Wednesday, November 24

2011's Mobile Killer App

It's the time of year when everyone publishes their 2011 Internet Predictions. I might as well start with Mobile.

2010 has actually been the Year of Mobile. First, this requires that we stop making fun of everyone who predicted it last year. Second, it requires that we actually figure out how to fit mobile into our marketing programs.

The Mobile Hype of the Year award was easily won by location-based social networking: Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Twitter Locations. Some marketers experimented with it, while the majority waited to see if anyone would actually use it.

According to Pew, only 7% of mobile users check-in anywhere. This isn't the mass audience required for mobile to be an effective marketing tool, although it hasn't stopped the Location Czars. Yelp now allows businesses to offer special promotions/offers to users who check-in. Foursquare is playing the loyalty card angle. Gowalla offers custom sponsorships of digital rewards. Facebook is testing Deals.

What about QR codes? These are the little square symbols showing up all over magazines and outdoor advertising. They are big in Japan. The idea is simple: take a picture of the symbol with your phone, send that image to the Interweb, and receive specific content back (video, text, link to mobile site). At least it sounds relatively simple until you realize that you first need to download a QR code reader to your phone -- of which there are many apps to pick from.

It doesn't help that Microsoft developed their own custom QR code format requiring their own proprietary mobile app, which they are aggressively promoting through print media partnerships. Anyone who lived through the Netscape/IE/AOL browser wars in the 90s knows how this will end. Nothing drags out technology adoption and stifles consumer usage like competing technologies that all do the same thing.

Consumers are Technolazy. They don't want to learn how to do something new. They don't download and install things without a real good reason. It isn't a surprise there are no published case studies on QR marketing programs. Its most effective result is freaking out your competitors and making them spend time rushing to launch their own QR-enabled print ads.

Mobile commerce has its place for some marketers, but only 20% of retailers currently offer it. Recent research shows that mobile has its largest opportunity in the aisle as a final point of purchase influence:
  • More than one third of smartphone-carrying consumers (who represent 24% of all U.S. consumers) are ready to use their mobile devices in ways that transform how they shop everywhere and, in particular, how they shop in retail stores.
  • New behaviors facilitated by mobility, all of which can take place in stores, include searching for price and product information, checking merchandise availability, and comparing prices at nearby stores, browsing product reviews, and purchasing goods.
  • Consumers using multiple channels sequentially as they move from Web to store will give way to concurrent omnichannel behaviors as consumers bring their comfortable use of m-commerce with them into the store. These new behaviors will exert pressures that weaken the store's immediate influence on purchase decisions "at the shelf."
Influencing in-aisle purchase decisions is the Holy Grail for marketers and the reason so much money is spent on shelf talkers, hang tags, and end caps. Mobile offers the ability to deliver content to consumers in-store, without being subjected to the retailer's promotion restrictions and costs. Marketers should focus their mobile efforts on delivering branded content in this environment.

The majority of mobile users plan to leverage their phone to compare prices and read product reviews. This could provide enough value for even the Technolazies to try it out. There are already a couple apps available to scan UPC codes and receive competitive pricing, although they also suffer from the QR Code Clutter adoption barrier.

Amazon just upgraded their iPhone app with UPC scanning/price checking capabilities. eBay recently acquired RedLaser, which will allow their apps to do the same thing. Enabling existing apps with these features will be much more successful, since users won't need to download anything additional. Their success is only limited by the number of users who have them installed.

Which brings me to the Killer Mobile App for 2011 = Facebook. Yeah, I know, Facebook was the killer mobile app of 2010. They already have the largest penetration and usage of any mobile app. Their users are already accustomed to interacting with the real world via their phones (taking pictures) and uploading images via the app. Introducing new techno-functionality is as easy as the next app upgrade.

Facebook is in a unique position to push any mobile technology they want. It doesn't mean everyone will use it. How many of your Fbook friends have checked into a Place recently? But enabling a consumer behavior that is already ingrained -- in-aisle mobile information -- is much easier than trying to create new ones.

In order to avoid being trumped by the Next Big Internet Thing, Facebook must expand their reach beyond a big website. Don't scoff, AOL, Yahoo, MySpace, and GeoCities all thought they were irreplaceable also. Mobile is a natural for reaching consumers beyond their computers. Facebook is a natural for reaching consumers with mobile.

Facebook has been very public about their intent to not rely on advertising dollars as a revenue source. Even less so for mobile advertising. Mobile commerce could become Facebook's killer revenue stream. Maybe direct sales (but probably not). Maybe commissions based on mobile shopping referrals (more likely). But offer marketers the opportunity to influence purchase behavior in-store? That provides a social ROI that would actually be worth spending money on.

Friday, November 19

Relegating Banners to the Kids Table

My former colleague Scott Johnson and I have an ongoing competition to determine who hates online banner advertising the most [Scott's latest volley, mine]. We love online media. We just think banner ads are an archaic format for advertisers. It's amazing how little they have evolved since 1994.

Everyone seems to take it for granted that banners must be the cornerstone of an online campaign. Media agencies assume they are expected to buy them, marketers assume they are expected to pay for them, creatives assume they have to animate them. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, they are like the guy who keeps showing up at family holiday gatherings over the years. He's always been there so we keep letting him in the door, even though he may not be related to anyone and we really hope he doesn't sit next to us.

It doesn't help that our industry is built on the backs of banners: publisher site revenue, 3rd party media reps, ad networks, rich media vendors, measurement companies, behavioral targeting specialists, real-time reverse-auction bid systems run by rocket scientists... The list goes on. Heck, even Google recently placed bets that banners will drive their business forward.

All in the face of declining clickthrough rates (see Mr. Johnson's bashing) and plummeting CPMs. According to Adweek, 1.3 trillion banner impressions in Q3 this year? That's a whole lot of clutter. It is good to know that the "success" of this influx of banner media is exactly why CTRs are so crappy:
According to “Standard Banners—Non-Standard Results,” it was the success of online display ads that caused the drop in clicks to begin with. As users saw more and more ads across the internet, many continued clicking, but not fast enough to keep up with the expanding inventory. Clickthrough rates fell steadily until reaching an equilibrium.
This is the most blatant banner denial that I have seen in a long time, but at least the research report came with charts. I still hold to my theory that the majority of online consumers ignore the non-clicked banners anyway.

Behavioral targeting has long been touted as the savior for banner media. Hey, if we can at least serve you banners that we think you are interested in, then maybe you will actually acknowledge their existence. Unless, of course, we aren't allowed to (courtesy of the NY Times):
After “do not call” lists became popular, more than 90 percent of people who signed up reported fewer annoying telemarketing calls. Now, privacy advocates are pushing for a similar “do not track” feature that would let Internet users tell Web sites to stop surreptitiously tracking their online habits and collecting clues about age, salary, health, location and leisure activities.
Online privacy issues are as old as the banner ad. They have been a constant drone in the media and something most consumers claim they are concerned about. Facebook's recent user data leaks only add fuel to the topic. For most of us, the need to delete browser cookies or reject Facebook application requests is greatly outweighed by our desire to play Mafia Wars and not have to remember website passwords.

But give me a chance to opt-out of having anonymous site usage info collected by marketers? Not exactly sure what that means, but I also hate telemarketing calls so sign me up! Those ad units would probably set a record for engagement rates. Which in turn would guarantee the death of behavioral targeting and all the companies whose revenue flow depends on it.

But what to do with all those media dollars? How about using it to pay media sites to create branded content for you. Not just sponsored content, but content created from your creative brief. And guess what? Those same media sites are pretty good at distributing that content for you as well, which gives new meaning to the term added value. I hate banners less if I'm not paying for them.

The demise of banner advertising is coming. Scott and I aren't the only ones who think so (requisite Wired link, read the last paragraph). You can huddle in your bomb shelter with your stockpile of backup GIFs and pretend it isn't happening. Or join us in our revolution. The future will not be clickable.

Wednesday, November 17

The Simple Challenge

Pssst! Listen up. Here's the most important lesson that I've learned in the last two years on the client side:

Interactive marketers make things
way too difficult for themselves

We have a tendency to put together complex digital strategies that beget complex user experiences, which in turn beget complex creative solutions, which then require complex measurement programs. All in a channel that is already overwhelming for the traditional marketers who pay most of our bills.

It's no wonder brands haven't migrated more marketing dollars online. It is just so damn complicated to explain. I worked with a great offline GCD awhile ago, who I started dragging to client interactive presentations. His summary of our Interweb world converted me:

When I present a print ad concept, I don't have to first explain
how paper is made, how a print press functions, and the
200 different ways someone might read a magazine.

If you can't present your digital strategy in 5 PPT slides, then it is too complicated. If it takes 10 minutes to describe how an interactive ad/game/viral social app will work, then it is too complicated. If your online promotion requires more than 2 clicks to engage with, then you need to make it more simple. If your measurement dashboard is set at 8 pt type to fit on the screen, then simplify it.

Don't worry, simple doesn't mean you aren't doing your job. Your clients will love you for it. It makes their lives more simple as well: They can actually explain it to their boss. They can cut the creative review meetings in half. The odds of consumers actually engaging with it (and not publicly bashing it on the brand Facebook wall) will be much better.

As an agency, your life will be more simple also: Less production hassles, less account management anxiety, 10 minute measurement report meetings. And you will probably get paid the same amount for the project.

Here is my ultimate personification of simple. No instructions required. Takes 30 seconds to figure out. Completely addictive.

Wednesday, October 27

Public Displays of Promotion

There are a few common truths when it comes to social marketing promotion programs:
  1. Consumers love free stuff
  2. Free stuff is a great way to attract consumers to your social spaces and reward those already connected with you
  3. Consumers get mad when they can't get their free stuff
  4. Social media is the perfect place for them to complain about it
There is nothing more painful than watching a brand's social promotion go awry. Between my own programs -- and following other marketer's promotions -- it seems any type is fair game. Online coupons, sweepstakes, and contests all have the potential to attract the haters.

Sometimes online coupons don't print correctly. Sometimes consumers are too dumb to enter a contest correctly. Sometimes (actually more frequently than you expect) your well-planned and orchestrated promotion is just too complicated for consumers to interact with.

Whatever the cause, social media provides a very public space for them to express their outrage. It doesn't help that places like the Facebook Wall overtly encourage other haters to pile on the criticism. Misery loves company, crowdsourcing becomes crowdcomplaining. Compounding this is the fact that your VP of Marketing can watch it unfold in real time. Assuming they even know that you have a Facebook page.

These Public Displays of Promotion require marketers to take extra care when planning and executing programs. You must be ready to deal with the vocal minority of complainers. They will show up eventually.

The following are my Guiding Principles for Managing Social Promotions. They are tuned towards Facebook, since that is where we execute the bulk of our programs. They can be adapted to any place where you can be publicly flogged.

  1. Your program will spawn haters. Doesn't matter how simple or straightforward it is. Someone will find something to complain about. Ensure you have clear user guidelines and T&Cs on your Facebook page that state what types of user comments can be deleted.

  2. Prep your Consumer Relations team about the promotion, even if they are not involved in moderating your Facebook Wall. A pissed-off consumer's resourcefulness is amazing when it comes to getting free stuff. 1-800 numbers or Contact Us email addresses are only a quick Google search away.

  3. Pre-announce a promotion start date at your own risk. You will quickly attract an angry mob if that sampling form isn't ready at 6 AM on the day you promised.

  4. Establish clear roles for watching your Wall after a promotion starts. Especially over the weekend. Murphy's Law states all online coupon inventory shall be depleted on a Saturday afternoon.

  1. If you pre-announced the promotion date, then launch it at midnight the night before. Seriously. Making it live "sometime that day" won't cut it. There must be a promotion countdown ticker synced with the atomic clock somewhere.

  2. Don't launch it on a Friday, unless you have a robust process for managing issues over the weekend.

  3. Keep It Simple. No multi-step processes or fancy interactive modules.

Managing The Impending Chaos
  1. Be prepared to address common user issues or complaints. Deputize the person or agency managing your Wall to respond immediately to these. It often will halt comments from other upset users.

  2. Don't delete any complaints unless they violate your user guidelines (see Preparing above).

  3. Often the community will police itself, and other users respond to complaints before you do. Watch these conversations to ensure they don't turn into a good old fashion flame war.

  4. If complainers pile on, then limit the public exposure on your Wall:
    --Change the Wall default view to Brand Only until the fury dies down. Users can still select the option to also view what other Fans have posted, but this will limit most of the views.
    --Prepare a group of new Wall posts to flood it after the conversation dies down. This will push negative posts off the first page view. People can still view them, but they need to make an effort to see them.

  5. Remind your boss, Consumer Relations, PR agency, and family members that this is only short term and will pass. Usually in a day or two. If they really freak out, then find a couple other marketing promotions on Facebook where the exact same issues are occurring. It happens on almost all of them.


  1. Write a status post announcing the promotion is finished. This helps prevent late comers from posting about how they can't find it. This happens often when coupon blogs continue linking to your page post-program.

  2. If late comers do complain, then respond with a comment explaining it is finished. This can help prevent piling on.

  3. If you are announcing the winner of a contest, then be prepared for the entire complaint process to start all over again. Some people just hate it when others win free stuff instead of them.

Monday, October 18

Is that a CTR in your pocket, Or are you just glad we noticed you?

Rhythm -- the self-reported largest mobile video ad network -- recently published an overview of mobile advertising metrics (download here).

It contains comparisons between types of mobile ad units, including user response across Apple devices and Android phones. These are basic benchmarks, but useful as mobile advertising moves beyond static banners into rich media and video. Of course, you would expect charts from a mobile video ad network to portray mobile video positively...

A sign that we may be headed down the same beaten path of misguided metrics is Mediapost's article, which focuses on the most irrelevant part of the study = Clickthrough Rates. The last thing we need to burden Mobile Advertising with are the scarlet letters C--T--R. Of course CTR is high (at least compared to its old, sickly online relatives). It's a new advertising medium and benefits from limited ad exposure. People are bound to click on them out of sheer curiosity.

CTRs are always high in the early days of a new interactive ad channel. Guess what, it's nowhere but down from here. CTRs naturally decline over time, leading marketers to pine for the days when they delivered results on the left side of the decimal point. Focusing attention on them now does nothing but set Mobile up for disappointment in the long run.

Monday, October 11

Social Broadcasting For Dummies (everyone but you)

A recent global study (here's the summary) has encouraging news for trying to monetize the value of Facebook brand pages:
  1. 92% of Fbook fans of brand pages would recommend those brands to friends
  2. Over 33% "want to buy this brand's product more"
Awesome stats, until you do the math. Let's assume your Fbook page has 100,000 fans. Yeah, yeah, I know Starbucks and Coke and Oreo have millions of fans. But take a look at your competitor's Fbook pages, slap your face a couple times, and get real.

Let's also assume the average Fbook user has 130 friends. But of those 130 friends, only 50% are truly personal connections/peers (or at least in the same target market).

Advocacy Impact:
(100,000 x 92%) x (130 x 50%) = 5,980,000 potential influencees

Which are decent Word of Mouth results, although this assumes that all 92% of your fans will proactively recommend you. When is the last time you did this on your personal Fbook wall?

This is the point where WOM measurement goes all fuzzy and leap-of-faithy. After a user joins your fan page, the odds of them "liking" or commenting on your page regularly is fairly low. Resulting in even lower chances that their Fbook friends notice the connection with you. Meaning the reach and frequency of these WOM impressions could be much smaller.

So let's dissect a more direct measurement = Purchase Intent. It's great that a third of your Fbook fans intend to buy your product. But at the average fan count (my best guess is between 30K - 300K per brand page), this isn't exactly the type of sales numbers that excite most CFOs. Since your fans are primarily already users of your product, we are really talking repeat purchases -- not new user acquisition. So the sales impact is even lower.

So what's a poor social marketer to do? Pump more money into acquiring fans, in order to increase the final output? Then you run the risk of having to justify that investment. The dreaded Fan ROI discussion. Online advertising faces enough scrutiny when we micro-measure it on hundreds of data points. Imagine defending your social media spend with hypotheses and best guesses.

How about guaranteeing that these advocates reach millions of potential consumers, based on established distribution channels? Measured by criteria and research tools already accepted industry-wide?

Recently I presented on leveraging branded social spaces to generate advocacy content, but leveraging paid media to distribute it and reach a wider audience. Resulting in a much broader impact that can actually be measured: Brand-Distributed Consumer Advocacy.

Hopefully it goes beyond cramming product reviews in banners (although that's a good start). Use standard reach/frequency to measure its exposure. Apply standard Dynamic Logic/Comscore brand effectiveness studies to really measure its impact.

In my perfect world I never have to justify the value of a fan, and the number of fans is irrelevant. Instead the focus should be on the amount of advocacy content they generate and its impact outside of Facebook's walls.

Just get ready for a whole new list of buzzwords such as CPWOM (cost per thousand advocate mentions), behaviorally-targeted sentiment, and influence intent. Online marketers never pass up a chance to complicate the simple.

Kill Me Now

AdKeeper preps service that lets users "clip" banner ads for viewing and sharing at their convenience.

"Marketers and regular people like ads."

Wednesday, September 29

Putting Lipstick On An Ad Banner

Google has apparently milked the Long Tail of search advertising all the way to its itsy-bitsy tip. Their declaration this week to begin dominating display advertising (WSJ, NYT) was most interesting for its yawn factor.

The highlights of the announcement:
  1. Banners with video!
  2. Banners with video charged as cost per view!
  3. Banners with video that expand and are charged as cost per view!
They could have just bought VideoEgg. Oops, too late.

Their social activation of ad units received the most hype:
In five years, Salzman said 75% of display ads will be “social,” meaning people will be able to comment on them, share them with friends on social networks, or “subscribe” to them, implying that users could sign up to receive notices of when similar ads are available to watch.
Which might be a great way to keep those Superbowl TV spots chugging along post-game. But seriously, you expect me to become a fan of your banner ad? Assuming I even notice it to begin with? It better be damn good. Or at least appealing to the eye:
During a presentation during the IAB advertising conference, Google executives said the medium will become much more engaging. In past years, display ads were “static” and it was “tough to engage Madison Avenue’s most creative minds,” said Barry Salzman, a Google managing director for media. Now “display is bringing ‘sexy’ back.”
Ask any Art Director for their opinion about creating banner ads. Sexy is not the four-letter word at the top of their list.

Facebook has traction with their whole "your friends like this company" automated recommendation ad unit. But that's in a closed social environment where people are used to liking things out of habit. And they are raising their hand to be connected with your brand, not your 25K 3-loop animated Flash rectangle.

It is reminiscent of Digg's announcement last year allowing users to vote on their favorite banners. An initiative that hasn't been publicized much since.

The Internet doesn't need sexy banners. In my opinion, it doesn't need banners at all. There are much more creative (and effective) ways to spend your online media dollars. As more marketers and site publishers figure that out, display advertising's long tail will eventually get clipped. As will a wide variety of advertising revenue streams. Even the sexy ones.

Thursday, September 9

Google Makes the Interweb Faster and Lazier

Wow there's a lot of hoopla over the announcement of Google Instant (positive, neutral, and downright indifferent). Auto-populating content based on what you half-type isn't really new. I blame my iPhone's autocomplete spelling function for completely destroying my ability to type on any other keyboard. Now we can apply the same principles of devolution to finding stuff online.

Google's concept around saving "350 million hours" of user time a year -- since we won't wait 2-3 seconds for every search result to appear -- is what has me worried. Over the years we have jumped from dial-up modem speeds to faster dial-up modem speeds, from broadband to faster broadband. Now we are moving from real time to faster real time.

Which is great progress for someone who's been around the Internet awhile. But to users like my kids, who are just starting to interact online, it becomes a starting reference point. Everything else is going to seem slow. Even if it isn't. Instantaneous is the new Fast.

What's faster than instantaneous? Not having to take any action, starting a whole new race into predictive content. Why go through the whole pain-in-the-ass process of actually seeking information? Shouldn't the Interweb just provide it to me when I need it, before I realize I need it?

Predictive Content has been online marketing's holy grail for a long time. From's "you might like" shopping lists, to behavioral targeting of ad banners, to Facebook's "your friends like this" recommendations. Everyone wants to provide you with information that they think you want.

So what happens when we solely rely on this type of content? The Interweb definitely feels faster. And easier. And slothier. On an extreme, it's dangerously close to eliminating Free Will. Or at least Searching Will.

There's already an entire grey market of companies reselling your website browsing cookie data to ad networks. Combine this with all the Facebook "likes" you are clicking across the Internet. Add a healthy dose of "we know you like this, and these other people like this also, and they browsed here, so you must be interested in the same things" logic.

Which is all good and fine, until we reach the point where we don't actually take independent action online. We lose our autonomy when we stop proactively seeking content. When I start consuming the same content as my peers -- just because it is fed to me and easier to consume -- then these predictive algorithms lose their edge. The content they recommend gets marginalized. Our cookies get fat and lazy. Our social content becomes generic groupthink. And the Internet will start to feel so, well, boring.

The big question is at that point, will any of us remember how to actually find content on our own? If only there were a web site for that...

Sunday, September 5

A Love Letter

Dear Interweb,

I really love you, but lately we don't seem to have a lot to talk about. Maybe we are just getting old. Don't get me wrong, the last 15 years have been great. We made it through some rough patches. That whole Web 2.0 craze was a much-needed energy boost and brought sparks back into our relationship.

We haven't had much in common so far in 2010. Mobile QR Codes? iPad ads? Facebook Places? Really, that's the best we can come up with?

SXSW was a great diversion, full of stimulating conversations and non-advertising industry memes. Crowdsourcing was a hot topic. Especially how the democratization of content will doom the creative process (Andrew Keen, Sean Lennon). So that was a bit of a buzzkill.

Plus no one seemed to care enough to embrace the QR codes on every conference badge. Beware the technohype that can't catch on with 14,000 Internet geeks. I did sit next to Bruce Sterling at a small session, and stand next to Jaron Lanier at a urinal. Unfortunately FourSquare doesn't have geek street cred badges for those.

I know it's been a year since I last talked to you on this blog. I have been talking about you (NY Digital Media Summit, Social Commerce Summit, IAB Mobile, Blogwell). So don't think that I don't care.

I pledge to find more interesting topics to discuss, defend, debate, and demean. This just needs to work both ways. I"ll try harder if you will.