In doing so, they open the platform up to become a megaphone for hate and disinformation. Most importantly, it damages their reputation and turns off users. Look at what has happened with Twitter. The word I hear most often when people describe it is “cesspool.” To their credit, Twitter management is acting to clean it up (finally) but a lot of damage has already been done.

Any of us in business need to do more to protect our brands and businesses than the minimum legally required amount. Being corporately responsible is proactive. Remember that there are other channels through which Mr. Jones or any other content provider can distribute their information. That doesn’t mean I have to allow him or anyone else into mine, just as you don’t need to permit anyone into your retail store who you find potentially troublesome – a suspected shoplifter, for example –  as long as it is not based on bias against a federally protected class of people. I need to be clear about that to my users (we don’t welcome hate speech or knowingly false information here in your terms of service, perhaps).  Most importantly, I need to be responsible and do the best I can to do the ethically correct thing. Not because I dislike what it is you have to say, but because it’s a hate-filled lie.

Your thoughts?

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Filed under Reality checks, What's Going On, digital media

Facebook Adds Friction

If you’ve been led to this post via my Facebook profile, welcome. It wasn’t as easy as usual to get you here and I’ll explain why in a moment. The circumstances for that raise a good business question, though, and that’s what I want us to think about today.

I received an email from WordPress the other day. The screed is published on the WordPress platform, as are thousands of other sites. When I write a new post, it appears on my site as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Those are decent sources of traffic for me and even if readers don’t click through to the source I can impart my thoughts via those other platforms to a certain extent.

Back to the email. WordPress notified me that as of today, August 1, 2018, a change to Facebook’s API means that third-party tools can no longer share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles. This includes Publicize, the tool that connects my site to major social media platforms like Facebook. Obviously, I can still do the posting to my own profile manually, as I’ve done today, but it’s certainly less convenient. Interestingly, they’ll still allow the tools to post to Facebook Pages, which tend to be used by businesses and groups. Of course, commercial entities such as pages have greatly reduced visibility in the News Feed unless you’re willing to pay to promote the post.

Why would Facebook do this? On the surface, it’s with good intention. They say it’s to prevent spam and nefarious actions on the site by making it harder to post across multiple profiles simultaneously. Some of the other changes they’re making that affect me less but some people a lot more are to protect user privacy. All laudable, right?

Maybe not. Here is what WordPress has to say:

While Facebook says it is introducing this change to improve their platform and prevent the misuse of personal profiles, we believe that eliminating cross-posting from WordPress is another step back in Facebook’s support of the open web, especially since it affects people’s ability to interact with their network (unless they’re willing to pay for visibility).

What if the moves are just to further insulate the Facebook platform from external content and/or actions? What if it actually is about solidifying their monopoly in the social media space? I won’t bore you with all of the API changes but some are pretty significant, including restricting a lot of the data pages get. Can you pay for it? I’ll willing to bet you can.

I guess my business question to you all is about where any of us draw the line in protecting our business. We’re living in a world in which reducing friction – the choke points within our daily lives where things stop flowing smoothly – is becoming expected. Facebook just added friction to adding content to their platform, a platform that would become almost useless without users doing exactly that. I’ve got trust issues with Facebook based on their behavior over the last decade with respect to everything from data privacy to their openness about what they’re doing. When traffic my stuff drops off, will I even bother posting there?

Do I think Facebook is going to go out of business without the screed generating engagement for them? No. Might they if it becomes too much trouble for anyone with engaging content to post on the site? Could be. I’ll guess we’ll all stay tuned right?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Quit Nagging Me To Death

I’ll state at the outset that I’ve always had a thing about being nagged. It’s probably a mother issue that stems from my tendency to procrastinate or maybe I’m just a rebel at heart. Either way, I don’t like being nagged. You probably have some sensitivity to it yourself.

With that in mind, I’m here to remind all of us that nagging is just as bad as a marketing tactic. Instead of the desired result (a sale), it might lead to the exact opposite (a cancellation, a return, or a vow never to do business with you again). Let me give you an example.

I received yet another email the other day from one of the golf publications to which I’ve subscribed for at least a decade. The email said in big bold letters that

This is your LAST CHANCE to renew your subscription and give a FREE gift.

