Category Archives: digital media

An Expensive Trip To The Bar But A Much Better Picture

I had a what turned out to be a very expensive trip to a bar a few weeks ago. No, I wasn’t overserved nor did I need to cab it home from a remote location. It became expensive because I watched TV there. The picture was noticeably better than what I was used to and it turned out that I was watching a 4K TV with full High dynamic range, or HDR. Even though the program (a basketball game) wasn’t in native 4K, it was noticeably better. Once I figured out that DirecTV, my TV provider, has a few 4K channels and that some sports, including the upcoming Masters, are shown in 4K,  I was hooked. I did some research and found that one of the top-rated sets was on sale (almost half price!) and two days later, and hundreds of dollars for the TV and a new DirecTV box that handles 4K, my viewing experience was upgraded.

Photo by Tim Mossholder

One thing that I got along with the upgraded picture (even standard HD looks better) was a built-in Roku device. I’ve had a Chromecast for years and I also have my Xbox hooked into the TV. I have been using both for “over the top” viewing of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. What has changed with the Roku is that all of these services and many others are available as channels on the TV. There’s no need to switch inputs or fire up another device as I have been doing. Which reminded me of a couple of things.

First, the lines between “TV” and “video” have vanished forever. One can argue that once consumers had remotes and DVR‘s they morphed into active programmers but with what is now the almost full integration of TV and OTT, making an unlimited amount of content available in high-quality video, it’s now all just TV.  The second point, one which might apply to your non-media business, is that consumers don’t care about the tools or the labels. They do care about control since they now have complete control in many areas of their consuming lives, or at least a lot more than they used to. You can fight this (broadcasters did for years) or you can facilitate this, but hanging on to an antiquated business model is the wrong choice.

Disney will launch an ESPN-branded streaming service in a couple of weeks. Since to me and many others there is no difference between traditional TV and streaming video, it will be just another channel on my TV (hopefully in 4K). For many cord-cutters, it will be a nice addition to their programming options. Disney has learned that the tools (or channels) are immaterial and the business model needs to continue to evolve as do consumers’ habits. Have you?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, digital media, sports business

Your Focus Is Fake

Over the weekend the NY Times published an article about a company called Devumi that sells followers. As the piece says:

Photo by Jehyun Sung

Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online.

Since social media is, well, media, an outlet’s ability to charge is based upon its reach. Since everyone has the ability to be a little piece of the media these days, having a bigger audience or the ability to demonstrate great influence by having hundreds of thousands of followers is a big deal. Take Facebook where:

up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.

I’ve seen this happen first hand. I was working with a client and we were approached by someone (actually a pair of someones) who wanted to work with us. They proudly showed off their 1million+ Twitter followers as evidence of their ability to impact what we were doing. They seemed a little shady so I ran their Twitter account through one of the services that examine followers for signs that they’re fake. 95% of their followers were bots or fake accounts. No deal.

The Times piece is really excellent because the thing it points out to me is something that is important to you, or should be. The reason having fake followers works is that brands are too focused on reach and not enough on results. The thing those fake followers won’t do is to buy. Yes, you can buy fake click-throughs as well, but I’m quite sure that your conversion rate will plummet if you do so since no bot-master is going to spend a nickel going through your sales funnel. When celebrities (or celebrity wannabes) inflate their follower totals, it’s part ego and part to demonstrate their popularity. Does anyone look at real-world results that might point to those things? Ratings? Box-office? Ticket sales?

Have you ever heard anyone giving out advice (marketing or otherwise) tell you to be fake? Probably not. Authenticity is the underpinning of great marketing today. There is no incentive for Twitter or Facebook to fix this since their financial well-being is partially judged by how many people are on and use their platforms. It’s a shame, and if we did politics here we could talk about how this same problem has gone beyond marketing products and services and into influencing our political system. You can fix it, however, by measuring what matters. Reach doesn’t really matter. Results do. That’s how I see it. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

The End Of The World Or Just A New Start?

You’d think that the world was coming to an end.

That was my thought as I read the response in the marketing and advertising trades over the last week since Facebook pulled the rug out from under publishers by making (yet another) algorithm change. What Facebook announced was that they are going to be prioritizing content from friends and family over public content posted by brands and publishers. Currently, they look at engagement metrics such as the number of likes and comments a post receives when determining where that post will appear in users’ News Feeds. That sparked publishers to create various forms of click-bait. This change will force publishers to create content that fosters engagement – comments, sharing, etc. – between friends to get the content shown more often.

Why is Facebook doing this? I’m assuming it’s based on two factors. The first is that by making it harder for brands to have their content displayed those brands will ramp up their ad spend on Facebook. That’s Facebook’s business, folks, and it’s hard to criticize them for that. In fact, I’d once again criticize those publishers who relied on Facebook for traffic rather than creating reasons for people to come to their content directly. Instead of spending resources trying to figure out how to game Facebook’s algorithm, maybe spending those resources on targeting specific audiences and bringing them to their content. Building a loyal audience of your own rather than being a remora of sorts on the back of another platform is smart even if it’s not nearly as easy.  If you’re focused on creating engaging content that sparks conversations, I think you’ll be just fine, both on and off Facebook and other social platforms. Facebook must satisfy their users so they keep coming back and stay on the platform (younger users are abandoning it in droves). They own the audience – you don’t.

