DSL Marketing Myrlte Beach

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Can Google Sell -- and Market -- a Smartphone?

Brought to you by Rita Chang

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Google can be counted on to spark a storm of buzz as only a few brands can. But can the internet search giant distribute, market and support hardware?

By many accounts, the Google-branded Nexus One smartphone is set to launch early January, although Google has been mum on how, exactly, it will distribute it. If reports are true, the search giant will sell a phone subsidized by a wireless carrier, probably T-Mobile, as well as a full-priced model without cell service. Google will sell the phone directly to consumers through Google.com/phone and buyers must have a Google checkout account, according to the terms of sale document obtained by Engadget.

Either way, it's a radical departure for an internet advertising company built on search terms and text ads to enter the low-margin, cut-throat hardware business. It would also land the search behemoth squarely on Apple's turf and ratchet up the rivalry between them, as they already compete on browsers and desktop and mobile operating systems.

Of course Google has none of Apple's chops in marketing, retail and customer support, and its product would have a long way to go to catch the iPhone. But, analysts and partners say, don't put it past Google to draw on its rich arsenal of brand power and sheer will to disrupt and experiment.

Obstacles abound
There's a laundry list of obstacles that Google needs to overcome, from convincing consumers that buying an unsubsidized phone is in their interest to not upsetting its telecom partners.

"It is arguable that Google can do an e-tail strategy; it is arguable that they have the marketing might in their brand to pull it off," said Philippe Winthrop, a Strategy Analystics analyst. "All these things are plausible, the question is, 'Can they all come together?'"

Carriers, not handset makers, dominate the wireless industry as they dictate device features and then support them with gargantuan marketing budgets. It's hard to believe that even cash-rich Google would replicate those budgets, given that big media buys and marketing blitzes are absent in its DNA.

Brand power, not marketing dollars
For Google, mass consumer marketing means a button on its search home page for a day or two, as it did for T-Mobile's G1 last year and, more recently, for Verizon's Droid. While the most-visited web page in the world is a powerful platform, it's hard to compare it to Verizon and AT&T, the nation's second- and third-largest advertisers, which collectively spent $6.8 billion on advertising in 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. (Sprint Nextel, the nation's 18th-largest advertiser, spent $1.5 billion.)

That's not to say the company is beyond hitting the airwaves to plug a product, having placed its first TV ads to showcase its web browser, Chrome, on TV networks that allow Google to sell their inventory via Google TV Ads. These aren't big buys, however, and analysts say if Google was serious about selling phones in mass quantities to consumers directly, it would have to quickly ramp up its consumer-marketing efforts.

"To move a phone like this, they'll have to solve the marketing problem and Google sucks in marketing -- it's not their core competency," said Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group.

Google's best weapon is its brand; its moves are widely followed, and any notable mention of the company gets the tech and investing worlds excited and riled up. The hype behind the Nexus One is already at fever pitch among tech circles.

Retail distribution and support
As a software company that gives away its services, Google lacks the distribution channel and support infrastructure to deal with complex hardware.

"The big unknown is what Google would do to get retail support," said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin. "They really need relationships with someone like Best Buy who can get the phone into the hands of consumers."

Best Buy already has a retail partnership with Google to demo and install Google apps on smartphones, and it might not be a big stretch for the companies to expand that relationship. There are also online outlets such as Amazon and Wirefly that wouldn't pass up a chance to sell the widely buzzed phone that's been built up to be an iPhone killer.

Google might be a newcomer to consumer support, but it must have had some practice supporting paying customers; after all, Google has to field queries from the city of Los Angeles, which recently signed a multi-year, $7.2 million deal with the software company to use its enterprise apps.

The more likely possibility is that T-Mobile would support the phone, as carriers, not handset makers, typically provide that service in the U.S.

Unlocked phones
If indeed Google were to circumvent the wireless carriers and sell the phones unlocked -- meaning that consumers can sign with any wireless carrier -- it would have a big hurdle to clear in persuading consumers to buy the phone, which could cost closer to $500 than the $200 consumers are used to paying for high-end smartphones with a two-year service contract from a wireless provider. Those multi-year carrier plans that keep users tethered to carriers subsidize the actual cost of the phones.

For consumers, buying an unsubsidized, unlocked phone means they can upgrade their devices, switch carriers at will and without penalty, and access cheaper service plans as they own the devices outright and owe no subsidies to the carrier. To persuade American consumers to switch to unlocked phones, however, Google would have to succeed where companies like Nokia have failed.

"We're not trained to buy unsubsidized phones in masses, and there's no way for Google to viably subsidize this phone," said wireless analyst Chetan Sharma.

Presently, there are legions of people, albeit on the fringes, rooting for a vendor to break the stranglehold that carriers wield in the business. As the ecosystem evolves to become a more open one where carriers don't get to dictate the user experience, Google's initiative could gain steam in the blogosphere.

"You'll have to explain the benefits of an unlocked phone to people, but Google is very viral. It went from a meaningless word to being a verb in our vernacular. Google has the marketing might and virality," Mr. Winthrop said.

Among the carriers, T-Mobile appears prepared for the Google phone because it has a service plan made just for unsubsidized handsets.

Delicate balance
Of course, Google runs the risk of upsetting its partners as it tries to compete against them. Google's goal, after all, is to popularize the Android platform to further its ad-serving ambitions by encouraging more handset makers to adopt the software.

"For Google, getting Android distributed and scale and reach are what's important," noted John Jackson, VP-research at CCS Insight. "If Google were to compete directly with Android licensees, it would be doing a profound disservice."

But Google may have the upper hand, as handset makers face few viable alternatives besides Android, which, as a highly customizable operating system, allows operators and handset makers to differentiate their wares. Symbian is being retooled as its owner, Nokia, tries to make it open-sourced.

Windows Mobile is a nonstarter: Until the Windows 7 mobile-operating system ships, handset makers are minimizing their exposure to Microsoft's software.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Where Digital Marketing Is Headed In 2010

Brought to you by Ken Mallon and Duncan Southgate

In our discussions about what will happen in the digital marketing industry during the next 12 months, one overarching trend emerged: The basic rules of brand building are just as important for innovations in the digital space as they are for traditional forms of communication.

Using new technology won't in itself bring success; your digital communications still need to be creative, engaging and relevant if they are to cut it during the second decade of this century. Here are the first five of our top 10 trends for 2010. (We'll post the next five here tomorrow.)

Online display: Don't be blinded by the shiny and new.
In 2010, advertisers will experiment with new, larger ad formats. These formats may be initially attractive because they are different, but the basics of brand building beyond awareness shouldn't be ignored. Most of the new formats perform very well in the short term. Dynamic Logic has previously reported the high performance (brand impact) of video ads when they were first introduced. They found that video ad performance, relative to average ad performance, declined over a two year period following introduction as the novelty wore off. We'd expect this to be true for most of the new, larger ad formats and their progeny.

Ultimately, over the next several years only the fittest for these larger formats will survive. If they prove too intrusive, they may make people less favorable toward the advertised brand or the website on which they are served. Other advertisers and agencies will use these formats more cautiously, taking note of creative best practices gleaned from prior work.

Viral video will move from art to science.
As online video consumption continues to rise, advertisers increasingly value viral viewings as a clear and visible sign that their campaigns are engaging audiences. In response, viral video analytics are becoming sophisticated. YouTube has enhanced its video analytics offer, and companies such as Visible Measures and Unruly Media are providing comprehensive viral monitoring services across multiple online video platforms.

This information will fuel a more scientific approach to viral campaign planning. Rather than just place videos online and hope an audience will come, advertisers will invest in viral seeding strategies. They'll promote their videos via online influencers, Facebook video-sharing applications and targeted, paid placements. Advertisers will also become smarter about developing and selecting ads with the most viral video potential before they employ the seeding. A recent calibration exercise for Millward Brown's Link pre-test, for example, identified the creative factors which explain most of the variation seen in levels of viral viewing.

While there are likely to still be more misses than hits in the viral space, the opportunity of being next year's T-Mobile "Dance" or Evian's roller babies is something many marketers will plan for.

Gaming gets more social and mobile.
The ability to access Twitter and Facebook from the Xbox game system is one sign console gaming is becoming a lot more social. Games such as "Uncharted 2" already allow you to tweet your progress from within the game and we anticipate seeing these features implemented in more games. Microsoft's Project Natal promises to bring even more interactivity to gaming by supplanting controllers with your actual body movements, improving immensely on a model created by Nintendo. Perhaps the most promising and category-busting idea appears to be OnLive, a games-on-demand service that allows you to play any console or PC game on your TV or computer, without the need for a console at all.

Gaming's reach is already significant -- "Modern Warfare 2" is the biggest entertainment launch ever -- but the social elements are going to make the growth exponential. The proliferation of mobile games such as Doodle Jump for the iPhone, which allows the user to interact with other players, brings gaming to the masses.

Dynamic Logic's research has already shown that gaming can be very effective in increasing brand metrics. As interactivity increases and gaming becomes ubiquitous, we expect more advertisers to enter this space. For example, in the fall of 2010, Disney will launch "Epic Mickey" for the Nintendo Wii, the first major communication vehicle for a significant repositioning of this much-loved global brand.

Mobile takes a bite out of online.
According to the Mobile Marketing Association, total U.S. spend on mobile marketing will grow from $1.7 billion this year to $2.16 billion in 2010. Google's $750 million purchase of mobile ad network Admob reinforces that 2010 will be a significant year for mobile. We expect to see more consolidation in the mobile space.

With Apple's iPhone, Google's Android and RIM's BlackBerry platforms making the smartphone choices more attractive to consumers and cost of access slowly coming down, mobile web usage numbers will increase. The iPhone alone has now reached 57 million units worldwide, the fastest uptake in the history of technology. The real innovation will be increased adoption of the next-generation mobile browsers that will make the mobile web look and feel more like the applications we know today.

While web-based mobile, despite its growth, still only reaches a relatively small number of people, this niche audience can be particularly attractive to some brands and we've seen many targeting successes. Mobile provides the ability to target by site, phone model, demographics and location, all of which can be useful to advertisers. In addition, Dynamic Logic's normative advertising effectiveness data already suggests that mobile is two to five times better at driving brand metrics than online, and we expect this differential to remain consistent in 2010.

All of this means that mobile may well start to take ad dollars which would previously have been spent online. Since it's a new medium, there remains some consumer resistance to mobile advertising, so we advertisers will initially favor the soft-sell approach of providing useful content in this space, rather than pushing hard-sell messaging.

Here I am. Over here!
The promise that technology would enable automated direct-marketing messages to be pushed to consumers with GPS-enabled mobile devices has yet to come to fruition. Consumers are understandably reluctant to broadcast their location randomly or to be interrupted by unexpected messages without their consent. Instead we're seeing a variety of innovative solutions created to facilitate geo-targeting of marketing messages (when in-aisle, in-store or in-proximity) as the number of GPS-enabled devices continues to rise.

Services such as the mobile game FourSquare contain a social-media element that allows users to broadcast their location to a network of friends and other users in their respective cities. The social element of this voluntary disclosure has allowed marketers to tap into an engaged network of users and offer special promotions based on reported location. We expect FourSquare and other apps with a hybrid location/social-networking component to grow significantly in 2010.

We also expect to see utility-focused location applications gain popularity on GPS-enabled mobile devices during 2010. ComScore has reported that 11% of their mobile panel is currently using map or direction-based applications on their devices, representing 41% year-on-year growth and potentially stealing market share from standalone GPS devices. How these applications are eventually monetized remains to be seen, but the "Minority Report" scenario of "push" location-based advertising is starting to become a reality through voluntary user disclosure of location.

Even if consumers won't share their location with brands, brands can share their locations with consumers. In this vein, marketers will increasingly make location a feature of their campaigns, as the recent Levi's Twitter promotion in Australia demonstrates.

Search evolves, but not everyone notices.
As marketing budgets remain under intense pressure, search will do well thanks to its clear and measurable short-term ROI. In 2010 search will become more relevant and efficient for users. The arrival of Bing has intensified competition between the major search engines, who will develop and experiment with new features such as vertical searches and more visual integration. For example, Google may adopt Bing's handy "more on this page" hover-over feature. But most consumers will continue to prefer a simple experience, and so more complex new features will be used by just a small minority of users.

Social media will affect search in two ways. Firstly, search will become increasingly real-time as users take advantage of Google and Bing search results, including Twitter and Facebook updates, or use Twitter search as a standalone application. Secondly, the meshing of search and social will be embodied by the arrival of Google's Social Search option, where you can see the information posted by people within your online social circle.

Major search providers, including Google, MSN and Yahoo are all focusing heavily on the new .mobi search domain. Travel and hospitality brands in particular will be interested in this new development as it fits well with the behavior of their target customers. Rapidly improving mobile applications such as map-based search and Google Goggles' picture-based search will encourage more consumers to search on the move.

We also expect research to continue into the interaction between search and display advertising. The influences between them are well established, but we expect experimentation to increase as more advertisers appreciate the branding role of search and the search influence of display, and then try to optimize this relationship for their brands.

Brands will realize online video is not a panacea.
Online video advertising continues to grow at a high rate, and we expect this trend to continue into 2010. Beyond the PC, online video is increasingly being watched via gaming consoles (eg. Xbox360) and mobile devices such as the iPhone. Developments in the sector will be driven largely by competition among major industry players such as Hulu and YouTube. Hulu, the ad-supported premium content site, has been growing fast, and some analysts estimate it accounts for 20% of all online video spend. YouTube still has a far higher number of viewers, and is incorporating increasing volumes of premium, long-form content from providers such as MGM, BBC, CBS and Lionsgate.

YouTube is also increasingly embracing short (15 second) pre-rolls and skippable video ads. Learning from the latter suggests that creative content plays a greater role in online video success than we see on TV. Content in the online space faces competition for user attention, thereby increasing the importance of creative ad quality -- this should lead more smart advertisers to pre-test their online creative before investing in relatively high online CPMs. Dynamic Logic has found that effectiveness may be tapering off as the "novelty" of online video fades and advertisers realize that the platform in itself is not the answer.

Video advertising can be highly effective when used well, with strong brand integration and entertaining content. In an effort to maintain impact and drive further engagement, advertisers will continue to experiment with extra layers of interactivity beyond standard pre-rolls -- such as one-third clickable overlays, expanding, interactive companion banners and interactive in-video elements. As they do this, advertisers need to be sure they aren't using technology just because they can: It will only be effective when it is relevant to the brand or the message.

Brands start taking advantage of social graphs.
If the late '00s were the era of the social network, the early '10s will see the rise of the "social graph" -- the network of you, your friends, and the friends of your friends.

Everyone has a social graph. In fact, the point of social networking has been to build one. We will now see services like Facebook and Google start to use social graph data more aggressively as we move away from the "destination web" towards a "social web" whereby people get information through their networks rather than a specific site. Facebook's new "reconnect with" feature is one implementation of social graph data.

The social graph needs two kinds of tool to work. At the service end, it needs algorithms -- the formulae that use your graph to determine what information and connections you value most, which allows services to predict what information you're going to like (including, of course, which products and marketing communications you'll appreciate). At the user end, it needs filters -- the ability to group people and information more effectively to get the most out of a network. The effectiveness of both algorithms and filters are improving rapidly, and these will be a big factor in the continued evolution of social media.

In 2010 there will be a heightened need for brands to understand how to be more social in order to access these more segmented networks. There's increasing evidence that the ROI of social media is definitely worth the effort.

Integration trend stimulated by privacy concerns.
We are in the midst of a shift (powered by digital) where information flows side to side as much as from top down or bottom up. This means that the act of consumers talking to one other now has a rightful place within the circle of influential communications that shape brands.

There are some unique rules of engagement in accessing that communication. If marketers and researchers want to be able to tap into the huge amounts of rich, accurate, and timely information that consumers themselves generate, they have to think beyond traditional paradigms.

The next 12 months will continue the "privacy by design" movement whereby consumer privacy and user control will become more important for those seeking to understand consumer behavior. Privacy elements will therefore need to be integrated into consumer generated platforms. This will naturally lead to a land grab where parties join forces e.g. a market research company and a social network provider, so that the transition between the platform and the third party collecting data become seamless.

We will also see a continuation of media convergence. The aggressive nature of regulatory regimes means a global privacy standards framework will become vital. A global framework will allow for a more uniform application of notice and consumer consent regardless of platform. This should allow for greater transparency, but will place a premium on the key partnerships that are given permission to be part of reduced set of data collectors and processors.

Data integration enables insightful 'tradigital' learning.
During 2009, digital marketing became increasingly complex and marketers have been looking for more guidance about where to advertise, what size of creative to deploy and which tools to use, from display to CRM to search to social networks and mobile.

Moving forward, the definition will change from managing "digital" to managing "tradigital" as the lines of demarcation between traditional and digital media blur. Media consumption patterns are driving this blurring of the boundaries, as TV viewing is either delayed or online; magazines offer integration of content in print and digital form; and online activities are leveraged for both online and offline sales goals.

This means that data integration will remain at the heart of our measurement challenge and will require a research platform linking many data initiatives that mirror the integration of the technology that delivers the marketing messages.

Survey research will remain the primary tool for understanding branding effects and motivations across these platforms, but the deeper value-add to the marketer will be how the branding effects in surveys help explain the behavioral and sales information coming from a variety of sources including buzz monitoring, online behavior tracking, shopper loyalty databases, consumer sales panels and custom databases. While online listening techniques will continue to grow in importance, marketers will find this of limited value unless they also understand who is saying what.

How Social Media Can Resurrect Your Brand's Reputation

Brought to you by Doug Schumacher

Recently on NPR's Morning Edition, host Renee Montagne interviewed 20-plus year auto-exec-turned-industry-analyst Jim Harbour (to Jim's credit, "industry analysis" must be the only growth sector in the U.S. auto industry for the past couple years). Montagne was quizzing Harbour on the problems the auto industry is facing.

Here's an excerpt from their exchange:

NPR: What about the perception that U.S. automakers aren't making cars as well built as foreign cars? How can U.S. automakers change the perception?

Jim Harbour: I am not a marketing expert at all. I don't know how you change the perception of the American people who think we're still building junk. And I know, I'm from the time that I was doing that. I was building the junk. We used to build cars with eight defects, and we'd ship them out and ship them to the dealer.

Now, I realize the U.S. auto industry's situation is complex, but I think it's fair to say that they're making better cars than they used to. The industry's products have improved, and yet the companies are still dogged by the perception that they're making junk.

Imagine that, coming from the third-largest advertiser in the U.S. This is a company that spent $3 billion in 2008, and saturated our media with messages about how great its cars are and how much everyone loves GM. And consumers still don't have a positive perception of its brand.

What's going on here is an epic battle for the consumer's mind. In one corner sits massive, far-reaching paid media ad campaigns. In the other corner, consumer word of mouth.

In the end, billions of dollars in paid media are no match for a group of consumers chatting about your product.

Of course, around 30 years ago, when GM's negative buzz started spreading, it took longer for word of mouth to spread. That was a pre-internet, pre-mobile phone, pre-fax, even pre-cable era for much of the country. If a company was producing junk or mistreating customers, unless there was a "60 Minutes" type expose produced or published, it took a long time for word to get around. Thus paid media messaging was able to continue working because there simply wasn't any contradictory information available on a mass scale. In short, companies had a lot of control over the messages people heard about them.

Contrast that with today, where product-defect stories tear across the web like a virus. And what's enabling that spreading of information? Social media.

A recent article in Brandweek summarized a survey of 110 CMOs and concluded that "social media was a relatively low priority -- ranked in the bottom third. Mostly it's because of analytics. The things that are measurable are a top priority. Most marketers see [social media] as an experiment."

This, in an environment in which some of our country's most venerable media giants are collapsing because consumers have found new media formats to be more in line with how they gather and share information. It's a time when a $3 billion annual advertising budget can't move the needle on brand favorability. There are currently more than 200 million Facebook users, with 1 million domestic users joining every week. Even Twitter, what I consider an emerging tool with an early adopter user base, is approaching 10 million users and ascending like a rocket.

That doesn't sound like an experiment to me.

And yet, those CMOs are still asking if social media works? Guys, the monster's out of the cage. Shouldn't the question be, how quickly and thoroughly can we figure this thing out?

As I mentioned in a previous article, hiding from social media isn't really an option.

Too many companies stand on the sidelines, apparently waiting to enter the game until they're sufficiently behind and playing catch-up.

Maybe those CMOs should take an example from celebrities.

Like marketers, celebrities are in an almost constant state of building and promoting their brand. Celebs also have a lot of concern for their brand equity, and are highly sensitive about how they're presented in the media. After all, if a celeb's image is getting shelled, pretty much the entire brand franchise is under attack.

So combine that vulnerability with the fact that celebrities have gotten slammed by social media. They were first in the line of fire from sites like Gawker and PerezHilton, and looking at the latest numbers, the audience's appetite doesn't seem to be waning.

Yet in spite of all that, a number of celebrities are getting involved in social media. Why? They're being proactive. They're beating their adversaries to the punch. Because while social media gives virtually anyone a voice, they realize it also gives them a voice. Just as importantly, it's a voice most people have never heard from a celebrity before.

Does it take effort? Of course it does. Does it at times bring up issues they'd rather not deal with? Sure. But they've realized there's really no stopping it. There's only dealing with it head on.

Fortunately, brands will probably never get the same level of scrutiny that celebrities do. That's because most people just don't care enough about them, unfortunately. But when consumers want to research a brand, that negative information will be easy to find. And it's at that point that the brand's presence or absence in social media will likely either help them counter the negativity, or leave them exposed and vulnerable.

Brands may never be able to enthrall their "fans" with details about what they had for lunch (or the effects of that meal). But they can cultivate conversations and generate positive experiences with a range of social media tactics -- from basic tools for utility, to relevant information, to engaging people with entertaining online experiences.

Brands that do that effectively will then be populating the web with positive content to combat any negative information. That positive information will be working to improve people's perception of the brand.

And thus, in an ironic twist of fate, social media becomes CMOs' best hope of once again having some semblance of control over the messaging around their brands.

Doug Schumacher is the president and creative director at Basement Inc.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lessons From Expensive Marketing Failures

Brought to you by Susan Kuchinskas

Interactive ad campaigns that miss the mark are as common as skid marks in winter. While failures are always costly, high-profile missteps can be particularly hazardous to a marketer's bottom line. We took a look at six 2008 campaigns that fomented outrage to see where they went wrong. And while it may not be fair to call any of these campaigns flops -- after all, all of these ads got the blogosphere buzzing, with mainstream media coverage as well -- we can tell you how to do better.

1. Brokeback Snickers

TBWA\Chiat\Day's Super Bowl commercial for Snickers, in which two grimy car mechanics are horrified at finding themselves unexpectedly lip-to-lip, was arguably a spoof of macho attitudes. But neither the Human Rights Campaign nor the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation thought so, calling it demeaning -- and calling for a boycott. Snickers' online component of the campaign made things worse.

Viewers could go online to choose alternate endings, which were darker and more violent than the TV version, in which the guys pull out their chest hair in an effort to "do something manly." Online, you could watch one mechanic slam a car's hood down on the other's head or hit a brutal belly blow with a wrench. Ouch! Bonus content included candid videos of the Super Bowl players going, "Eeeoouuu" when the mechanics' mouths touch.

Activists called for a boycott, amid global press coverage of the company's homophobia, not the yumminess of its product. Mars took down the website.

Okay, so the offending Super Bowl spot was way back in 2007, right? Lesson learned, right? Nope. Mars was back this past July with a TV spot in which a slender male race-walker in teensy yellow shorts is harassed by Mr. T and told to "run like a real man" and "get some nuts." The ad was promptly pulled following a new swell of protest. However, thanks to the miracle of viral media, the spot lives on via YouTube.

What we can learn

1. If you're going to engage in conversation with your customers, listen to what they say.

2. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

2. The Google killer stubs its toe

Cuil is another tech startup in a long line of such that hope to grab a piece of Google's humongous ad action by doing search better.

It called itself the world's biggest search engine, claiming that the 120 billion web pages in its index was more than Google's. This boast instantly raised expectations, along with the pedigree of its founders, two former Google execs. Cuil would be a "Google killer," people began to say. Intense interest was fired by influential tech bloggers like Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, who gushed in September 2007, "The murmurs about new stealth search engine Cuil (pronounced "cool"), which were barely a whisper earlier this year, are gaining strength and are starting to reverberate through Silicon Valley gatherings." In a later post, he fired up the buzz with words like "super-stealth," "secret sauce" and "massive search engine." Tech bloggers followed his lead.

By the time Cuil launched in July 2008, there was no way it could live up to the hype. More than 50 million visitors overwhelmed its servers and, worse, search results weren't all that good. Traffic to the site peaked in August at 1.5 million visitors, according to Quantcast, but plummeted faster than the mortgage securities market, dipping to .4 million users at the end of September. By then, Cuil was the "ill-fated" search engine.

This was a perfect word-of-mouth campaign that peaked way too early. In the best-case scenario, the search engine would have gone live with limited use and worked the kinks out before anyone noticed it. After all, that's what Google did. To be fair, Cuil didn't necessarily seed this campaign, other than to put up a placeholder web page. It was both the beneficiary and victim of the tech-blogging beast that's constantly on the hunt for scoops.

What we can learn

1. Timing is everything when it comes to viral campaigns.

2. Under-promise and over-deliver -- not the other way around.

3. Red with mortification

In April, Hollywood celebrities and international media packed the premiere party for "Scarlet," a new TV thriller series starring the Natassia Malthe, an exotic actress who'd played a few bit roles. Hollywood producer David Nutter lent credibility to the project, while Malthe began to make the scene at high-profile events like the Oscars.

An integrated marketing campaign reputed to cost $100 million was a group effort between Agency.com (New York and London), Tequila\London, Stream and Premier PR. Broadcast ads sent viewers to Scarlet.tv (no longer an active site), where they could see more commercials and trailers for the show. The PR folk planted rumors linking Malthe romantically to major stars.

So, excitement was high at the premiere, as partiers waited to see the opening episode. Instead, what they saw was a commercial for Scarlet, the world's slimmest LCD TV. While LG, Scarlet's manufacturer, said audience reaction was positive, on the internet, TV fanboys howled with rage.

But some advertising insiders loved it. "I absolutely fell for it. The concept of a TV series really being a series of TVs was incredibly creative," says integrated marketing consultant Amanda Vega. Where LG dropped the ball, she adds, is in not interacting with fans after the reveal. For example, the company could have asked fans whether it should sponsor a series and, if so, what should it be like. She thinks negative press about a campaign is harder on the agency than the advertiser.

What we can learn

Use every opportunity to gather feedback that will help with product development and future marketing.

4. Dr. Pepper leaves a bad taste

The band Guns N' Roses had become a rock-n-roll travesty, too addled to finish its sixth album after 14 years. So, in January, the folks at Dr. Pepper gave the band a challenge: Finish the album, and we'll give every American a free soda.

They may have thought this was a safe bet, but in October, the band finally released "Chinese Democracy" -- doubtless without giving a heads-up to the soft drink maker. The company issued a statement saying, "We never thought this day would come." Obviously not.

The day of the release, Dr. Pepper put up a website where people could register to be mailed a coupon for their drink. So, they weren't giving every American a soda, just every American who could log onto the site within 24 hours. The website couldn't keep up with demand, and the complaints and negative coverage began. The company added a toll-free number and extended the offer to give more Americans a chance to get their sugary due.

But the backlash was severe, led by Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose. The band's lawyer called the promotion -- or whatever -- an unmitigated disaster, and Rose is still being asked about it. Which means, he is still talking about Dr. Pepper. For free. Even though he's saying bad things.

Dr. Pepper gets style points for linking its brand to a major band without having to pay a fee -- or even negotiate with -- the record label. You could call this B2B social media.

What we can learn

1. Endorsements are not the only way to link your brand to celebrities.

2. Prepare for your campaign's success with a bullet-proof website.

5. It's so... big!

Crispin Porter + Bogusky made its mark by pushing the boundaries of taste, but this campaign takes that literally. "Watch the Whopper Virgins Take Their First Bite! It's a Burger King campaign that purports to ask remote indigenous people, from Thailand, Greenland and Transylvania -- "people who don't even have a word for burger" -- to decide whether a Whopper beats a Big Mac.

A teaser campaign launched Dec. 2, showing people in their native costumes sitting down to big burgers. A microsite hosts the spots online, along with an eight-minute documentary showing the crews traveling the world to perform the tests. It's not clear how much of this -- if any -- is true. "The remote Chang Mai villagers" who have never heard of a hamburger could buy one right in town, for example.

The commentariat criticized the spots for cultural insensitivity, as well as cruelty for subjecting these people to potential gastric complaints. The Boston Globe compared Burger King to the early European colonizers who wiped out the Native Americans with disease.

Those headlines may not matter, says Howard Greenstein, president and social strategist for the Harbrooke Group. "It matters as much as your film critic saying a film is terrible, but it's a huge box office hit. Certainly there's a place for people who have experience to say it's good or not. The crowd also decides whether something is great or not so great. The critic becomes just another voice."

Then there is the little matter of finding the spots in the first place. According to Advertising Age, after the campaign debuted, it was next to impossible to find the campaign's website via a Google search if you omitted the plural "s" on the end of the search terms (i.e., you searched for "whopper virgin" instead of "whopper virgins"). So, Burger King missed a simple SEM tactic and didn't buy any search ads to appear beside queries for "whopper virgin." Who knows how much additional web traffic this simple omission may have cost the company.

What we can learn

1. If you have a great idea, make sure to have an SEO plan in place for all terms and contingencies, including misspelled-but-similar keywords.

2. If you don't know which half of your advertising spend works, at least have fun spending the money.

6. A viral headache

You're probably familiar with the Motrin fiasco: An online video attempted to be humorous in pointing out that carrying a baby around can hurt your back. Mommy bloggers took offense and marshaled their minions to blast Motrin maker McNeil Consumer Healthcare. Motrin marketers had hoped the video would go viral as a kickoff to a new marketing campaign by Taxi. Instead, McNeil took down the video (useless) and abandoned the rest of the campaign.

What was notable about this particular backlash was that it broke on Twitter -- which means it spread almost instantaneously. McNeil should have had people monitoring Twitter, people who were trained in social media interaction, says Greenstein. "Social media crisis situations call for different responses than the spokesperson trained to talk to the media might come up with," he says.

Twitter is just another example of the tightening of the feedback loop between products and consumers, he adds. "You can wake up the next morning and find you're the number-one villain on Twitter. That's a real risk for brand marketers. You can also wake up and find you're a hero."

What we can learn

Designate people to listen to all communication channels 24/7, and empower them to respond to immediately to queries, rants and raves.

Susan Kuchinskas is a freelance writer who has written for Adweek, Business 2.0, M-Business and internetnews.com.

Monday, December 28, 2009

10 Signs You Don't Understand Web Analytics

Brought to you by Nicole Rawski

Web analytics has always been an important aspect of digital marketing, but only recently has it been considered critical to success. The data mined through savvy analytics tracking can maximize any marketing budget by driving conversions and results; however, this only comes to pass if you understand what the data are telling you.

Web analytics is critical to measuring the success of your website as you identify opportunities to improve your business and marketing initiatives. Most marketers are confused with business implications of analytics reports, so it ends up being simpler to track what you know.

Web analytics has made great strides in the past decade, from when hit counters were the most sophisticated metric trackers in use. But there is still a long way to go before analytics is used to its full marketing potential. In this article, I hope to articulate ways that marketers can maximize their analytics solutions. To do so, I will discuss the top 10 signs that the power of analytics is still eluding your company.

Sign 1: You bought the tool a year ago, and you're still not measuring your business objectives.

You were sold on the lure of data. You bought a web analytics tool, have dashboards sent to you every week, and have no idea what they're supposed to be telling you about your business. You know there is great information contained in these reports and dashboards -- but you cannot decipher how it helps achieve your goals. Don't worry, you're not alone. The overabundance of data makes it difficult to sync graphs with meeting agendas.

There are several avenues marketers can explore to align analytics with business objectives -- not the least of which is your analytics teams. Keep everyone in the loop as changes occur and reevaluate reporting on a regular basis to ensure marketers have the ammo they need to create educated strategies.

For example, one business objective for a B2B website is to increase the number of qualified leads that come through the site. Measuring the total number of leads is one relevant measurement of this goal, but it's more revealing if compared with comprehensive traffic numbers. Additionally, if campaigns are driving traffic, monitoring conversion rates will track whether website visitors reflect target audiences.

Sign 2: You still have to remind the executive team what your company's KPIs are (hint: key performance indicators).

It is understandable that analytics jargon is not mainstream yet. As more CMOs ask for reports and sound reasoning behind digital marketing decisions, terminology will become more commonplace, and this point will be inconsequential. Until that day, keep framing campaigns, objectives, and goals within key performance indicators. This will keep everyone on the same page. It will continue to drive home the importance and value of grounding decisions in quantitative data. You can start one person at a time -- and the sooner you begin, the sooner you can make a difference. Prove that web analytics and KPIs mean something by suggesting sound improvement opportunities based on data. Your executives will be impressed and memorize any acronym you throw at them.

Sign 3: You create these beautiful dashboards, and no one knows what they mean.

Ah, the infamous dashboards that have been defined to include only the most important key metrics, yet you manage to cram in every possible minute detail, making it impossible to read. Pause a campaign, write more blogs, or increase an SEM budget? You still feel like you are flying blind.

The answer: Throw it away and start over.

Refine and redefine your business objectives, and assign a KPI to each. Understand what influences your KPIs, and how fluctuations affect the success of your business objectives. Once this is established, dashboards start to look different and useable.

Sign 4: Your boss is always asking about the number of "hits" your company's website is getting.

This has not been a valuable success metric since the '90s, and it is like nails on a chalkboard to any analytics professional. Potential consumers are not "hits" -- they are people who expect valuable content and a quality user experience when they visit a website. This goes back to point No. 2. Education is needed if we are to evolve beyond basic metrics and start unearthing valuable user insights.

The next time your boss asks how many "hits" the website is getting, simply respond with a smile and say, "I don't know, but since we began optimizing the checkout process, our conversion rate has increased X percent, resulting in an increase in $X dollars last month. Do you want me to look into those 'hits' for you?"

That will likely be the last time you are asked about a hit count.

Sign 5: You're still scratching your head wondering what you should segment and how it will help.

A great place to begin is to differentiate between new and return visitors. How do they behave differently, and how do they convert differently? What are some insights that you could glean to help increase conversion rates? Analytics can also help segment out users who are not looking for your website. To do so, create a segment that does not include your target audience and learn what your true conversion rate is -- and optimize from there.

Continuing with the example from point No. 1, segmentation also provides value in measuring your business objectives. I mentioned that the conversion rate can help assess if the target audience is who is arriving on a website. Segmentation can help provide insight into identifying new and returning visitors. New visitors may not fill out a lead form; however, they may download a couple of white papers, and returning visitors may fill out the lead form on their second or third site visits. All of this information can help marketers target their audiences appropriately.

Sign 6: Even though your homepage has an 80 percent bounce rate, your boss doesn't want a change because he/she likes the way it looks.

This is a classic push-pull battle. The difference is that one group is comprised of potential consumers who are the key to a company's success. To convince decision makers to trust their data, run tests to prove that the reports reflect consumer preference. Remain persistent on the implications of what not changing it could do to your business goals. If bounce rates improve, there will be little left to debate.

When evaluating a homepage for performance and deciding what needs to change, there are a few things to keep in mind: What is the value proposition? Why should a visitor engage further with the site? What is the call-to-action? Where are you trying to drive visitors within the website? Does the homepage have a clear navigation path for various user types? If the answer is "I am not sure" to any of these questions, you've found a great place to begin testing.

Sign 7: You're running multiple online marketing campaigns, and you have no idea which performs better.

For the first time, marketing campaigns can be measured to show their direct correlation and impact. Start from the beginning and tag online media campaigns so that you can measure how well each drives traffic to your site and how it converts. Knowing where to move your marketing dollars will become obvious once campaigns are tracked individually.

Google Analytics provides a URL builder for those who are not familiar with tagging campaigns. However, analytics solutions vary, so it would be best to check your implementation guide to clearly understand the requirements. The following is a hypothetical example of a campaign parameter using Google Analytics:


The "?utm" portion of the URL lets Google Analytics know that a variable is being passed from a campaign. The source ID will let Google Analytics know where the visitor is coming from, the campaign medium, and other useful statistics. These variables can be established to reflect whatever data make sense for a particular campaign.

Sign 8: The one time you ran an A/B test, a winner was chosen -- but no improvements ensued.

Testing is only one part of optimization, the next -- and most difficult part -- is implementation. Optimization is a continual process to make sure you are putting your best foot, ad creative, and messaging forward. What improves conversion rates today may not be as effective three months from now. With analytics, marketers are equipped to do more than just keep up with their consumers, and doing so will help attain goals and drive business.

A/B and multivariate testing are widely used in search engine marketing to determine the most effective ad creative. If most of your sales are completed offline, run testing with ad copy including phone numbers/store locations versus creative without it. Track conversion rates to see if prominently displaying this information on search engine ads makes a difference.

Sign 9: You still can't figure out why total site visits don't add up in all the reports.

It's important to understand that web analytics is not perfect, and sometimes 1 plus 1 equals 3. This does not mean that the information is inaccurate, but with an infinite number of variables and moving parts, numbers do not always match up. Web analytics data are still extremely valuable and important in gauging how a website performs. Remember to look at trends and major changes in key metrics. Continue to investigate what may have caused drastic changes until you have an answer.

A metric that is often used to measure audience mix is a comparison of new versus returning visitors. This metric is calculated as the total amount of new visitors divided by the total amount of returning visitors. A small number (0.3) indicates that the website has a healthy retention of visitors, while a higher number (5.2) indicates that the website has an abundance of new visitors. Marketing strategies that are in place determine the optimal rate for this metric. If an acquisition campaign launches and the goal is to drive qualified traffic, you should expect to see the ratio increase -- hopefully not too much, as you want to see the new traffic return.

Sign 10: You still design with HiPPO (highest paid person's opinion) standards in mind.

Great design drives conversions, so it needs to be strategically crafted to contribute to marketing goals. What worked on a previous project or competitor's site does not necessarily translate to your company. I am not advocating that you discount people's opinions or blindly follow analytics -- it is important to take both into account. Data are a great unifier and can help keep people on the same page in board meetings. By combining objective and subjective points of discussion, it is easier to come to sound marketing decisions. Even if the topic on the table is outlandish, cutting edge, or uncharted territory, at least data can be a place to initiate the conversation.

In conclusion, combining marketing insight with data is an extremely powerful and successful strategy.

Nicole Rawski is a web analytics analyst at Geary Interactive.

7 Tips for the Perfect Twitter Profile

Brought to you by Jason Baer

People are drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid like it's the last day before Prohibition. It's fantastic that so many are finding value in something so simple that can be so powerful.

But many experienced marketers who've joined the latest wave of Twitterers seem to be overlooking a fundamental premise of the Twitter follower/following paradigm -- people only know as much about you as you tell them.

Stay informed. To hear more about the latest in social media marketing, attend the iMedia Breakthrough Summit, March 21-24. Request your invite today.
Having a succinct, compelling profile is more critical on Twitter than anywhere else.

Your Twitter landing page
Just as the landing page is the most important component of a PPC, email, or banner ad campaign, your Twitter profile is the most important landing page for your personal brand or the brand of your company/agency on Twitter.

Every time you follow someone, they will be asked to make a decision on whether to follow you back. At scale, these decisions are made in increasingly large batches, and are made quickly.

I'm not Twitter royalty, but routinely get 50+ follow emails per day. For each of these, I visit the person's profile page and decide whether to follow back. And just like on a landing page, I scan and make this follow/no follow decision in about eight seconds or fewer.

Here are important considerations for your Twitter profile.

1. Use your real name (and don't use underscore)
I realize your real name (or even business name) may not be available, but try to get as close as possible. This isn't an AOL chat room circa 1997; this is business -- especially if you're a professional marketer.

Using made-up names makes it very difficult to tie your Twitter profile to your Facebook, LinkedIn, blog comment and other profiles (unless Twitter adopts Facebook Connect). Further, five weeks from now when I see "@batgirl63? in the tweet stream, it's difficult to remember who you are.

I'm also not a big fan of using @"youragencyname" as a Twitter handle, if you're really serious about interaction. Increasingly, the "official" agency or brand account is more of an announcement megaphone, and less of a conversation platform. If you want to truly interact in Twitter, use your real name (or your name combined with agency name like @jason"agencyname".

The underscore issue is more of a personal peeve. It's not inherently terrible, but it's much easier to remember for direct messages, etc., if you do not have an underscore in your name.

2. Use a real picture (especially if it's a real name)
Twitter is about human connections. Don't use a cartoon, a dog, a tree or any other animate or inanimate object for your profile picture. A simple headshot is great -- preferably with some interest.

Ideally, use the same photo on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, et al. It's easier to remember that way. And don't change your photo routinely, as many Twitterers have commented that they look at and remember profile photos more than usernames. There are definitely marketing rock stars that violate the rule of keeping your photo consistent, including @chrisbrogan and @armano, both of whom change their Twitter photos plenty, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

3. Think SEO when writing your bio
Each Twitterer has multiple spheres in which they operate, sometimes intersecting and overlapping. You want to belong to as many spheres as are practical and relevant to your interests and expertise. It's helpful if you define your spheres before jumping in, as it will make your following decisions and bio creation much easier. If you're using your Twitter account for both business and personal reasons, you'll have multiple spheres that intersect and overlap. This can be confusing, but two rules should be observed:

Don't post anything on Twitter (or elsewhere on the social web) that you are not comfortable with the entire web reading.
Trying to keep your social profile "all business" or "all personal" is not going to work long-term. Social media insists that you are part work, part play.
Just as you would when optimizing a webpage for search engines, when you write your Twitter bio think about your desired spheres and include words and phrases about them. A touch of personality is helpful, too.

4. Include a URL
Make sure to include a prominent link to your website or blog. @briansolis links to his Wikipedia page, which is useful.

5. Consider a custom background
Custom Twitter backgrounds are inexpensive (or free), and can convey important details and contact information. Include information about you and your company, URLs for your other social outposts, and some sort of semi-interesting graphic.

6. Don't protect your updates
Seriously, what's the point of being on Twitter if people have to jump through hoops to follow you? It completely runs counter to the spirit of community. If you don't want people to see your tweets, maybe you should stick to LinkedIn and Facebook where your connections are typically your friends/associates in the real world.

7. Take it slow
Certain Twitterers' following/followers ratio makes it seem like they are using Twitter inappropriately. When you are following 1,997 people, and have 57 following you back, it looks like you are randomly following as many as you can, hoping for follow backs. That's essentially "follower spam" and it calls your motives into question. You'll get fewer followers, not more, with that approach.

If you want to expand your personal network via Twitter, you'll never find a more fertile opportunity. But, try to follow these guidelines to make it easier for potential followers to decide they want to read your 140-character advice.

Jason Baer is a social media consultant with Convince and Convert.

The Shortcomings of Mobile Apps

Brought to you by Nicole Amodeo

Now that the novelty of iPhone applications has worn off a bit, I've been evaluating which apps are useful and which are just sapping resources from my device. It reminds me of the early days of the web, where users would download intrusive executables like the animated purple gorilla that would be your "buddy" and help explore the internet. Today, I wouldn't dare litter my computer's desktop with apps -- I can efficiently bookmark sites and interact with server-side widgets and games in my browser. On my iPhone, though, I am constantly deciding which icons need to be purged to minimize the clutter on the screen, and which can stay because they are actually fantastic utilities.

Real estate on the handset is valuable property
Of course, there are many stakeholders in the mobile application experience beyond me and the mini koi pond on my iPhone. Publishers, app developers, and marketers are competing over this user-owned and initiated space. The icon-led mobile interface and required installation strengthens the publisher's offering, since it impedes switching between competitors. This is great for top-of-mind publishers whose app falls on a list of the top 25 most-downloaded apps, but as more are developed, it becomes harder for No. 26 to break through and be organically adopted by users.

Since Apple's AppStore introduced the populace to this method of mobile media consumption, a growing number of applications (more than 15,000, with 500 million downloaded to date) are at the forefront of a user's consideration. This, along with the opportunity for publishers to own a controlled, branded environment on the device, has led to an increasing number of sites selling app sponsorships, with networks monetizing and aggregating inventory within.

With this said, the current paradigm -- media consumption via installed applications -- seems to favor publishers. Advertisers are now exploring applications as a media channel, but they must be mindful of the medium's limitations as it becomes part of a well-developed mobile strategy. In the short-term, focusing mobile campaigns on a well-optimized experience through a mobile browser can mitigate many of these limitations. Besides tidying up the iPhone screen, smarter browsers would also best serve users in the long-term. I have been assessing both delivery mechanisms, particularly from a mobile media perspective, to enhance user experience and advertisers' efficacy.

Media consumption via installed applications can be inconvenient for users
With all stakeholders in mind, there are drawbacks to conditioning users to engage with content via installed applications and an icon-led experience. The launch of the Apple AppStore undisputedly enhanced the mobile experience. Applications are currently the best way to utilize advanced handset features such as the GPS and access to contact info. However, the disadvantages include installation time, routine updates, icon space on the screen, required storage space on the hard drive, and sometimes a Wi-Fi or computer connection to download.

All of this assumes that the user is tech-savvy enough to participate. According to a recent consumer study by Azuki Systems, 80 percent of respondents wished it were easier to access rich media on their mobile phones, and 69 percent listed the long time to download and/or play media among their top three barriers for accessing rich media. Beyond the iPhone, applications can be incompatible with devices and operating systems, and downloads can be blocked by carriers. Carriers and manufacturers also have control of the available titles (through a portal such as the AppStore), which confines users to limited publisher options. In these ways, media consumption via installed apps is inconvenient for the consumer.

Media consumption via installed applications creates obstacles for advertisers
Installed apps also present drawbacks for advertisers. The required download and installation creates a natural barrier that can inhibit participation and limit reach. An app must be supported by a good idea, routine updates, and a solid reason for a user to keep it downloaded onto a handset where icons are competing for valuable screen real estate. A virtual koi pond may be cute, but how useful is it compared to the utility of a voice-dialer? Negative customer reviews for Bank of America's mobile banking application further support this point. Customers are clearly disappointed that the app is only a shell for the bank's mobile site, and it provides no significant benefit (i.e., enhanced banking features or a special interface) over accessing through a browser.

Many developers, publishers, and brands are competing for placement within the AppStore's Top 25 and are utilizing iPhone-targeted mobile media to promote their applications and gain mindshare. As downloads ramp up and accountable numbers are accessed, many publishers are still selling media placements within apps on a sponsorship basis, with impression levels that aren't guaranteed. Pandora and Weatherbug have grown large enough and have strong enough grasps on their application inventory avails to sell banners on a CPM basis. Networks such as JumpTap and Admob are both offering aggregated in-app inventory on a scalable level. I look forward to seeing more of this in the future to utilize as a viable mobile media channel.

However, until advertising within applications becomes more prevalent, users will expect an ad-free environment when they download and install. Advertisers are thus put in a precarious position, as it is important not to irritate users with unwelcome or intrusive ads. Minimizing drop-off and ensuring a good user experience are paramount as mobile gains momentum as a media channel, so we must continue to consider these limitations and explore all delivery options for our brands.

Media delivery via mobile browsers can mitigate these issues
A well-optimized mobile web experience can circumvent many obstacles of deployment via installed applications for users and advertisers. First and foremost, there is no need for downloading and installation, which lower the barriers of entry and minimize drop-offs. It is also safe to say that the average consumer knows how to use a mobile browser, and because ads within a browser environment are expected, there is less of a chance that ads will disrupt a visitor's experience.

Organized bookmarking minimizes icon clutter on the screen. A browser environment facilitates switching between publishers, and there is also a greater freedom of choice without as many manufacturer or carrier limitations. Delivery via a mobile browser through a centralized server facilitates optimization and ensures compatibility with all handsets, carriers, and operating systems, which moves mobile beyond the iPhone experience. For advertisers, this enables advanced targeting, standardized ad-serving, tracking, and scalable reach through mobile media placements. Delivery through a browser lessens the limitations imposed by application installation and the icon-led experience. However, we must not ignore the current advantages of the app experience and the emergence of the iPhone as a mobile media channel.

The current mobile browser has its shortcomings as well, but what does the future hold?
Like Safari on the iPhone, mobile browsers available to consumers today cannot tap into the more sophisticated features of the device, such as the accelerometer or GPS. This is a major weakness of the browser when compared to applications. The current user experience through the mobile internet isn't nearly as customizable, rich or fluid as the traditional web. However, mobile may be in a "purple gorilla" period, where applications are novel and take advantage of device features that our browsers can't... yet.

Emerging technologies such as Flash-lite and Android/Chrome promise an experience more like a traditional online environment, without the drawbacks of installation. If mobile usage mirrors online, are we looking at a future where the user can take advantage of efficient bookmarking, seamless updates, and instant access to advanced handset functionalities within the browser? Will advertisers be able to amass enough reach through mobile ads to efficiently target an audience through standardized (and third-party tracked) ad units, while still being able to utilize the GPS feature on an iPhone through the Safari browser?

Despite what the future holds for browsers and applications, a well-optimized site is still the cornerstone of a mobile program, functioning as the central -- and fully-trackable -- hub for branded content such as videos, ringtones, retail locators, and even application downloads.

An application component can certainly complement a mobile program, but all mobile touchpoints and technologies must be carefully evaluated to ensure fully-developed strategies that meet the key objectives of a brand. We should judiciously test applications and media placements within, but conditioning users to engage with the mobile web to enhance both their experience and advertisers' efficacy will continue moving the medium forward.

In the meantime, I think I need to be more selective about what I really "need" on my iPhone. Perhaps the mini koi pond can go, but the virtual cowbell stays.

Nicole Amodeo is vice president of media, the Hyperfactory.

Friday, December 18, 2009

10 Tactics That Will Dominate Digital in 2010

Brought to you by Drew Neisser

When Chicago failed in its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, President Barack Obama elected to use a sports metaphor to soften the blow. "You can play a great game and still not win," noted the First Chicagoan upon his return from Copenhagen.

As we move into 2010 -- and toward the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February -- marketers will be facing Olympic hurdles themselves that will require steadfast agility just to stay in the game, much less to hit the finish line ahead of the competition. Here are 10 ideas that should deliver the gold.

1. Social media: A marathon, not a sprint
Hoping to become fast friends with their targets, a lot of brands rushed into Facebook and Twitter in the last 24 months without investing sufficient time or resources. In 2010, savvy marketers will increase their commitment to social media by first listening and then offering up a steady stream of engaging content that their fans actually want. This will be particularly true for B2B brands, only 38 percent of which included social media in their 2008 marketing plans (compared to 71 percent of B2C brands).

One comScore study indicated that branded social media activities can have a multiplier effect on search results, providing a quantifiable rationale for brands to up the social media ante in 2010.

2. Mashups: Taking inspiration from biathlons
A few innovative marketers took a shot at mashups in 2009. E.P. Carrillo, a new cigar manufacturer, created a mesmerizing Twitter and Google Maps mashup for its "coming soon" site that tracks cigar tweets from around the world. In 2010, these kinds of mashups will become smoking hot as marketers look to extend the value of their social media activities. Recognizing that tech-savvy consumers glide seamlessly between personal and business, online and offline, mobile and desktop, farsighted marketers will bring together formerly disparate elements into a cohesive and self-perpetuating social media experience.

3. App happy: On your mark, get set, go crazy
Given the success a handful of marketers enjoyed with their "apps" in 2009, expect a blaze of new entries in 2010. iPhone apps that provide demonstrable utility like Kraft's iFood Assistant recipe finder, Benjamin Moore's color matcher, and Zipcar's GPS-based car finder will continue to gain traction. Expect more apps that integrate with other social media like the Gap StyleMixer that allows you to mix and match clothes and share them with friends on Facebook.

And don't forget the non-iPhone universe. The steakhouse Maloney & Porcelli cooked up a humorous and somewhat deviant web-based app Expense-A-Steak that extrudes faux expense reports that look stunningly authentic.

4. Measure up: Track every second
With more dollars earmarked for social media, marketers will undoubtedly use new tools to monitor the conversations that are happening with or without them. Radian6 and Scout Labs emerged in 2009 as two of the leading social media monitoring tools. Molson Coors uses Radian6 to stay on top of all the banter about its major brands, allowing it to respond with remarkable speed to one of my blog posts about a Coors Light Twitter account that turned out to be unofficial.

And while these tools are great, each requires a sizeable commitment by the marketer in time of staff, a commitment that can and does pay off. Just ask JetBlue, which manages to enhance customer loyalty daily by responding to any and every customer tweet within minutes. JetBlue follows 117,000 people on Twitter, generating more than 1.3 million followers for itself.

5. POV power: Don't just talk the talk
While lots of brands raced into social media in 2009, few established true connections with their targets. The reality is that consumers engage with brands they like on a visceral level and that provide a distinct perspective on the world. Aflac's Duck quacks up a gaggle of quirky content, including charitable requests that appeal to more than 161,000 fans on Facebook and more than 3,000 followers on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Geico's Gecko has been left in the social media dust due to its surprisingly dry and unresponsive online voice. Ironically, a brand by definition is a point-of-view that, once clearly defined, should guide all communications, social or otherwise.

6. Expose yourself: Win the crowd with honesty
The emergence of several "tell all" consumer-created sites signals the arrival of a new era of honesty and transparency, especially for brands targeting those under 35. Sites like fmylife.com, textsfromlastnight.com, and MyParentsJoinedFacebook.com reflect a generation willing to bare and share all without the least trepidation.

Even the emergence of "Untag Mondays" speaks to the socially acceptable norm of posting embarrassing content that one might not want a parent or employer to see. Marketers that share this sense of honesty, that admit mistakes and address shortcomings in real-time, will find a youthful army of comrades willing to do their bidding. As Comcast discovered, this kind of honesty can even transform a PR nightmare like ComcastMustDie.com into an industry-leading customer service, like its Comcast Cares Twitter pages.

7. Hold the presses: Major comebacks are possible
Though a 50-percent decline in ad pages certifies 2009 as the worst year in print's history, don't write it off as a viable media channel just yet. More than 80 percent of U.S. consumers still subscribe to at least one magazine and 83 percent believe newspapers are still relevant, according to MediaPost.

Experimenting with video in print publications like Entertainment Weekly is but one of the ways certain magazine segments will hold onto their targets and satisfy advertisers. Fashion magazines and enthusiast publications continue to offer a visual showcase that is far superior to what most online magazines can serve up. Models, both human and auto, simply look prettier in print.

And while Procter & Gamble shut down its 72-year-old TV soap opera Guiding Light in 2009, it is cranking up the presses with a custom-published glossy, Rouge, that it expects to reach a whopping 11 million North American households in 2010.

8. Go to the video: Separate from the pack
The emergence of viral video rankings in 2009 reflected the mainstreaming of this approach to audience engagement.

While everyone and their branded brother aspired to cut through with a viral hit, surprisingly few found an audience. In 2010, marketers will undoubtedly crank out more of the same, while a savvy few will worry less about mass reach and focus more on grassroots appeal, providing content that their core targets really want. B2B marketers in particular will find that using informative videos that transform the complicated into the comprehensible, like Commoncraft's Plain English videos, will generate quality leads from grateful prospects.

9. Mobile media: Catching up at last
Despite all the hype by this author and others, less than a third of marketers had a budget for mobile in 2009. In 2010, smartphone penetration should rise to at least 25 percent (from 17 percent in Q2 '09), making it a lot easier to deliver a rich mobile experience worthy of consumer attention. The blending of mobile and social apps like Facebook, Loop'd, and Twitter has also created a new openness toward this medium.

Given the desirable demographics (18- to 34-year-olds with household incomes of more than $75,000) of smartphone owners, marketers should, at the very least, give strong consideration to creating a mobile friendly website, thus allowing prospects to engage whenever and wherever they happen to be.

10. Be positive: Attitude is everything
While honesty is a worthy friend to marketers, don't forget that almost no one wants to date a Debbie Downer. A recent Adweek/Harris poll found "relatively little enthusiasm and lots of indifference for ads that refer to the downturn." Even if the economy is slow to recover in 2010, find the silver lining for your customers and prospects with both words and actions. Like the athletes whose positive outlooks and superior skills propel them to victory, so too can marketers find success with an upbeat message and an unimpeachable value proposition.

Go for the gold in 2010
While 2009 hasn't been much fun for most marketers, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the approaching year. There are more ways than ever to engage with consumers and a new willingness from consumers to engage with brands. Marketers are showing a renewed desire to listen to their customers and offer "marketing as service" that favors the dissemination of meaningful value over disruptive messaging.

To borrow the words of the President after Chicago's disappointing Olympic bid this year, "Although I wish that we had come back with better news, I could not be prouder."

Drew Neisser is CEO and founder of Renegade.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How To Protect Your Email Reputation

Brought to you by David Fowler

Spam traps and spam complaints are two of the most glaring indicators that an email marketer may be illegitimate, and they can quickly convince ISPs to evict you from the inbox. Here's how to sidestep these email-deliverability trouble spots and protect your sender reputation.

Spam traps: The biggest red flag
Nothing says "please block me from the inbox" like sending email to spam traps.

Spam traps are email addresses that receivers and ISPs use for the specific purpose of identifying spammers.

They fall into two categories:

New email addresses that have never been used by a real person. Because these accounts do not belong to anyone, there is no way that anyone could have opted in to any marketing program.

Email addresses that were once active and have been inactive for a significant period of time. ISPs recycle these addresses and designate them as spam traps. Their reason being that if the original users no longer check these email accounts, you must be a bad guy if you're still sending to them.
When you send to spam traps, the penalties are immediate. ISPs will often put a block on your IP address and refuse to deliver your messages until the offending addresses are removed from your list.

How to avoid and recover from spam traps
It goes without saying that ISPs do not publicly divulge which email addresses they use as spam traps, so it's nearly impossible to identify and remove individual spam traps from your lists.

But it's not difficult to identify whether or not your email lists contain one too many spam traps. Most receivers have a zero-tolerance policy for email marketers who send to these forbidden addresses. You will know when your deliverability stats inexplicably plummet and your IP address starts showing up on multiple blacklists.

Maintaining an accurate subscriber database is key to avoid accumulating spam traps in the first place. You should:

Implement a double opt-in confirmation process. Sometimes a simple typo, such as typing the number 0 instead of the letter O, can turn a legitimate email address into a spam trap. If the user must click a confirmation link from the email address in question before it's added to your list, you won't inadvertently activate a spam trap.

Focus on growing your house list organically instead of buying data from list brokers. I'm not suggesting that all list brokers engage in questionable business practices. However, buying a bad list with less-than-healthy data is the No. 1 way that email marketers unwittingly damage their sender reputations.

If you find yourself in spam-trap trouble, you'll need to proactively re-engage your house file and specifically re-opt-in the people who haven't responded to your campaigns in a while. Segmenting your database based on recent activity will help remove spam traps and get back in tune with your customers' communication expectations and preferences. You may also need to reach out to specific ISPs and blacklist services to reestablish your legitimacy.

Spam complaints: Deliverability misdemeanors that can turn into serious offenses
In the eyes of ISPs, spam complaints are less damning than spam traps, but they still can count against you. Spam complaints occur when email recipients click the "Report as Spam" button, signaling to their ISPs that your message is unwanted and unsolicited.

ISPs understand that a certain number of spam complaints are inevitable. Often, hitting the spam button is a simple matter of convenience. Most free email clients, such as AOL and Gmail, make it easy for users to scan their inboxes, select all the messages they don't want to read and report them all as spam with a single click. That's much easier than individually opening each message and manually clicking the unsubscribe link. So ISPs only penalize senders who accumulate too many spam complaints.

But how many is too many? It varies by ISP, but the generally accepted rule of thumb is one spam complaint per every thousand emails sent. In other words, each ISP tracks the total email volume you send through their networks against the number of spam complaints you generate.

When you stray beyond the ISPs' spam-complaint thresholds, they often respond by placing temporary blocks on your IP address that may ban you from the inbox for up to 72 hours. If complaints continue to be an issue, you may experience a permanent block on your IP address.

How to monitor and minimize spam complaints
If a user reports your message as spam, you'll never know it unless you participate in that ISP's feedback loop. Feedback loops are a communication mechanism where ISPs tell email marketers which email recipients reported their messages as spam. For obvious reasons, ISPs don't share this information with anyone and everyone. You have to apply to each ISP to receive this data.

Fortunately, a quality email-service provider will handle this on your behalf. As part of the account-setup process, email deliverability teams apply for feedback loops. When users report your messages as spam, the email-marketing software automatically removes these addresses from your lists.

It's important to proactively monitor your spam-complaint rate to make sure it remains low and to identify the root cause if it suddenly goes up. Connect with your ESP to make sure you're on top of things.

David Fowler is the director of email strategy, deliverability, and privacy compliance for Lyris.

7 Rules For Aggregating Brand Content

Brought to you by Carnet Williams

As the CEO of a start-up company creating social media campaigns for some of the world's largest brands, I know that the future of my company is at stake every time a new campaign is launched. While I do my best to educate brands about the power of social media and the benefits of providing consumers an open platform to speak their mind, I know that there are legal and ethical considerations that must be weighed before any campaign is launched.

Following are some best practices that we follow at Sprout to ensure success.

Enter at your own risk
It is no surprise that there are several large companies that do nothing but manage the rules, regulations, and management of contests and sweepstakes. They are big, hairy messes. Rules change all the time and vary from state to state, not to mention country to country.

Even Facebook has realized the risks involved with sweepstakes and contests running on its platform. On Nov. 4, Facebook published a new set of rules that cover what brands can and can't do. You can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/promotions_guidelines.php

Facebook is clearly trying to dissuade brands from using the site as a platform for sweepstakes. In addition to stating that brands must comply with all laws and regulations, contests must be approved in advance by Facebook and must contain language that makes it clear that Facebook isn't involved in any way. Further, contests can no longer be based on actions taken on Facebook, such as updating status, becoming a fan, or uploading a photo.

Unless you're willing to pay a lot of money to a third party or have a large legal team, my recommendation is to find another emotional hook. You would be surprised what people are willing to do for brands they like, or to score higher than friends, or just to take a minute away from work for a bit of fun.

Moderation... in moderation
There is a divide among marketing folks about the need for moderation. Some brands, such as Skittles, have gone whole hog into social media and allowed people to see all tweets about Skittles on the Skittles homepage, regardless of the content. Other brands, such as Juicy Juice, have taken a more conservative approach and have reviewed tweets before they are approved to publish in an ad. My recommendation to our clients is that they moderate content to ensure compliance with the terms of service of the sites where the content will be found, but that they allow differences of opinions. On social networks, authenticity is very important, and brands that embrace the idea of natural conversations with consumers will be rewarded.

Must share well with others
Everyone is looking for the next viral hit. The truth is that all campaigns will not be viral hits, but all campaigns should be viral-ready. When consumers are allowed to share user-generated content, they usually will. Therefore, it's important that campaigns have built-in hooks to the leading social networks to make sharing as easy as possible. At a minimum, your campaign should be Facebook- and MySpace-ready. To really get people talking about what they've experienced or shared, a "Tweet this" button helps drive awareness and virality. Depending on the type of campaign or content you're promoting, Digg, Delicious, and LinkedIn are other possibilities to consider.

If you want to catch a fish, go fishing
While Facebook has 300 million subscribers, brands need to consider their target audience and decide whether a Facebook-only campaign makes sense. For example, entertainment companies find great success on MySpace, since it's a common destination for movie and music news. To get authentic user-generated content for your campaign, make sure your reach is broad. Some of the best fans are found in the most unlikely places. At Sprout, we try to ensure that our campaigns can run anywhere -- on Facebook, MySpace, and our clients' websites as well.

... but fish in the right pond
Having said that, it is important to think carefully about which types of user-generated content to integrate into a campaign, and this goes for choosing your media and social networking channels too. Depending on your particular goals around quality and volume, it's important to get the right mix of quirkiness and unique marketable content with some sort of mass appeal.

The holy grail: The activity stream
It's true that if you want to catch a fish, you need to go fishing. But Facebook's activity stream is still the holy grail for brands attempting to get their campaign to go viral. It's important to make sure that if you're allowing users to create their own content via your campaign, they should be able to share that content with their friends on Facebook by publishing to their activity stream. Once published in their own activity stream, all of those users' friends will see it published in their activity streams too. Those friends should then be able to access your campaign right from the message in their activity streams. For an example of how this works, try Sprout's Holiday Matchmaker game.

The FTC and transparency
When dealing with user-generated content, it's important to ensure that your content contributors follow the rules. The FTC's new rules for bloggers state that any user or blogger who makes an endorsement for a product must disclose the connection he or she has with the seller of that product. The FTC can slap said users or bloggers with big fines if they don't. Note that the definitions are broad here -- the FTC rules basically state that any situation where anything of value is exchanged between company and advocate (blogger or user who's not part of the company) requires total transparency.

There's a lot to think about when you launch a social media campaign. But if you plan well and ensure a healthy balance between authenticity and moderation, UGC and branded content, and creation and sharing, you are off to a great start. I hope these seven best practices help to plan your next great campaign.

Carnet Williams is CEO at Sprout.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

5 Tips To Maximize Online ROI

Brought to you by Scott Severson

There are times we all feel like field generals, deciding where to deploy our limited resources along the many fronts of the marketing wars. But the best leaders are one step ahead with strategy -- looking for results by reading the signs that others don't see.

Yet, the signs are right there in front of us: Clicks aren't translating into purchases; consumers aren't returning; online advertising spending is wasted on tactics with little or no ROI. We're seeing story after story in the marketing trades about the reshuffling of ad dollars, with more and more budget being plowed into online ad spending and social media. Despite the economy, online marketers aren't shy about investing in clicks, paid search, back-links, and tweets. But are their online efforts resulting in action? Marketers need to put the brakes on less-than-strategic online spending and instead determine which tactics deliver the most actionable outcomes.

The good news: We are also seeing signs that point us in the direction of engaging with customers through action-causing tactics, while discounting the siren's song of sheer click numbers.

But how do we pinpoint these high-ROI tactics? There are countless analytics available, but I decided to go beyond click data and ask consumers how they're making decisions about their online advertising choices. My company recently commissioned a study by public opinion measurement leader Opinion Research Corporation to help us understand what's happening inside the minds of consumers as they're making choices about what online advertising they're engaging with -- and what actions they take over time after seeing the advertising.

The results represent a big, full-color, blinking sign for marketing leaders.

ORC asked 1,000 consumers the type of online advertising they're most likely to read and act upon, among banner ads, pop-up ads, email offers, articles that include brand information, or sponsored links. Article-based advertising was the most preferred -- 51 percent of respondents said they are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to read and act upon the material.

Coveted demographic groups are even more likely to express a preference for articles. According to the survey, 67 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 and 56 percent of those making at least $75,000 per year say they are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to read and act upon article-based advertising. Pop-up ads were least likely to be read or acted upon.

And here's another critical sign from the study about how consumers take action based on what they see online: When asked how frequently they conduct internet searches for products or services they read about in online articles, half the respondents said "very frequently" or "somewhat frequently."

Those are some pretty strong signs directly from consumers. It tells me that they are willing to interact with a product or brand in an in-depth manner if the information is presented to them in ways where they can read the information, evaluate it, and then decide to click through for more details.

As marketers, we owe it to ourselves and our clients to use consumer feedback to earmark online marketing dollars for tactics that deliver the highest ROI, deliver the most action, and bring value to the brand.

Here are five tips for maximizing ROI and measuring the impact of online advertising:

Mix brand storytelling into your tactical approach. If you can build a program that breeds consumer feedback and fosters measurement, consumers will be willing to engage with content-rich information, and take the next step in contacting the advertiser.
Set benchmarks for every step in the conversion funnel and measure against them. Not everything is measurable, but it's important to capture data on every step possible.
Take on the tougher measurement tasks. Determine how online advertising and social media activities are impacting consumer attitudes toward your brand. You can try unconventional methods such as using social media to get qualitative feedback from your other marketing methods.
Integrate by measuring the flow of consumer interaction among social media, websites, blogs, and product landing sites. As marketing disciplines have converged (PR, advertising, and digital are using sometimes indistinguishable tactical approaches), it challenges us to update our measurement tactics as well. Count the clicks, but measure brand impact, too.
Remarket to consumers who show an interest in an article or ad about your product or company. Study the downstream value of the first interaction. If a consumer has expressed interest in your category, it's an indicator for further dialogue (and ads).
The signs are clear. Consumers are telling us to give them information in context, and if it's good enough, they'll take action on it. Then, it's up to us to measure it.

Scott Severson is the president of ARAnet Inc.