Archive Page 2

Audience and Context. And not or.

Been quiet on the blog front recently.  Too much to do and so much of what I would have blogged about a year ago I put out on Twitter and go on with my day.  Blog posts are increasingly where I think through things.  Given the pace of change (dare we call it progress?) there is a lot to think through.  One such topic, the move from contextual advertising to audience targeting.

At the recent IAB Leadership Conference, Tolman Geoffs suggested (see slide 14) that there was a fundamental shift from context to audience buying online.  And, given the amount of data available, the kinds of audience targeting available is simply amazing.   I recently was looking at camera lenses on two sites.  For about four days following that online shopping excursion, I was hit by 20 – 30 different sessions where the exact products I was researching were featured in ads on sites that had nothing to do with photography.  At FM we work with a variety of partners that help us target specific demographic segments through a variety of technologies.  We receive an RFP looking to target women 18 -24 years old, we can deliver that target with virtually no waste.

The implications of a move in this direction could be significant.  Huge segments of the publishing would shift.  Perhaps the most exposed market would be B2B publishers.  B2B content is very expensive and the number of people interested in targeted B2B content is relatively small.  But every B2B target is also a general consumer.  If context no longer matters, it is only a matter of time before advertisers could target CFOs on news, gaming, and music sites effectively.  The expensive content that fueled at B2B publishers business wouldn’t be profitable in a world that values audience over context.  (I’m not suggesting this is the case simply that this is a logical extension of the audience targeting trend.)

But is audience truly replacing context as the primary driver for web advertising?

Context does matter.  Not only to the B2B advertiser but to the advertiser that cares about establishing and reinforcing a brand.  It is not enough to simply reach a target, an advertiser needs to connect with their target.  For down funnel activity where re-targeting is the name of the game, audience targeting might be enough (it is probably cheaper for B&H Photo to reach me on a news site than on a photography site.)  For people working to create demand rather than fulfill, context is still extremely important.

Some of the audience targeting available today could seriously threaten search advertising or banner ads using context to target a customer.  But there is something really powerful about a very deliberate and high impact advertising execution that is clearly place on a specific site.  A brand’s intentional targeting of a specific audience congregating around a specific content experience differentiates a brand.

What is really happening?  The technology dominated online ad industry is evolving to build technology that delivers marketers an improved version of what they have bought for decades.  Creating traffic around context is one thing.  Strong SEO can deliver traffic to context. Generating large collections of highly valued demographics is quite another.  Doing both is where the real premium lies.

It is an and discussion, not an or.

The bar is raised again.

Social media followers are your new Opt-in E-mail lists

For much of the early 2000s I spent my life using and selling e-mail newsletters.  My company at the time, TechRepublic, had amassed millions of e-mail addresses of tech professionals of all stripes who had requested regular newsletters on specific topics in their inboxes.  They worked REALLY well for driving site traffic and as an advertising vehicle.

TechRepublic wasn’t alone.  Publishers from all sorts of markets invented better mousetraps for collecting e-mail lists and the practice of e-mail marketing became a big business very quickly.  Many marketers followed suit accumulating opt-in lists that enable regular access to a potential customers inbox.

The focus within the marketing community on Facebook and Twitter followers strikes me as very, very similar.  A brand or publisher with a large Twitter following can drive their followers to virtually anywhere.  A good Facebook fan page can drive commerce, build brand affinity, entertain and enlighten a customer/fan, and become a destination in its own right where all things (good or bad) can be discussed.

Let’s hope marketers do a better of treating their Facebook and Twitter followers than they do (generally) their e-mail opt-ins.  Just like the best e-mail marketers, the most effective social media marketers will treat these 0pt-in relationships like a publisher.  They will provide meaningful content and create a cadence for communication that their followers will come to expect.  They will personify their brand and use these communications to move their customers while informing.  In short, they will treat this customer access as a rare and valuable asset rather than a tool to be exploited.

Most of the e-mails manually categorized as SPAM aren’t (technically) SPAM.  It is bad e-mail marketing that people call SPAM.  The new social media equivalents are easier to leave and the information options for your customer are richer than ever before.  Let’s all learn from the mistakes of bad e-mail marketing and emulate the best marketers in the medium.

It’s the Business Model. Not the Readership.

As Gourmet Magazine’s closing sinks in, I’m again struck by the challenges facing print publishers as they work to transform their business to a more digital future.  There are some key pivot points that need to be addressed and the successful cross platform publishers navigate these pivot points much better than the typical print or broadcast publisher working to put digital at the center of its business.  They are:

Reader to page views: Print monetizes readers (subscribers plus newsstand.)  Digital typically sells page views.  While a site with more unique visitors matching a particular target will fare better than a smaller site, the true way to deliver on your obligations to an advertiser is through page views.

Engagement: A digital business needs to earn page views on an hourly basis.  A loyal reader must return when you need them. A healthy print operation gets paid for engagement in advance.  That engagement is a subscription or purchase of an issue at a newsstand.  What does this mean?  Online publishers need to earn their paycheck on a continual basis rather than on a sporadic basis.  That leads me to the next fundamental difference – how you get paid.

Content is not directly related to sales: The first thing a print publisher does when sales are weak is cut the folio.  If sales are stronger than expected you add a folio.  There are other levers available (ad to edit ratio being the primary one) but the layout and editorial planning for a print publication is directly correlated to the ad space sold for that issue.  In other words, content costs are connected to sales.  Content is expensive.  In digital, there is no direct connection between content and sales.  Most publishers will see increased page views when they increase content production but the content production is divorced from sales.  A successful digital publisher finds a way to monetize what they produce (or some profitable %) rather than make what they sell.

And vs. Or: Digital is a frictionless medium.  I can go from site to site with very little effort.  In print, most readers made choices and content consumption is limited based on those choices.  I choose Gourmet OR Bon Appétit.  I choose Time or Newsweek.  In digital there is no choice necessary.  Publishers need to grab more time rather than a reader over another reader.

I don’t mean to suggest that print publishing is easy or that print publishers don’t “get” digital.  I simply suggest that the dynamics of the two platforms aren’t readily discussed.  What’s more, the surprise over Gourmet’s closing and the many misinformed tirades that appeared following the announcement miss the fundamental business model challenge for successful print (and broadcast) media organizations.

Media was Always Social. Scale is what’s changed.

Being in the media field I’m inundated with content discussing Social Media.  Social this.  Social that.  Perhaps this is why Ad Age’s Matt Jones’ article “Why I Hate Social Media” grabbed my attention.  Here is an excerpt:

People are interesting. Ideas are interesting. Stories are interesting. Real stuff is interesting. Brands are interesting (or, at least, some of them are). Even ads can be interesting. But media? Media just connects those things. It’s a conduit. Media is not interesting. Not even the “social” kind.

He’s right of course.  The only people who really care about the developments in social media are the people making the developments.  Yet the mainstream media, me and my peers, and brand marketers everywhere seem to perpetually be drawn to the discussion of the thing rather than how to make people, ideas, and stories interesting.

Part of the problem is media insiders DO find these stories interesting.  The collapse of long revered brands, the rise of other brands, the guerilla warfare of platforms looking to outsmart their competitors IS interesting on one level.

The problem is it creates an artificial distinction between US and THEM.  To debate the validity and longterm viability or Twitter misses the fact that Twitter’s long term existence doesn’t really matter as much as the ability to share, distribute, and openly harness an API to create meaningful applications which will undoubtably continue regardless of Twitter’s future.

Media hasn’t become social.  It always was.  I talked about the latest Dukes of Hazzard episode with anyone who would listen in 1980.  My mother sent me newspaper clippings all the through my college career (for example – don’t use Bean0, it is made with penicillin! [I’m alergic.]) The difference now is that media is social with SCALE.

Advertising trained the social out of marketers

011206 Smoking Bicycle LargeI was just at a conference for PR/communications/advertising educators on new media hosted by Edelman.  The exchange was lively and the sessions were really strong and prompted the thinking that follows.  That said, please understand I am  still thinking this through.

For decades, PR and advertising classes taught people how to broadcast.  This required skills that took natural communication and repurposed it for a mass medium.  In many respects marketers had to train the social OUT of their communications.  The focus was on how to communicate with a group that can’t talk back.  Now, educators have students who understand the latest (mostly social) platforms as well as anyone.  The skill the students (and all of us) now need to learn revolve around how to make large causes, companies, and brands conversational in response to the new technologies that permit conversations at scale.

