Tag Archives: Digital marketing

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?

The Luck Of The Scottish

This Foodie Friday, we have a fail to discuss. I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a demonstration of abject stupidity or just a stunt designed to make some viral noise. If it’s the latter, it’s a very dangerous game they’re playing over at McDonald’s. Yes, they’re on the screed again!
As St.Patrick’s Day approaches, McDonald’s decided to promote its Irish Shamrock Shake – a combination of chocolate and mint – in Ireland. They did so with a little video clip they released on their official Twitter page ahead of St Patrick’s day, targeting their Irish customers. You can click through here to see it. What’s amazing is the number of things whoever did this screwed up in so short a period of time. It’s equally amazing that they managed to do so and offend their target audience.

The clip shows a man “playing” a Shamrock Shake like a set of bagpipes and there are multiple straws inserted in the shake cup to give the appearance of same. In the background, scenes of the countryside click through. The clip features the word “instrumint”, a play on the drink’s minty taste. Clever, right? Wrong. The man is wearing a Scottish style hat, playing a Scottish instrument to the very Scottish-sounding soundtrack. One of the scenes is of Stonehenge, which is in England, not Ireland. In short, just about everything in the clip is from somewhere other than Ireland.

The lessons are pretty clear. First, whoever did this could not have been Irish. When you’re targeting a specific group – and a country is a group! – have someone who is intimately familiar with the culture, preferably a member of the target group itself, review the work. The history of marketing is littered with mistakes by people who were writing in a language whose nuances eluded them or for a group of which they have no more than a passing knowledge. My favorite, by the way, is the introduction of the Chevy Nova into Mexico under that name. “No va” is Spanish for “won’t go”, not the best name for a car.

But let’s suppose this was done on purpose. Maybe the creators of this were trying to have the ad go viral and figured they could do that by making it so wrong. That’s a very dangerous game since the hit to McDonald’s reputation has been pretty severe, even as the ad gets tons of earned media. Setting yourself on fire in the street will get you lots of attention but it’s a tactic you can only use once since the damage is serious and usually fatal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the folks at Mickey D’s here on Foodie Friday and I thought that if I were to write about a drink that contains more calories than 4 Krispy Kreme donuts I’d do so on the basis of the chemical swamp it contains. Who would have thought that the ads could be worse than the drink itself?

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Filed under food, Huh?

How To Cure A Headache

My introduction to the business side of media came when I was a teenager. My dad was a television rep who sold time to ad agencies. Broadcasting Magazine showed up every week and once in a while, he’d have a Nielsen book in his briefcase for me to peruse. From my perspective, the business seemed pretty simple. The seller and buyer agreed on a price based on how many people they thought might be watching and how narrowly defined the parameters were with respect to when the ad could run. In other words, they negotiated and measured based on ratings, rate, and rotation.

Drawing "THE CLUSTER HEADACHE" Subti...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I actually followed my father into the media business, not much had changed. Sure, the numbers were more demographically-based instead of on household counts, but the business was pretty much the 3 R’s. Not anymore. In fact, a recent study by ID Comms found that most advertisers see media as a complex headache. It is pretty overwhelming now, both from the perspective of available media options as well as the addition of digital channels such as social media. The fact that a huge percentage of media is now bought programmatically through systems that are often rife with fraud and lacking in transparency adds to the headache.

I don’t think it’s the complexity of the media world that’s causing the headache. I think it’s a misplaced emphasis on buying efficiency at the expense of both strategic thinking and measuring results on things other than easily-manipulated metrics such as CPM. If a campaign makes the cash register ring, it’s effective. If it doesn’t, what good is it to have delivered something useless in a highly-efficient manner?

I’ve spoken with friends on both the sales and buying side of the equation. There seems to be universal frustration but not much in the way of solutions. It really needs to come from the people who control the purses – the clients. They need to stop thinking about CPM’s as a measure of efficiency (at least when it comes to digital, anyway) and place a lot more emphasis on strategy. Is the register ringing? Is the phone? Are there more interactions on social even if the number of “likes” isn’t rising? Is there a buzz about your brand? Those are the modern metrics that are relevant in the long-term and that kind of thinking can cure a media headache many folks are now experiencing. You agree?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Thinking Aloud

My Totally Fake Life

I came across an article last week that I found disturbing. I don’t think it’s news to any of you there that it’s possible to buy fake followers on the various social media platforms. You can buy hundreds or thousands of “followers” on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook fairly cheaply. I had assumed that this was something that some (dumb) businesspeople did to make their metrics look better. More on that in a second. The article set me straight.