OMG! I don’t want to miss an issue so I’d better renew right now! Except it’s a lie – my subscription doesn’t expire for well over a year. I went back and looked in my email trash and on average, they send me an email every 3 days urging me to renew. This is on top of the physical mail they send enclosed in an envelope with each month’s magazine as well as the occasional piece of stand-alone snail mail. Enough! Basta! Genug!

Fortunately for them, I enjoy the publication so I’m not going to cancel, but there are a few things any of us can learn from their constant nagging. First, I’ve become numb to whatever they send me. I toss the snail mail and I delete the emails, unopened. I can read the mailing label to see when my subscription really does need renewing. Second, the offer they’re extending really doesn’t benefit me. It’s not a particularly different renewal rate and none of my golfing friends are musing that their lives would be better if only they had a subscription to this magazine. It only benefits the publication – they get a renewal and a new subscriber at a low cost of acquisition. Presumably, they’ll start nagging my friend soon after the first issue arrives.

This publication is far from the only nagger in my life. Amazon’s daily emails, several golf schools, and many others continue to send me nagging messages every day. I do unsubscribe, of course, but new naggers seem to take their place. The messages seem cold and impersonal to me since most of them aren’t personalized beyond the name. I appreciate that people who put things in shopping carts and leave your site might need a little reminder to finish their order or that when you truly have something special going on it’s to the consumer’s benefit to know, but the daily barrage of crap just makes people numb at best or angry at worst.  Deliver value to the consumer. Educate them about your product without nagging them to buy. Explain the benefits in their terms. And don’t nag. After all, nagging is the leading cause of divorce and you can’t have customers divorcing you! What do you think?

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Filed under Reality checks, Huh?, digital media

The Company We Keep

I’m sure you heard the same thing from your parents as I did. Don’t hang around with a “bad” bunch of kids because you get known by the company you keep and their lousy reputation will stick to you whether or not you’ve engaged in the same bad behavior. You probably haven’t thought about that quote in terms of your business but there are some things going on these days that might cause you to do so. Let me explain.

If you’re a brand (and every company is) and especially if you’re the person responsible for marketing that brand, you’d have to be under a rock not to be aware of what’s going on with social media and data protection. I’m not talking about hacks in which data is stolen. I mean the willful use of your private data by these companies as part of their business model in ways that you never contemplated nor to which you explicitly agreed. I received an email the other day from the folks at Business Insider which contained some of the results of a study of confidence in social media companies’ ability to protect users’ data. The study was conducted among their “BI Insiders” (disclosure, I’m one of them) and the results aren’t great news for Facebook in particular:

Over half (56%) of Facebook users have zero confidence in the platform’s ability to protect their data and privacy. This was the lowest level of confidence of all platforms and highlights the uphill battle Facebook faces to regain the trust of its users. To be fair, users weren’t all that confident in the other platforms either, but the gap between Facebook and the others is significant — at least 18 percentage points from all other platforms. Meanwhile, LinkedIn came out on top for the second year in a row.

The problem for you is that your mom was right: you’re known by the company you keep, and if your brand is active on these services, your reputation is damaged as well. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer study...

Consumers are not forgiving when it comes to brand safety. About half of the survey’s respondents said that it was a brand’s own fault if its advertising appeared alongside hate speech or other inappropriate content online; 47 percent said that the points of view appearing near advertising and marketing are an indication of that brand’s own values.

This is what I found to be of great importance to any brand:

70 percent of digitally connected people around the world think brands need to pressure social media sites to do more about fake news and false information proliferating on their sites, and that 71 percent expect brands to pressure social media platforms to protect personal data.

In other words, if you’re keeping company with social media and they’re misbehaving, you need to exert the influence you have as a client and get them to change. Leave the platform if you must to get their attention – that’s what consumers are doing. If you don’t, you’re risking getting blamed for their bad behavior.

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Known Side Effects

I watch a lot of news on TV. If you do that, you are inundated with ads for drugs that promise to cure everything from asthma to zits and everything in between. One thing that most of these ads have in common is that a significant percentage of each ad drones on and on about potential known side effects. The side effects often are quite serious and death is sometimes one of them. Then again, I guess death cures the disease.

