Tag Archives: Digital marketing

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

You Can’t Be Half Pregnant

It’s nice that more companies are paying attention to what’s going on around them in the digital world. Many more brands are becoming actively engaged in listening and responding to consumers. Unfortunately, just as many brands are paying lip service to doing so, and that’s a real problem. Let me rant about a couple of examples I’ve seen lately and you’ll see what I mean.

First, some research. A recent study by Sprout Social found that:

When we asked how social has driven that accountability, people highlighted the power dynamic between individuals and brands, with 80% saying that social helps uncover instances of businesses treating people unfairly and 65% noting the power of social to amplify issues, not only through posting your own complaints but through sharing others’ posts.

In other words, social media makes consumers feel empowered. They can stand up to the man! They can rain fire and brimstone on brands which they perceive have wronged them in some way. I suspect that isn’t news to you, either personally or professionally. After all, who hasn’t posted a review or commented on a friend’s social post about a customer experience, either good or bad?

So brands have learned to respond. The problem is that the study also found that :

An unhelpful response from brands is sometimes considered worse than no response at all. In fact, 50% of those polled said they would never buy from a brand again if it responded poorly to their complaint. Nearly as many said a bad response via social media increased the possibility that they would share their experience with friends.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I was recently researching a vacation. The place I had under consideration had many recent reviews, mostly good. The GM of the property has taken the time to read each one because he responded to them. Unfortunately, he seemed to have two canned responses – one for good reviews and one for negative reviews. On occasion, he’d go a little beyond the basic comment but for the most part, there were two responses. Had I received one of those, it wouldn’t have taken me long to notice everyone else got the same response. I would not be happy.

On the other side of the fence is a company (OK, a bank) with which I had an issue. I posted something on social media and got a response within 10 minutes. They asked me to send them an email address and a phone number, and they called within half an hour. We discussed my issue and I received a detailed email resolving the problem later that day.

The first company is half pregnant in social; the latter one is fully engaged. With which one would you rather do business? More importantly, which company are you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, digital media

Thanks For Nothing

I get emails all the time urging me to win something. In a previous life, I used to send those emails as well. Because of that, I became very well acquainted with the rules that govern sweepstakes and contests. I’ve had multiple lawyers explain the three-legged stool of chance/prize/consideration to me on more than one occasion, and I’ve never run afoul of the gaming laws either here in the US or in Canada.

I thought about those rules as I reviewed an email from an electronics company this morning. The email urges me to “Get Rewarded For Sharing Your Opinion.” I had a couple of immediate thoughts that might just be pertinent to your business, whether you’re running a contest or not (BTW, I know the difference between a “contest” and a “sweepstakes” but I’m lumping them together today, OK (damn lawyers…))?

My first thought was to wonder if asking someone to write a review isn’t consideration? We used to wonder if asking for a photo or a video as part of an entry constituted consideration. My take is that even if it’s not deemed to be such by a lawyer, it is still asking someone to take some time and write a review. For some of us, writing is like breathing but for many people, cranking out a couple of hundred coherent words is grueling. Asking them to do so for a CHANCE to win a $500 gift card with nothing else as a consolation (a coupon, you cheap bastards?) seems like an unfair trade-off.

More importantly, the headline on the company‘s landing page is “Your Thoughts, Our Thanks?” Really? Unless you dive deeply into the fine print of the rules, you might not realize that unless your review contains a very specific phrase it won’t be counted as a contest entry. That won’t, of course, stop the company from using it in advertising and by entering, you’ve signed away all rights to it as well as the right to contest the company’s use of it and your name.

The bigger point is that the company is positioning this as a “win-win“:

Write an honest review and you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win $500*. How’s that for a win-win?

It’s not, actually, You win. You get the content you can use to sell your products. A consumer might win but the vast majority of them will send off the review and get bupkis, maybe not even an entry if they haven’t read the rules carefully. You’re awarding cards every two months (and by the way, your entry doesn’t count after the two month period in which it was received). $3,000 over the course of a year for an important type of social proof – consumer reviews seems awfully cheap on your part, particularly when most of what you’re selling costs hundreds of dollars.