What it said was that researchers at:

Huron University College in Ontario, Canada, who surveyed around 450 participants ages 18-29 through an online polling platform, and found that 15% admitted to buying “likes” from Web sites for their Instagram profiles…25% of respondents said they engaged in digital plastic surgery before posting photos.

Yikes! I guess these people figure that by having large numbers of people following them on some platform that they appear to be more influential. The reality is exactly the opposite because it takes very little effort to figure out that those people are fakes. Running a Twitter handle through Twitter Audit showed me that some person who claimed his million plus followers as a reason to do business with his had, in fact, 96% fakes in that million. It’s ego gratification, the same reason why people lie about their age or their weight or name drop, and it makes for a serious level of insecurity. And yes, there are other tools for other platforms to help spot fakes.

The same can be said when we do this in our business profiles. Some warped social media person will buy likes to show the boss that they are becoming more popular and that the efforts they’re making to garner new followers are paying off. Of course, engagement rates will drop off to nothing (those fake names don’t interact), and in fact, could do your brand harm by becoming spammy through your account.

It’s a little frightening that many of us feel the need to live a totally fake life online. The study found that 31% of respondents said they edited out all the boring details to make their life seem more exciting, and 14% said they specifically craft their profile page to make it seem like their social life is much more active than it actually is. Maybe it’s possible that the people who are posting the most are actually living the least glamorous lives?

Maybe one benefit of getting older on a personal level is the realization that the only one with whom we’re competing is ourselves. More “stuff” – cars, clothes, or followers – can mean less happiness. On a business level, more can be great but fake never is. Your thoughts?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Ignorance Is No Excuse

I don’t think any of us like being deceived unless we’re watching a magic show. It’s especially angering when you find out that what you believed to be a trusted source has told you something based on someone paying them to do so. You might be aware that several years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued rules about the need to clearly label paid social media posts as ads so that consumers aren’t deceived by ads masquerading as content.

English: Fined Stamp text

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several companies have been fined as a result of failing to follow the rules. Lord & Tayor, for example, was fined because they paid 50 online fashion “influencers” to post Instagram pictures of themselves wearing the same paisley dress but failed to disclose they had given each influencer the dress, as well as thousands of dollars, in exchange for their endorsement. The folks at Warner Brothers were fined for failing to adequately disclose that it paid online influencers thousands of dollars to post positive gameplay videos on YouTube and social media. Over the course of the campaign, the sponsored videos were viewed more than 5.5 million times.

I bring this up because I saw a piece this morning headlined

Marketers ‘Unaware’ of FTC Social Media Guidelines Regulating Influencers

Only one in 10 know sponsored posts should be tagged as ads, study finds.

Seriously? These rules have been in place since 2009 and were updated in 2013. 60% of influencers – the people who are paid to put this stuff out there with their endorsement – are fully aware of the rules and do a good job of following them. The people paying them? Not so much.

But wait! There’s more! I found this especially perturbing:

A significant minority of influencers said it’s not uncommon for brands to ask them to hide the fact that their post is sponsored.

I’m not sure which is worse – ignorance of the rules or the willful violation of them. Either way, it’s really a problem. Ignorance of the rules is certainly no excuse. One could argue that consumers are sophisticated enough to understand that even traditional product reviews often came based on the product being made available to the reviewer for free. I think most folks assume that unless we’re into the realm of reviews posted by normal people on Amazon or Yelp or Trip Advisor, most “influencer” reviews or posts involve money changing hands. All celebrity endorsements do and seeing an athlete or actor endorsing a product, one can safely assume it’s an ad.

Maybe these marketers can shrug their shoulders and think of the fines as a cost of doing business. That’s short-sighted since the hit to their reputations is larger than the fine, whatever that fine may be. All of us need to know and follow the rules that are in place when it comes to paying people to promote our products. If we don’t the choice is to be labeled ignorant or sleazy, and neither is a great option. You agree?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?