Archive for October, 2010

Amid the constant barrage of last week’s industry news, there were two particular announcements that stood out from the rest. Both were creative related (albeit one is actually more of a social graph story). For the first time in a while, I was excited about some new creative potential, something that the industry needs really badly.

Richer Rich Media Units

For the first time in a very long time, a new rich media player is on the road to  approval among major publishers. In some ways Pictela is no different than what exists today, and in other ways is a breath of fresh air. Their position statement is that “Pictela seamlessly distributes high definition brand content across online advertising, publishing and social media”. While intriguing that the units can run hi-def content, the ability for a consumer to discern the difference is marginal. The in-page units provide a multimedia catalog-like experience. Of course social sharing options are built into the platform (is there any other way at this point?) I do like the fact that Facebook has approved Pictela units to appear as is in the newsfeed. The units also provide the ability to deliver dynamic content based on geography and demographics, although I have yet to do my due diligence on the technology, and am unsure at this point how comprehensive that dynamic content delivery really is. I also do not know whether or not third party tracking tags can be embedded, but we’ll make the leap of faith that they can be, otherwise they will limit the opportunity to work with agencies at scale.  All in all, it is nice to see a new kid on the block.

Facebook Open Graph Coming to an Ad Near You

MediaMind (formerly EyeBlaster) is running a campaign for Mountain Dew that incorporates the Facebook “Like” button in the ad units, a first for the industry. This sets the stage for advertisers to consider incorporating the open graph, which goes beyond the Like button, into ad units. Expect this to become a very common addition to rich media units in the not-to-distant future. The Like button, and other open graph functionality, is already fairly ubiquitous across the web, but within an ad unit as a primary or secondary call to action, it extends the ability to recruit brand advocates even further. Of course the bigger strategy for the brands is how to engage consumers and make the most of these new direct [social] relationships. Adding the Like button to ad creatives opens up one more pathway to the initial connection.

Media + Creative

As a career media strategist, it’s been bittersweet to watch the industry’s focus shift so much towards media dynamics. Of course, we should focus on how to better identify and reach consumers, and understand their relationships with the media. Heck, my career has been based on that. However, great media strategy, planning and execution is only as strong as the creative that runs. With the increased shift to data-based audience buying, media trading desks and automation of workflow and optimization, the creative conversation is rarely given its day in the sun anymore. Lest we not forget that one in nothing without the other.

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Hey direct marketers – guess what – you have an attribution problem. You may not realize it yet, but if you are running campaigns in multiple digital marketing channels like search, display, affiliate marketing, and comparison shopping engines, you are double  counting some conversions (sometimes triple counting), over crediting certain channels and under crediting others. Your model needs a fixin.

Attribution reporting tools have been on the market for several years now, but are potentially the most underutilized tools by agencies and advertisers today. In part this is due to the complex nature of the planning involved in making the data actionable – in other words planning to go from attribution reporting to media mix modeling based on the analysis. On the other hand, digital media planners and agencies have been working to the bone and have very little time to innovate and discover new and better ways to work and service their clients.

So when Hollis Thomases from ClickZ reached out to me for input on this important topic, I was more than happy to help. It’s a topic I am quite passionate about. I think she put together a great article that highlights the issue.

Under-utilizing great marketing technology is nothing new. As an industry we have a history of under-utilizing the capabilities of the marketing technologies that are at our fingertips. I’ll never forget when Doubleclick wanted to shut down their Boomerang product, the very first retargeting technology on the market. Our agency was one of a small handful using it, and although circa 2000 it was tough to scale retargeting programs, we managed to run some of the first successful programs for large portfolio companies like Cendant. Fast forward to today. Retargeting has not only become one of the most popular forms of behavioral / data-based targeting, but an entire retargeting industry has sprouted up in the last couple of years.

Granted, there are hundreds of marketing technologies and capabilities pitched to agencies on a regular basis. It’s hard to find the time to vet them all. But we do work in DIGITAL media and and it is important to  be on the lookout for tools and systems that can help provide bottom line impact for clients and agencies. Embrace marketing technologies in particular that help create efficiency in workflow,  accuracy in analytics, and provide better experiences to consumers.

I’d love to hear about any new marketing technology tools that you find useful.

 

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When Fast Company, a publication that I have read and respected for years, published a story based on faulty data, I had to call them out. The story is titled Twitter Crushing Facebook’s Click Through Rate, and is based on research from Social Twist. I think I threw up in my mouth a little when seeing these numbers.

First of all – enough with the click through rate already. It has always been a bad KPI that is not indicative of performance. But more importantly here, CTR is not even the actual metric they are reporting on, and the real value or insight in the data is sort of lost, albeit the lesson of consumers sharing in social platforms like Facebook and Twitter is not much of an insight. File under “DUH!”

Really a CTR rate of 1904% and 287%? This is what happens when you can’t track the denominator (reach/exposure) of your calculation. What they are actually calculating is the volume of responses to shared content and not a CTR, it is actually a more valuable metric and they should try to better define it.

I think that Social Twist’s Tell-a-Friend sharing widget is a great addition for many marketers, but guys, releasing misleading and incorrect stats like this removes some of the credibility and thought leadership from your quest. Research and stats are a great way to get press coverage. Kudos for pulling the wool over the eyes of Fast Company (and surely a number of others), but the industry doesn’t need more fuzzy math market research confusing marketers.

This is just one example, there are so many questionable stats floating around – even from credible companies who are in the business of producing research.

We all love stats and research. Good research does help refine our decision making. But it is no secret that market research is often self serving and misleading. Next time you get blown away by some market research or stats, take a moment to question the research methodologies, determine if there are actually insights provided, and even analyze the motive of the research.You might be surprised how often you  find the data useless, misleading or self serving.

 

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I posted a short piece on the latest Nielsen product in the Laredo Group newsletter in response to many agencies wondering what Nielsen’s new Campaign Ratings system means for them. here’s the answer…

Mention online GRP’s to a group of marketers or agencies and you’ll get reaction ranging from relief to rage. The notion of using the traditional media metric of GRP (technically TRP) has been the source of much debate, and in the crosshairs of the industry’s leading media measurement companies, Nielsen and Comscore, for years.

Let’s remember that the GRP is used in two facets of advertising:

A)  predicting the outcome of specific levels of media weight during planning; and

B)  confirming ratings after campaigns have run

The launch of Nielsen Campaign Ratings is big news, and the tool focuses on the latter measurement.

Nielsen will be working with large web publishers, including Facebook, who will provide anonymous aggregate reach and frequency data in age and gender buckets, which will be combined with Nielsen data from its TV and online panels, resulting in a single report showing R/F and GRPs for specific campaigns. Quantcast had tried to plant the same stake in the ground, from a solely digital perspective, and with a vastly different methodology. Nielsen takes a giant leap forward by partnering with large publishers, and combining the reports with the industry standard Nielsen TV panel.

What Nielsen created here is most valuable to brand advertisers who are trying to maximize R/F against specific audiences across a media mix. The big caveat is that this only uses broad age and gender buckets (and falls short of all the wonderful psychographic profile data used in other tools like @plan) – but that normalizes against the TV targets of most brand advertisers.

With the difference in media currency between digital and traditional media, and previous attempts at comparing cost per point, we can expect to see online buys showing less GRP coverage than planned. In some instances this will result in an increase in digital budget allocation to close the gap, and in other cases, a decrease in budgets due to inefficiency in reaching certain targets as compared to other media. It is generally accepted that a diverse media mix will maximize the realization of R/F goals, but the ideal mix model is not an easy nut to crack.

Nielsen’s new Campaign Ratings system definitely represents the progression of cross media R/F and GRP measurement, however, in the grand scheme of the GRP conversation, I’d argue that the predictive nature of planning with GRP’s is more important.

Official announcement.

Most people don’t realize that I started my career in the music industry. Prior to my ventures in the digital marketing industry, I founded and managed a couple of independent labels and also ran a division of one of the larger independent distributors in the US. I learned many valuable lessons about business back then, but the one lesson that has best stood up to the test of time is that content can be a currency. This was is true for music, and it is true for web-based content today. But just what do I mean by “Content is Currency”?

Content in the Attention Economy

As marketers, we must understand the attention economy. As media fragments, attention becomes scarce. Content becomes the conduit to earn consumer attention – it becomes the currency, if you will, that creates the marketer’s side of the value exchange.