We can’t ask our customers for something beyond buying our products without offering something in return. Don’t hype a relatively low-level reward that’s not universally available to everyone supporting your brand when all you’re really offering is a fuzzy “thank you.” Your thanks? Thanks for nothing in this case. Do you agree?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Tolls

As you might have guessed from the name of my company (Keith Ritter Media), I’ve spent a great deal of time in the media business, both as a marketer and as a publisher. The business model used to be pretty simple. Create something about which people care, make them aware that you’re offering it, get them to read, listen, or watch it, and aggregate those people into a saleable audience. You hired salespeople to meet with the representatives of your real customer – the advertiser. Usually, these representatives were media buyers from an ad agency. You with me so far?

In TV, we’d offer a unit of time at a “gross” price and asked the agency to remit a “net” price, which was usually the gross minus 15%. That commission was the toll we paid to get the revenue. Obviously, how much of that the agency kept was between them and their client but it wasn’t really our concern. We did our budgeting on the expected net revenues we’d get which was pretty much a straight line derivative of the gross monies sold. Other media had similar models but in every case, the dollars received by the publisher were directly and clearly tied to the size and desirability (to marketers) of their audience.

That statement in no longer true for digital publishing and the fact that it isn’t has serious negative implications for other media as they shift to a more programmatic sales model. I have no idea how digital publishers are able to do financial plans since they can’t project revenue from audience size. That’s because they’ve allowed themselves to generate billions of dollars in ad revenue while only capturing somewhere around a third of what is spent. The 15% that used to be paid in tolls is now more like 67% although some estimates are even higher. More importantly, it’s usually impossible to predict the net revenues received from the gross revenues sold. Digital audiences are growing while publisher revenue is declining.

Where is the money going? A sponsor pays $1 for an ad impression. The agency still takes their commission, but added to the toll-takers are trading desks, DSP providers, data providers, supply side platforms, ad serving platforms, verification services (viewability, etc.) and who knows who else. In some cases, it’s the agency double-dipping, but most of the time these are third parties. Most of these ad services have no interest in either the publisher’s or the marketing client’s success. They aren’t about a quality ad environment. They facilitate a transaction. In some cases, a platform that connects both buyers and sellers charges each side a separate fee without disclosing that they’re doing so. In short, publishers, agencies, and marketers have created a system that works for no one but the VC’s that fund these ad tech companies. What happens when programmatic spreads to other media such as TV?

Publishers have many other challenges. Facebook, for example, makes more money off of some publishers’ content than do the publishers themselves without paying the publishers a dime. But the real threat to a healthy media environment is the toll-takers. When you create great content and grow your audiences, you should be the entity that benefits and not some opaque service provider. More eyeballs used to mean more money to the bottom line. Can we make that equation true again?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Is There Anybody Out There?

Over the years, I’ve been privy to a lot of data. My own business analytics (my website, blog posts, social presences, etc.), as well as those of my clients, kick off a lot of information. Combine that with the ongoing streams of data from the various marketing campaigns – both search Engine ads and social media ads – I’ve administered over the years and I’ve seen a lot of information about how readers are captured and interact.

Except I don’t believe much of it anymore. Let me explain why and what it means to you.

A few weeks ago, there was a report that Facebook was breaking up an “extensive fake account scam” targeting publisher pages with false “likes.” The idea was to obtain more “friends” for the scammers they could later spam. USA Today was the biggest page hit, losing nearly 6 million “likes.“ because they were fake accounts. Facebook also came under fire for giving publishers and advertisers faulty metrics to evaluate audience reach. Even in the last day, Facebook found an error in how its video carousel ads were reporting and is having to give back cash to advertisers. I don’t think it’s news to anyone that a huge percentage of Twitter accounts are bots, and impressions generated against those bots are a complete waste.

If you read web analytics, you’ve probably encountered “referrer spam.” This has the effect of goosing your visitor numbers up while providing no value. It skyrockets bounce rates and kills conversion rates among other things, but the worst part of it is the added time it takes to address, either through filtering or other means.

Programmatic advertising, which is now nearly all of display and other ads on the web, is rife with fraud. The industry is struggling to verify if ads are seen by humans or even if they’re visible at all. Middleman after middleman “clips the ticket” as money moves from advertiser to publisher, and with over 2/3 of those dollars going to just two entities (Google and Facebook), it’s slim pickings in the publishing world. That means the pressure is on the generate big numbers and bigger results. Of course, if you can’t believe the numbers, how can you evaluate anything anymore?

