All posts in “Blog”

Big Data, Attribution and The End of "Spray & Pray"

What kind of ROI do your online ad dollars deliver? If you have no idea, you’re not alone – according to OptiMine, an online analytics company, 61% of advertisers say that they are challenged to reliably measure the ROI of digital advertising.

This is not a small problem – it’s foundational to the way advertising is conducted online. Display is a tremendous waste of money if you’re “spraying and praying” – buying media based on the loosest targeting imaginable. Additionally, you typically measure activities (impressions and clicks) rather than outcomes (leads and sales). Remarketing, content marketing and even the agency and publisher compensation structure (rather than points on media, how about points on performance?) should all be examined if you really care about getting to a reliable ROI. Clients should be pushing their agency partners to explore and scale new forms of paid on new platforms. Publishers and social media sites know that display is not the future; it has become the default in an unsustainable, cannibalistic sprint for revenue because it fits into existing models, not because it delivers value.

According to Mike Volpe, CMO of Hubspot, an inbound marketing company, you are more likely to do one of the following than click on a display ad: complete Navy Seal training, be accepted at MIT, get a full house while playing poker, climb Mount Everest, give birth to twins or survive a plane crash. In other words, most of us will never do any of those things.

Massive fragmentation of attention is partly culpable in this almost ridiculous state of online advertising affairs, with 43% of users having learned to completely tune out ads. Publishers have also made placements and formats so standard that they themselves are responsible for training us to ignore whole sections of the web pages we read.

Adding to this apocalypse of irony, sites like Facebook have exploded the number of impressions available for sale at the same time as they have come to rely on display advertising for revenue. This is borne out in the fact that, according to the Wall Street Journal, online ad rates have decreased by more than 50% in the last decade. There is an infinite amount of Internet, and supply and demand don’t unplug for anyone – just ask Yahoo! The company, in an attempt to stabilize ad revenues, reduced inventory last quarter. It didn’t work.

I’m sorry if it hurts to also point out that the ad content you’re making is probably incredibly boring, and that’s just not good enough any more. You don’t know whom you’re targeting, you don’t know what they want, and you’re interrupting them with messages that deliver no value. So, uh… they’re ignoring you. Content is not going to get better until you can actually understand the role in plays in the purchase cycle. You need to start “thinking outside the banner” as David Zinman, CEO of Infolinks, a smart ad unit platform, puts it. Learn where and when to invest to support the important milestones in your consumers’ decision journey. If you are the right thing in the right place at the right time, they will click. And then they will buy.

So why do you keep spending your budgets on digital display? Mostly because you don’t know any better. Attribution (the ability to track users’ actions and assigning value to those actions as part of the sales cycle) is so poor, and most companies have such a lousy understanding of the true (online and offline) customer decision journey, that advertisers and their agencies are perpetually optimizing for the bottom of the funnel, where cause and effect are clear. You can see this play out in content recommendation widgets like Taboola, which offer “You May Also Like” links on publishers’ sites. A lot of it, sadly, is bait-and-switch direct marketing – taking users to gated content or a sales pitch. If this continues, it could potentially poison the well for yet another promising paid model that might have delivered relevancy and value in exchange for attention.

What’s the fix? Attribution standards need to be set. It’s technically possible to track users’ interactions with your content across multiple devices today.  Companies like DemandBase and OptiMine are trying to crack this nut by taking both structured and unstructured (aka “big”) data (IP addresses, search queries, clicks, conversions) and turning them into business intelligence that can help you better understand and optimize how your customers are getting to you. Online, however, there are privacy issues: in order to effectively track on the web and mobile, you need to drop cookies and tokens.  Consumers don’t really like that, one might argue in part because they don’t see the value – they’re giving you their privacy in exchange for what? Highly forgettable display advertising? Not a very compelling deal.

Jakob Neilsen has been warning us about “banner blindness” since 2007, and it’s magical thinking to believe it’s going to get better if you keep doing the same things. Good money after bad – the choice is yours.

[A modified version of this post originally appeared in Marketing Magazine]

Resources for Modern Marketers

Today Marketing Profs published a great resource for modern marketers who want to understand where their attention is best spent. Titled “Digital Marketers on Twitter: What They Share, Whom They Retweet” and based on research by Leadtail and Netbase, it’s a handy post that bubbles up the best resources based on which are shared most often, and by whom.

When it comes to industry media, (about 35% of the links shared overall), I’m thrilled to see that Social Media Today, an amazing aggregate resource of “The World’s Best Thinkers on Social Media”, is in the Top 10, neatly sandwiched between the estimable Venture Beat and The Next Web. I’m doubly thrilled because not only do I sit on the advisory board of SMT, but I’ve also been lucky enough to moderate their Best Thinkers webinar series for the last couple of years; something I enjoy tremendously, and which allows me return to my roots in journalism, if only for an hour every week or so.

If you haven’t yet joined us for one of these great and lively discussions (which are free!) you can register here for next week’s discussion, “Paid vs. Earned vs. Owned: What Does an Integrated Strategy Look Like?” These webinars are planned and programmed to provide differing viewpoints on some of the most pressing issues facing digital leaders today, and we don’t shy away from tough conversations and tough questions. All opinions must be accounted for with proof points, and our audience has come to expect and applaud this no-nonsense approach.

Finally, if you are familiar with and enjoy the webinars, then you must attend the first-ever Social Media Today “Social Shake-Up” conference in Atlanta September 15-17th. Two amazing days (plus workshops) of hard-hitting, to the point and real discussions about real problems – brands will share their experiences on stage, with a hand-picked selection of top-notch agencies and vendors providing a broader view of the marketplace. It’s going to be fantastic – I hope you’ll be able to join us!

 

Neiman Marcus is very serious about social.

I’m delighted to announce that Neiman Marcus is Social Media Group’s newest client partner. As part of our mandate, I’ll be working closely with their communications and marketing leadership to help this iconic retail brand focus their already impressive social and digital activities on delivering significant, measurable business value. A long-time fan of NM (and follower of their many robust social channels – these folks know how to make great, compelling content!) I’m thrilled to be working in partnership with them to accelerate their efforts.

I’m also very much looking forward to my upcoming visit to their spectacular flagship store in Dallas, Texas (purely for research purposes, of course).

Women who don't self-promote are letting us down.

I don’t care how distasteful you find it. Or, perhaps it’s not even modesty, but rather a feeling that giving that interview or speaking at that conference is not a good use of your time. You’re too busy. Whatever the reason, I’ll make this very clear: women who want to “change the ratio” but don’t self promote are letting all of us down.

I’m publishing this post (in which no names shall be named) in response to my recent experience on a writing project. I’m interviewing amazing founders and CEOs, talking to them about their businesses and how they got there. I am committed to ensuring that the voices that make up this story are diverse – I’d like to have a decent ratio of women to men (50/50 is probably ambitious, but I’ll try). Thanks to introductions from well-connected and helpful friends, I’ve interviewed some of the best-known names in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and their stories have been amazing, compelling, and strikingly humble.

The problem? Most of them are men. Why? Because less than a third of the women I’ve approached have responded or agreed to be interviewed. All of the men have.

At this rate, I’ll have to approach three female tech CEOs for every single interview I’m able to book. I invite you to pity me in my attempts to “change the ratio” – something that now appears to be a mathematical impossibility.

So I’ll just say it: women who don’t self promote are letting us down. This isn’t going to happen by magic – this is your responsibility.

Without a proper value exchange, social media is just a channel

And it doesn’t work a whole lot better than the ones we already have.

While doing some research for a client project, I came across this great post from Chad Warren on the Adobe Digital Marketing blog. In it, Chad discusses (in an admittedly creative mixed metaphor) the “seri­ous dose of real­ity [dropped] on everybody’s golden goose” by some new research from Forrester, which indicates that only 15% of consumers trust content posted by companies on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I found that fascinating, and started doing some more digging into the state of trust online. This spring, Nielsen released a report that shows fewer than 45% of people trusted most forms of digital advertising “completely or somewhat”, and the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that the three most-trusted sources of company information are academics or experts (68%), company technical expert (66%), a person like yourself (65%) and regular employees (50%). Soooo… in summary, it would appear that we trust company technical experts the most and digital platforms in the middle. However, by some magic formula, we trust the combination of the two least of all. Even though that content is very often posted by our most trusted sources on channels that allow us to question it.

Riiiight.

Now, of course I am using these dueling (and probably incomparable) stats to make a couple of smartass points, first: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” and secondly (and most importantly; you really ought to know that first one by now): I believe there actually is a pretty big problem with how many organizations are using social media, and it’s making those channels perform poorly. Just as poorly as the interrupt-and-repeat approach brands and agencies are still so hooked on.

I’m going to state the obvious: if you produce content that no one cares about, they’re going to ignore it. It doesn’t matter how you distribute it. We saw this firsthand when we worked with some of the pioneering platforms in the content marketing/paid social space, years ago: we were able to generate CTRs that were 4-6x (and sometimes up to 10 or 15x) what you’d see from display advertising. This was because we were thoughtful about both the content and the presentation of that content to the audience we were trying to reach. We then watched our media agency brethren eagerly jump on many of these sites/tools and fail spectacularly, delivering CTRs in the 1% range. Why? Because they were using marketing content, ads. And. No. One. Cared

If you find that your social accounts are waning in effectiveness or not delivering the results you’d expected, you have a content problem, not a channel problem. Basically: you’re doing it wrong.

The funny thing is, I (along with many of my esteemed colleagues in this space) have been saying this since the middle of the last decade. Hopefully smart brands are finally getting ready to listen and become the rule, rather than the exception.

Is GetGlue in the Middle of a Customer Service Meltdown?

And if they are – do they even know it?

Since Friday afternoon, I have received 108 notification emails from the social networking site for TV fans (it works by allowing users “check in” to shows they’re watching and share that information with their friends). Turns out, I’m not the only one – a quick Twitter search reveals dozens of others with the same problem. Many of them have deleted their accounts (irony: didn’t stop the notifications), and I personally have now designated all email from GetGlue as spam.

Twitter search @GetGlue customer service meltdown

Twitter users closing accounts due to GetGlue email spam

So how has GetGlue been responding? As of May 24th (Friday) their Twitter account was diligently responding that it was a “known issue” and being worked on by GetGlue engineers. Then the weekend started, and the account went silent.

@GetGlue's Twitter account responding to users

GetGlue's Twitter account - silent since May 24th

No explanation email to users receiving these emails, no timeline for the fix, no proactive communication ANYWHERE, including on the GetGlue website. Keeping in mind that most folks won’t be back to work until Tuesday, I truly wonder what kind of shape GetGlue’s userbase will be in come next week. The only reason I’ve kept my account open is that I want to see how this plays out. At a minimum, there will likely be hundreds of users that the service can no longer reach via email due to spam filters.

In this case, one has to wonder if a poor customer service/crisis plan might actually be responsible for sinking a company. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: at 7:30pm EDT on Sunday May 26th, the PR Manager for GetGlue responded to this on Twitter, letting me know that the issue had been resolved. I invited her to comment on this post.

Yahoo and Tumblr – Avoiding Commoditization by Association

So, it’s official – while many of us (especially on Twitter) waited and watched over the weekend after All Things D broke the story, Yahoo has agreed to buy content sharing platform Tumblr for $1.1 billion in cash. The analysis has been varied and thoughtful: why Tumblr’s exit is about 30% of what it might have been (they failed to demonstrate that they could monetize on a timeline that would suit their investors/were running out of cash), why the value isn’t in their technology, but rather the networks’ function as a “vector for viral sharing“, and, finally, how Tumblr can “make money without pissing us off” (leverage tag pages, keep your hands off my content).

I had the chance to hear Tumblr CEO David Karp speak at the GigaOm paidContent Live conference in New York just a few weeks ago. In a 1:1 interview with Mathew Ingram, Karp referred repeatedly to Tumblr’s value in “Helping get people to the stuff that they’re actually going to love,” which struck me as both interesting and incomplete. If Tumblr’s value lies in not just your content, but ultimately in its ability to filter and anticipate and deliver that content in a way that adds incremental value, that’s promising. It’s also a model that requires significant technology investment (robust search and a brilliant, best-in-breed recommendation engine that uses highly sophisticated collaborative filtering). Content is like ore, and those technical filters are required to help users refine it in order to mine and generate that additional value. To do this your tech had better be killer; from what I have seen so far, I’m not sure that’s the case today.

Nevertheless, if that’s the proposed unique value prop – rather that just a publisher of cool stuff, building a better filter in order to be a content force multiplier (which is really the “building a better mousetrap” of the Information Age, when you think about it) – how do you monetize it? “Display advertising” and “paid search” are incorrect answers. These revenue models are so deeply commoditized that to begin to rely on them for revenue serves to commoditize your business as well, regardless of how unique or robust (“commoditization by association”). This is short-term gain for long-term pain, and as we’ve seen, deadly poisonous to future innovation in generating revenue from attention. If that’s the best Yahoo and Tumblr can do together, Tumblr will die a slow death like so many other past acquisitions, in this case because of what you might call the “MySpace death spiral”: reliance on eyeball- rather than engagement-based advertising erodes the user experience. Users leave (especially a risk here since micro/blogging technology is pretty ubiquitous). Eyeball-based numbers start to drop, revenue targets are missed, anxiety ensues and the short-term answer is to further junk up the user experience in order to deliver more impressions. Rinse and repeat, and within a very short period of time you have a virtual ghost town.

I would argue that this will be a hard trap not to fall into: platforms like Facebook have come to rely on the easy source of display revenue to the detriment of figuring something out that will actually allow advertisers to add value to the user experience at scale (sponsored posts are just another form of “spray and pray”). Of course, advertisers, and particularly their agencies, are the enablers here – they want three basic things: round pegs for round holes, scale, and “set it and forget it”. In my experience, anything that doesn’t fit into a CPM or CPC model is a bespoke option that is lovely to pilot, generates great results and shows the CMO some cutting-edge thinking. It then quietly gets discarded in favor of more efficient and reliable agency revenue streams.

There are three things on the Tumblr/Yahoo to-do list for 2013:

1. Push the edges on intelligent recommendation technology (just think of the dataset they must have!)

2. Innovate on engagement-based ad format design

3. Bypass agencies: try to build partnerships directly with brands to help bring scale and meaning to a revenue model that is based on adding value rather than the very comfortable “interrupt and repeat”

If they don’t get two out of three right, we’ll be talking about Tumblr in the past tense faster than you can say “Rich Kids of Instagram”

Planning to be Spontaneous: Oreo and Realtime Marketing

Success in real-time marketing is as much operations as creativity

Ever since Oreo suggested that you could “still dunk in the dark” during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout, real-time marketing (RTM) has become the new black. Never mind that the phrase was first coined in 1995 by Apple marketing guru Regis McKenna; this winter, breathless media pundits across the social web touted the brilliance of Oreo and its agencies for inventing something earth-shatteringly new and exciting.

However, the real story behind Oreo’s timely tweet is perhaps not so startling after all. I moderate a weekly webinar for Social Media Today, and on one of our recent shows, David Berkowitz, vice-president of emerging media at 360i (who leads digital strategy for Oreo), reminded our listeners that the brand began building the culture and processes to support its real-time approach almost a year before, with the start of the Oreo Daily Twist campaign – 100 days of real-time content to celebrate the cookie’s 100th birthday.

By the time the Superbowl rolled around, both agency and client teams were operating like a finely tuned machine, and were about as close as you can get to experts at marketing in the moment. In Berkowitz’s words, they made content every day – Feb. 3, 2013 just happened to be a really, really good day.

A lot of the reason that Oreo was able to make this work is strikingly simple and yet totally uncommon. The agency and client trust each other. They worked together to develop an approvals process that was streamlined, they had months of practice (delivering hits and lots of misses) and had the right people at the table to make it work (including the PR team).

They could make decisions quickly, and thought thoroughly about the implications of doing it wrong – being accused of newsjacking, or worse.

In fact, Oreo was ready to go with their famous tweet, but decided to wait a few minutes to ensure the blackout wasn’t an attack of some kind (imagine how differently the analysis would be playing out if it had been?).

If you’re an organization that regularly experiences lengthy, painful approval processes on creative, you’re going to need to do some thinking before you even attempt marketing in real time. Not only because it will be virtually impossible for you to take advantage of the now, but also because throwing out a piece of RTM content is just the start of the chain. If people are interacting or responding to you in a positive way, there are layers upon layers of opportunity to keep that conversation and engagement going. You need to be able to keep your foot on the gas, and having the trust and commitment of legal, leadership and your creative team is the only way you can possibly hope to keep up.

You need to be in a place where you can sit with stakeholders and reimagine the way you market, and then be prepared to change what you imagined based on reality – not your best-laid plans. You need to be flexible, and you need to have a team of partners you trust.

Real-time marketing success is as much operations as it is inspiration – an approach that probably gives many creatives hives. It’s the orchestration of diverse teams (legal, agency, marketing leadership, communications), it’s process and it’s comfort with risk.

Both client and agency need to be prepared and plan for failure – either by getting little or no attention, or lots of the wrong kind. As Berkowitz so aptly noted: confident, curious brands that are prepared to innovate, experiment and screw up will emerge as the true leaders in real-time marketing. There is no shortcut.

A modified version of this column appeared in the May 22nd edition of Marketing Magazine.

Are You Ready for The Shake-Up?

Prepare yourself. From September 15th to 17th, 2013, Social Media Today and Blogworld will be hosting The Social Shake Up an amazing gathering of social and digital practitioners in Atlanta. This is the “real deal” – we’ll be joined by leading thinkers (and, importantly, doers) from big brands like AFLAC, Citigroup, Dell, GetSatisfaction and PwC, who will be sharing their insights, experiences and unique perspectives on what it means to be a social business, now and into the future.

It’s been my great pleasure to help curate this event. We’ve created tracks that we feel both reflect the questions you’re asking today, and the ones your boss will be asking tomorrow: Community and Customers, Big Data, Content, The Social Business, The Mobile Business, and Strategy and the C-Suite (that last section geared specifically to senior leaders and the 30,000-foot view they need to take when considering what it truly means to be a social business). I’m really excited about the content and the top-notch industry leaders we’ve asked to participate. This isn’t a theoretical event – this is the best of the best, sharing their practical insights, a window into applied innovation from those who have done it.

I’m also extremely fortunate to be hosting the event live, and I hope you’ll be able to join us. For a very short time, we’re going to be offering early registration pricing. You can sign up to attend here, and I recommend you do so quickly. This is the only event of its kind, and if you’re (like so many others) tired of the sizzle and ready for the steak, this is the conference for you.

Hope to see you there.

Social Media Group: Many Cool Things

For the past few months we’ve had weekly team lunches in which we share our “many cool things” – neat stuff that we’ve found on the Internet. Here’s this weeks list for your enjoyment!

See where God was mentioned on Twitter – amazing contextual data visualization, imagine doing this for a brand? http://www.god-was-here.com/

Do you know who Vannevar Bush was? You should!

Twitter’s new music app, launched at Coachella – not quite up and running yet.

Google uses big data to do big good by fighting human trafficking.

http://sportballsreplacedwithcats.tumblr.com < exactly what it sounds like. Cats! The Internet!

We were not sure if this was for real, but we loved it anyway: the golftcart hovercraft.

Perrier Secret Place – an interactive experience, starts at a  secret party in Paris, where users can choose one of 60 different characters, and then search through the interactive video experience to find a secret treasure, to unlock a chance to win a trip to the Carnival in Rio, Ibiza in Spain, St. Tropez in France, Art Basel in Miami or New Year’s Eve in Sydney.

What many cool things did you come across this week?