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, 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,

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 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.