Here’s how. I know I’m old school and what I’m about to say isn’t as efficient as a trading desk’s programmatic solution, but it actually works. First, take the time to look at the only results that matter. It may be revenue, it may be downloads or app installs, it may be the phone ringing, it may be physical store traffic. I used to worry about conversion rates but since we don’t really know who’s a human out there, the conversion itself is what’s key. Make friends with the sales reps from key publications. Have face to face meetings. You don’t want your sales rep to be a bot either. Pay premiums for premium content and premium results. Programmatic is a race to the bottom, even after you cut through the fraud and waste.

We need to rely on people and only upon the data that can’t be subverted or corrupted. Yes, there are people out there. Let’s go find them.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

New Isn’t Synonymous With Good

A decade or more ago (2003, actually), there was an early attempt at a VR world called “Second Life.” It’s still in existence although in my mind it reached its PR peak way back when. Many sports and entertainment properties rushed to set up virtual home bases in the virtual world. If memory serves, MLB built a stadium and the NBA built an arena.

I was running the NHL’s digital stuff at the time and as you might expect, the Second Life folks came to us to participate. You should also know that sports leagues keep an eye on one another (duh) and so the fact that the other leagues were there had some folks internally asking why we weren’t. I had a pretty simple answer for them: we weren’t because it made absolutely no business sense. Back then, Second Life’s business was almost a real estate play. We would have had to have bought “land” on which to construct our presence as well as to build and maintain whatever we build. The audience numbers weren’t all that great when compared with other options. When we put all the numbers together the cost was well into six figures and the potential return was pretty nebulous at best. I explained all this to my management and said that if they wanted to be involved from a marketing perspective (and pay for it out of that budget) we’d proceed but if they were asking if it was a smart business deal the answer was no.

The Second Life folks were way ahead of their time (VR is just starting to take off) but the lesson from that is just as relevant today. Look at the rush of sponsors to new platforms, whether they’re the latest hot app or a new type of programmatic buying. There is no vetting. Many of these things lack any form of third-party verification or transparency. Frankly, my guess is that many of the folks involved don’t even know what questions to ask since ad tech has become incredibly complex. Add in the controversy about rebates driving placements and investment in much of this new stuff might make a visible splash but bellyflop as a business decision.

Good strategy is timeless. Yes, we need to push forward with respect to how we display our messages and engage with our consumers. No, we don’t need to rush off a technological cliff as we try to do that in the name of being cutting edge. Newness for newness’ sake is not synonymous with good. You agree?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Marketing, Not Annoying

As the weather warms up (despite a blizzard rearing its ugly head), I start to get ready for the upcoming golf season. For me, that means ordering a supply of balls. I’m too cheap to pay full retail price for the high-end balls that I prefer so I usually order from one or more sites that feature “recycled” golf balls. These are often “one-hit wonders” that some hacker dumped in a pond or the woods and have been reclaimed for sale. High-quality, low-cost = great value, especially for someone like me, who is only going to donate them back to the golf gods in short order.

English: Golf balls.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I placed an order last week for 100 balls. It was an easy transaction with good email communication throughout. It’s what happened over the next few days that is our topic today. You see, I’ve received an email from the site every couple of days, informing me about sales, coupons and other inducements to place an order. The issue in my mind is that I just did buy from them, and even I can’t go through 100 balls in a couple of days. This is symptomatic of a big problem for many brands. We try to use the very effective email channel to communicate and instead we use it to annoy.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with trying to sell via email. Like other channels of communication, however, we can’t use it exclusively for that purpose. If customers are going to enjoy hearing from you, it can’t all be about “ME ME ME!” Providing information that’s helpful from the customer’s point of view is not announcing a sale on items the customer just bought a week ago. That is annoying.

What happened here is that one system – the sales system – wasn’t taking to another system – the marketing system. That might have been acceptable several years ago but today it isn’t. Even Amazon, whose systems are about as cutting edge as anyone’s, will show you remarketing ads for products you just bought. For example, I bought my daughter a snow blower in December through Amazon and yet I was seeing ads from Amazon for the same one I bought on Facebook. That’s not marketing – it’s annoying.

Put yourself in the customer’s position. You hate spam and you probably don’t like a constant barrage of “BUY THIS” emails either. Provide content of value – useful information that helps the customer. Doing so gives you permission to do the hard sell every so often. Don’t silo the various departments – make them communicate and integrate. And for goodness sakes, don’t be annoying!

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?