I thought about side effects this morning as I was reading my usual collection of articles about the media and marketing businesses. There have been an awful lot of changes, some for the good, many for the bad. Nearly every one of them has some side effects too. On a most basic level, it’s great to stay in touch with family and friends via social media, but a known side effect is the reduction or disappearance of your privacy. It’s wonderful to have a communications device on you but a known side effect is that you’re tracked everywhere by your phone provider and everything you do with that device is watched and recorded. But those aren’t business issues.

Take, for example, what’s going on in TV sales at the moment. The digital revolution brought with it programmatic buying and selling. In theory, this made the entire process quick and way more efficient. It also had the side effect of advertisers and publishers paying huge “tech taxes”, fees to the providers of the technology that runs the process. Another side effect is rampant fraud and an overall increase in the number of bad actors who suddenly found a way into what had been a relatively closed process.

TV buying and selling are suddenly undergoing the same sort of change. Having sold TV for many pre-digital years, I think many of the same side effects will manifest themselves as the closed, carefully run process opens up. Of course, the biggest side effect will be yet another purge of salespeople and the failure of many rep firms. As eMarketer reported:

Overall, 46% of respondents felt that the tech advancements happening in the TV industry are a threat to their organization’s existence. Again, the fear was highest among reps, with 87% saying that tech changes threaten their firm. There is no doubt concern that the expansion of programmatic TV could extinguish traditional methods of brokering inventory.

TV reps as coal miners? Who would have thought that? Then there are the so-called influencers. The movement to trusted voices as sources of product information is, I believe, generally a good one. The problem is that word “trust.” Fake reviews run rampant. Since influence is often measured by the number of followers, fake followers and/or bought followers are a massive problem. The side effects of establishing trust are numerous and can potentially make the marketing challenge worse if they’re ignored. 

The cure is sometimes worse than the disease. It’s worth remembering that and searching out the possible side effects as we make our marketing and media plans. It’s great to become more efficient but not at the expense of killing the patient. Make sense?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, digital media

Facebook, Sears, and Kodak

When I was a lad several decades ago, many Americans did their shopping at Sears and took their pictures with Kodak film (I can explain “film” to you youngsters if need be). More recently, my kids might have shopped at American Apparel or Claire’s. What all of those formerly huge companies have in common is that they are all nearly dead. The reasons for that range from bad management to dumb financial deals to changing tastes to the digital revolution. In every case, however, I think there is a common thread of a failure to understand their customers in the context of the customers’ changing world.

We have something similar going on in my mind with Facebook. It’s huge and seems invulnerable but one might have said the same thing about Kodak or Sears 50 years ago. First, think about how the world is changing for their customers. Privacy has moved from something that digital folk like me were babbling about many years ago to something that is on everyone’s mind. In an April survey of 1,051 US adult internet users by Janrain, most respondents said they are not in favor of websites or apps using what they learn about them online to target ads. In fact, 70% of them want some very restrictive laws, similar to the E.U.’s GDPR, passed here. I don’t think there is any doubt that a tech backlash is going on and the more consumers and lawmakers find out about the sloppy (at best), invasive, and maybe criminal (at worst) data use by large tech companies, the greater that backlash is going to become.

Facebook’s entire business is built around invading your privacy. Two points from eMarketer:

More people are becoming suspicious of sharing data through third parties. In a March 2018 survey from Raymond James, more than eight in 10 US internet users said they were at least somewhat concerned about how their personal data is being used on Facebook. Similarly, in a Gallup survey of 785 Facebook users in April 2018, 43% said they were very concerned about invasion of privacy. That’s an increase of 30% in 2011.

What has resulted is that people, especially young people, are sharing less content. The entire reason Facebook is valuable for most people is that content that their friends, classmates, and family post. It’s the network effect – that value of the network relates to the number of people on that network.

I’m not shorting Facebook stock today but I’m not so sure that unless they get their privacy house in order that won’t be a bad play down the road. Less content means fewer active users which leads to less revenue. Will they all move to Instagram (a Facebook company)? Maybe, but probably not since that’s not what’s occurring now. As each day brings a new headline involving a bad actor and data, another nail gets pounded into the coffins of companies that don’t respect their customers’ privacy and wishes. Privacy and data use are no longer just food for geek chats. They’re on the front page. How long can Facebook or any company last if they don’t figure this out? Longer than Sears or Kodak?

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