The cries of Content is King have reverberated through the halls of agencies and media companies forever. However, sometimes, content value seems to be misinterpreted by marketers as production quality, clarity of the marketing message or brand voice.  At the very least,  the definition of “high quality” content has become such a given that it is  not properly planned for, thus resulting in content that can easily have little relevancy or value to the consumer.

While  compelling content buys attention in all media, digital media presents the opportunity of discoverability, one of the unique  and most valuable attributes of the web in general. Most notably, search and social media play the largest roles in consumers discovering brand relevancy and value via content.  Search explicitly matches consumer interest and demand with content and products. Social media  on the other hand implicitly facilitates discoverability via sharing. Social media both further fragments attention and facilitates discovery of relevant content through the social graph at the same time. When consumers find content relevant and compelling, the psychology of human interaction and the  mathematics of network theory facilitate sharing. At a certain scale the content “goes viral”. Folks, viral is a result and not a tactic, but the goal should always be to produce compelling content that consumers value.

Do You Have a Content Strategy?

When planning your company’s content strategy, here are a few vital elements to not forget.

  • Frequency: if content is a currency, you might as well have a lot of it. More importantly, develop an editorial calendar for your different types of content across owned, earned and paid media.
  • Relevancy: for content to be compelling it has to be relevant to the consumer. Content should also be somewhat related to your product category or the lifestyles in which your product is used. Don’t forget that for some channels, like email, elements of relevancy come in the form of personalization.
  • Voice: without getting into the specific type of content (videos, blogs, tweets, mashups, or any other experiential content type), every brand needs to develop a voice beyond that of the brand voice. Are you going to be funny and witty, serious and informative, irreverent and unexpected? A little of each? This will tactically drive the content. Of course, there are some givens – like, humorous content often facilitates sharing. But it all has to be on strategy.
  • Authenticity: consumers want to see the personality behind the contrived brand voice. A little human authenticity goes a long way. Marketers are human too – at least most of us are. There is a place for the brand voice – know where it belongs and where it doesn’t.
  • Transparency: Consumers want to feel like they can trust your brand. They want to know more about the inner workings of the companies they chose to support. Consumers know that they are being marketed to in all facets of media, don’t hide the fact that you still want their business, but prove that you are willing to earn it. We all make mistakes, consumers want to know that you acknowledge that when necessary and that you learn and apologize. They’ll support you, within reason.
  • Immediacy: consumers expect an immediate response to negative news, as well as rampant and even individual customer service inquiries or complaints.  The immediatecy response plan needs to include all owned media (ie: your website or blog, social spokes like Facebook or Twitter, and CRM channels). This is a prime example of how PR, customer service and general marketing communications have all merged.
  • Discoverability: take the time to map out the distribution channels of your content and optimize the discoverability of each channel. Blogs, for example, provide excellent search engine visibility; Facebook’s open graph and api’s from all of the popular social platforms make sharing easy; while a recruitment and engagement strategy for specific social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube build a base of consumers with an interest in your brand who are potentially willing to share it across their social graphs.

From a strategy perspective, prioritizing content just may be one of the most cost effective, albeit unsexy, line items on your next marketing plan, if it is not formally there already. Content as a currency creates the value exchange for consumer attention, which marketers spend billions of dollars for otherwise. Social media and your content strategy are not replacements for advertising and promotions, but part of a holistic marketing mix,  boosting brand perception and  trust, which doesn’t come easily these days. Additionally, the discoverability of valuable content can help reach consumers who are light users of other media.

So does your brand have a formal content strategy?

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The Privacy Man cometh. Now it’s time to figure out who is going to payeth!

The industry has formally taken a stance to thwart the strong arm of the FTC by enforcing compliance of self regulatory guidelines on data collection and usage.  The Digital Advertising Alliance, which is comprised of the leading advertising trade organizations AAAA, AAF, ANA, DMA, IAB, NAI & the BBB, has selected Better Advertising’s monitoring technology to help enforce compliance. Enforcement is said to begin Jan 1, 2011., and the enforcer will actually be the BBB. I’ll also add that this initiative is in its very nascent stages and surely will continue to be shaped by adoption and the economics of the process. AdSafe Media and TRUSTe have partnered  to become the second provider of compliance enforcement, and will be applying for the same accreditation that Better Advertising received from DAA. You can bet that a handful of others will enter the space as it grows. This is a good thing. We need multiple options for healthy competition, as well as many minds working to keep the FTC from passing ‘baby & the bathwater’ type of regulations for online advertising targeting. However, it is notable that Better Advertising is the only company solely focusing on this.

Compliance is Everyone’s Responsibility, Sort Of

The onus of compliance is going to be more on the publisher/network/DSP side than the advertisers.  When placing buys on networks, exchanges, DSP’s, and even sites directly, when using behavioral targeting, an advertiser can license the icon via the publisher, or choose to use their own, so to speak. The icon overlay can be served via the publisher’s account and over the advertiser’s third party served ad without any technical implementation by the advertiser, or the advertiser can work directly with Better Advertising (and  at some point in the future, a provider of choice). Of course the cost always comes back to the advertiser somehow. But adding more line items of marketing technology fees is not something that advertisers embrace quickly.  So ultimately it is too early to tell whether the standard practice will be the advertiser or publisher being responsible for compliance. However, the big agency holding companies, in addition to the ad networks and publishers, have all bought in and are slowly ramping up delivery of BT ads with the “Advertising Options Icon”, which provides consumers with disclosure regarding data collection and usage, and the ability to opt-out of  specific targeting. Currently when consumers opt-out of targeting they are opting out at a data / targeting provider level, not at an advertiser level.

The Cost of Compliance Enforcement

Publishers & advertisers who are compliant will be able to license the use of the icon for $5,000 per year (if annual BT revenue is less than $2MM this fee is waived). This fee helps fund the DAA and enforcement of compliance. Better Advertising is paid a nominal CPM for the service, which consists of the delivery of a java script overlay of the icon and the functionality of disclosure,  compliance monitoring, and opt-out facilitation. They also offer additional reporting services for additional fees. Essentially the bigger media companies, networks and agencies will be subsidizing the early stages of these initiatives by adopting and paying for the technology so that eventually the costs for everyone can come down with volume.

Challenge: The industry will have to fork out millions of dollars for this.

A new role of planning will include mapping out where compliance is necessary, in which case the icon needs to be visible, and where it is not. Note to agencies – there may be an audit trail requirement here to ensure that you are not paying for enforcement of non BT targeted ads. Nominal CPM or not, it adds up just like ad serving, or ad verification. Ideally it would be nice to have this built into the ad server – but I can say that about so many things! Assume that compliance and the use of the icon will be a part of media terms & conditions in the not too distant future.

One of the elephants in the room is the slightly ambiguous definition of compliance – or more accurately what the compliance is ensuring. The following are the DAA’s Self Regulatory Principles:

The Education Principle calls for organizations to participate in efforts to educate individuals and businesses about online behavioral advertising and the Principles.

The Transparency Principle calls for clearer and easily accessible disclosures to consumers about data collection and use practices associated with online behavioral advertising. It will result in new, enhanced notice on the page where data is collected through links embedded in or around advertisements, or on the Web page itself.

The Consumer Control Principle provides consumers with an expanded ability to choose whether data is collected and used for online behavioral advertising purposes. This choice will be available through a link from the notice provided on the Web page where data is collected.

The Consumer Control Principle requires “service providers”, a term that includes Internet access service providers and providers of desktop applications software such as Web browser “tool bars” to obtain the consent of users before engaging in online behavioral advertising, and take steps to de-identify the data used for such purposes.

The Data Security Principle calls for organizations to provide appropriate security for, and limited retention of data, collected and used for online behavioral advertising purposes.

The Material Changes Principle calls for obtaining consumer consent before a Material Change is made to an entity’s Online Behavioral Advertising data collection and use policies unless that change will result in less collection or use of data.

The Sensitive Data Principle recognizes that data collected from children and used for online behavioral advertising merits heightened protection, and requires parental consent for behavioral advertising to consumers known to be under 13 on child-directed Web sites. This Principle also provides heightened protections to certain health and financial data when attributable to a specific individual.

The Accountability Principle calls for development of programs to further advance these Principles, including programs to monitor and report instances of uncorrected non-compliance with these Principles to appropriate government agencies. The CBBB and DMA have been asked and agreed to work cooperatively to establish accountability mechanisms under the Principles.

It’s a Big Job But Somebody’s Got to Do It

Can an amalgamation of  of a number of industry trade groups that historically have not been involved in technology nor enforcement keep the FTC satisfied? We better hope so.

Personally I feel that a lot of it has to do with the economics behind the process. Can the DAA generate sufficient revenue to properly resource enforcement? Will the industry accept these costs in stride? Do we all understand the alternative?

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There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about how the “agency model is broken”. While a sexy headline for marketing trades, and a great scapegoat for clients, I find this phrase a gross misrepresentation of what has been happening in the industry.

Lovers Quarrels

First – there is truth to the client-agency relationship changing – often uncomfortably. Sometimes it is the agency’s fault for over promising, staffing non-strategic thinkers at the helm of account strategy, not fostering proper collaboration, not nurturing a culture of discovery and innovation – and sometimes the client’s fault for having unrealistic expectations, pushing agencies to do too much more with less, and not taking the responsibility to understand their own business better. But truth be told, the client and agency need each other and they both know it. Agencies need to learn how to say “no” and set realistic expectations of the new labor intensity, costs and resources required to accomplish the objectives of a client. This does fly in the face of the “old agency model” of saying “yes” first and figuring out how to execute and manage the work later. The recent resignation of the sizable Home Depot account by MRM is a a prime example of an agency forced to take a stand to ensure a profit from their work. I say kudos! Of course I don’t know if the account was improperly scoped in the first place (a common agency blunder in the over-eagerness to win an account).

MRM New York managing director Corey Mitchell wrote that “for reasons based on a fair exchange of services and a mutual inability to arrive at realistic expectations, we are choosing to walk away from our relationship with The Home Depot completely.”

Embracing Change

Undoubtedly, the only path to success on the client or agency side is to understand the seismic shift in the way we communicate with consumers,  the fragmentation of the distribution channels where we reach them, and the desensitization to marketing in general. Strategy used to be about the creative platform and how to inspire, motivate and tap into consumer passion. While these   creative and messaging objectives remain prerequisite components of an increasingly difficult task of  influencing consumers, the strategic emphasis has actually shifted to understanding how and where to reach consumers and the mechanisms  and marketing attributes that influence them. Agencies have been focusing on reintegrating services and capabilities – to a degree creating jacks of all trades, while they should be focusing on integrating strategic planning, analytics and modeling  while allowing for the growth of specialized units for the disciplines that are increasing in specialization. It’s not a silo’ed approach if the head (strategy & insights) and the tail (analytics and modeling) are driving and fostering collaboration. IPG just announced such a restructuring of their digital agency assets. Of course agency announcements and intentions sometimes vary from actual practice and proficiency.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Since leaving the agency world in 2007, I have been working with Laredo Group, training agencies of all sizes, including some of the largest media shops in the industry. I have seen firsthand the challenges faced and how some agencies overcome these challenges while others struggle. Additionally, I have been consulting clients and agencies, including leading client  agency reviews and selections for clients of various sizes. Big agencies get a bad rap sometimes from pundits. I must say that I have seen some impressive agencies who are embracing  and leading the charge of change, innovation and growth. I have also seen a lot of complacency, mediocrity, arrogance with resistance to change, ignorance with a desire for change, and in a couple of instances, even straight up cluelessness. It’s tough running an agency when margins are being eroded by the complexities of the marketplace and the world is evolving faster than your staff can keep up with. It’s also tough for clients who are looking to lean on their agencies for thought  leadership and executional prowess when you keep hearing how the “agency model is broken” and agencies are the bad guys.

It’s All About The Talent

The Stylistics and Michael Jackson got it right – “People Make The World Go ‘Round”. An agency IS its people. The best agencies have developed a culture that attracts and retains top talent. To a client, agencies are as good as the weakest team members assigned to their account. This is often where the biggest perception of “broken” lies. Clients – be sure to request to meet the actual team assigned to your account before working with an agency. If already engaged with an agency, take the team out to lunch, get to know them better, empower them and make them want to kick ass for you. Often times they are unappreciated and overworked. But keep an eye open for the weaker links – hey, everybody has to learn sometime – just make sure they aren’t on your strategic planning or analytics teams!

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