The second reason I assume Facebook is doing this is to mitigate the effect of “fake news.” Generally speaking, news outlets and especially dubious news outlets will show up less often in the News Feed. I don’t know if the algorithm has been tweaked to evaluate the authenticity of some post but I’m sure that unless something is interesting enough for users to share and comment on it will be downgraded.

Has this been a bit of a bait and switch by Facebook? After all, it has spent years cultivating publishers to build their brands on the platform and now, suddenly, it’s saying pay me or you’re on your own. No, it’s not. Any marketer should have been wise enough to know that the Facebook audiences are generally fly-bys – they don’t engage very much and they certainly aren’t very loyal based on what I’ve seen in the analytics I’ve looked at. Paid audiences are different, and while the short-term pain will be there, over the long-term learning to build better engagement is a positive. I’m sure we’ll see all sorts of brand posts begging people to comment and share in yet another attempt to game the algorithm. That’s too bad.

I’m also not sure how this will affect Facebook’s business. Think of travel agents. The number of them has declined precipitously (down about two-thirds) in the last 20 years as online travel sites grew and people could book themselves. Maybe as publishers get back to doing what they were doing before Facebook – creating loyal engaged audiences on their own platforms – they’ll figure out that a paid Facebook audience need to be icing and not cake. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world but just a fresh start?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

What Has Happened?

Maybe it’s because the start of the year is also a time of reflection, but I continue to be appalled at the state of the online advertising business. It’s not so much about the fact that 2 players – Facebook and Google – gobble up the majority of money spent. In fact, in terms of ad revenue, Facebook by itself is twice as big as the newspaper business, according to eMarketer, and will be bigger than the entire print business shortly. Google is twice as big as Facebook. There’s a third player – Amazon – on the way to suck up a huge share of the ad pot as well.

While that isn’t the problem, it does mean that the rest of the industry is fighting over relative crumbs. When you’re desperate, you might do things that you know are wrong or foolish and that’s where I think we are. In fact, I think we’ve gone way over the line from foolish to criminal.

Some examples. Yesterday while I was reading an article via the web browser on my phone, up popped the screen you see on the right. Those of you who have an Android phone know that what you see looks very much like the Google Play store and it seems as if there is a critical app update I need to make. It is an ad, of course, trying to get me to install what I assume is malware. Had I not noticed that it was in a web browser and not in the native Play Store, I just might have clicked.

This is why the online ad business is doomed or at least the part that’s outside of the big 3. On the consumer side, people are forced to use ad blockers to prevent malware from infecting their devices as well as interrupting their tasks with annoying popups. On the business side, publishers keep pushing ads knowing that some percentage of them are scams or worse yet unable to do anything since in many cases they’re not the ones selling the ads. They’ve offloaded that to third parties and 74.5% of US digital display ad dollars transacted programmatically will go to private marketplaces and programmatic direct setups.

Speaking of those third parties, they might just be the worst thieves in the bunch. They claim to be there to help publishers increase revenues or marketers to buy efficiently yet they inject numerous fees, both known and hidden, into the process, siphoning off at significant (upwards of 25%) amount of the available money in the transaction. Those hidden fees, by the way, might just violate any number of local and federal laws.

So what has happened to the ad business in which I grew up? What has happened to agencies being honest brokers and nearly full transparency on all sides? Where is someone in the ad chain (looking at you, ad networks) saying “no” to scams, malware, and the other crap that serve no purpose other than to encourage adblocking or to harm someone? Anyone?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Serving The Wrong Master

One of the things you learn about if you’re in the digital marketing space is Search Engine Optimization and its cousin Social Media Optimization. I work with clients on both from time to time and frankly, it’s a time-consuming and frustrating process. I say that not because it isn’t worthwhile – it is. In my mind, the biggest challenge in digital marketing is being visible. Call it discoverability, call it what you will, but unless you are presented as an option to consumers you aren’t going to make a sale. If you don’t get a turn at bat you’re unlikely to hit anything, right?

Photo by Alex Knight

That said, the frustrating part comes from two places. The first is that it’s always much harder to hit a moving target and the algorithms that drive how search engines and social media platforms behave are constantly changing. Google’s search algorithm changed half a dozen times this year and 10+ last year, although researchers on those numbers have to guess because Google doesn’t announce most of the changes (or how the whole damn thing works for that matter!). Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and others have all done similar things, so getting your content to be visible is like herding cats if you’re chasing a changing formula.

