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Friday, January 29, 2010

3 Metrics for Evaluating Site Performance

Brought to you by Jason Prescott

As CEO of several vertical search engines and directories, I often overhear conversations between my customers and salespeople that tell me marketers are constantly making the wrong decisions after installing Google Analytics because they don't know what to do with the data. Analytics is a vital component for success in the B2B business world, yet this tool is greatly misunderstood.

When asked, "Doesn't every marketer understand the importance of analytics?" Google's Avanish Kaushik told Search Engine Land: "Numbers are hard to come by on this, but in my humble experience, a tiny fraction of people who should use data productively access it, and a tiny fraction of that actually ends up using data effectively. We, as a universe, have a long way to go."

Many small businesses are rushing into analytics without knowing how to use the software. They have no benchmarks and absolutely no understanding of the metrics provided and what they mean. A lot of the problems are due to poorly constructed websites. While many marketers blame the search provider for poor traffic and low conversions, the key is going back to their website to find out why users aren't converting. Perhaps these consumers are converting in other ways and the marketer just doesn't know it; the consumers could be making phone calls, bookmarking and coming back a few weeks later, requesting a catalog, or visiting a trade show and forgetting to mention where they first heard about the site.

Conversion attribution
From my observations, few marketers bother to define and track a conversion or a user. Even fewer recognize the attribution problem in SEM. In a B2B world, not all conversions come from the first click because many products are complex and have longer sales cycles. Some users may need telephone assistance, while others put a product or service on their "to do" list.

Additionally, marketers can use multiple media in an ad campaign. As a result, it's hard to attribute conversions directly to online search advertising.

Due to the sophistication of search algorithms, paid search is complex to begin with, and understanding analytics data is difficult as well. Kaushik has an excellent post on Occam's Razor about conversion attribution that can give you a better understanding of your SEM campaign performance. He covers the following five points in this post:

- Identifying keyword "arbitrage" opportunities
- Focusing on "what's changed"
- Analyzing visual impression share and computing lost revenue
- Embracing the ROI distribution report
- Zeroing in on the actual user search query (and match type)

Tip: If you're new to analytics, don't rely on sites like Compete or Alexa because they don't count incoming paid traffic to websites due to their own unique user-defined criteria. To make a decision based solely on the reporting metrics of an independent analysis system without transparent rating measurements would be foolish.

Three simple metrics to better site performance

It's important to know your site goals and how to determine whether or not you are achieving them. Analytics is the foundation for your online business strategy and can make the difference between success and failure. Below are three tips that can help you improve your site performance.

1. Identify your site goals. Specify how many conversions you want per week or month. Get a baseline by monitoring with Google Analytics. Then, if you aren't meeting your goal, find out why users aren't converting by studying your conversion funnel. Many times, minor adjustments are all you need to guide users to the "submit order" button. For most sites in the B2B world, it could be a sign-up or registration form and not necessarily an order form. Also, Google Analytics allows for benchmarks to be set. If conversions are low, it could likely be the user interface on your website.

2. Know the difference between hits, visits, and conversions.

- Hits: Defined as a server request for an item on a specific webpage (e.g., image, animation, download). When a browser opens a page in your site, you can get many hits, but they don't translate into traffic or conversions.
- Visits: Defined as a user landing on a page in your site or navigating to other pages before exiting and counting as one visit. This metric is useful because you know how many visitors go to your site and how many items were requested by the server from each page. The "new visitors" and "returning visitors" metrics help you analyze how much new business you are attracting and compare it to repeat customers.
- Conversions: Defined as the number of visitors to your site who completed a pre-defined goal or action (such as a purchase, download, or registration). This is your most important metric.

3. Monitor page views and time spent on site. Visits can be further examined to help you learn more about visitor behavior. Monitor how many page views a consumer had during a visit and the time spent on those pages. Generally, you want users to visit more pages on your site and stay as long as possible. Analytics can tell you which pages are more popular and which need work to gain popularity.

Monitoring these metrics can tell you a lot about what your site visitors are doing so you can fine tune your site with changes that will increase visitors, page views, and time spent on site. This will translate into more visitors and conversions.

When it comes to analytics, there is no silver bullet, but knowing what metrics to focus on and which to ignore can help you make simple changes to your site that can have a big impact on conversions. Set your site goals, determine whether or not you are achieving them, and then take the necessary steps to improve your site's performance. At the end of day, tribal knowledge of your landscape can be a great indicator. You can also be observant of what others do in your industry, and implement what works for them.

If you see your competition advertising on a website that you know is actively engaged in your industry (because you see that company at trade shows, in print media, or sponsoring media events), then chances are, the same website will be a solid play for your ads, so give them a shot.

In any type of advertising, it is frequency and consistency that matter. Most people, especially B2B customers, will not respond to an ad unless they've seen it many times over. Keep promoting your brand, maintain your site with fresh content and image changes, use internal monitoring mechanisms other than analytics, and you'll be well on your way to success.

Jason Prescott is CEO of TopTenWholesale.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Where Twitter Drops the Marketing Ball

Brought to you by Bryce Marshall

Many marketers misunderstand the distinction between the micro-blogging social media service Twitter and opt-in SMS marketing. The most common misconception is that Twitter is a viable alternative for opt-in text message marketing. Or, at least, the benefits of "free" far outweigh the potential benefits of any SMS marketing initiative with hard costs.

This misconception has the unfortunate consequence of making it tough to sell the CMO on why a comprehensive SMS marketing program is justified. Here are some arguments to break through the Twitter-vs.-SMS misconception and help justify investment in an opt-in SMS marketing program.

Twitter is not mobile marketing
Many marketers operate under a fundamental misconception about Twitter, confusing the 140-character text limit for tweets as being the hallmark of mobile or SMS marketing. Sure, the 140-character limit on tweets is there in part to ensure they can be created and delivered as SMS messages. But this does not mean that tweets are SMS.

Some Twitter users have tweets delivered as SMS messages, but many do not. The 140-character limit for tweets simply ensures the content is always small bites of information, quickly digested, and very disposable. This does not necessarily mean the content is consumed through SMS. In most circumstances tweeting does not qualify as mobile marketing either in the technical sense of being accessed on a mobile device or in the spirit of mobile marketing, which is designed to leverage timeliness and location to define a unique and valuable interaction.

Free isn't "free"
Yes, SMS marketing will probably require a budget to cover transmission fees and perhaps other short code, technology, or services costs. Compared with the free Twitter service even a modest SMS budget can seem like a bitter pill to swallow. However, considering the resources, time, and materials necessary to promote a Twitter account, it is easy to realize there are costs in play no matter what. To obtain a critical mass of followers and achieve any semblance of mass-marketing, investments have to be made. To leverage Twitter to its strengths for maintaining more personal dialogs, well-educated personnel need not just monitor the Twitter presence, but actively engage. Getting value out of the free Twitter service is an investment in itself.

You can't take it with you
Two-way communications through Twitter are excellent, and the application -- when used well -- really does foster legitimate interactions. Those interactions supply profound insights into a consumer base. However, this intelligence is locked away in Twitter. Simply, Twitter followers do not represent a database in any valuable sense outside of Twitter. It is impossible to compile, package, and export knowledge gathered there in a concrete sense. It is impossible to make those insights portable and actionable in meaningful ways across other digital or offline channels, because those consumer attributes are not in a database.

Now, think about the organizational value of data that can be mined through smart, two-way SMS marketing programs; for instance, discovering where SMS program subscribers live or shop, based on a zip code volunteered in exchange for more relevant offers and information. Or, a subscriber may share demographic information when participating in a mobile poll and receive an instant coupon in exchange. Or, understanding which subscribers are converting in-store or online based on unique coupon codes and tying that insight back to a database profile. These are all valuable pieces of knowledge -- database optimization -- that simply cannot be managed with, or extracted from, Twitter.

Twitter is not database or direct digital marketing
Twitter is not database marketing, and please do not let anyone argue that it is. As noted above, Twitter followers do not represent a marketing database in any viable way, not like the proprietary opt-in database of profiles built with savvy SMS marketing. Additionally, Twitter does not support the scalable application of message relevance and personalization for direct digital marketing on a mass scale.

Twitter followers are fans, and perhaps even loyalists, but they are not individually addressable in a scalable way. Marketers are unable to gather additional data points such as a location, product preference, or purchase history and then layer these attributes to create more comprehensive follower profiles. Marketers cannot segment and target tweets based on these attributes, as is possible with SMS marketing. Marketers cannot personalize tweets in any scalable way.

Marketers cannot insert dynamic text in a tweet, or have the user click through to a personalized mobile web page with a targeted offer, or generate a unique barcode for in-store redemption, or track an individual user's preferences, activity, and behavior. These capabilities are the domain of intelligent database and direct digital marketing and can only be achieved with opt-in SMS programs.

Twitter is a 5/8" socket wrench
Twitter is a single, specialized tool. While it can accomplish some excellent tasks when used well, it falls short as a comprehensive online communications tool at critical mass. In comparison, well-designed opt-in SMS marketing programs provide not just offers or notifications of sales events, but also can automate valuable services, such as providing information on store locations and driving directions, execute delivery and shipping status alerts, provide reminders on bank balances, send alerts when out-of-stock items are now in-stock, or help online shoppers get in-store help with a purchase decision. All of these services -- and more -- are provided through a comprehensive SMS marketing approach that delivers extraordinary value and brand experiences for customers.

So what is that 5/8" socket wrench -- Twitter -- good for? Twitter delivers very real marketing value in these ways:

- Establishes brand key terms and positioning points with hash tags, tapping into the power of trending topics and searches
- Builds a network of advocates who help distribute a message across their social network through one-click retweets
- Develops and hones a brand personality through the highly social, dialog-based nature of the application
- Exceeds expectations with customers by managing fantastic customer support programs that could never be replicated through SMS alone.

Twitter is a microblogging service that delivers real marketing value to organizations, if they are willing to invest education and resources to the management of interactive relationships with their customers. Twitter is a marketing phenomenon unto itself and does not need -- or deserve -- to be muddled in with the definitions of mobile or direct digital marketing. Twitter will be a strong and valuable complement to work in the digital channels, not a replacement.

Bryce Marshall is the director of strategic services for Knotice. You can check out their blog at http://lunchpail.knotice.com/.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How Video Can Dominate Advertising

Brought to you by Ariel Geifman

Despite its fast growth, online video advertising is in limbo, waiting for TV to abdicate its throne as king of advertising. With decades of experience in producing 30-second spots, TV is a comfortable medium for advertisers. Online video, on the other hand, bundles an array of distinct formats, placed in a variety of different online environments, each delivering the marketing message differently.

Today, three parallel processes are facilitating the growth of online video advertising. First, people are spending more time online at the expense of TV viewing time. Second, TV viewing is being displaced by video viewing across different devices, from computers to cellphones. Third, use of DVR systems like TiVo is stripping TV advertising viewership.

A Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic survey found that only 21 percent of people watching DVR playback, and 30 percent of people watching TV airtime, pay attention to commercials, compared to 46 percent of people watching in-stream video ads online. So, in short, consumers are indeed watching a considerable amount of video online, and while online video advertising adds up to only a fraction of total advertising spending, it is projected to grow rapidly, according to a report from eMarketer.

However, unlike TV, which is basically a single environment with changing programs, online video is placed in multiple distinct environments and used with several formats, in which users' viewing habits significantly differ. To push online video performance to its full potential and, ultimately, assume the advertising throne, advertisers need to take online environments into consideration.

Aligning the creative and the environment
Users' engagement with online video ads varies by the environment in which they are watched. In-banner and floating ads typically appear next to textual content, which is often a sound-off environment. These formats need to attract and maintain users' attention -- as users can easily drift back to the content -- which introduces greater complexity for advertisers. In these environments, video ads compete for attention with publishers' textual content. Since the ad is not the center of attention, users do not have to watch the video and can stop it or browse on to another webpage before it is fully played. As advertisers rely on users to voluntary devote their attention, there should be a symbolic relationship between the video creative and the environment in which it is played.

New research on online video environments indicates that in-banner and floating video ads tend to outperform in environments where users spend ample time and attention on a single webpage. Top performing environments include editorial content -- such as news, sports, music, and finance -- as well as email.

In editorial and email environments, users linger on the same webpage for a long duration of time, reading (or writing) content in detail, and thoroughly moving their eyes across the page over and over again. The more users engage with content, the more they dwell on ads, and particularly on video ads. As a result, there is a higher likelihood that the video is going to play in full.

Users also spend significant time on social networks, but their browsing there tends to be more erratic -- logging in and out, updating their status, poking a friend, or checking for updates. Thus, consumers tend to engage with ads less frequently. Similarly, in gaming environments, users focus on the game and are less prone to engage with ads.

Experience is power
Although overall data shows that video ads perform better than ads without video across all environments, today's analysis suggests that existing video ads work best in editorial content and mail environments (as compared to social networks and similar 'casual' content). Nevertheless, advertisers need to use different kinds of video ads, that cater to the unique attributes of user behavior on various sites specific for news, finance, social, games, etc.

Some new or unique video formats include live web cams, as seen in Pepsi's Dear Mr. President campaign along with polite banners that feature interactive video from brands like Virgin Bets and Dove.

For example, Eyeblaster TV -- an implementation that floats over the publisher's content and starts with the sound turned on by default in low volume -- provides high visibility. Past examples from VISA, Coca-Cola, and LG show how this format not only engages audiences, but lures their attention away from the content.

While online video advertising requires advertisers to be cognizant of many variables -- from the creative through ad formats to the environment -- savvy advertisers can turn this complexity into a competitive advantage. Advertisers who learn to adjust the video to the format and environment are bound to outperform their peers.

With such an array of creative possibilities, online video has a steep learning curve. Marketers and advertisers should master it now, as sufficient experience and awareness will help to deliver video at peak performance in any environment.

In 2010, when using online video:

- Consider user browsing habits over consumers' mindsets.
- Use metrics that show engagement compared to clicks.
- Identify online environments that work best for video.
- Leverage the time of day when users are most likely to engage with online advertising.
- Develop creative that corresponds with certain environments.

Ariel Geifman is a research analyst at Eyeblaster.

Monday, January 25, 2010

3 Reasons Why Your Site Search Isn't Working

Brought to you by Dr. Scott Brave

Coming from consumer search experiences on the web with the likes of Google and Yahoo, it's no wonder online marketers question why they can't provide better search results to people browsing on their own websites. It's a recipe for a common complaint: "The search on our site sucks!"

Fair enough. In order to fix search, you first have to understand what is going wrong.

Site search isn't working for many companies, and there are three key principles to really understand what is going wrong. Once we understand what's wrong, we can arrive at some fundamental conclusions on how to make site search better and, therefore, how you can make your site search a cut above the rest.

1. The critical information is not in the document
All full-text search technologies basically work the same way: They look for a match between the words in a user's query and the words in the text of the documents searched. Whether those documents are web pages, PDFs, or Word docs, the fundamental assumption is that the engine can figure out what content best meets a user's needs.

Unfortunately, this is where the very concepts of full-text searching miss the mark, and here's why:

While processing documents is a good start, the words within a document do not necessarily match the way a user understands the topic and phrases the question.

For instance, a user might come to an online appliance retailer looking for a "stove," but the search yields only "stove-top safe" kettles and pots, not stoves. Why? Because instead of referring to a generic term like "stove" on the website, the retailer instead uses a manufacturer's terminology of "cooktops" and "ranges."

It sounds like a simple fix, where all you need to do is set up a synonym so that "stove" is the same thing as a "range," right? But what about all the long-tail terms and content associated with niche products that could number in the thousands?

Let's go out on a limb and say the words do exist in the document. There may be thousands of documents that contain the search terms, but which documents are the best? A traditional search engine will assume that the one with the most occurrences of the keywords is the most valuable, but this is very often not the case.

For example, if we look at a work by Shakespeare -- or any great work of literature -- the meaning cannot be identified simply by looking at the words within it. It's synthesized in the reader's mind, and different readers may derive different meanings based on their own unique makeup and experiences.

The common work-around for this principle is to have experts manually tune and tweak search, but that can lead to major time delays in getting problems fixed. Not to mention this approach lacks scalability and is incredibly labor-intensive. Companies focus on the most popular content, and miss out on highly profitable long-tail content and products.

If the information to improve search isn't in the document and it's simply not practical to manually tune search, what's a marketer to do? We've hinted at the solution. Your visitors know the answers.

2. Actions speak louder than words
If visitors are the answer, it would seem logical that the answer to fixing search -- in our world of ratings, stars, and thumbs ups and downs -- is just to ask them. Turns out there are a few key challenges with explicit means of collecting information stemming from who participates, when and why:

Low coverage. A small subset of the population rates content, and when they do, the ratings only tend to cover the most popular content. Where does that leave the majority of our content? In the long tail -- unranked and, therefore, undiscovered.

Lacking context. Assuming that there is enough coverage, is it meaningful to your visitor's context? Let's say we have a bunch of ratings for a particular camera. Someone looking for a "lightweight camera" might think it stinks, while someone looking for a "cheap camera" might love it. You can't ignore the context of what a person is looking for.

Biased responses. In general, the people who do participate in explicitly rating something online represent a very small subset of the population. These opinions almost always represent fringe opinions that are either extremely positive or negative because those are the people motivated to be heard.

Inaccurate/incomplete feedback. Even when an individual decides to provide some form of explicit feedback, it often is not fully representative of even his or her own experience. Take Yelp reviews, for instance. A person might have 50 great dining experiences at a restaurant, but may base the review on the last visit -- when something went horribly awry. Whether people are rating a restaurant or ranking what's useful to them on your site, that feedback cannot always be trusted.

So, if asking people to tell us which documents are valuable and why they're of value doesn't work, what is the right way? The answer is in observing what people do, not what they say.

3. Observing search behavior alone is not enough
In order to improve search, we need to observe more than just search behavior. Search and navigation have traditionally been seen as two separate paradigms, with separate interfaces and separate systems driving them. But in reality what's happening? Visitors come to your site and express interest or intent through their actions.

They might have first expressed that intent through a Yahoo or Google search that brought them to your site. They might then express it in the pages they visit and engage with, the links they click, and maybe the site searches they perform. How long does their mouse linger over a piece of content? Do they spend time comparison shopping, hopping back and forth from one document to the other? This expression of interest may span multiple searches and actions and finding content that holds true value for that interest and intent may also take multiple steps.

If we only looked at search, we'd never see any of this. We have to look at the entire experience.

Learning from your site search mistakes
What's really remarkable is that once we take a step back and think of the entire online experience as a single unified expression of intent and value, we can do a lot more than fix search. We can start to make recommendations and optimize the visitor experience with every interaction they make within a site -- from the moment visitors arrive, to every step they take through the site, as well as with every search they perform. The true goal is to understand the user's intent and then automatically surface the exact products and content they are truly looking for.

Your visitors hold the answer to improving search on your site, but the question is: Are you listening?

Dr. Scott Brave is co-founder and CTO of Baynote.

Friday, January 22, 2010

6 Elements Shared by Social Media Winners

Brought to you by Julia Hix

If your social media campaign is not driving users to your website, generating sales, or introducing new customers to your brand, then it is time to get your campaign back on task. With so many marketing options available in social media, from video contests to custom applications, it is easy for brand messages to get lost in the creative shuffle.

Some companies, however, are using social media in unique ways that promote their marketing objectives while keeping consumers engaged with their brand. One way that companies have been successful in activating consumers is by challenging them to complete tasks that help introduce or further define their brand.

Clearly define your marketing objective
To avoid brand disconnect, it is important to tie social media efforts back into specific marketing objectives. Defining the marketing objective is the most important element of creating a social media initiative. For instance, if your goal is to introduce new customers to your brand, consider tasks that require a user to share their brand experience with their network.

Acacia Africa, an African adventure tour company, is doing just that with a campaign that encourages Twitter users to retweet the hashtag #GoWildOnline with Acacia Africa (and a link to its YouTube video) to enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to Africa. While it can be argued that some Twitter users view "retweet to win" campaigns as spam, it can be an effective way to reach new consumers.

Another unique way to gain brand awareness using Twitter is to challenge users to use your brand name in a unique way. Website builder Moonfruit launched a hashtag-based Twitter campaign in the summer of 2009 in an effort to bring exposure to its products. The company tasked users with the challenge of using the Moonfruit name in a tweet to be entered to win Apple products. According to Moonfruit, the campaign was a huge success with over 500,000 tweets, 3,000 images, and 500 songs sent.

With a little creative thinking, Twitter can be used to drive ROI as well. When Party City launched its ecommerce website only weeks before Halloween, its biggest sales season, the goal was to increase website visits. The Zimmerman Agency created a unique contest that required users to search PartyCity.com for costumes in a version of 21 questions, called Trick-or-Tweet.

Each day over the course of two weeks, the company's @PartyCity Twitter account would answer "yes" or "no" questions, such as "is it a scary costume?" while followers used the clues to scour the site in search of the correct costume. By creating an engaging game, Party City was able to introduce users to its new online store, while interacting with consumers in an entertaining way.

Keep it simple
There are three key things that need to happen for a user to be able to complete a task successfully: understand the task, follow directions, and easily submit results. As a general rule, you should be able to explain the task in less than 30 seconds. The task should be clearly defined and include only one call to action.

By limiting the number of steps it takes to participate, you will increase the likelihood of a user completing the task. It may be necessary to visually outline directions with images or video, especially if the concept is new to your audience. Make it as simple as possible for users to submit results and that it is clearly defined in the instructions.

In SeaWorld's most recent Facebook initiative, users are introduced to an entirely new type of game, called "Photo Adventure," that challenges them to find mistakes in images. The application targets parents of young children by providing a task that they can complete with their child. Upon entering the application, users are introduced to the game's objectives with easy step-by-step instructions and images.

In contrast, SeaWorld's "iPod from myPod" Twitter contest has complex instructions that do not include images. Using the @Shamu Twitter profile, SeaWorld issue tasks related to brand imagery found on Google Street View. Participants then had to take a screenshot of the image and fill out a form on the contest landing page to enter. This contest requires users to visit three websites in order to complete a task, which may be confusing for some audiences and therefore limits participation.

Know your audience
The task that you create should align with the social media habits of your target audience. This will help eliminate confusion on how to participate and will make it easier for consumers to explain the task to their network. Most importantly, understanding your audience will allow you to create campaigns that are exciting and relevant to the user.

Forsman and Bodenfors had audience in mind when it promoted a new IKEA store by asking users to tag themselves in showroom images found on Facebook. Forsman and Bodenfors built a profile page for Gordon Gustavsson, the manager for the new IKA location in Malmo, Sweden, to host the photos, and when a consumer tagged an item with their name, they won that item.

IKEA knew that its young, tech-savvy audience would understand the tagging feature, and would find the concept creative and worth sharing with their network.

Align the task with the platform
When deciding on a social media platform, take into consideration your marketing objective and the task that you are challenging users to complete. If your goal is to drive definition and you have a lot of content to share, Facebook would be the best solution because of the sharing options it offers.

If your goal is to drive brand awareness with little content, and you have the ability to actively interact with consumers, Twitter would be the best platform to use.

Also, be sure to consider the task that you are asking users to perform. Each social networking platform has content elements that users are familiar using in comparison to other platforms. For instance, when Bing asked users to submit photos to its "Home Sweet Homepage Photo Contest," Facebook was a natural choice because users were already accustomed to sharing photos on the platform.

Keep in mind that the platform you choose should make sense for your target audience. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace are more effective for different audiences based on age, gender, education, and social status.

Make incentive relevant to the brand
The first question most users ask themselves before deciding to participate in a brand's campaign is "what's in it for me?" Not every social media initiative needs to be tied to a contest, however, there needs to be a clearly defined incentive for the user to complete the task. The incentive should be relevant to the brand and should support the marketing objective.

In the case of Bing's contest, users were asked to submit photos demonstrating something unique about their hometown. The winner's photo became the background for Bing's homepage for a day. This incentive gave users the chance to participate in creating Bing's homepage, and simultaneously drove them to the new Bing search engine to view the winners. The most effective campaigns include creative incentives that drive users to not only engage with the brand, but to share the campaign with their network.

Engagement is key
In all of your social media endeavors, keep user engagement top of mind. Unlike traditional media, social media only works if consumers are actively participating in campaign initiatives. Be sure that you are designing tasks around your audience's interests and strengths in order to increase interactions.

Social media campaigns that allow users to redefine themselves through brands are met with the most success. Social media is in its purest form is about communicating online, and most social network users utilize the media to communicate information about themselves.

Retail chain Target recently created the "Bullseye Gives" campaign that reinforced the brand's focus on building community by letting its Facebook fans decide which charity they should donate to. Target gave $3 million in donations to 10 charities, chosen by Facebook users, including St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, American Red Cross, and The Salvation Army. By participating, consumers were able to communicate which charities were important to them and were motivated to share the campaign with their network.

Julia Hix is social media manager for The Zimmerman Agency.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

3 Things Every Online Ad Should Do

Brought to you by Eric Picard

I've been working in the online ad space since 1996, and much of that time has been spent at the intersection of technology and advertising. But continuously I have also spent a lot of time working on ad creative, advertising user experience, and rich media advertising.

In the early 1990s, I spent some time working with ad agencies, where I helped designers make the transition from print design to interactive design (in those days, CD-ROMs). In 1996, I finished graduate school and started my first company, an early boutique web development firm.

In 1997, my firm won the business to build some banner advertising for Compaq. In 1998, I started one of the early rich media advertising companies, building all sorts of rich ad experiences -- ads with games in them, purchases within ads, video within ads, expanding ads, floating ads, etc. In 2004, I came to Microsoft and helped redefine the advertising experience principles for MSN and Windows Live. And for the next three years, I managed a small team of designers who built prototypes of next-generation ad formats in all forms of emerging media -- online video, interactive TV, mobile, video games, web applications, software applications, and social media.

Over the years I've developed a set of advertising principles that I believe every online ad should follow:

Attract the audience's attention with a very simple, clear brand message.
Drive a specific action-oriented core goal with that ad, plus enable one to five secondary goals to be accessed from within the ad (without leaving the web page the audience is visiting).
Instrument the creative to enable every possible activity the ad could generate to be tracked and analyzed, and then make changes to the ad during the campaign based on insights gained. (At the very least, bring those insights forward and use them on the next set of creatives.)
Let's take a closer look at these three principles.

Attract the audience's attention with a very simple, clear brand message
I prefer to break every ad into two parts. First, catching the audience's attention -- a hook, pitch, or teaser. Second, driving some type of behavior -- the close. We'll cover the close in the next section, but the pitch is incredibly important.

I've seen thousands of rich media ads over the years. Many of them fall into a few basic traps. They tend to optimize for capturing the audience's attention at the expense of showing something relevant. Or they tend to overwhelm the audience with too much information density.

The human brain is an amazing machine. It can categorize something you see very quickly. I'm sure most of us have had this experience: You're reading a website and, after reading the "main article" for a few seconds, you notice a link, image, or even an ad that is on the edges of the page, look it over, and click on it. The problem is this: Although the brain can process the information incredibly fast -- and many studies have shown that we see brands (icons, names, other messages) in banner advertising even if the audience isn't consciously aware of it -- most ads are not optimized to take advantage of how the brain works.

We build a lot of advertising as if the audience were sitting and watching the ad from the moment the page loads. Frequently you'll see little stories told in banner ads: scene 1, scene 2, scene 3, etc. The problem is that by the time your brain has flagged the ad as being of interest and pushed that ad to the top of your attention so you focus in on it, you've likely moved on from the information that caught your attention in the first place.

A simple ad with a strong brand message should have some level of continuity from frame to frame in the "pitch" (i.e., the attention-grabbing phase of the ad experience). If the audience connects with your message and value proposition in the first 1-5 seconds, you're very lucky. It's more likely that, if a person is going to pay attention, it will be in the next 5-10 seconds. And if you've already used up your pitch, you've lost your opportunity. The value needs to be apparent continually, and not just a linear story with a 10-second arc that simply terminates before anyone is likely to pay attention.

Drive an action-oriented goal and enable secondary goals
Every ad should drive an action or at least enable an action -- even brand campaigns. Default actions that should be supported include requests for information, the ability to forward the ad or other product information to a friend, and (perhaps obviously) clicking through to a website. But beyond the primary goal and these default secondary goals, you should make sure that you're not missing opportunities to really take advantage of the online medium.

Your product or service probably has more than one value proposition, and most products have primary and secondary markets that they cover. Build your online ads to take advantage of this instead of limiting them to hit one customer scenario only. Break your value propositions out into individual creative unit components, each of which can become the primary hook or secondary hook.

For example: If your company is running multiple campaigns with separate goals, combine the creative and give the audience the opportunity to connect with the value proposition that fits them best. This works for brand, DR, and hybrid campaigns. Surround the audience with compelling scenarios in which your product adds value or solves a problem. Enable forwarding of the story to a friend. After all, if you've done a good job at building customer personas and building out scenarios for those personas, people will further hone your targeting by sending their friends targeted value-oriented messages for you.

One example of this was a campaign I worked on many years ago for an online store. The company had three campaigns it was running -- one to sign people up for newsletters, another to showcase a "loss-leading product" and drive people to the online store, and another that focused on a contest the company was running. When the company ran these campaigns with dedicated creative for each, it was marginally successful. When we merged all three campaigns together as I described above, it was wildly successful.

This is how it worked: Create your pitch for each offer, and link each pitch to an expanding ad unit that features the pitched value proposition (or product/service) as the focus of the expanded unit. But let the consumer see the other options and review those as well. When we did this, we found that in many cases, the pitch for one offer drove conversions on secondary offers better than its own pitch did.

Instrument, analyze, and act
If we hadn't instrumented the ads so we could track user behavior, and then analyzed that behavior, we never would have understood what was happening. And we wouldn't have been able to then make changes to the creative throughout the campaign in order to optimize for results.

All the rich media vendors on the market can do this type of instrumentation and reporting, and even many of the ad serving companies can provide this type of reporting. But if you don't instrument the creative, you'll never get the insights. Very few companies operate without web analytics on their websites these days, and I would argue that every single great ad campaign is like a miniature website. Without measuring, understanding, and making changes, you're losing huge amounts of value.

Eric Picard is the advertising technology advisor to the Advertising Platform Engineering team at Microsoft.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Untapped Potential of Dynamic Landing Pages

Brought to you by Wesley Picotte

Fundamentally, dynamic landing pages are used by direct marketers to improve conversion. Dynamic landing pages are very good at this because the technology lets you deliver headlines, calls to action, graphics, and even page architecture that meets the visitor's expectations. And seriously, what more could your visitors want than headlines that speak their language?

In actuality, you might be surprised by the extent to which simple, contextual ties between digital creative and landing pages improve the conversation -- and, as a result, conversion. But unifying design and messaging across digital advertising vehicles and landing pages is old hat. Three key considerations for investing in a dynamic landing page platform that you may not yet have considered include greater program efficiency, more control over your marketing destiny, and the enablement of advanced interactive programs.

Program efficiency
Dynamic landing pages have changed the paradigm for multivariate testing. Since managing multiple landing pages to address distinct needs of unique audience segments can be logistically difficult, if not prohibitively expensive, traditional methods have sought to identify variations to a small set of landing pages that improve performance generally across a larger audience. The results are not bad when you pull it off, but why settle for lowest-common-denominator program improvements? After all, changes that positively affect one audience while negatively affecting another can still produce net performance improvements, but these gains should hardly be thought of as optimal.

In digital, we're all about being optimal, right? When you're optimal and dynamic, the technology lets you determine the factors that improve performance on a segment-by-segment basis while rapidly optimizing each segment's landing page (and your performance metrics) by adopting those drivers on a one-by-one basis.

This is all great -- we're testing multiple factors individually against distinct audience segments and measuring the performance gains with each. Concurrently. Did I mention this? The technology allows us to manage multiple pages from a single access point. This is a profound improvement over approaches of the past. It's an enabling application of digital technology that allows marketers to do more with less. This equates to management efficiency, and this, combined with improved program performance, can make you look good.

Some old rules still apply: Bear in mind that the ability to test concurrently doesn't preclude a smart testing methodology. You'll still need to carefully isolate the factors you want to test in order to get an accurate read on how their evolution affects performance.

Program control
Who doesn't love control? Admit it -- you love it, at least when it comes to your marketing programs. Until recently, though, marketing organizations haven't had as much as they could (or should). Many, for example, have been beholden to IT departments to get even basic tasks accomplished. And, no disrespect intended to anyone, engineers have more to deal with than changing a headline or swapping old graphics for new ones. Now, though, this reliance can be (mostly) a thing of the past.

Today's interactive marketers have much more managerial control over their landing page programs because nearly everything that needs doing can be done within the platform itself. In fact, the idyllic capability for marketers to test their vision, theories, and good old-fashioned hunches without asking anything from outside departments now exists.

You want to blow out a successful landing page to support a broad selection of paid search terms? No problem: Log on, select your template, and gin up the variants. The same is true of the process for optimizing existing landing pages. This can now reside nearly exclusively within the marketing department as well, with very limited need to rely on other departments or skills sets. Can you feel the control?

You're not done with IT yet: Dynamic landing page platforms are fairly straightforward for anyone used to digital management tools (e.g., site analytics). Note, though, that all platforms are not created equal. You need to carefully assess your options before making a decision. In doing so, you may still need IT, which can provide insight into things like platform compatibility with existing hosting environments.

Advanced marketing programs
A third advantage that's more or less in the box your dynamic landing page platform comes in is the ability to execute digital programs with more flexibility than ever before. My real-world example is a client campaign during which, by using a combination of user inputs (i.e., ZIP codes) and IP sniffing technology, we exposed geographic audience segments to specific offers reliably.

Now, if you're controlling how traffic gets to your landing pages -- meaning, if your media is geo-targeted and directs to geo-segmented pages -- presenting the right offer is no biggie. But what if this media-driven traffic doesn't convert at first, and later returns to your homepage? What about natural search or view-through traffic (visitors exposed to your banner advertising who visit your site directly rather than clicking on the banner)? How do you control for a geographically targeted offer then?

By applying IP-sniffing technology (the landing page platform we use integrates geo-location data with IP addresses) and browser cookies, we did just this. None of it would have been possible without the landing page technology we employed. Well, I suppose that's not entirely true -- those engineers I mentioned could do it. Engineers can do anything, I hear, with the right budget and plenty of time.

It doesn't need to be advanced: Because you can doesn't mean you should. I'm a proponent of this technology because even subtle changes to landing page content have made a big difference in our campaigns. If you're fighting for incremental gains to ROI, these simple changes might just get you there. Go dynamic first and test the low-hanging fruit. Get your bearings. Then go big!

At face value alone -- that is, the value of improving program performance -- an investment in a dynamic landing page platform very likely makes sense for your organization. Add to this the management efficiency it will provide, and the deal looks better. That's how we felt, and our clients are mighty pleased with the results.

Wesley Picotte is director of Media Services at White Horse and blogs at http://www.whitehorse.com/blog.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Social Media Websites Strengthened Holiday Season for Retailers

Brought to you by KPBJ.com

Holiday retail sales might have staved off a visit from the Grinch thanks in part to social media.

Nearly half of U.S. retailers polled in a pre-holiday national survey said they intended to increase their use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter during the Christmas shopping season.

“Social media has allowed for a very efficient, low-cost way for retailers to communicate directly with their best customers on exclusive sales and offers,” said Clay McDaniel, co-founder of Seattle-based marketing firm Spring Creek Group.

Although the exact impact of social media on holiday retailing hasn’t been calculated, online outreach is thought to have been a factor in the 3.6 percent increase in November and December spending reported Monday by MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse.

In addition to boosting sales, social media has enabled retailers to reduce or divert spending on traditional advertising in print and broadcast media.

Total ad spending in the U.S. was down 14.7 percent in the first nine months of 2009 compared with last year, according to a recent report from TNS Media Intelligence.

Although much of the decrease is attributable to economic weakness, some retailers are using social media to supplement their traditional advertising at minimal additional costs, said Mike Gatti, executive director of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of the National Retail Federation.

“It has helped retailers to better target customers without increasing marketing budgets,” Gatti said.

Best Buy’s “Twelpforce” - a Twitter-connected set of customer-service workers - has been one of the highest-profile social media outreach campaigns.

Domino’s announced that Facebook, Twitter and other social media will be a cornerstone of its campaign to promote a revamped pizza pie.

Introduction of the new pizza “was driven so heavily by listening to our customers through social media (that) having that component be a part of our online marketing campaign seemed like a no-brainer,” said Domino’s spokesman Chris Brandon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

3 Steps to Building an SEO-Friendly Site Structure

Brought to you by Ian Hughes

When you're launching a new website, it can be tempting to just get it out there and worry about search engine optimization later. Websites are pliable -- you can always change them when you need to, right?

Don't make that mistake. Procrastinating on SEO can have a number of harmful effects on your site and your business:

- New domains often experience a "sandbox effect," or a period of low (or nonexistent) search engine rankings. Neglecting SEO will only worsen the effect.
- The longer your site is live, the more complex a redesign becomes. A good redesign that takes SEO into account can be time-consuming and costly. (And it could be a while before you find the time and capital.)
- Redesigns often disrupt URL structure, so you lose the link equity you've earned over time.
All told, it's much easier to build solid SEO into your site's foundation before you launch. These three steps will help you create a well-organized information architecture that is friendly to users as well as search engines.

Step 1: Start with keyword research
You can't do SEO without keyword research. Keywords are your building blocks. So don't whiff this step by relying on brainstorming, purchased keyword lists, or a limited tool set. Be thorough and aggregate a comprehensive, accurate list of keywords from multiple data sources:

You can seed your list with free, public keyword tools such as WordStream's Free Keyword Tool or the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Try entering both words and phrases related to your business and the URLs of competitive sites. Look at synonyms and related terms. Focus on relevance, not popularity.
Whenever possible, use private data sources too. If you've been operating a related website, mine your log files or web analytics for real keywords that drive traffic and conversions.

Step 2: Group your keywords
This is the single most important step to transform a raw list into something truly useful and actionable. Segmenting your keywords into tightly themed groups will create a map for the layout of your website:

Broad, high-level groups will correspond to the top-level categories on your website, so potential customers can easily find what they're looking for. For example, a home goods site would have keyword groups (and site segmentations) devoted to bath products, bedding, kitchenware, and so on.
Narrower subgroups of keywords will further help site visitors drill down to find their exact needs. Keyword subgroups under the kitchenware parent group might include pots and pans, small appliances, utensils, etc.
This grouping process will save you lots of time in the end. You can create a series of focused, optimized pages that each target a small group of related terms, rather than needing to craft a unique page for every single keyword.
To ensure that you haven't missed any potential keyword niches and groupings that could benefit your site, use The Free Keyword Niche Finder as a supplement to your research. This is a great way to uncover niches within your niche and check your keyword grouping work.

Step 3: Map your keyword groups onto your site
The last step is to map your keyword groups and subgroups onto your information architecture. Start with your homepage and top-level category pages, then build out your website by creating a hierarchy of optimized content filed under the appropriate category.

For a new business, SEO-friendly design is every bit as important as attractive design. With an organized, logical site structure that is easily navigable by humans and spiders alike, your site will be primed to enjoy better rankings for relevant keyword searches. After all, what good is a nice-looking website if your customers can't find it?

Ian Hughes is owner of Monkbam Creative.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Interactive Commercials Show Strong Early Results

Brought to you by Andrew Hampp

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- After years of one-off tests, single-market trials and several false starts, interactive TV advertising finally achieved scale this fall when Cablevision became the first cable operator to offer the technology across its full footprint of 3.1 million subscribers in the New York, Connecticut and New Jersey area.

The interactive ad product, Optimum Select, attracted launch advertisers including Gillette, Benjamin Moore, retailer Century 21, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive Co. Each marketer signed up for two-week flights in which viewers could click on their remote controls to receive more information, product samples or gift certificates from the advertisers. But the ads weren't customized or addressed to certain viewer demographics or household incomes, so the only targeting had to come from strategic buys on certain cable networks.

The interactive spots worked well anyway, participants now say. Responses were strong enough that the campaigns were taken off the air after an average of half their scheduled runs after advertisers were caught low on promotional inventory, according to Cablevision and marketers.

For Benjamin Moore paints, the Cablevision campaign yielded more than 25,000* requests for product samples during the crucial early fall time period, the last time of the year most consumers in the Northeast are in the market for home renovation materials until the spring. Because the product samples had to be redeemed in stores, Dan Calkins, a general manager for Benjamin Moore, said the company was able to quantify the campaign's impact on store traffic.

"We had difficulties keeping up with the demand and suspended it for a few days to get some more resources involved," Mr. Calkins said. "It's enough of an indication directionally that we'll continue to do more of this going forward."

Colgate-Palmolive saw similar results from its test, converting 70% of the consumers who requested more information into actual recipients of the product giveaway. Optimum Select campaigns, on average, got 40% of the people who pressed buttons on their remotes to complete requests for information or other actions.

For local advertisers like Mount Everest Ski & Snowboard Shop in Westwood, N.J., Optimum Select showed that interactive TV can get people through the door, said Bob McGarry, the store's manager. The ski supplies store offered free lift tickets and a free tune-up for ski or snowboard equipment, to be redeemed in-person.

"This is something that holds the customer's attention, gives them the opportunity to get something for free and opens another door for return business because they're actually coming into the store," Mr. McGarry said.

Web-like metrics from TV
The campaigns' results suggest that TV can in fact deliver web-like metrics and interactive opportunities -- and that consumers are willing to use their TVs like computers.

"We've always been saying television is the most powerful form of advertising, but what's taken some of the luster off of that is the rich data and metrics of the web that was never available on television until now," said David Kline, president of Cablevision's ad sales unit Rainbow Advertising Sales Corporation. "When you mix those with the power and impact of TV, advertisers like that and are willing to pay more for that."

