Category Archives: 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?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Huh?, digital media

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!

 

Leave a comment

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Actions And Words

I’m a believer in watching what people or organizations do as opposed to what they say. Words are too easy while actions are often difficult. Words can also distract from actions that belie the message the words are attempting to convey.

English: This icon, known as the "feed ic...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, that’s not a political statement (although feel free to take it as one). It’s more a response to a couple of things that happened this morning while I’ve been going through my morning email. Like you, I subscribe to quite a few newsletters as a simple way to stay on top of industry news and developments in technology. I also use a newsreader (Feedly, which I highly recommend) to digest dozens of websites in a brief period of time.

I was reading a newsletter from a respected site for digital mavens. It tries to help those of us on the digital side of things to grow our businesses. The lead article in this morning’s newsletter caught my eye. It was about strategy and leadership in data and actually was important enough for this organization to use it as the subject line in today’s email. I read the blurb and clicked on the “read more” button. In response, I got a “404 Not Found” error. The redirect URL was empty. I tried clicking the headline and that did, in fact, get me to the article, but the call to action wasn’t the headline. What happened here was just someone being sloppy.

The same sort of thing happened when I clicked on an article in my RSS feed. The article headline – about some people receiving promotions at a former competitor – got my attention so I clicked through to read the article. Whoever set up the RSS feed for the publication had this link click through to the publication’s homepage, and the article I wanted was nowhere to be found. I’m not sure if this is willful or sloppy but, as in the previous example, it’s a bad user experience and makes me less likely to click through in the future.

Broken links suck. Besides frustrating the reader they carry an SEO penalty. They’re also easy to check – there are several free tools to do so. Misleading links – or headlines/teasers for that matter – are just as bad. While they might not hurt your search ranking they will hurt your reader. Which really leads me full circle to actions speaking louder than words. If you claim to be a leader in digital marketing, you can’t put broken links into your newsletter. If you claim to be serving the advertising and marketing community, you can’t serve us by forcing us to look for the useful information with which you’ve teased us. The same holds true for any business, by the way. Customers see what you do and that makes it easy to discount whatever it is you say. Does that make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?

Lost In The Flood

Today is Cyber Monday, which is, of course, another “Hallmark Holiday” – something made up by marketers to sell stuff. It’s the first Monday after Thanksgiving which, as we all know, exists only to let us know that Black Friday is the next day. That might even be a bit untrue since Black Friday now seems to start after lunch on Thursday.

In any event, there are lots of deals to be had (available while supplies last). I did a little counting and my inbox received 324 Black Friday emails announcing sales, deals, specials, and other marketing miracles. I’ve received 88 Cyber Monday emails promoting today’s deals but the day has barely begun so that number is low. My business account received far fewer which I guess means that neither day is as huge for B2B selling.

I don’t know about you, but I deleted the vast majority of these emails without even opening them. It wasn’t that they had crappy subject lines. They all just got lost in the flood created by the breaking of the holiday dam. Interestingly, Amazon, from whom I get a daily mail about something I might have been checking out in the last week, only sent a single missive for each sale day while several other retailers sent multiple emails every day.

What’s a marketer to do? The next month is a prime selling window for nearly every brand so sitting it out isn’t really an option. There needs to be a recognition, however, that the noise level is at jet-engine levels and something needs to help your marketing efforts get noticed. If you’re thinking that moving to social channels is the answer, it’s probably not. Sure, it might be easier to get in front of the customer but, as a McKinsey study stated:

E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined. That’s because 91 percent of all US consumers still use e-mail daily,1and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher.2

I’d suggest avoiding the flood as best you can. Start your holiday season in early November (or maybe even late October if you can avoid the Halloween noise) by teasing offers to come. Get your customers in the mood to buy. Who wouldn’t want to have their holiday shopping done early? Obviously, if you’re not checking your outbound mail across every platform to be sure it renders properly you’re committing marketing suicide. Responsive design is a must!

Finally, go local and get personal. Whatever you can do to tailor your messages to each location and/or each customer will greatly increase your conversion rates. I’m always surprised when I get what is obviously a generic email when even minimal segmentation would get me to read it. There are dozens of retargeting technologies out there. Speak as if you were at a cocktail party – one to one – and not with a bullhorn.

To paraphrase The Boss, have you thrown your marketing to the war, or did you lose it in the flood?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, digital media, What's Going On

This is a week for friends and family as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday. Most of what’s being advertised, based on my narrow sample of one, are cars and drugs. Admittedly, my viewing tends towards news and live sports with a smattering of public TV shows and other entertainment. I scroll through the commercials in the latter category but I can still get a sense of what’s being marketed.

Photo by +Simple on Unsplash

Why I raise this is that it seems to me to be a missed opportunity. As I initially stated, this is a week where friends and family gather, and when they’re not stuffing their faces or yelling at football, they talk. Among other things, I’m sure they talk about services they’ve used, places they’ve eaten, and prodcuts they’ve bought. It makes total sense that research shows that nearly three times as many people said content from friends and family influences their purchase decisions compared to content from celebrities. You can imagine how powerful it is when that “content” is delivered in person at Thanksgiving.

The research – The 2017 Consumer Content Report: Influence in the Digital Age, by Stakla – also found that

  • On average, people are able to identify if an image was created by a professional or brand vs. generated by a consumer, 70% of the time.
  • Consumers are three times more likely to say that content created by a consumer is authentic compared to content created by a brand
  • On average, 60% of consumers say content from a friend or family member influences their purchases decisions, while just 23% of consumers say content from celebrities influenced their purchasing decisions
  • People want to see content from people they know or that they can relate to.

I’m not suggesting that some brand co-opt Aunt Sally into being a hidden spokesperson nor that some product unleashes an army of Aunt Sallys into every table. I do think, however, that there is an opportunity around this time of year to focus your brand and your marketing so that you’re top of mind as the conversations are taking place. If sharing is caring, your customers need to care enough to do so and this is the best time of year for that to happen. What are you doing to help them with that?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints