Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nobody gets Twitter

"Nobody gets Twitter." This was the opinion of Evan Williams, Twitter cofounder and chairman. during an interview in December 2008.

He confirmed what is apparent to many of us and true for most of us - the value of Twitter is not self-evident. With use you start to get the hang of it and at some point the light bulb goes on. His observation is not restricted to Twitter or social media or even technology, though tech examples seem particularly easy to find.

First time users of word processors and spread sheets not to mention such “time savers” as content management systems are usually thwarted by their first attempts to use these technologies. “Easy to use” is easy to say. The same applies to myriads of products from digital video recorders to kitchen appliances.

I once did some field research for a maker of high end appliances. My in home investigations showed customers struggled mightily just to set them up. The manufacturer responded by including an instructional video. The video proved to be so unhelpful, that it increased the return rate. Apparently it convinced customers that the product was too difficult for home use.

Even the fabled iPhone is sufficiently non-intuitive that Apple sells supplemental training. Indeed there is a healthy market on how to use iPhone books – a search Amazon.com’s book section for “ iPhone” returns 1,613 results.

It’s not just the products. Suppliers compound the problem with opaque instruction manuals (if any at all); unsupportive product support (what easier expense to cut in tough times); and compounds these with marketing communications, which fail to communicate.

Making stuff, whether on line systems or garden tools, easier to figure out isn’t easy. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. If I were, helping customers, readers, or partners get it might be one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The $0 Gift Card

A-list blogger Chris Brogan in is involved in a controversy.

Unlike his usual commentary on marketing and media, Chris blogged about shopping at Kmart. On the shopping trip, he used a $500 gift card provided by Izea, a marketing agency retained by Kmart.

Chris began his post by stating that it was sponsored by Izea, though it was not clear that the sponsorship was his getting the $500 card.

Sponsored posts aren’t new. For example an influential blogger may be given a computer or appliance to review. Many journalists would hold this compromises independence and so decline gifts or any sort. Most bloggers, on the hand, don’t have sponsoring organizations to buy them products. They may advocate a standard of full disclosure of any gifts or compensation.

Chris could have visited Kmart without spending $500 or indeed anything at all (unlike, say, a restaurant review). His post would have been different, but it could have been done with a $0 gift card.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fish Where The Fish Are

About seven million iPhones and six million Balckberrys were sold in the third quarter of 2008. To this add a million and a half Android phones and growing “smart phone” (the dumb phone begin the one you currently have) sales from Sangsung and LG and you have a significant number accessing the online world not from the desktop or laptop but the palmtop.

How are you going to attract and retain these potential customers? You might start by trying to access your current online presence – email newsletters, web site, blog etc. – from a handset. Chances are their appearance and usability range from ungainly to unreadable. Your fancy design work just gets in the way.

Some web sites really get mobile. Google.com, for example, apparently senses that you’re coming from a mobile browser and serves a page formatted for a phone. This is the exception. A simpler, though workable, approach is to have a mobile presence with a different URL.

A common practice is to use the subdomain name m. For example,
m.cnn.com or m.flickr.com take you to versions of the parent site, which are much more readable on very small screen. Alternatively, some firms have created sibling web sites with the new top level domain .mobi. Working examples include time.mobi, msn.mobi, fox.mobi, hertz.mobi and zagat.mobi. Other attempts such as businessweek.mobi were less readable on my iPhone as well as having some problematic links.

For sites requiring more interactivity, special client software may be needed. For example, the full functionally of Twitter is not available through m.twitter.com, though I suspect it could be. Instead you need special client applications such as Twiterfon and Twitterberry.

What’s an over worked marketer to do? Until you can get a site designed for mobile The exercise of distilling your message, format, and content for a simplified handheld site might be just what makes your brand or products standout from the usual suspects.

Monday, December 01, 2008

When The Client Doesn’t Get It

Twitter, is a light weight online service. It is limited, like text messaging, to messages of 140 characters (called Twitters or Tweets). It has the potential to afford rapid two way messaging either broadcast or personalized conversations among customers and partners.

In two years Twitter has grown from nothing to an estimated six million registered users. Other estimates are half of that. Whatever the actual number, it has moved beyond technologists and early adopters and is mentioned in mainstream publications such ad Fortune, Business Week and the Wall St. Journal. Twitter has become a channel in its own right.

The service is free to both individual and corporate users and can be accessed through the Web, mobile phones, or computer software. The potential is there to inform, intervene, monitor and connect with far less overhead and start up costs than email, web, blogging, Facebook, or other social marketing tactics. Its rapid response and low bandwidth make among the ost immediate and compelling of a new crop of mobile applications.

Yet when I suggest Twitter to marketers, who are not already users, their responses range from indifference to rejection. They are seldom even interested in trying it. Why is this?
They ask for clarification - so, what is it? And that’s the problem. It has been described as:
  • Light weight social networking
  • Micro-blogging
  • Instant messaging
  • Many to many texting

Visiting Twitters home page and viewing the torrent of passing traffic isn’t compelling. Twitter messages, they can indeed seem like self absorbed babbling.
  • It doesn’t fit well in any established category
  • It seems at least as much abused as well used
  • It demands creativity and a degree of innovation from its users. Success will require experimentation and evaluation
  • It has the danger to degenerate into online drivel
  • Good business cases and “best practices” are just starting to emerge
Twitter’s business model has yet to be developed. It has yet to figure out how to make money. At present, that’s more Twitter’s problem than yours; but you don’t want to invest thought an effort into a medium if it is not like to stay around.

Our old friend ROI is hard to measure. Actually the investment in a Twitter campaign or marketing program can be trivial - no money and Much less effort than say a blogging or Facebook strategy. However it will take some thought, time, and inspiration. It you start a Twitter conversation, be prepared to maintain it.

Twitter is, of course, just one of many media. It has been used successfully by Barack Obama, but less so by Hillary Clinton, and still less by John McCain (based on followers and traffic). Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts use Twitter; Peets Coffee, Folgers, Maxwell House and many others in the category appear not to. Dell and HP use it; Lenovo, Toshiba, and Sony don’t.

Among marketers, technologists, and some media cognoscenti Twitter is cool. This of course is no reason to use it.

What to do:

See if your firm, industry, products or issues are actively discussed on Twitter by searching at search.twitter.com.

Track and follow discussions of those influential in your industry.
Respond, when you have something to contribute.

Even Twitter fans admit it may take some getting used to. It looks quite different after using it for a week or two.

Are a significant number of your customers, or those who might influence your customers using Twitter. If you don’t know, you should to try to.

If they do, Twitter is worth a try. You may gain valuable market insight, test a concept, or launch a guerilla promotion campaign.

Otherwise, you would do better to reach prospects where they are through media they are acquainted with. Leave the cool to someone with venture capital to burn. Even if you’re sure Twitter could be a useful part of the marketing mix, let it go. In the words of the late LL Bean, who left no opinion of Twitter, “Nobody ever won an argument with a customer.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ROI Is Dead — Long Live ROI

"Some things that count can't be counted;
some things that can be counted don't count" – attributed to Einstein

MBAs, accountants, financial analysts, and many others have been trained to evaluate activities by their Return on Investment (ROI). This has often been honored but ignored. Particularly in marketing initiatives such as mass media advertising. In this case, the often large expenditure is either accepted of faith or evaluated against questionable criteria such as recall.

The issue of ROI returns when asking questions such as should you mount social media initiatives such as blogs, wikis, or a presence on Twitter. The ROI question was prominent at this mornings Social Media Breakfast. The good folks at HubSpot, have provided a video of the talks.

A broader and I think more appropriate question is what is the value of a social media (or any other program)? This begs two kinds of questions – relating to benefits and costs. Some authorities such as David Scott
Wish to finesse the question entirely. At a recent seminar I attended, he asked “what’s the ROI of putting on your pants?”

I think the question or something like it deserves an answer and you should expect it to be asked.

There are a variety of conventional and emerging ways of tracking traffic, repeat visitors, time visiting, mentions, searches, etc. Of course, it always pays to ask customers how they found you. In aggregate these are more comprehensive than measures of traditional advertising, but not as compelling as measures of direct response advertising.

Costs for new media can and generally be far lower than traditional media. A viral video on YouTube need not and generally should not have the same lavish production values or costs as that for a 30 second prime time spot. The key to mew media success is rapid experimentation with low cost programs. Low cost does not mean free. The person who blogs, follows twitter, maintains your Facebook page, etc. could always be doing something else. Managers will always have to use judgment. Reasonably designed tests of social media should be cheap enough that they approach the Nike test of “just do it”.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marketer Of The Year

Marketing publication, Advertising Age, recently chose its 2008 marketer of the year. Finalists included such familiar and prodigious brands as Apple, Nike, and, for its turnaround, Coors. Accomplished as the contestants were, the winner overshadowed them. It grew his brand from obscurity to ubiquitous name recognition in the US and wide recognition globally.

We could dismiss Ad Age’s choice. What cannot be dismissed are the accomplishments of this marketer.

  • The product rose to category dominance over a dozen competitors, many of which were initially better known and funded.
  • A self financing MARCOM budget exceeding half a billion dollars
  • A dominant market share of 53% with November sales exceeding 65 million units.
  • A devoted group of product fans and evangelists.
  • A multi-channel affiliate network.
  • Integrated inbound and outbound marketing campaigns through families of web sites, blogs, text messages, newsletters and email. Online media were matched with massive national and locally targeted TV advertising (this may have appealed to Ad Age). Paid media coverage was dwarfed by news coverage of product development and launch.
  • Leading in every age category except for those 65 and over.
  • Mastery of new media, word of mouth and viral marketing as shown by having more than:
    • One hundred thousand followers on Twitter
    • 150,000 results on Flickr
    • 900,000 results on MySpace
    • 3 million supporters on Facebook
    • 400,000 videos on YouTube
    • 90 million results on Google
This brand is still in the early stages of its life cycle.

If you haven't guessed already, the marketer of the year is Barack Obama

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Crunchy Time — Will User Generated Commercials make The Superbowl a Winner?

The Superbowl does deliver a mass audience. Nielsen estimates that TV audiences for the Superbowl game have been on the order of 90 million per game for the past decade. As in many other cases, size may not be decisive.

As regular readers of this blog may remember, I have a low opinion of advertising on mass events such as the Superbowl. They are expensive and have not been shown to be effective. Their ROI would be small, if their results were measurable at all. It is more reasonable to look at these campaigns as boondoggles. Corporate execs and key clients have a fun weekend at someone else’s expense.

An interesting case is Doritos, one of Frito-Lay’s chip brands. Not only does Doritos want you to consume more of its junk food, it also invites you to make a commercial.

There are already quite a few do it yourself video contests from Apple’s Insomnia Film Festival to freecreditrepost.com lip synch contest. Doritos differentiates its contest by offering the winning commercial to be shown during the 2009 Super Bowl and with a top prize of $ 1 million – not bad for a user generated 30 second spot. A reading of the contest rules shows that Doritos is likely to pay only $ 25,000 and a trip to the game.

Social media introduce another dimension. Their marginal cost of redirected media, including Superbowl ads, can be very small. With user produced ads, Doritos will save a bundle on creative and production costs and generate a lot of customer input. If the winning campaign goes viral in a significant way it will extend reach and frequency beyond those who saw the game and may or may not have seen the commercial.

ROI or not, the Superbowl and the ads which make it possible, will be around for a while. For those advertisers, going viral and employing user generated content should at least allow for an extra point conversion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Driving Into A Ditch

Hertz car rental joins Alamo, Enterprise, and National in raising rental by about 10%. Hmmm, we are in a recession, both business and consumer travel are decreasing. The cost of new vehicles of the type bought by rental companies are also falling as Detroit tries to unload its products.

Let's not accuse the (in this case) car rental industry of being overly alert. According to today's Wall St. Journal (10/29/08, p D5) other companies are "...going to wait and see what competitors do and then consider raising rates..."

This could be an opportune time to increase share and loyalty by keeping prices level. Speak to your customers concerns about the economy. Social networking programs would be particularly cost effective here. If your competition wishes to drive into a ditch in tandem, for example, by increasing prices at the wrong time - so much the better.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And The Real Winner Is...

This November Fourth, the most expensive product launch in history will end.

The campaign has been interesting to practitioners of non-traditional media of all political persuasions. Blogs, webinars, Tweets, ‘zines, established social networks such as Facebook, as well as special purpose online communities have enabled even obscure aspirants to become contenders. For example, new media enhanced and extended the candidacy of Ron Paul. With them, he could mount a boot-strap campaign becoming better known and then raising more funds in an increasing cycle.

There has been a marked difference in effort and effectiveness of employing new media among the candidates. Obama’s campaign has been far more active and effective than McCain’s. This has propelled Obama’s advantage in fund raising and via social-networking increased his online coverage versus that of McCain.

Obama has raised over $600 million and McCain more than $ 350 million[1]. What can you do with such a marketing budget? New media are so effective and efficient, that it would be really hard to spend it in that way. Thus the campaigns are buying huge amounts of airtime. This leads to the ironic result that the real winners of 2008 are old media.

[1] There are a number of other active candidates, such as Ralph Nader. According to Federal Elections Commission data, total amount raised by all other candidates is less than 0.5% of what McCain and Obama have raised.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Going Viral

As marketers, we usually have pay to say or show something. So we have budgets for advertising, promotion, PR, events, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could get others to do this for us. Not only would this amplify the reach or our message, it would increase its credibility. Those who spread our message are to some extent recommending us. Here’s where viral marketing comes it.

Viral marketing is not new (what in marketing is?), but new technologies make easier and can increase its impact. In addition to email, we have blogs, social networks, Tweets, and content sharing sites. They have the potential to launch an epidemic, which distributes our content farther and wider than we could, even if we had the budgets we wanted. It may be the latest embodiment of our eternal quest for the free lunch.

In its simplest form this means creating some communication so interesting, irritating, or attention grabbing that people will send it unsolicited and unpaid to friends and colleagues. If each recipient sends to multiple associates, you can get a hypergrowth, which resembles an epidemic hence the term viral.

Perhaps the best single example of a viral medium is YouTube. It is built to make sharing quick, easy, and free. Of course, this guarantees nothing. YouTube has not stated how many videos it hosts. Estimates are on the order of 100 million. If all you do is upload, an audience will probably not come.

Going viral is a long shot. As always, start with content. When creating something, whether for a local 30 second spot, a trade show, or a sales conference think about how it could be used or adapted as a viral communication. Reuse and mashups should be encouraged.

Marketing consultant and author David Meerman Scott cited the case of the Cadbury Gorilla http:// at the recent New Marketing Summit. David relates that Cadbury was able to reuse an existing commercial to the tune of over 3 million views on YouTube. The epidemic didn’t stop there. This video has spawned more than a dozen derivative videos, many of which have been viewed a substantial number of times. So there is a significant echo of the original message.

The video has no call to action – Cadbury can’t tell how many more chocolate bars it sold. The ROI is thus unknown. This could be a problem, but the cost of the program is negligible. In this case it amounts to the effort of monitoring viewership, links and references to the videos and to Cadbury itself.

To see what types of content are watching and more importantly sharing, consult video.google.com/videoranking

Not sure how viral fits your message and strategy or are generally uneasy about video production, you might wish to get started promoting something else. A number of firms are hosting contests. Draft a 30 to 60 second script or an idea on which to improvise and grab your home video camera. We hope to feature your video in an upcoming post.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gary V

I had the chance to spend some tome today with that New Media force of nature — Gary Vaynerchuk. For those, who haven’t seen him, Gary is a dynamic and passionate speaker. Witness, for example, his keynote performance at the recent MyWeb 2.0 conference (note: contains some strong language). But there's a key difference between Gary and a number of prominent business speakers — not only can he talk the talk, he has also launched and grown successful businesses and recently published a commendable no nonsense book on enjoying wine.

How does he do it? More important, what can we as marketers do — not to be clones of Gary — to grow our own brands and products?

As he tells it, he grows community. He uses tools such as blogs, Tweeter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube and SEO/SEM. It’s not the tools per se, but how he uses them. He is online to listen, learn, contribute. This is not just feel good marketing. It’s ROI driven and embraces measurable media such as Google AdWords over conventional pay and pray media buys.

How does this busy entrepreneur spend his time? "I read and respond to blog comments, hang out on social network groups where my customers go, and (at least try to) answer all of my email."

How have you connected with your customers today?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Not Fulfilling

It usually takes a lot of work to turn a prospect into a first time buyer, let alone a customer. After all of that, why do so many organizations drop the ball at the one yard line and fail to properly fulfill the order?

Cases in point:

In the current (2008) Presidential Campaign, MoveOn.org is soliciting interest by offering free Barack Obama stickers and buttons on various web sites and search advertising. Curiously, especially for the late stages when the campaign is in high gear, the buttons come with the qualification that they will take 4 to 6 weeks to arrive. More curious, is that at the time of this posts, 10 weeks, they still haven’t arrived (If they ever do, we’ll update this posting). Neither the McCain campaign nor the Republican National Committee appear to offer anything for free, so we couldn’t go a comparable test. Clearly non-delivered buttons are not influencing undecided voters.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation, created a lot of interest and buzz, when it announced its initiative to provide cheap portable computers to children in developing countries. Its $100 computer subsequently became its $200 computer, which cost $ 400 in the US, because a buyer had to donate the value of one computer to get the second one for himself. Regardless of the price, a significant number of the computers, were frequently lost, shipped to the wrong address, or simply not delivered. OLPC’s reputation and donations suffered. (They have formally acknowledged that fulfillment is not their competence and are outsourcing this to Amazon.com.)

All of us could add to this list. What gives? From our work with direct mail catalog merchants, we’ve seen that packing, shipping, tracking, taking returns, not to mention managing inventory, are demanding yet unglamorous. When fulfillment works, we seldom reward or even acknowledge it. On my wall calendar, October 22 is unclaimed. Perhaps we can make it National Celebrate Fulfillment Day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Off-Web Webcast

When is a webcast not a webcast? Webcasts - whether videos, interactive presentations, or some other form of multimedia - are usually available to anyone with an Internet connection. They are typically “free” as long as the viewer is willing to fill out a registration form. Even though “free”, the challenge is usually to attract an audience, not mention retaining them for the length of the webcast.

Novelist Philip Roth will discuss his latest book, Indignation, in a webcast this week (7 pm, EDT, Tuesday September 16th). In my opinion, Mr. Roth is a considerable talker as well as writer, so this should be worth viewing. Yet you won’t be able to watch from your home or office computer. The event is a virtual book tour, which will take place simultaneously on the books publication date. This web cast will be private and can only be seen in fifty book stores around the country. The online world and virtual book stores, most noticeably amazon.com are not on the tour.

As with, for example, in store parties for the latest release of Harry Potter, this is an attempt to make the real world more interesting than the virtual and substitute the community of a live audience (ironically for a virtual event) for the community of a social network.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Why the Sour Face Gerry?

Microsoft’s new $300 million campaign will be hard to miss. Don’t watch much TV, the ads will be on the net. You can catch them on web properties of MSN as well as YouTube.

The commercials star Gerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. As such they are newsworthy and get far more exposure than Microsoft has paid for. So far so good, but what is the message, the positioning or even the emotion Microsoft is trying to convey?

As humor, the spot is uneven. Some the dialog such as the parking lot scene where Gerry gushes a bit too reverently about mind melding of Gates’ “Jupiter sized brain” goes nowhere. In contrast to his campaign for American Express, Seinfeld seems a bit out of form.

Microsoft has long been identified with Gates, but the commercials come just as he is leaving active management of the company. Possibly it is an attempt to humanize Microsoft, often referred to by competitors and customers alike as “the evil empire”. The richest man in America is just as cheap as the rest of us, who buy shoes at a mall outlet.

Are you felling better about the Microsoft brand already?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Fifth P

Marketing text books write of the the marketing mix of four Ps. These are usually specified as product, price, place, and promotion. A fifth P belongs to this framework - passion. It or its lack often determines marketing success. A vivid though unusual case of this is given in the current movie Man on Wire.

The film chronicles acrobat Philippe Petit as he recruited, planned, organized, and ultimately succeeded at staging an event - walking on a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center.

Most such efforts, like most new products fail. What is so vivid is how Petit overcame the usual list of insurmountable obstacles by infecting the entire team with his own passion and optimism.

This contrasts painfully with the glum feelings and gallows humor we sometimes find around ailing products. Why should a customer want a product, which you or your staff can’t be passionate about?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Texting of a President 2008

The title draws from that of a book about political marketing – The Selling of a President 1968. That books author, Joe McGinnis, was upset not just with Richard Nixon (about who you can make your own judgments), but with the notion of candidates as products. Products to be marketed at that.

The candidate as product is no longer novel or controversial. Yet despite the record expenditures and length of this presidential campaign, little interesting marketing has appeared in the 2008 campaign. Enter the pregnant text message.

The Obama Campaign’s tactic of heightening interest in the vice presidential candidate by informing voters of the choice directly by text message is intriguing. It bypassed the established news media and attempts to make a connection directly with voters. The audience who signed up for this message - excluding the small percentage of media types, Republicans, and students of politics - is a potential nucleus of committed fans and product evangelists. They became a bit more involved with the product by being first, though I doubt many were at their phones at 3:00 am when the message came.

Text messaging can be a problematic medium. Spam messages are even more inconvenient on a phone than a computer. They also add injury to insult, because recipients without an unlimited message plan have to pay for the offending messages. The text message section of Obama’s website is a very good example of permission marketing. In a single page, it shows how to sign up for different levels of content from the one time to the occasional to the frequent, an assortment of free ringtones, and a simple one step procedure to unsubscribe.

The Obama text message also emphasizes a difference with John McCain, who notoriously uncomfortable with email. McCainSpace, McCain’s own social networking site is, to my eyes, less usable and engaging. McCain himself seems ill at ease in the welcome video on the home page. In my tests, the site was surprisingly sluggish.

At a dime a message, this campaign may have something for us marketers.

Monday, June 23, 2008

TV or Not TV

One of our consistent themes has be lack of enthusiasm for television advertising. This is not just the curmudgeon in us. Although TV can be cost effective to reach large numbers of viewers and useful to introduce or support a brand. However, TV campaigns are usually structured so they are difficult to evaluate. The commercials can be expensive to produce and difficult to target to your market.

Traditional ad agencies have not helped and often sacrificed accountability in pursuit of creativity. Senn and Fallon’s interesting but unconvincing apology for ad creativity, Juicing the Orange, continues in the wrong direction. Fallon produced the memorable herding cats Superbowl ad a few years back. Though the production was memorable, viewers couldn’t remember the sponsor or that its business had to do with the ad.

What’s a marketer to do? An intriguing option is provided by online agency, Spot Runner. They deliver three benefits, which make TV at least worth a test – cheap yet professional production, easily targeted media buying, and convenient detailed reporting.

Spot Runner offers extremely low costs through web based automation. A full service ad agency can charge tens or hundreds of thousands for a custom produced TV commercial. With Spot Runner, you choose a generic commercial from a library of several thousand and then customize it for your product or business with your logo, graphics, offer, and a professional voice over. The result looks like the real thing rather than a homemade ready for YouTube spot. This costs all of $500 to $750 depending on the amount of customization. The ad can, and usually should, display trackable information such as a unique phone number, URL, or email address.

Once you have a commercial, where do you run it? Spot Runner has an automated media buying process, which allows targeting as precisely as individual zip codes as well as specific times. The process is roughly similar to creating ads through Google’s AdWords. Spot Runner’s appears easier for the novice TV advertiser. Unlike Google, you can call Spot Runner with questions and problems.

Does this mean that TV should be part of your marketing mix? It does mean that if you have $1500 to $2000 for production and a media buy, you can find out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

As marketers we often like to reward prospects. A venerable, if tired, trinket is a T-shirt. Rightly done, the shirt not only pleases but also advertises our brand or promise. More often, it ends up discarded or cleaning rag.

I was reminded of this waste of fabric recently by two lead generation promotions from Sprint and USPS. Both wanted to provide services to provide targeted personalize experiences to help get closer to customers. Part of the incentive for explore their offerings was a T-shirt. One even promised to be organic cotton. Both shirts were ugly. Neither of them fit. How well does that support their marketing campaigns?

Suppose the reply form had asked for size and gender and perhaps other characteristics? Questions now appropriate to provide a better fitting shirt. You’d now know more about your prospects they night now find your incentive worth something.

On demand production of shirts now makes this practical and economical. It could also reinforce an image of satisfying customer’s needs rather than our need to maintain a single bin of extra large shirts.

Meanwhile, anyone want some T-shirts?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Yodeling in Purple

An advantage of direct mail, still unmatched online, is the ability to grab a customers attention with real stuff, as opposed to information, pictures, sounds, etc. Unlike the virtual world, direct mailers deal with atoms rather than bits. This can work, despite the increased cost, if you choose the right stuff and, of course, test your campaign.

These solid mailings usually get opened unless you're expecting a bomb or your company's mailroom intercepts them. The appeal of getting attention is not lost even on such a web centered company as Yahoo. I was reminded of this recently, when I received an unsolicited small plain brown square cardboard package.

The minimal label did not proclaim its contents - principally a circular purple plastic device perhaps 4" in diameter and 21/2" high. It looked like a large button. Press it and it would play Yahoo's signature yodel sound. The video below shows it in action.

The box also contained a note and small brochure proclaiming the benefits of search engine advertising through Yahoo. These were similar to other mailings I've received from Yahoo.

That's it. Not wishing to irritate my office neighbors or in need of a paper weight, I dumped it in the trash.

Questions left for the reader:

  • What does this have to do with search engine marketing?

  • Did the inclusion of the button significantly increase response rates?

  • Did Yahoo choose this tsatske because they thought prospects would like it or because it was not selling well on Yahoo's company store?

I am not making this up! You can actually buy one of these for only $19.00 plus shipping at the Yahoo company store.

I guess I should have sold mine on ebay.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I Tawt I Thaw A Twitter

When I first heard of Twitter a year or two ago; its concept, as I understood it at the time, left me unmoved. It seemed to be a service which let you send short messages to anyone who chose to sign up to receive them. Rather than just going to the gym, mowing the lawn, or waiting for a root canal; you could inform at least some part of the world while you were doing so. The messages could be SMS text messages, Instant messaging, or via a web page.

These messages or “twits” differ from email, blogs, or conventional web pages. They are short and generally spontaneous - even in real time. Like so many media, Twitter has evolved other uses and applications. Even if you don’t feel the need to be advised every time a friend takes a coffee break, your organization could use twitter as a light weight way to keep in touch with key audiences. These could be sales, product launches, service announcements, or anything of real time interest. Twitter is only sent to those choose to subscribe (“follow” in Twitter speak) so this is not a spammers medium.

Messages can be no more than 140 characters – little more than fits in a fortune cookie or a Google text ad – so getting to the point is key. Twitter can readily be added to a blog or web page. This enables micro-blogging or very short spontaneous posts. Scroll down this page to see an example of this in the right sidebar.

If you're really having a tough time getting started on your company blog, this just might be the way to go.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

How Social Are Your Bookmarks

The concept of "social bookmarking" probably isn't yet mainstream marketing. I was reminded of this recently when talking to a class of graduate business students. Most of them were unacquainted with the concept and unfamiliar with its leading plaftforms such as del.icio.us, digg, and stumble upon.

With social bookmarking, you can embed links such as this

on your blog or website. It allows visitors to bookmark, tag, comment upon, rate and share your site with a single click. They thus become a very inexpensive (as in free) way to help get your site noticed and increase its search engine rankings. If you want your site noticed add buttons like the one above to your sites.

Lee Lefever provides a clear, concise, and amusing explanation of social bookmarking on his excellent site, commoncontent.com:

Fries With That Book?

Clients of The Threshold Group and regular readers of this blog, know that we are not big fans of mass media advertising. This is not an aesthetic judgment. Rather it is because that 30 second spot on the local news is difficult to evaluate.

Of course, any marketing campaign in any medium can be problematic to track if we fail to add both tagging and defined goals.

Case in point - MacDonald's campaign to defend its share of lunch and extend its share of breakfast with the launch of “southern style chicken sandwich” and “southern style chicken biscuit for breakfast.” As usual, there is significant mass media support. What’s not usual is a massive distribution of coupons for free sandwiches in purchases form Amazon.com.

Amazon has a broad market in categories such as consumer electronics, fashion goods, home furnishings, watches and CDs/DVDs as well as books. The three packages received from Amazon this week all contained coupons for the sandwiches. Although Amazon has excellent database marketing capabilities, this is not a targeted promotion. There is nothing about our demographics, psychographics, or purchase history to flag us as prime McDonald's prospects, other than that our office is within half a mile of a McDonald's outlet.

Incredibly, the coupons are not coded. There are no barcodes, key codes, or other ways, which would enable McDonald's to at least gage the redemption rate from the “Amazon channel”. More interesting tracking would be to tag coupons by product category, geocode, purchase volume on many other attributes. McDonald's might then, to take a simple example, buy banners on Amazon’s pages for the most successful categories.

Without coding, it can only determine how many of the coupons were ultimately redeemed. Such a measure won’t even tell, if the promotion recruited new customers. Come to think of it though, the coupons make fair bookmarks for the new books from Amazon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Your Web Site Won An Award. And ...

Recently, and on more than one occasion, a client has proclaimed that it has an "award winning" web site. Is this a good thing? Should winning a web award be one of your marketing goals? Aside from bragging rights or a bumper sticker, should you care?

The criteria for granting awards seem as obscure as the sites receiving them. Often this winning site has significant problems ranging from low traffic, to lack of focus, to low conversation rates, to poor usability, to being incomprehensible. The result of an award is often instant oblivion.

There is no shortage of web awards or those granting them. A search on Google for this phrase finds 46 million results. After a few pages of browsing the search results, I gave up tallying the unknown organizations, which grant these awards. Can't find an award for your obviously cool site? For the cost of a domain name, you can start your own award granting body.

One of the best known award sites is that of the Webby Awards. Its recipient sites, seem to be highly designed – some would say artistic. Webby lists lots of awards and finalists (the award for not winning an award?) in many categories. What award do you want your site, ad, or campaign to win?

Hollywood seems to care about Oscars - they believe an Academy award will boost attendance. I’ve seen no evidence that having an award winning web site boosts either awareness or sales. When looking for awards forget the trophy. Strive for a site, which increases one of the three Cs – customers, conversions, or cash.

Friday, May 16, 2008

No Time To Add Content To Your Website -
Let Your Visitors Do It

Your company has a web site, but few visitors. You’re hardly alone, but what are you going to do about it?

This is not a post about the finer points of search engine optimization. Rather it’s about one straight forward step you can take to boost traffic. Google and other search engines look for relevant terms a.k.a. key words. More relevant key words help the rank of your web site. If your company sells ball bearings, your site will have a higher rank if it contains lots of information about ball bearings.

How do you credibly add key words to your site? You could, of course, write lots of to the point content about your products, services, and industry. Many high ranking sites do this. It pays, but it can be a lot of work. Recently, one of our clients lamented the modest traffic on his fledgling web site. Still he despaired of adding content, because it would be too much work for his start up company.

There is another way - let your customers do some of it for you. You can do this through easy to add components such as blogs, public wikis, and product reviews. This user generated content is at the heart of Web 2.0. Yes, it does mean you give us a measure of control along with a lot of labor.

You can and should filter offensive content, but this is uncommon. If your product gets an unfavorable review, you’re more likely to learn about in time. Reviews also give insight into what customers like about current products and what enhancements they want. Just let your visitors do the typing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Too Much Video

Podcasting – audio programs, played on a website or downloaded to a player such as an iPod – can be an effective way to tell your story. Listening to a 10 to 30 minute podcast is generally easier than plowing through a white paper and the podcast may peak the interest, which makes them want to read your white paper or consider your offerings.

Because of the popularity of portable MP3 players, including many of the newer mobile phones, podcasts can connect with an audience commuting, at the health club, doing chores, and in other situations where TV, the Web, and print do not.

Podcasts are definitely not just for technology companies. Nor do you need technical skills to create them. All you need is a computer, an inexpensive microphone, and some free podcasting software. Once you have created a podcast, you can syndicate it for free through a number of services including iTunes.

Originally podcasts were just audio. The simplicity and portability of sound is one of their key strengths. More recently podcasters have added video. One reason is that video is now cheap. A decent handheld video cameras such as the popular Flip can be had for about $ 150. If that’s too much, you might get by with a $ 30 web cam. Now you too can create limitless amounts of video. But should you?

I am somewhat surprised to find that a few of the podcasts I (used to) subscribe to have changed to videocasts. This change has not been an improvement. True, most of the new portable players have small (mostly 2” or less) screens. They can play video including video podcasts. But too many of the videocasts are just talking heads and shrunken heads at that, when watched on a pocket sized player. Often video subtracts rather than adds value.

Video files are much larger than audio, so videocasts take much longer to download. On the mobile phone or solid state players such as the iPod nano, video also consumes scarce storage space. The viewing experience is often awkward and bloated. If you have important video content, such as demos or product training, by all means show it on your website. Let’s leave the podcasts alone.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Yahoo Says No

Lust, Greed, Intrigue and high drama worthy of a spy novel. These were all in the courtship of Yahoo by Microsoft. Their dance ended shortly before the alter. This deal generated lots of news coverage and buzz, buy why should you care?

The collapse of this deal leaves Google, perhaps more than ever, the undisputed king of on-line advertising. If you want one source to place pay per click, banner, or web video ads, it’s Google. Yes, you can cobble together on-line ad programs with Microsoft Ad Center and Yahoo Search Marketing. However, they don’t have the features, flexibility, analytics, and above all the audience of Google’s AdWords platform. And this doesn’t even include Google’s ad brokerage through its Double Click subsidiary.

So what’s not to like? We use AdWords more than Yahoo or Microsoft, because of its features and because it often yields better conversion and higher ROI. Google also continues to invest in and enhance it ad capabilities more rapidly than its competition.

But campaigns don’t always go well. If you are a small or medium sized business spending a few hundred to a few thousand a month and you have a question, problem, or issue – good luck. Google likes the self service model of support via automated reports, blogs, grudging email, and even more grudging account reps. For clients spending thousands not hundreds of thousands monthly they can be surprisingly unhelpful.

Competition or rather lack of credible competition may be the problem. A Yahoo acquisition, if successful, offered the hope of a rival, which would make Google more responsive and improve the on-line channel for all marketers. In the meantime, we’ll have to search for something else.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

We Tube -They Tube - You Tube

Suppose you make a video at little or no expense and transfer it to a video sharing site such as Peekvid, Ourmedia, Yahoo Video or, of course, YouTube. This video might be crude or in questionable taste. It might only be a long form commercial or shameless plug. So far you’ve got company – lots of it. There are dozens of such sites hosting millions of videos. Let’s stick with YouTube. It has not only the brand recognition but also the audience. Nielsen estimated over 66 million unique visitors in January 2008.

Now the hard part – getting someone other than friends and family to view and respond to your latest media marvel. The double appeal of YouTube is a potentially large audience combined with a low price. On line videos have the potential to become an epidemic as friends email links to friends, who in turn mail to their friends and so fourth.

A now classic case is that of Blendtec and its series of “Will It Blend” videos. For example, the industrial strength blender shows it can, for example, reduce a garden hose or a small appliance to granular residue. The company reports substantially increased site traffic and conversion to sales of its blenders, the least expensive of which is $ 399.95.

The Blendtec videos vividly illustrate the products value while providing amusement and a viral tidbit, easily emailed to a friend. Such cases are also quite rare – the fate of most online videos is instant oblivion. Still, online video is certainly worth a test, as long as you control costs. Two current distinct YouTube campaigns come to mind.

To promote its budget priced Corolla brand, Toyota sponsored a YouTube video contest http://www.youtube.com/sketchies2. This seems ideal for the younger budget oriented market. The contest videos have attracted an audience. The top 10 finalists combined have been viewed about 408 thousand views in the past month.

This is good traffic, but much of it by passes Toyota’s YouTube site (its so called channel) and goes directly to the entries. The Sketchies II channel received only 84 thousand visits in the past month. It also seems not to have helped Toyota’s own site, which curiously contains no references to Sketchies.

Regardless of how well you like the entries, they seem unrelated to Toyota or its Corolla. They neither tell nor show the benefits of Corolla, nor do they promote association to its brand.

This still might have made sense as an experiment. Have an idea – spend a few bucks and test it. The automotive category is crowded and boring. There are far too many shots of similar looking cars traversing similar mountain roads. The problem is that Toyota is reported to have spent $ 4,000,000 (Wall St. Journal, 3/10/08) on the campaign. This is not a lot compared with Toyota’s total marketing spending, but it’s a lot for a promotion which doesn’t promote.


Boomers, students of TV history, and fans of re-reruns may remember Get Smart – the 60’s comedy series about the misadventures of clueless counterspy Maxwell Smart – starring the late comedian Don Adams. A key prop of the series was the, for the time, futuristic shoe phone. This was a mobile phone before its time imbedded in a shoe. Max had to remove his shoe to use it, and it usually rang at an inopportune time.

To promote it release of an upcoming feature movie version of Get Smart, Warner Brothers sponsored a YouTube video contest. Unlike Sketchies, the demands of this contest are slight – 20 seconds using a shoe as a phone. This should increase participation. Heck, I might make an entry using the webcam built into my laptop.

This YouTube event may or may not help the movie. Its incremental cost is slight and it is a potentially effective way to recruit a new generation of Get Smart fans. Its You Tube channel has received over 610,335 views this month. Excuse me, my shoe phone is ringing.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Confessions of a Control Freak

Those Who Can Do
- the rest give seminars

Rather than rail against the legions of puny pundits, who can give marketing advise but can’t really market; I’d like to acknowledge one who really can. He is Alan Rosenspan. Alan is a veteran copywriter and marketing strategist, who now runs his one marketing agency (www.alanrosenspan.com).

I recently stumbled upon his book, Confessions of a Control Freak. It’s 324 pages consist of bite sized cases and highly actionable examples across many markets. The title refers to control, as in comparing new programs and promotions with a prior performance benchmark. The goal is to appropriately measure outcome and beat the control.

The book’s perspective is direct mail. His cases and advice, especially in copy and offer development, translate easily into on-line media and integrated programs. No Olympian perspective here, the advice is concrete and specific. I found it definitely a good read. You can find more it at alanrosenspan.com/control_freak.html

Friday, February 22, 2008

Super Bowl Redux

Super Bowl 2008 set records – most of them off the field. $ 2.7 million for 30 seconds of air time was one; (estimated) “viewership” of 97.5 million was another.

Add production costs and that most advertisers ran more than one 30 second spot and this starts to involve real money. These costs don’t include extras such as “business travel” by senior management to the game, presumably to see how the commercials look on the large high definition monitors in their sky boxes.

Undoubtedly the Super Bowl delivers the largest mass audience of any domestic medium. Viewers are not restricted to youth, men, or even sports fans. For this event at least, advertisers can reach most of their market. Actually, none of the Super Bowl advertisers from Audi to GoDaddy to Budweiser to eTrade to Garmin sells to so broad a market. As with all mass media, marketers have to buy more exposure than they can use in an attempt to cover a market.

In addition, the Bowl ads have a following and life of their own. They are covered by business and news media and are replayed on sites such as YouTube. This secondary and sometimes even tertiary exposure is free.

What do they get for 3 or 5 or 10 $ million? It gets fuzzy here. For example, IAG Research ranked ads by most liked and most recalled. The implicit assumption is that better recall and higher preference for an ad lead to more effectiveness. If this means higher sales, of which they present no data, how much is a likability point worth?

The “research” seems to decline from there. Internet tracking firm ComScore asked 1139 respondents two questions:

1) Which of this year’s Super Bowl advertisers’ ads would you like to see again? (Select 3)

2) Which Super Bowl advertisers’ ads improved or damaged your impression of the brand in any way?

Notably, their research did not try to track purchase behavior.

More substantial data are available from web traffic measurement firm HitWise. It reports that of the 32 Bowl advertisers, 9 had traffic increases to their site of 25% or more compared with the previous day while 10 of the advertisers actually had decreased traffic. Comparisons with the day before the game are not the most relevant. A better comparison might have been with the final playoff game two weeks prior, but HitWise does not volunteer these data.

Of course, a visit to a web site is hardly equivalent to buying a product, especially one not sold online. Indeed most of the advertisers sell nothing online. If the Super Bowl ads were an exercise to drive web traffic, they start to look a bit pricy.

What we haven’t seen are Bowl advertisers specifying the incremental sales of these campaigns. In some cases they may not know. Their ads generally didn’t include trackable URLs, phone numbers, coupon codes, etc. An impartial observer might wonder if these advertisers did not really want their Bowl campaigns evaluated.

What the heck, those chips taste really crunchy in the Sky Box.