"At the moment we don't have the ability to customize too much to ask specific types of consumers if they're interested in this kind of product, so any people who did that literally did it out of genuine interest," he added.

Cablevision didn't put much marketing resources behind Optimum Select to inform viewers of the new opportunity. It ran a few educational 30-second spots in the weeks leading up to the interactive commercials' arrival, then teaser ads before interactive spots themselves to remind viewers they could request coupons and product samples.

Mr. Kline said hundreds of Optimum Select campaigns are in the works for 2010. Other cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable remain cagey on plans for interactive ad opportunities across their full footprints.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How To Use Email As Your Mobile Launch Pad

Brought to you by Wendy Roth

If you haven't yet considered incorporating a mobile channel into your online marketing program, now is the time. The good news is that you don't need to reinvent the marketing wheel if you've decided that 2010 is the year you take the plunge. Your email marketing program is an excellent launching pad to kick off an effective and integrated online campaign.

Mobile and email are natural partners. Mobile channels combined with email marketing can help enhance engagement, grow customer opt-in lists, and maximize audience touch points. However, mobile is not just email on a tiny screen. Don't expect to get success by texting the same message that you now email to your entire database. Messages need to be short, sharp, relevant, and timely.

Mobile messaging also gives you opportunities that email doesn't; you can reach your customers or subscribers quickly wherever they are, at the most optimal time.

Adding SMS to email
If you ever voted for an "American Idol" contestant by text message instead of the toll-free phone number, you've participated in the SMS (short message service) movement.

SMS uses short codes, five or six digits/characters in length, that can be either randomly generated or pre-assigned "vanity" codes. For example, the vanity code "LUVBBW" corresponds to Bath & Body Works' mobile marketing. Such codes are similar to toll-free telephone numbers, response URLs, or automated email addresses. (This FAQ from the Common Short Code Administration of the Wireless Association explains all aspects of short codes.)

Soft-drink and entertainment-based companies broke the SMS ice in the U.S., but retailers are beginning to catch on too. Here are three examples:

Build email lists via mobile: A health insurance company uses billboards and ads in buses to invite commuters to join its healthy living newsletter by texting their email addresses to a short code.
Use offline to build a mobile database: A bath-products retailer prints an invitation on its register receipt that urges customers to sign up via text message for mobile offers and tips.
Use email to promote SMS campaigns: A home-goods retailer invites email subscribers to text a message to its short code in order to sign up for its limited-inventory "deal of the day."
As with email, the invitation should be relevant and benefit-focused. Why should someone give up something as private as a phone number? The invitation must provide the answer, clearly and concisely.

SMS: Not just repackaged email
Going mobile does take planning and preparation, but once you create your program, you can simply modify it for different campaigns. Here's a quick checklist of steps:

1. Create your program. Develop objectives, strategies, and concepts. Decide how you will collect opt-ins and process opt-outs. Create a strategy that maps out which kinds of messages you send and how often, and goals for your program, along with how you will measure success.

2. Obtain short codes from an SMS gateway service provider. Order enough to cover all your needs, from opt-in to opt-out, testing, help, information, and other follow-ups.

3. Get carrier approval for your program. You must have this before you start broadcasting messages. A mobile marketing service provider can do this efficiently for you.

4. Create your promotion plan. Opt-out SMS doesn't exist, so don't go looking for lists of mobile numbers. Instead, use all your channels to promote your SMS program by listing it as an option on your web registration and landing pages, promoting short codes in email, and publishing them in display ads, on packaging, and in broadcast commercials.

5. Create your offer. Don't just repackage your latest email offer. Use mobile's unique characteristics of reach, interactivity, timeliness, and urgency to create campaigns around content entries, voting, polls, surveys, coupons, subscriptions, store locations/hours, product availability, donations, and promotion reminders.

6. Test before you send. Your mobile service provider can help you with this essential step.

7. Measure results. These should correspond to your campaign goals, such as the number of responses, entries, opt-ins, or offers/coupons redeemed.

Finally: Think before you leap
Before you delve too deeply in the mechanics of SMS messaging, consider how mobile messaging integrates with your company's vision, mission, and values.

Also, learn from mistakes. For example, we learned with email that people guard their inboxes and either resent unwanted messages or ignore them. Abuse of the inbox privilege leads to spam complaints, unsubscribes, or inactivity. Mobile phones are equally personal and private. People will resent uninvited messages on their phones even more bitterly than in their inboxes, especially if they have to pay per message or have them counted against monthly quotas.

SMS represents an exciting opportunity for marketers in various industries to reach new customers and enhance relationships with current audiences. Also, when mobile is integrated with other marketing channels such as email, marketers can expect to see enhanced results and increased customer receptiveness.

When done right, it's a win-win for all; the only ones who will lose out are the ones who don't try.

Wendy Roth is the senior manager of training services for Lyris Technologies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mobile Advertising Trends You Can't Ignore

Brought to you by Bob Walczak

The acquisitions of AdMob by Google and, more recently, Quattro Wireless by Apple have sent shockwaves throughout the industry, spotlighting the mobile space as a go-to medium for brands. Let's not kid ourselves: Whenever a big name like Google or Apple gets involved in the industry, it can only help attract more positive attention to the market and to the capabilities mobile advertising provides brands. The acquisition has set the stage for what will be a busy year for the mobile advertising industry in 2010.

Big brands bite
For years the mobile advertising industry has seen companies test the medium to see if it could work with their overall advertising strategies. During those times, we saw a few big-name brands try a campaign or two, but the adoption of mobile advertising still wasn't widespread. Typically, larger brand names stuck with what worked. Whether it was TV, radio, print, or online, larger brands stuck with those tactics because they were still garnering the exposure they were hoping for.

However, with the adoption of the DVR and other recording capabilities, we are now seeing major brands alter their practices to include the mobile medium. Apple and Google have recognized this trend, and by acquiring mobile advertising companies, they have positioned themselves to assist in driving these capabilities for big-name brands. For those larger companies, they now have a company in Google or Apple that they recognize and associate with success and the mobile advertising industry. This will lead to major adoption in the industry as larger brands look to the mobile medium as an avenue to reach their target consumers.

Mobile isn't separate anymore
In the past we have seen the mobile medium as an add-on to a company's advertising efforts. As with any emerging medium, companies needed to test out the capabilities and effectiveness of mobile advertising to see if it could reap the benefits they expect when making an investment. Since those early stages of testing the medium, we have seen brands committing more money to larger campaigns on mobile -- targeting a specific audience type via mobile exclusively. While brands have started to recognize the effectiveness of mobile advertising, it was still a separate component of a company's overall advertising strategy. That is until now.

In 2010, the industry will start to see more bundled digital media buys targeting one overall customer set across multiple digital media -- specifically online and mobile. In this grouping, brands will commit to advertising campaigns across several media under one specific buy. Because of this new tactic, we will also see the hiring of mobile specialists to oversee digital media buys and activities associated with those advertising campaigns.

Measuring success
A key contributor to the success of online advertising was the introduction of metrics and analytics to specifically determine if an online advertising campaign was successful. The introduction of this analysis created a boom in the industry because companies could determine which tactics were working properly and then could alter any strategies to ensure success.

As more and more big-name brands embrace the mobile medium, these companies will also need to make sure that their investments are paying off. In order to accomplish this, companies will need to use true metrics and analytics in order to determine if their mobile advertising strategies are in line with their business goals.

"New-age" ads continue to grow
The industry has started to see this trend emerge over the last year, and with companies continuing to experiment with new ad formats, it is almost inevitable that 2010 will see an increase in the different types of ad formats available.

As more and more consumers buy phones with application capabilities, it makes sense for brands to target those programs with advertising geared toward the type of consumer demographic that the application is targeting. Rich media is another capability that advertisers will employ more and more as phones are able to support streaming video, Flash, and advanced capabilities. These types of ad formats are more interesting to the consumer and enhance a user's experience. This positive experience leads to greater click-through rates and, thus, more success for a brand's mobile advertising campaign.

For the past three to five years, we have heard that this is the year for mobile advertising. However, now more than ever, the mobile advertising industry is in a great position to make great strides that will increase adoption. The spotlight is even brighter on the industry as more big-name brands have joined in on the action, with more soon to join. With improved analytics, mobile specialists, and inclusion in the entire digital media buy, the industry is poised for great success. So, will 2010 be the year for mobile advertising? I think so.

Bob Walczak is CEO of Ringleader Digital.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010: The Year Social Media Comes of Age for Businesses

Brought to you by Sam Brace

Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, LinkedIn. Where are these social media platforms taking us? Will there come a day when information is beamed directly into the cortex of our desired audience? While that seems unlikely, so did the concept of a social networking site like Facebook 10 years ago.

Today, businesses can instantaneously update customers through social media. Ten years ago many of us were still using dial-up Internet service or sending faxes to communicate.

Less Talking, More Doing

This is shaping up to be the year more organizations will pass the “thinking about” stage and start using social media to build awareness, relationships and sales. Campaigns implemented last year will provide solid foundations to build upon.

KRC Research, based in Washington, D.C., found that 88 percent of 200 executives of nonprofits it surveyed experimented with social media in 2009, and 85 percent plan to actively use it in their organizations this year. MarketingSherpa, a research firm specializing in tracking marketing efforts, reports that most industries are increasing their budgets for social media marketing in 2010.

Behind these increases is a booming population of new users of social media. Statistics show that 66 percent of global Internet users have visited social networks and that more have used these sites than traditional e-mail. Facebook grew to more than 300 million users in 2009. Twitter grew by 1,382 percent in February 2009. These sites are where people are gathering and there’s little to indicate they will leave for greener pastures in 2010.

Less Waste, More Targets

Existing social network pastures should prove to be very green through geotagging. This technology enables users to add location data to photographs, videos and websites, which could be valuable to marketers.

Restaurants could make a person’s phone buzz as they walk by, informing them of daily specials. Businesses can reach people by their exact GPS coordinate.

These are just some ways social media will target customers with greater efficiency. Platforms such as Facebook already let communications professionals send messages through advertisements that reach users interests.

Less Convention

Because of its potential, more social media advertising campaigns will be executed in 2010. PepsiCo recently took the plunge, deciding to back out of a long-standing relationship to run commercials for its beverage brands during the Feb. 7 telecast of the Super Bowl.

Instead, the company is shifting its resources to online advertising. PepsiCo official said they did this because research demonstrated customers are more responsive to online sponsorships with a professional football focus.

Although more than 100 million viewers will see Super Bowl TV spots, Pepsi’s move is one that marketers are making to reach a public with ever-changing behaviors.

More Precision

Consumers’ actions and behaviors can be analyzed in ways never thought possible through traditional methods. In the past, the gauge was limited to such things as a newspaper’s circulation.

Now, even small-town newspapers can reach millions, and inexpensive software can show where those readers live and work, how long they stayed on the website, and how many times they interacted with the content. The same applies to analytic software for social media.

So how are marketers measuring social media investments? Third-party Twitter applications, such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, are free and can show how many people clicked on content in tweets. Facebook has a free program on its business pages called Insight that can determine similar values. Other sources are available, too.

This will prove to be an exciting year for social media and the professionals who strategically use these sites to build brand awareness and relationships. The new developments in the medium are sure to come. Adapting to the times and looking forward is virtually certain to be the most effective trend for any perceptive professional.

To read more, check out http://www.azbiz.com.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Email Common Sense That You're Ignoring

Brought to you by Chris Marriott

In conjunction with the calendar flipping over to 2010, email marketers and service providers anticipated a wholesale change in their businesses. This year, the major ISPs -- which account for 60 percent or more of all email addresses in the U.S. -- have sworn to employ engagement as a criterion in routing email. Marketers whose emails sit unopened and unclicked in recipients' mailboxes will find their emails banished to the junk mailbox or perhaps banned outright.

The big ISPs have made similar threats before, but by all accounts, they seem to mean it. However, as of this writing, the ISPs have failed to explain what they mean by engagement.

Of course, marketers cannot expect the ISPs to tell them how to circumvent their own email screening tactics. But the situation brings to mind a common saying among lawyers: Most law is just common sense. For instance, the law forbids stealing because allowing people just to take whatever they wanted from whomever they wanted would lead to societal chaos -- common sense, right? Thinking about the proposed ISP moves as common sense will help email marketers plan for a better future. Whatever the ISPs do, engaging customers serves marketers well.

It's common sense that emails that fail to engage help no one. Inboxes get clogged. Consumers fail to get informed. Most of all, marketers fail to achieve objectives. But what defines engagement?

For years, email marketers used response -- clicks and/or opens -- as the basis for engagement. Response might, in fact, constitute what ISPs consider engagement. After all, they cannot track conversions or other metrics. But why stop there? Marketers should regard the actions of the ISPs as a call to revamp their own perceptions of engagement.

After response, conversions come up most often in the discussion of engagement. Retailers track conversions as a matter of course; it's generally how they make their money. But even marketers who do not make sales directly from email or the site should think about conversions.

In this case, conversion means not only selling, but more broadly any transaction where the consumer exchanges information of some kind for something they value. For instance, when a business-to-business marketer requires contact information in exchange for a white paper, that's conversion. When an auto manufacturer encourages a consumer to configure a car, thus associating a model and options with a cookie, that's conversion. The auto marketer can recognize the same visitor on a later site visit and provide a more customized experience for him or her.

With the ability to link email to web analytics, marketers should also look at how their email marketing drives site behavior. How long do email visitors spend on the site? How often do they visit? What do they do there? Granted, these measures have at least as much to do with the quality of the site experience as with the email, but comparing visitors from email to other visitors should give insight into how the email piques curiosity about the site, another way of looking at engagement.

One glaring weakness in many definitions of engagement comes from a disinterest in changes over time. That is, marketers tend to measure engagement -- however they measure it -- at discrete points in time. As in, "as of this date, X percent of my customers were engaged." A more holistic approach to engagement would involve viewing members' behavior over time. At minimum, this view means counting actions over intervals of a month or more. More sophisticated approaches to measuring behavior over time will involve recency-frequency segmentation or the like -- understanding which audience members return and which do not.

Whatever rubric marketers use to measure engagement, they will no doubt emphasize the need to raise those measures, to make their emails more engaging. Readers of marketing columns such as mine should have learned by now that no silver bullets or magic tricks exist to drive engagement. The approaches that have worked over time will continue to work.

Marketers must listen to their audience, both passively, by observing click patterns, and actively, by employing surveys or preference centers. They must test copy, design, offers, segmentation, and cadence to understand which levers to pull in driving engagement. Most of all, marketers must not stop experimenting with new ideas to capture their audience's fleeting attention.

Whether or not ISPs actually make good on their promises to clamp down on senders who abuse the privilege of a spot in the inbox, marketers will serve themselves -- and their customers -- by concentrating on engagement now. It's just common sense.

Chris Marriott is vice president and global managing director for Acxiom Digital.

Friday, January 8, 2010

3 Ways Reach Rankings Can Mislead You

Brought to you by Julia Casale-Amorim

There are myriad advertisers out there, just as there are millions of products to be advertised. To get the most from this discussion of reach and value, ask yourself a few questions... and for the moment, let's pretend that the internet does not exist.

What kind of an advertiser am I? For instance, is my product one that would appear in tabloids or on late night programming? Is it a product that would be allowed to run during family hour television or on a major radio station?

Where do I want my ads to be seen and why? If in print, what distribution methods would I want to use? Free distribution newspapers, magazine covers, newspaper classifieds, wild-postings? If I used flyers, who would I trust to deliver my message? Commercial flyer delivery companies, high school students? Do I actually care who would be responsible for the delivery? Do I care about the quality of the placement, so long as the ad gets distributed?

There is no shortage of media and methods for ad delivery, each one satisfying a different set of requirements and/or limitations (from budget constraints to the genuine need to sell "snake oil"). Thus, you need to firmly establish your advertising philosophy before you can effectively evaluate your media options. In this business, ignorance is not bliss -- where (and how) your ads appear can communicate a lot about your brand.

Qualification beyond raw reach rankings
Media planners place a lot of weight on monthly ad network reach rankings. While questions surrounding audience reach, page views, and duplication with other networks are typically the first asked on any campaign RFP or vendor RFI, absent are questions pertaining to where that reach actually comes from.

Of course, it's natural to be concerned about audience reach -- does the supplier have the breadth required to connect with your clients' target markets? But, evaluating networks using reach as a primary basis for comparison can be dangerous. The problem is that (at least online) all reach is not created equal. The wrong kind of reach can be acquired at bargain basement pricing when it's purchased in bulk. Quality impressions and quality reach, on the other hand, cannot. Third-party data reports don't differentiate reach on the basis of quality, so a network's reach rank alone is not guaranteed to deliver what you might instinctively think.

Take a look at three lessons that explain why not all reach is created equal. These lessons will help planners better understand where reach can come from, and they challenge the popular view that if a network's reach is inferior to another's, it can't possibly do a better job.

Lesson 1: High reach does not guarantee high quality
The wrong kind of reach can be acquired by virtually anyone, en masse. Interpreted in a silo or as a primary point of qualification, reach is not an effective measure of quality or performance.

Networks can acquire inventory in one of two ways. They can go directly to the source and establish direct working relationships with each of their publishers (more difficult), or they can procure their inventory through third-party sources, allowing them to quickly grow their reach and inventory (easier).

Internally, we use what we refer to as the "apple tree" analogy to discuss the differences in reach among vendors. Network inventory picked directly from the source (the publisher) represents a much different product than network reach procured through the multitude of other means available (e.g., network-to-network trading, blind buys on exchanges, brokered impressions, etc.)

If you go directly to the source (the apple tree), you have the luxury of hand picking the very best apples available using whatever criteria you deem to be most important. You also have the opportunity to leave behind the bruised and otherwise blemished apples, taking home with you only the most ripe and vibrant of the harvest. In this scenario, you have complete control over quality and can guarantee that you have procured the best apples available.

If, on the other hand, your apples are picked and delivered to you by a third-party, you have no control. If your supplier is reputable, you will probably receive quality apples for the most part, but without control there is no guarantee that a bad apple or two won't make it into your bunch. You also have no way of knowing who will end up with the bad apples. And if a bad apple lands the wrong brand on the wrong page, site, or section, you could jeopardize your client's entire media plan.

The only way a vendor can guarantee that the impressions (and reach) it is supplying are the best, and are sure to meet whatever criteria are deemed important, is to select them directly from the publisher. Otherwise, those impressions are being inherited from a supplier, who is two steps away from the tree, at best.

Additional reach can be easily acquired using these "daisy-chaining" tactics, but it's just not the same quality-wise, a fact that is ultimately reflected in the way a campaign performs. Of course, a low reach network does not imply a high-quality reach network. The apple tree analogy merely illustrates why you need to look beyond raw reach numbers, and understand how that reach is derived and whether or not it satisfies your quality standards, to be truly effective in the evaluation of your options.

Why this matters

Without complete control over placement, networks cannot guarantee that they are not exposing their clients to undesirable/low performing "reach" (think below-the-fold or deeply chained "gallery" exposures) -- where is the value in that?

How can a vendor guarantee priority of delivery when it is acquiring inventory through a third-party rather than directly from the source? How can that vendor guarantee that it is getting "the best" inventory from the underlying publisher?

Would any advertiser actually want to reach 100 percent of everyone online and pay for it? What matters most is how consumers are targeted and how and where your ads connect with them.

Ask, "How do my vendors acquire their audience reach?"

Do they procure the leftovers being handed out by other networks/brokers?

Do they have the relationship and degree of control required to identify and secure the most desirable inventory on a site?

Do they procure inventory on a lowest-price basis from exchanges?

From what sites is the vendor's reach derived? Rich, immersive consumer and brand friendly environments? Social media? Can the source be guaranteed? Can it be vetted?

Are the impressions that make up their reach sourced at the beginning of users' browsing sessions or near the end (long tail impressions)?
If you aren't comfortable with the answers you receive, move on. There are 400+ other options available to you.

Lesson 2: Potential vs. actual reach
To date, the reach figures quoted by third-party data providers represent a network's "potential" audience. And potential audience reach is different than actual audience reach. Consider this analogy: A bookstore orders 10 times the quantity of books it actually intends to buy (or is capable of selling) in order to get a bulk discount. At the end of each month, it sends back 90 percent of the books it ordered. The store does this repeatedly, every month, until eventually the book supplier cuts it off.

In this example, the books represent reach, the book supplier represents the publisher, and the bookstore represents the network. The number of books ordered represents the network's "potential reach." The books not returned represent the bookstore's "actual reach."

At some point in the not too distant past there was talk about introducing the concept of "potential reach" into third-party ad network rankings. Rather than assigning a single lump sum reach figure (employed to date) to each network, the figure would instead be segmented as actual reach (or reach that a network actually serviced) and potential reach (the reach that a network had the opportunity to service).

Currently, reach is assigned to an ad network if it has received exposure to an ad impression at some point along the sequence of display. The problem with using this as the criteria for reach assignment is that the mere exposure to an ad impression does not provide any guarantee that the network exposed actually placed a paid advertisement. It only proves that the network had the "potential" to place a paid advertisement.

Why this matters

Looks can be deceiving: You may conclude that a network (as above) is much larger than it actually is if you interpret its audience reach at face value.

Instability: Networks (which amass reach as above) can be subject to substantial fluctuations in supply since they are not contributing significantly to publishers' bottom lines and are therefore vulnerable to displacement. Networks in this category may let you down on that media plan signed six months ago when they realize that they no longer have the inventory to fulfill it because their publishers have moved on.

Ask, "How much of a network's reach is fulfilled and how much is passed on?"

If your network does more passing than filling, its supply (and therefore your media bookings) will be subject to potential instability.

Lesson 3: Why reach diversity matters
Sometimes an old adage says it best: "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket." If you drop it, then you lose them all.

There is no shortage of networks that tout widespread horizontal diversification: 1,000 sites, 5,000 sites, 10,000 sites... but in many cases, the majority of sites that make up these networks are inactive or offer negligible contributions to overall inventory and reach.

If the majority of a network's reach is derived from a handful of large portals and/or large social networking sites (which is true in more cases than you might think!), and something disrupts that network's supply dynamic (e.g., you decide to block a major portal from the network's site list or eliminate all sites containing UGC), clients with bookings on that network may experience massive variations in campaign delivery.

Why this matters

High vulnerability: Faced with the potential of under-delivery, networks in this situation may feel compelled to quietly "fill" your buy with un-optimized third-party inventory -- just to uphold their booking commitments.

Higher probability of reach duplication: You may be buying inventory from the same large portals that your key networks are primarily composed of.
If your plan includes networks that lack reach diversity, you're at greater risk of encountering a disruption to your campaign's delivery at some point in time.

Ask, "How diversified is the network's supply of impressions and reach?

What percent of the network's impressions come from the web's three largest portals?

What percent of the network's impressions come from social media properties?

How many of the network's "sites" actively contribute impressions (and reach) to the network?

In summary and to answer the ever-popular question, "Why would I buy from a lower reach network?" I leave you with the following:

Reach is a useful tool when you look beyond the figure itself and analyze each network's individual sourcing techniques and composition. What you find may surprise you. In some cases, high reach may also indicate high risk. In other cases, low reach may indicate high quality. You need to know how to spot the fundamental differences in reach composition that make each network unique, and to do so, you need to know what questions to ask. Ultimately it's your clients' budgets on the line, and your reputation.

Julia Casale-Amorim is CMO at Casale Media.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Email Marketing: New Devices Mean New Tactics

Increasingly email marketing messages are being read on screens other than the 19-24 inch-sized monitor of a typical desktop. Marketers now have to take into account the growing number of people who check email via smartphone - which have screens typically sized at 2-4 inches. (via Direct Marketing Association).

With the advent of tablet computers - thanks to Apple and now Microsoft and HP - as well as the continued growth of e-readers and netbooks, email marketers can expect the 20% of recipients who now view their messages on smartphones to grow even more to include these other devices.

Transitioning to this multi-device world will require equal parts intuitiveness about what people are willing to read on smaller screens and a technical understanding of how the messages appear on these devices.

Email Ergonomics

For the former, there is a surprising wealth of statistical data. For instance, the DMA presentation notes that people reading emails from smartphones typically read about half an inch to an inch away from the screen, with their heads down, leaning forward.

An e-reader user, by contrast, will have the device half an inch to an inch and a half away, reading with his or her head down and leaning back. That is also true with a netbook; however a laptop user will be sitting two to three inches away with his head up, leaning forward.

Tech Issues

Email marketers also face different tech challenges when their messages are opened on mobile devices (via DM News) Since mobile e-mail generally redirects messages from the e-mail server, it's impossible to determine whether recipients have read an e-mail on a mobile device or in the e-mail client.

Mobile devices generally turn off images, making open rates difficult to track. Also, traditional tracking methods, including web analytics providers and the ESP, don't track mobile browsers.

Tactics to keep in mind include:

Keep images - as well as email file sizes - to a minimum.
Test for both traditional and mobile email.
Build both an HTML version and an xHTML, or mobile-friendly, version of the e-mail to host on a web page.
Subject lines still count.

For more information, please visit marketingvox.com.