The second part of my frustration comes from a philosophical place. I don’t think any of us should be serving the algorithm rather than serving our customers. The algorithm is the wrong master. Before you object, think about any content you’ve written lately or that your organization has put out. I’m willing to bet the creator thought about keywords and making the title “click-worthy.” There is nothing wrong with that up to a point. I do it and I advise clients to do so as well. However, when what we’re creating loses relevance and meaning to humans while becoming more attractive to computers, we’ve gone too far. You see it in the repetition of words in an article making them less interesting. Content that uses sarcasm or clever writing might delight a reader but confuse an algorithm.

Given where artificial intelligence and machine learning are headed, I’m not sure how long we humans will be writing a lot of what we consume now. A significant percentage of sports and financial reporting, for example, are made by machine today and most of us can’t tell the difference. There is software on the market that will help you create content that’s perfectly optimized for whatever algorithm you’re chasing. But ask yourself this: when was the last time you met an algorithm at a cash register? Serve your customers – they’re in charge, not an ever-changing bit of code. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Cookies And Caster Sugar

It’s Foodie Friday! I’ve written before that I’m not much of a baker and only do so when a guest is counting on some sort of baked dessert. It’s not because I don’t have a sweet tooth though. One weakness I do have with respect to baked goods is cookies. The blue guy on Sesame Street has nothing on me and I suspect if I didn’t exercise some sort of self-control I’d weigh 300+ pounds.

I love me some cookies and take a vicarious thrill in looking at various cookie recipes even though I will only consume them through my eyes and not my mouth. One thing that I noticed popping up in a number of recipes was caster sugar, and an article on Food52 yesterday helped me understand what it is and why it’s used in baking. This is their very fine explanation:

Caster sugar goes by a variety of names, including castor sugar, baker’s sugar, and superfine sugar, the last of which alludes to what exactly it is: a finer granulated sugar. If a grain of granulated sugar is big and a grain of powdered sugar is tiny, caster sugar would be somewhere in between.

Which of course got me thinking about business, and about data in particular. Just as the more granular nature of caster sugar makes cookies a better product (they’re softer and lighter), so too can refining your data yield much better results. You’ve probably heard about the need to segment your data but if you’ve never done so or have never gone beyond basic age/sex or other large groups, you’re really missing out. Refining your data makes it possible to address each segment in a way that’s meaningful to them. The more personalized you can make your messaging, the more effective it will be. Getting beyond “first name” and into where in a purchase cycle a customer might be as a data segment will make for a better outcome. Special offers by segment only yield great results when the specificity of those segments make the offer truly special.

Caster sugar is more refined but not overly so. That’s a great thing to keep in mind as you analyze and use all the raw data you collect every day. The fact that the data isn’t fattening is a big plus!

 

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, food

Losing The Lottery

We’re all bugged. If you carry a smartphone, you may rest assured that it’s possible to identify that device as it moves through the world and interacts with various services. How difficult do you think it is, once someone has a device ID, to associate it with a phone number‘s owner?

I think none of that is a surprise to you, nor is it to me. I try to keep the list of organizations tracking me to a minimum and to a list of companies I trust. Unfortunately, that takes more effort that most people are willing to exert but it can affect you in more ways that you might know.

I uninstalled a lottery app this morning. It was doing a number of things that caused me concern. First, it alone was responsible for 65% of the data traffic from my phone when the phone was idle. The app was idle too, or so I thought. In fact, it was busy sending my phone number, my device ID, and several other very personal pieces of data (Facebook and Twitter ID’s among them) to…someplace. Who knows what happened to the data from there.

I installed this app a few months ago when the Powerball prize pool was ridiculously large. It seemed like a convenient way to input my tickets and get notified if I won anything. What I won, apparently, was the ability to be tracked as an individual and have my battery drained unnecessarily. Buh bye.

What’s the point today? I guess it’s a message for you as you’re on either side of the desk. As a marketer, we can’t violate our customers’ trust by using the permissions they give us to collect usage data and selling or sharing that data to companies with which the customer has no relationship. More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics. Generally, those companies are there to improve the user experience. The problem is that in many cases, app developers that that permission as carte blanche to send the data anywhere. I’ve seen how that data can be used for profiling and targeting and believe me, it’s frightening.

As consumers, we need to pay more attention to privacy and where our data goes. It’s not just to keep your battery from running down. Given the role that our smart devices play in our daily lives, it’s quite possible that a bad actor could know way more about you than you’d care to share. I don’t just mean by monitoring your texts or any unencrypted data you send. It’s also tracking your movements. As a positive, location-based services can help us (you get an alert for a sale at a store you frequent as you pass within a quarter mile) but the possibility of an unscrupulous third party misusing that data is exceptionally high. Check your app permissions. Why would a game need to know your location or have access to your camera, for example? Turn off the permissions that don’t make sense.

I’ll be looking up the results of the money I risked on Powerball some other way since trying to make my life a little easier made it a lot more risky in other ways. It was a good reminder to let my devices work for me and not for people who want to spy on me. You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks