I wrote last week about magic and distractions. Another magically-themed post today about the smoke and mirrors magicians use in their acts. That expression has come to mean something that’s deceptive or fraudulent, and a couple of pieces about the marketing business got me thinking about that term today. Even if you’re not a marketer (but who isn’t!), there’s something to take away.
One piece on Digiday dealt with ad-buying technology. You’re probably aware that the majority of digital ad buying (which will soon cover TV as well!) is done programmatically. No humans are involved other than to create the platforms on the vending end and choosing the ones to use on the buying end. The Digiday piece contains the following statements from an ad tech software developer:
I can say from first-hand experience that a lot of it is taped together stuff and nowhere near the sophistication that’s talked about…It is really easy to put up a website and mention “algorithms,” “machine learning” and a bunch of buzzwords. Nobody knows how that works. You can’t actually look into it, it is all just black boxes. But underneath, there is no real special sauce for a lot of these companies.
In other words, smoke and mirrors. Billions of dollars are spent this way and marketers are (finally) demanding to know how their money is really being spent. They’re turning on the lights and blowing away the smoke. Which leads to the second piece from MediaPost. It mentions “the terrible murky waters of rebates and contracts” and the same lack of transparency to which the other piece alludes. P&G is demanding more transparency, insisting that media agencies show that they are using providers that apply industry standards in measuring viewability and fraud. Ogilvy and Mather is reorganizing under a single P&L accounting structures for clients and thereby boosting transparency. Both of these moves are sending the magicians home.
We all need to ask ourselves about smoke and mirrors in our businesses. We need to challenge sources behind reports and assure ourselves that what we’re reading or hearing is rooted in fact and not someone’s fiction. A good practice outside of business too, don’t you think?
One thing our digital age has given us is the ability to measure and understand what is going on in our businesses. We can learn even more by layering research on top of the data so that we understand not just the “what” but also the “why.”
A piece of research from Episerver has done that with respect to consumer shopping behaviors and their expectations for brands. While the study is focused on online commerce, I think many of the data points it surfaces apply into other business segments as well. Let’s see what you think.
The primary finding is that 92% of consumers will visit a brand’s website for the first time for reasons other than making a purchase. Of shoppers visiting a website for the first time, 45% are searching for a product or service, 25% are comparing prices or other variables, and more than one in 10 are looking for details about a physical location. A third of consumers who visit a brand’s website or mobile app with the explicit intent of making a purchase rarely or never complete checkout. Further, 98% of shoppers have been dissuaded from completing a purchase because of incomplete or incorrect content on a brand’s website, underscoring the need for descriptive, accurate content.
When consumers are prepared to make a purchase on a website or mobile app, the report found 60% go directly to the product page for the item they’re looking for. Another 18% look at sale items first, and 7% seek out customer testimonials before anything else.
What does all of that mean? In a word, engagement. Your ability to engage the consumer is key because the odds are that unless they feel engaged they’re not coming back. The fact that the overwhelming majority of first-time visitors are NOT there to buy points to an opportunity. How can you serve the real reasons why they’re there? How can you provide them with the information they need (accurate content, easily visible sale items, obvious, verified customer comments, etc.)
Hopefully, this is yet another piece of research that falls into the “duh” category. Most of the findings point to actions we should take that are just common sense. They’re the way we’d all like to be treated when we put on our consuming hats, aren’t they?
I used to have an occasional disagreement with a few of our sports TV producers back in the day. They were often reluctant to include certain sponsor things in the program, whether it was signage, a sponsored feature or adjusting the graphics to be sure the sponsor’s name and logo were a bit more prominent. Their complaint had to do with the aesthetics of the program and I certainly respected their point of view. That didn’t, however, prevent from reminding them that we were a commercial television entity and our jobs were to make commerce, not art.
I was reminded of that as I read some data on the importance of user experience. Clutch and Brave UX conducted a study of heavy Internet users – defined as those who use the Web for 4+ hours per day – to get a glimpse into how these Internet users interpret the user experience of popular websites. They asked about why people use the sites and how user-friendly the sites were. What they found is interesting although not particularly surprising.
In response to a question about how important certain factors are in the decision to keep using the site, the top factor was the site’s content. 94% said that they kept using the site because they found the content valuable. Right behind it, however, was the site’s ease of use. 93% of users cited that as important. Far fewer – 66% – cited how the site looked (the website is beautiful or attractive). It’s a good reminder that we’re making commerce and not art. A pretty website that’s unusable is a waste of money. Moreover, in my mind, a site that’s not designed with a great analytics implementation behind the world-class user experience is also a waste.
I’ve had clients who have spent hundred of thousands of dollars on a great looking site that’s fairly useless from a business perspective. Purchase funnels that can’t be tracked properly, no site search and the use of multiple subdomains were all wrapped in a gorgeous – but useless – package. We don’t need everything to be pretty as a picture. We need it to be valuable content presented in a highly usable manner, one that can be measured and improved upon. Make sense?
Sometimes I look at what’s going on in publishing as if someone was whispering the Springsteen lyric in management’s ear:
Those romantic young boys, they’re callin’ through the window
Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?
The easy money comes from native advertising, particularly the kind that’s plug and play. Just as in the song, however, there isn’t any easy money that comes without strings attached and some research from Penn State found out just what those strings entail.
The research team found that when content was identified as native advertising, readers held a lower opinion of the media outlet it was published in. However, the reputation of the company being promoted was not affected…“We all have the idea that the news media should be objective and neutral…that’s how it works,” Wu said. “But people may see the media and companies working together to deceive us…so they change their perception toward the media more dramatically. On the other hand, people see that the company is just doing what it’s supposed to, promoting itself.”
The speaker in the quote above is the PhD student who conducted the study. While I certainly understand the importance of revenue generation in an increasingly competitive and difficult marketplace, I also understand the value of a publisher’s reputation. That reputation, like all of ours, takes a long time to establish but can be shattered rather quickly. The loss of trust is fatal for any brand and particularly so for an information service.
Maybe it’s called “native content” or maybe it’s actually identified as “sponsored content” or a “promoted post.” Either way, it’s generally not immediately identifiable as being from a source different from the main news or information the publisher puts out. I think most of us dislike being enticed to read something under false pretenses, and part of the decision to invest time in reading involves the quality of the content which is predicated on the source. When we’re deceived, we’re unhappy, and when we’re unhappy, we don’t return.
Publishers need to beware. There is no easy money to be made unless you’re in it for the short term and are reputation-agnostic. Are you?
One of the most basic principles of selling is that when a customer wants to give you money, take it. Take it as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. Any delay or friction is a chance for the customer to reconsider and for you to lose the sale. I saw this in action yesterday and it’s instructive for all of us.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s almost golf season. Rotten golfer and cheap person that I am, I generally buy “recycled” golf balls for my non-tournament play. These are balls that some intrepid soul fished out of a water hazard (nasty work as this article shows) and which are cleaned up and sold by any number of websites. I usually purchase 8 or 10 dozen before the season begins and since I had a couple of discount coupons in my mailbox, I logged on to the site from which I’ve made several purchases before. I put my purchases in my shopping cart and went to log in so I could check out quickly. My login credentials are stored in a password manager, which filled in the user name and password automatically. Unlike the other few times I’ve used the site, a box popped up letting me know that my credentials would be shared with Hubspot, a well-known CRM system. That’s when the fun began.
I suspect it had to do with the use of a third-party cookie, but I couldn’t log in. I was told my information was incorrect (it wasn’t) and they couldn’t log me in. Sure, I could have called their phone number (listed right on the cart – props for that) but who knows how long that would take. I also could have checked out as a guest, but then I needed to find my credit card and type in all the billing and shipping information that was already on file. In short, they’d created friction in the sales process, and at the very worst moment to boot. What was worse is that a chat window popped up (more CRM) asking me if I was finding everything I needed? I responded immediately, explained the situation and was greeted by a reply that stated “Matt” (the name that popped up) would be with me shortly. At that point “shortly” was too long.
Since I had a coupon for another site that offered the same balls at a lower price and a 15% discount along with free shipping, I ordered from the competition. Sure, I had to type in the information but at least now I was getting a better price. While I was willing to pay a bit more to do business with a site I knew in a seamless manner, when it became a hassle, thereby lowering the value, price became an issue. Interestingly, about an hour later I received an email (automated) asking me if I had forgotten something since there were items in my shopping cart. I responded to the customer service address with a shorter version of what you’re reading. Maybe I should have charged them for the consulting?
These guys did a lot of things right. Their site is helpful and easy to navigate. The pricing and costs of shipping are clear. They clearly are using CRM and lots of it. But they failed at the most important time. Selling is hard but the process isn’t. Explain how you’re solving the customer’s problem. Provide them with great value for the cost. When they agree, take their money, say thank you, and leave them alone. Prevent friction, provide support. You with me?
Way back when in the dark ages before digital, I used to be involved in selling sports programming to sponsors. One of the truisms with respect to selling golf was that a lot of CEO’s played and that they would have no problem instructing their marketing folks to sponsor a tournament so they might have a chance to rub elbows with the best golfers on the planet. Heck, they’d even get to play in the pro-am with the golfer of their choice. The assumption was that they would see the world through their own prism and justify the marketing expense based on their own views of the world.
You might think that marketing in that manner is a piece of ancient history but you’d be kidding yourself. One can see exactly that same mindset at work today. For example, how many companies are spending way too much of their budgets on traditional media because the CMO never has streamed anything? How about the companies whose social media efforts are totally devoted to Facebook – a place where the head of social media spends hours reading her 50-something friends’ posts – when most of their young audience is over on Snapchat?
We can’t be everywhere. Even the biggest brands have limited human and financial resources and the smart ones allocate them to the places and platforms their customers use. You might find Buzzfeed ridiculous but if your customers find it entertaining, that’s where they need to find you.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to assume that our customers share our media habits, both content and social. It’s not a bad idea for you to share theirs, learning to use the platforms they use, even if those platforms aren’t where your friends and family hang out. You can laugh at the CEO who assumed all of his customers shared his love for golf, but you might be making the same mistake. Are you?
I received an email yesterday from a golf-related company with which I’ve done business as a consumer. I’m not going to name names, but I’ll bet you’ve had a similar experience as the one I’m about to describe, and you can feel free to hit up the comments, ratting out similar offenders. The note came with the subject line A Genius Gift For You. The body of the mail left me wondering exactly for whom the gift was intended.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Enclosed in the mail was the following offer:
Tell us how (name of their product) helped to make your 2015 golf season great and be entered to win a $200 Amazon Gift Card.
So you’d like me to write you a love letter (which I assume will also require me to give you use of whatever I write in promotional materials) praising your product in return for a chance – and only a chance – to win something? How is that a gift, exactly? When your Aunt Sally comes in with a holiday gift, she doesn’t say “Hey, stroke me out a recommendation for promotion I can give to my boss and just maybe you can be entered in a lottery with all your cousins to win a nice sweater,” does she?
This isn’t bad advertising. It’s not the equivalent of those horrible Michael Bolton in the snow ads from a couple of years back that never seemed to go away nor some of the random Santa appearances you see in an attempt to holiday up an otherwise bad campaign. No, this more Scrooge-like. Do you want to give me a golf related holiday gift? Maybe find 10 fantastic game improvement golf videos on Youtube, build a branded playlist, and send me the link? Improve your game this Christmas! Don’t like that? How about a real sweepstakes then, one that doesn’t require me to spend even a second conjuring up what just might be false praise? Enter me automatically and maybe even offer multiple prizes?
A gift or a present is an item given to someone without the expectation of payment, according to the dictionary. This isn’t a gift. Me sending along this free consulting advice to the marketing contact in the email – that’s a gift! You want in?