Who were the great marketers of previous centuries?  In many cases, the great marketers were people who could capture the attention of a crowd and jump start conversation and action.  Until relatively recently (say 120 years ago,) successful new businesses engaged a crowd in a new and meaningful in the streets of each and every town.  Or they inspired action through prose.  Politicians relied almost exclusively these two tools to get elected or to inspire legislation.  They went on tours through their district/state/country to get their message out and then relied on newspapers to take that message to people who couldn’t attend.  Events like the World’s Fairs, city markets, etc attracted crowds of people to see and experience new ideas and concepts.  From those hubs, people took the ideas and spread them to their social graph.

Other successful marketers were able to inspire others to spread their ideas and products for them.  Whether paid or volunteer, the ability to mobilize a crowd of people was an essential component to many of the great businesses of the past. Marketing was about taking the message viral.

Much of the media innovation that has occurred in the past 300 years has created efficiencies in the delivery of a message.  Newspapers and Magazines provided effective ways to spread a message to people asynchronously.  Radio and TV allowed people to leverage their communication skills to ever larger groups of people.  As this happened, marketing became less social.

We now enter a time where technology demands marketers relearn the skills we marketing professionals have largely trained out of ourselves due to the requirements of scale.  Successful marketers must harness groups of volunteers to spread their message digitally and in person.  Marketers can choose to spread ideas through open platforms rather than push them down closed and expensive distribution channels.   You can buy reach, you can earn reach, and in most cases you do both.

Does this resonate?  I will admit it is not yet a firmly held conviction but the seed of a thought that feels right to me.  What am I missing?

Is Twitter a fad? The five stages of web adoption.

Great post from friend and co-worker James Gross here. In the post he suggests that the Twitter/fad question may remain open but not the question about microblogging.  Microblogging and open interfaces are now sown into the web’s fabric.
See a number of parallels to blogging here.  Let’s call it the 5 stages of web adoption:
1.  This is crazy.  For blogs, it was a few people blogging about their entire life.  It was a fringe activity.

2.  This is a real tool but only for “web elite.” Blogs became a powerful tool for discussing and sharing ideas within the web community.  It became an “inside baseball” kind of activity.

3.  Adoption by forward looking personalities.  A rock star here.  A model there.  A TV show. Oprah?  This is where the people who discovered and embraced the tool lament the fact that it has “jumped the shark” and has lost the purity and value it once had.

4.  A necessary part of every site, marketing strategy, etc.  If you aren’t using it you need to get going.

5.  Discussion is over (but an integral part of the new web.)  Last year’s model.

Like so many new concepts/objects, the value of that object is exaggerated at each phase.  At first, the concept has more potential than people realize.  As it grows, the value is over exaggerated.  As it reaches acceptance and mainstream use, it falls from favor and is often derided unnecessarily (i.e. “Blogs are so last year…” )

I really like James’ thinking on Twitter in this whole discussion.  It really isn’t about Twitter it is about what Twitter does.  While there may be questions over Twitter’s long term prospects, I think micro-blogging is about to move from a platform for forward looking personalities and insiders into a necessary part of every web strategy.  For everyone inside the beltway, that is the cue to talk about how Twitter is so last year and look for the new, new thing.

Brand Marketers – FIX YOUR WEB SITES!

I work with advertising agencies and brand marketers every day.  Through that work I encounter a huge number of smart and talented marketers.  I say that not to kiss the ring of my customers (BTW, to all my customers thank you for your continued business) but to illustrate the biggest issue in online brand marketing today:

Bad Websites.

If you are in my business, you will know what I’m talking about.   You meet with smart energized business people who will talk about the benefits of the product they sell, the attributes of their brand, the reasons they customers love (or should) the product passionately and convincingly.  Then you go to their product’s web site and it doesn’t do half the job they just did.  And they will tell you that.

“Our website doesn’t really tell the story the way we’d like it to.”

“I didn’t do the website _______ did and I feel they missed the point.”

If you have a website, you are a publisher.  Your site can invite people to learn more, turn people off, convince them to buy a product, take an action, etc.  This can’t be someone else’s job.  If you are in charge of a brand, it is your job. You don’t have to do it, you have to make sure it gets done.

One last thought on this topic – bad websites hinder the performance of online advertising.  Why are click through rates declining?  Because people don’t expect the experience on the other side of the click to be worthwhile.