Archive for the ‘Search’ Category

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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At the risk of sounding cliche, welcome to a new decade of marketing. Indeed it is an exciting time to be a marketer. The past decade may prove to be the most pivotal ever in terms of the changes in how we communicate with consumers. It was also the decade of aggregation – or better put, the decade that killed the “big idea”. The era of the big idea is over (in the context of marketing communication). Since the explosion of digital marketing during the last decade, the new big idea morphed into an aggregation of many smaller “ideas”. This aggregation has a bigger impact than any one “big idea” ever could, by distributing risk and providing more chances to develop successful approaches.

Marketing evolution continues in 2010, and here are some of the areas to keep your eyes on.

Mobile Forges Forward

We keep joking about how “this year has been the year of mobile for the last few years”. Well, we’re waist deep the age of mobile and moving further along every day. We’ve crossed the proverbial tipping point. The handsets and data speeds provide better experiences, and the data plans are affordable. Over 60 million US consumers access the web via mobile device.  Globally we’re on track for more people to access the mobile web than the PC web (of course I’ll need to save that post for Jan 2020). The thing is, the distribution of this access is skewed, significantly towards the iPhone. While the iPhone catalyzed mobile web usage, competition is not far behind with the Droid, Pre, new Blackberries and other devices to come in 2010. Consumers are using, and even paying for mobile applications and mobile websites that provide value. Of course, as with any marketing channels, there are plenty of misguided executions that do not focus on the consumer, provide little value and flop. Unfortunately oftentimes the medium gets blamed for poor strategy on the part of the marketer and/or agency. Provide experiential or utility-based value to consumers and you’ll reap the rewards of consumer engagement. Additionally, keep your sights set on the convergence of mobile and social experiences as well. This will prove big in 2010.

Location Based Applications

As consumers become more comfortable with GPS enabled smart phones and the first generation of applications that incorporate GPS into the experience, the marketing opportunities that utilize geo-location data will come to fruition. However, it will be 100% predicated on permission, transparency and trust. Of course the recurring theme of providing actual value to the consumer experience is key as well. An early success story is FourSquare, which combines social actions and geo-tagging. But FourSquare is definitely not for everyone. Marketers will have to provide utility in order to gain access to consumers’ private lives and  geo-location data. A few bad apples can spoil the bunch very easily here. Where your brand attributes meet consumers’ needs is a good crossroads to  aim for. Note: If would be interesting to see Facebook acquire and incorporate FourSquare into their current platform.

Real Time Search & Social Search

As social media has become ingrained in the digital media experience for consumers and marketers alike, real time search was inevitable. Information is distributed via so many channels including consumers’ social media feeds, that not including real time data in search results created a void in the relevancy of search results at the major engines. Google’s roll out of social search results from “people in your social circle” also fills the void that was otherwise filled directly from the social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Real time search will indeed make search results more relevant, but the algorithms for filtering signal to noise will be an interesting evolution to watch and participate in.  The implications for marketers is a new era of SEO that ties even more tightly into social media.

Social Media Expands Its Journey

There are two major areas to keep an eye on here. First is the portable social graph. Facebook Connect really took off in 2009, and 2010 marks the tipping point for social graph / data portability. The social graph is just beginning to become part of the overarching digital platform. Through this ubiquity consumers are empowered, taking the influence and social activities of their social connections with them everywhere they go (well not everywhere, but soon enough). Check out one of my favorite implementations of Facebook Connect so far in the Prototype trailer. Try it out. It takes a minute to load, but it’s worth the wait.

The social graph has become portable on the PC-based and mobile web, and the second area to keep an eye on is the expansion of the social graph to your television. Samsung was the first to release high end flat screen TV’s with internet based widgets that allow you to access Twitter on your TV (currently via Yahoo, but inevitably this will become more open very soon). Expect the social graph to become a standard part of our TV viewing experience in the future (note: not in 2010).

Multiple Attribution

While all marketers would agree that reaching consumers at multiple marketing touch points is essential, most marketers still maintain disparate data systems and utilize the last ad standard protocol when it comes to attribution of influence or conversion.  Multiple attribution tracking capabilities have existed at the major ad servers for a couple of years now, provide a solution to attribution modeling, yet are underutilized by the industry. Third parties, such as ClearSaleing, also offer dashboard, reporting and analytics platforms to provide multiple attribution reporting for marketers. Let’s face it, we are constantly increasing the number of digital marketing channels we are working in and as an industry our analytical capability, or more accurately – marketers’ and agencies’ willingness to utilize the tools available,  has been lagging behind . Some of the dashboard tools can also incorporate a limited set of non digital channels as well. If you are not using a multiple attribution system currently, make 2010 the year to do so. There is simply no excuse not to.

The Privacy Issue Marches On

Privacy is always a heated topic. This has been true since the dawn of digital data collection. The issue is over-hyped by the media and advocacy groups, however there are some underlying truths to the hype. As we have seen with the privacy policy changes on Facebook over the last year, if nothing else, consumers do pay attention and now have the means to spread the word quickly.  As digital marketing technologies evolved, more parties gained access to more data. Although most of this data does not actually contain personally identifiable (PII)  data, in some instances it can be associated with other data assets that do. Tying the  vast amounts of anonymous and PII data together will become a bigger focus of the FTC and advocacy groups as the portable social graph  continues to morph the internet as we knew it into one big social web. The FTC warned the industry in 2009 that a day of reckoning was near, and that the self governance was not working due to a lack of enforcement. The industry will have to take the issue more seriously in 2010 or the government will do so for us.

Augmented Reality

For the uninitiated, augmented reality (AR) is conceptually any technology that ties the real and virtual world’s together. For the mobile device, AR will utilize the built in GPS, compass and video camera, creating an unlimited potential to layer content onto any physical location in the real world. On the PC, AR utilizes the webcam to overlay data, usually in the form of a virtual hologram. Most of the augmented reality executions to-date have focused on the novelty factor and have not provided consumers with much actual value. The few mobile AR applications available, including Yelp, are beginning to provide actual utility. I see a bright future there. On the PC side of things, the USPS Priority Mail box simulator is by far the most useful application of PC/webcam based AR implementation to date.

The key to AR is to hone in on the utility aspect, and provide real value to the consumer. (That concept is starting to sound awfully familiar, huh)

Long Live Display

Display ads get a bad rap. The reality is that online advertising works, and not only for direct response. While search see’s the lion’s share of industry ad spending, display is a standard part of the mix and will continue to be for the long term. That is not to say that display doesn’t have its issues. Lack of creative prowess, challenges with media currency and an inefficient process still plague the industry, but all are common topics of conversation and ad hoc work-arounds are being implemented every day. Most agencies and media buyers have had to develop large infrastructures to support the inefficiency of digital media. Clients constantly challenge the process and costs. Yet very little industry-level research is being conducted to better the situation. The IAB, nor any other industry body has set forth to develop the correlational research required to make advertisers feel more comfortable about the market-level impact of online advertising. The last industry-level research was released almost 10 years ago. Some individual agencies embark on this type of research on a client by client basis, but there is little public domain research readily available for most marketers, who for the most part, park the vast majority of their brand budgets elsewhere. Hopefully in 2010 we will see more industry collaboration to develop research and studies and the tools and systems to create more efficiency in the media buying and management process, without commoditizing it.

Even with all that said, display ads do work at creating influence, this can be and is measured by many marketers and agencies, and display is a standard part of the media mix just like any other medium. The degree of inclusion is what is in question, and hopefully we will at least see more discussion and proposed improvements that make advertisers confident to allocate more brand dollars online.

The Elephant in The Room … The Economy

All indicators lead to a slow and steady economic recovery ahead of us.  But this will happen at a different pace for each category and client. The reality for digital marketing is that most marketers have not been and won’t be experimenting much, and focusing on the more accountable (read – DR) focused channels and tactics. I do expect budgets to open up for social media and mobile. Amid the greatest recession of our lives we witnessed the explosive growth of social media. Some marketers had the budgets to allocate proper resources to understanding, monitoring and integrating social media into their corporate culture, while others put forth a minimal effort and yielded an equal impact. The brands that embraced social media have developed social voices separate from their brand voices and are on their way to becoming accepted social brands. Most are still playing catch-up, and we’ll see a lot of that in 2010.

So there you have it, some areas to keep your sights set on for 2010 and beyond. Have any additional thoughts about what else will be big in 2010? Post your ideas in the comments.

Another week – another slough of progressive announcements from the industry leading giant.

Google made two announcements this week, one focused for small businesses and one focused on large agencies.

Honing in on the huge market of small businesses that use AdWords for text only buys, Google released a tool that helps these clients quickly and easily build display ads. They describe it as: “… lets you create professional-looking display ads in AdWords without needing to hire a designer or start from scratch…”  I haven’t kicked the tires on it, but it looks better than the MySpace MyAds builder tool that I wrote about earlier this week, which was a little rigid (v.1.0, updates to a tool like this are easy and surely will follow). Specifically the AdWords display ad builder forces a best practice or two like highlighting a call to action, this is intrinsically built into the tool.

On the agency side of town, Google has tied reporting of GoogleTV inventory into the COREMedia reporting interface, which has become pretty much the de facto standard among most mid to large agencies that buy a lot of DRTV. By tying GoogleTV reports into the CORE system, agencies can analyze results and optimize media schedules faster and more efficiently. By the way, since CORE also integrates seamlessly into Donovan and other popular agency billing systems, in theory, will make it more attractive for agencies to buy ads through GoogleTV.

While most of the industry is wondering how the troubled economic climate will affect their businesses, Google continues to laugh their way to the bank. It’s actually quite an interesting beast to watch growing before our eyes.

It was no surprise to see AdAge today run a piece about YouTube’s potential as a search powerhouse. In August, YouTube’s search volume surpassed that of Yahoo, the number two search engine – that’s search volume – actual search queries – pretty amazing when you think about it.

Barack Obama's Campaign Buys Video Ads Against Keyword "John McCain"

While search accounts for the lion’s share of online ad spending, video represents a big part of the future growth and a method of engaging with consumers in a deeper manner. Google has been struggling to monetize the potential gold mine of YouTube, experimenting with varying formats and sales strategies. Search ads may provide another win-win-win – providing benefits to marketers and consumers as well as to Google itself. What it does not replicate however, is the  similar intent that consumers have while searching on a search engine, posing the question of whether this format can yield the direct response success that has predominantly led the search category into its dominant role. All things considered, this approach still creates a relevant and engaging experience for consumers – based on that criteria alone, it has legs..

I moderated a panel at the OMMA Global conference today titled “Competing With Search”, which I thought from day 1 was an interesting title, but somewhat of a misnomer for any conversation relating to digital media. I knew then that this would make for an interesting panel and hoped for some different perspectives and opinions (after all, what fun is a panel when everyone just agrees on everything).

The official description was:

Search advertising continues to attract 40% of today’s online ad budgets, and some projections have search growth continuing to outpace display spending over the next decade. Plus, the direct response model seems to have affected the success metrics applied to all campaigns. How do publishers-armed with a portfolio of display, email, video and sponsorships compete with almighty search for budgets that increasingly demand ROI? How are publishers making the case with clients to maintain or grow their non-search budgets. Is video proving to be a hedge against budgets moving to search? Can a content provider create unique packages that complement or replace parts of a search spending strategy? How can sales teams create compelling display and direct response programs that complement and enhance existing search spends? And how can the sites themselves use search engines to increase the value of their own inventory to clients?

I’ll pull out a few interesting sound bites from the panel…

  • The panel agreed that it’s not about “competing with search” for web publishers, but rather maximizing the value of an audience and packaging advertising in a way that maximizes monetization
  • The last-ad attribution model is broken and unfairly credits search for the entire influence chain rather than the activation of it. Multiple attribution protocol needs to emerge as the standard and is emerging far too slowly. Agencies and marketers need more education about these things.
  • The impression doesn’t mean anything – the value of the impression matters. Applied data helps increase the value of the impression.
  • Video can create emotionally compelling consumer experiences, but successfully adding video to a website requires good content, which requires a real investment.
  • MySpace is apparently so big that Jason Oberfest calls a site with 10 – 20 million unique users “mid-sized” (for the record 10 – 20 million uniques is still quite big, it’s just not MySpace big)
  • Scale matters when it comes to addressability, segmentation and the maximization of profitability for publishers

Ok, no revelations made, but the air was cleared for many in the room. I directed the audience to check out Atlas’ Engagement Mapping demo, and also mentioned Doubleclick’s Multiple Attribution Protocol, neither of which are perfect sciences, both of which are far better than the last ad standard and help to more accurate apply credit to advertising influence.

I decided to add a new posting format to TheDigitalBlur.  The “Digital Marketing Round-Up” will be posted around the end of each month and will be a  combination of short thoughts on issues that I feel will have a big impact on us marketers in the not so distant future. This ranges from acquisitions to  companies restructuring, new applications of technology, and new ad programs. I hope you enjoy it!

So without further delay, The inaugural Digital Round-up for June 2008…

Google Applying Cookie Data: Despite the cries of privacy advocates, this can be a major breakthrough in online advertising. A few years ago Google changed its privacy policy to state that they might eventually use cookie data to “display customized content and advertising.” Apparently a securities analyst has discovered that they are indeed doing so, and this was confirmed by Google. Well, I certainly hope so!

I am waiting for the true integration of Google and Doubleclick units, and although this will present a fine privacy line as it relates to the personally identifiable data that Google does indeed have via Gmail etc, there should be an easy way of firewalling that data if need be. We live in a data driven world folks. This is the future of content and marketing distribution. Creating increased relevancy for the consumer is a good thing. I have posted many thoughts on this matter, and I expect that we will get past the perceived privacy issues as we have with every other aspect of digital marketing to date. Doubleclick has been the martyr of at least one round of this issue in the past. Relevancy is a benefit, I wish we could all just get over it and move on.

Microsoft Acquires Semantic Search Technology: After the failed attempt at acquiring Yahoo, Microsoft last week announced the acquisition of semantic search company Powerset. Of course this was in the works for a long time , but the timing of the announcement was classic. Does Microsoft + Powerset = a threat to Google? Not in a million years. The momentum of Google’s stronghold on search is going to be tough to beat, or even compete with, as Yahoo and Microsoft have both learned the hard way to date. But the advances in semantic technology will in theory make for better search experiences over time, and this is Microsoft’s first step in the direction of developing a new search mouse mouse trap, or least improving the existing one. I’ve reported previously about Yahoo adopting semantic web standards, and have predicted that the application of semantic technology will fuel the next evolution of the web itself. In the increasingly data driven world we live in, I fiercely stand by that prediction.

Nokia Acquires Remaining Part of Symbian: It’s no secret that consumers’ and marketers’ dependence on the carriers for on-deck mobile opportunities will change over the next few years. Nokia has been making headway in the mobile advertising space, and the acquisition of Symbian should prove to be part of paving the road to the golden goose. Symbian currently runs on over half of the smart phones in the global market. However, with Apple’s iPhone and the soon-to-be-rolled-out open platform “Android” from Google, Symbian’s market share can be eroded quite easily. By standardizing an open platform, Nokia should be able to entice additional development and remain a major player in the mobile OS world.

More Print Shift To The Web: The LA Times slashed 250 jobs last week, the findings – consumers don’t have the time to read the paper anymore. Editor Russ Stanton stated that “The Web and print departments will be merged into one operation with a single budget, and the company will also refocus on being more versatile. We’ve heard these sentiments before, and we’ll here them again from others.

Average TV Network Viewer Age = 50 Years Old: Of course this varies from network to network (CW median age is only 34), but the trend shows that TV viewing audiences are getting older as media continues to fragment. It’s a brave new world out there, and as digital media consumption increases, we need to solve some of the basic issues that have plagued our industry since the dawn of online marketing history, including establishing more industry level research and data on the correlation of various aspects of advertising as it relates to effectiveness, as well as educating marketers about digital measurement in general. It still boggles my mind how many marketers (and agencies for that matter) mis-align their KPI’s (key performance indicators) with their objectives, or chose to use irrelevant metrics like CTR. There’s a lot of experimentation happening with emerging media, and most have not mastered the basics yet. A year has past since I published an article in MediaPost on this very subject, and on an industry level I haven;’tseen  or heard of much change.

MySpace & Facebook – Battle of The Redesigns: Facebook is quickly catching up to MySpace’s market dominance, in part due to the open platform for developers and the streamlined nature of the profile design and application of the social graph. With Facebook’s upcoming redesign,  applications will be moving to a separate tab, and the news feed will become even more prominent than it is currently. This is a big change amid marketers’  experimentation revolving primarily around launching applications and subsequntly trying to foster participation.  Meanwhile MySpace rolled out a redesign a few weeks ago, which was primarily focused on streamlining the chaotic mess of  a structure that was once consumer profiles. Cleaner navigation and increased applications of the social graph has been Facebook’s strong point. and MySpace’s achilles heel. MySpace had no choice but to update., and ‘they done good’. Even though they are a leader today, there always exists the chance of  MySpace getting displaced as we have seen with other social networks like Friendster.

Publicis Consolidates and Creates Vivaki: Next in the big agencies to announce the consolidation of digital assets is Publicis. WPP and Carat have already sone so in varying capacities, and inevitably all the others will follow suit soon enough.  Note to David Kenny & Jack Klues: the first step to proving that Vivaki is the right digital solution is following best practices. That 10 second flash intro on the new Vivaki website needs to go! Rishad, same to you buddy on the Denuo site.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and I often write about the morphing agency structure. The fragmentation of media and the shift to a data driven marketplace has created a shift of general marketing strategy from the creative agencies to that of the media agencies. Many of the holding companies have even developed units that specifically specialize in the development and stewardship of strategy. We will continue to see re-bundling of agency services, although to a degree the specialist is needed more than ever . Agencies must attract and recruit specialized individuals to ensure the proficient execution across an ever growing palette of channels. We have seen many senior digital agency execs moving to the client and publisher side as an additional trend lately. Integration of services to offer a big picture approach while maintaining proficiency in the specialties will be the new agency positioning.

Social Media As A Formal Discipline?: As the opportunity cost of not monitoring the conversations and interactions surrounding your brands and products increases, the role of full time Social Media Strategists and Community Managers  have crept into recent rounds of recruitment for marketers and agencies alike. The required commitment to the social media ecosystem has made it apparent that the attention of at least one full time staffer on the agency or client side is going to be a requirement at some point for all brands.  Although brands can have their agencies assign a full time person assigned to their brand (today there are many specialized and integrated agencies who offer social marketing services), there is an economic reality that brands may be best served in this manner internally, with support from agencies for specific tasks and projects. It’s far too early to tell, but if I were a major brand I’d be looking for  an internal manager at this point. The costs of the monitoring tools are coming down and the players are becoming more diverse. The social media ecosystem is evolving before our eyes, it’s a lot to keep up with. Brands must commit to be committed – hire a social media manager or at least an agency that can help you wrap your arms around what’s happening in social media and what it means to your brand.

The semantic web, simply put, is a layer of information that describes web content itself, universally, so it can be beYahoo Semantic Web databased, integrated, networked and understood by different systems, in my humble opinion is part of the future of how we use the web, and how IP based extensions begin to make their way into the terrestrial based non-wired parts of our lives. I’ve been a proponent of the semantic web for some time, and ironically the medical and defense communities have been using elements of the semantic web for some time now (in a fairly basic form), but it’s yet to work its way into standard day-to-day internet business or online advertising practices. Of course many technologies fulfill part of the concept, but not universally, which is the power of the semantic web. In my predictions for 2008, I included “ambient findability & the semantic web” coming to realization this year…albeit only in nascent stages. Google’s open social initiative and other open source concepts have exposed the tip of this iceberg for a long time.

BBC reports today “Yahoo has announced its adoption of some of the key standards of the semantic web.”

They report a quote from Amit Kumar, director of product management for Yahoo search – “despite ‘remarkable progress’ being made on how to classify meaning on webpages, the benefits of this work have not been felt by the average web user.”

Amen to that brother! Let’s tap into the collective knowledge & experiences that exist in the web2.0 ecosystem that we’ve created for ourselves. It’s out there waiting for us to better organize it, which is a win-win for all.

Ultimately the combination of the mathematical forces behind the exponential growth of social media and the amount of professionally produced content and experiences, require a universal tagging and cataloging schema – an aspect of the semantic web. Otherwise the growth and ability for consumers to find truly relevant content and experience is thwarted and eventually becomes as fragmented as media itself, or in fact much more so. I’d argue that we already hit that point.