Tag Archives: Digital marketing

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, Huh?, digital media

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?

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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?

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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?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Getting Social

You might think that after a decade or more of social media as a legitimate channel through which marketers can engage consumers we’d be doing a decent job of it. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true for the bulk of the marketing world. In the interest of improving both results and the quality of the messages with which we’re all deluged, here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful when engaging in social media marketing.

First, research has shown that the vast majority of brands today invest most of their paid social media budgets into brand awareness marketing. I get that the sales cycle has to begin with lead generation and that begins with awareness, but if you’re spending all of your budgets on the news feed and not enough on conversion, retention, and service than you’re doomed to massive churn rates and ultimate failure.

Next, ask yourself how engaging you really are. The news feed, whether Facebook, Instagram, or elsewhere, is a place where consumers go to interact with their friends and to be entertained. It’s also becoming a primary news channel for many. Nobody is there to interact with you. Let me repeat that. Nobody is there to be sold to; they are there to be entertained. Are you doing that or are you the guy at the cocktail party who keeps asking all the guests if they have car insurance because that’s what he sells?

Whatever messages you’re sending out, how are you deciding about targeting? The holy grail of marketing is the right message to the right person at exactly the right time. It’s extremely tailored. If you’re buying big, untargeted audiences (Men, Women 18-34, People living in Maryland), you’re using a wrench as a hammer. It’s a misuse of a tool.

Finally, are you being you? Has your brand created a distinctive personality or is it all corporate ad speak? People don’t want to engage with robots so don’t sound like one. Be real and listen a lot more than you speak. Let your customers guide your marketing. Don’t respond to a question just with a “that’s on the FAQ page of our website.” Use it as the basis for your next blog post which then goes through the social channels.

I’m a fan of social media marketing even as I recognize that it’s full of landmines. You don’t want to be the company that “goes viral” for the wrong reasons (DiGiorno, Red Lobster, and many others) due to some social media faux pas. You want to be unique, interesting, relevant, inspiring, authentic, and entertaining while staying focused on your target audience and your own goals. Doable?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

The Pivot

Way back when in 1995, I was working at ABC Sports as their VP of Marketing. My job entailed meeting with advertisers and constructing packages of media and on-site benefits. We’d collaboratively design in-program elements, popularly known then as “enhancements”, to capitalize on the marketers’ involvement with a sport or an event. These things all took place on-air or on-site. The other big “on” – online – didn’t exist.

One day the president of ABC Sports walked into my office and asked me if I knew anything about computers. As a user of AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve and other early services, I replied that I did. He informed me that I was in charge and was to attend a meeting. ABC corporate had made a deal with this little start-up of under a million users called America OnLine and I was now to provide sports programming on behalf of ABC.

That was my pivot into digital. I didn’t realize it at the time, but saying “yes” to my boss’ question and being willing to take on some new, different responsibility had changed my life forever. None of us knew at the time that digital was going to disrupt the television business. We certainly didn’t think of it as anything other than an interesting sideline. But we began to see a little money coming in based on what we were doing, and once in a while, I could add some online stuff to the broad package of rights and benefits I was offering in my “real” job. Less than 5 years later, my job had become fully centered on digital, as I was now running a division of the NHL that didn’t even exist when I entered the digital world.

Being willing to pivot is a critical thing. Many businesses would be long gone if they were unwilling to do so. Foursquare, for example, pivoted their business from a consumer product to a B2B product, providing “location intelligence” to marketers. 90% of their revenue comes from that change. YouTube started as a video dating site. Nokia was a paper company. Twitter was a podcasting network. None of those businesses would be as successful, or maybe even exist, if they hadn’t been willing to shift their business paradigm and pivot.

I’d love to tell you that I saw the digital tsunami coming and got out in front of it on purpose but that would be a lie. I was lucky enough to ride the wave once it did show up because in my mind we were just doing what we’d always done – making great content and deriving value from the attention users gave it – albeit through a very different channel. The pivot was allowing my mind to be open enough to make that connection and to take the risk that it would be a rewarding road. Is your mind open to things like that?

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Filed under digital media, Growing up, Reality checks, sports business