Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Testing To Make IM Fast and Simple

I’ve pointed out that testing is a time-honored direct marketing technique that has taken on greater capabilities on the Internet. Several important items have drifted into my inbox over the past couple of weeks and I’d like to bring them together. Marketers need to be testing and there are an increasing number of services to help them deal with the complexities of doing reliable tests.

Many of you are familiar with the work of Avinash Kaushik, his blog and his book on Internet metrics. Recently he was interviewed by Brian Eisenberg of FutureNow and Grok.com, who has just written a book on testing. It’s a 30-minute interview (access from this page) but worth playing in the background while you read your mail.

Let me give you a brief overview. Kaushik emphasizes how fast the web moves and how flexible marketers have to be to keep up with it. The weeks and months it took to read the old direct mail tests just don’t cut it on the web. What the marketer needs to be able to do is:

• Encourage a flow of ideas and validate the good ones
• Lower the risk of making marketing decisions
• Do it in a way that’s fast and simple.

Testing is the key first step. Success comes from superb execution.

My last post on testing generated two comments that contribute to the discussion. They are from two marketing services firms that appear to serve different market segments with testing products. Both commenters basically agree that Google Website Optimizer may be a good way to get started in testing, but it doesn’t produce results that have a high level of statistical confidence.

Widemile is a service that targets agencies needing testing services for their clients. A lot of firms/a lot of agencies don’t have the in-house expertise. They need services and Widemile concentrates on the optimization of landing pages. They have a brief demo; check it out. Billy Shih has an informative blog that focuses on testing.

SiteSpec appears to serve clients directly with testing services that include A/B splits and multivariate tests. It has an interesting platform, well explained in a demo. There’s also a video on their home page.

Testing is important, but most of us need help. That includes knowing the right questions to ask and the kind of results to demand. Here are some good resources to help you upgrade your own knowledge about this key avenue to Internet marketing success.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Creative Strategy for Rich Media

DoubleClick was one of the first ad serving agencies and now offers a broad range of services to marketers. Because of the ad serving activity they have a lot of data and they’ve used it to provide many useful reports. I recently came across their “Creative Insights for Rich Media” report, which can be found on their Research Reports page (under the Insights and Innovations tab).

I was especially interested in the video formats although the report contains data on standard ad formats, with and without video. Here’s a table that summarizes the data related to video.

Video Formats


Expanding Video

Expanding Non-Video

In-Page Video

Click-Through Rate

Larger creative sizes give higher click-through rates

Interaction Rate

In-page and larger creative sizes give higher interaction rate

Interaction Time

Format plays little role in interaction time (content is key)

Expansion Rate

Video formats produce higher expansion rates than non-video ads

Video Complete Rate

More videos are completed in expanding formats; even more in the in-page format. Fewer auto-play videos are completed than are user-initiated videos

The report concludes with two recommendations, both of which sound like no-brainers.

  1. The marketer must know the definitions and methodology behind the metrics she is using. We all know CTR; the definitions of the interactive metrics are more complex. Those definitions are detailed on page 13 of the report.
  2. "Only compare and contrast data that comes from the same system and that adheres to the same methodology." That sounds pretty straightforward also--right? For example, it's all DoubleClick data; isn't it comparable. No. They point out that they've updated some of the computations of some of their metrics recently--and other producers of metrics do the same. The marketer has to be vigilant, even when tracking the same metrics over time.

As I read the report, I remembered that MSN.com used to have a really explanation of rich media formats, including video, on their advertising page. So I went there to look for it. On the way I got sidetracked.

I saw the ABC ad on the MSN home page and decided to "Visit ABC.com."

There's lots of media on the ABC.com site; that's no surprise. Actually, I was most interested in the banner at the top showing Bill Gates. It invited me to "rollover" and I did.

That opened a page at Microsoft; apparently a new marketing program, "A PC is not a stereotype," whatever that means. It's some interactive "advertainment"--you can see who's a pc, or in the other tab you can see what you'd look like in various advertising venues--Times Square, for example.

Quite a few people have uploaded pictures to play their game. I expanded Steve Ballmer's picture. I love it when CEOs participate!

By that time I was tired, and the post is getting too long anyway. MSN has improved their rich media formats page since I was last there and they have an excellent creative gallery. Check them out for yourself. And think about the power of these new media!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

DIY Webcasting

Outreach to bloggers continues! Last week I received an email from the PR firm for webcasting firm BrightTalk. It just launched a Web 2.0 platform that makes webcasting a more interactive activity with continuity that is missing from the typical webcasting activity. According to their website, “brighttalk.com is our simple to use live audio webcast platform, built using web 2.0 principles, where business professionals can create and view webcasts through BrightTALK™ Channels.” This platform adds to their existing Conferences and Webcasting product lines.

In my experience, webcasts are essentially stand-alone entities. You do a webcast, publicize it in many ways, and essentially use it as lead generation, for your products, and for future webcasts. I think most B2B marketers who’ve used them regard them as a valuable lead generation and customer support tool. That said, they can get pretty expensive.

The BrightTALK platform offers a couple of interesting alternatives to the traditional webcasting platform. First is the free starter channel. There are other free offerings; for example webcasts can be hosted on YouTube. However, the BrightTALK platform offers a more comprehensive marketing solution. You can make your webcasts as simply as developing and narrating slides, which you can do on other platforms also. BrightTalk promotes your webcasts in addition to your own advertising and promotion. The webcast is hosted and archived and participants who come directly from the presenter’s own website or by direct link from presenter promotion are identified to the presenter.

There are three levels of channels, with the paid channels obviously giving more bandwidth and more detailed reporting. There is also a content management service that enterprises with multiple webcasting programs would find useful.

The webcast channel can be embedded on the firm’s website, blog or whatever. The value of having informational video promotions on one’s site seems pretty obvious. In fact, you might want to watch BrightTalk’s own how-to video.

One of the things Web 2.0 does is to bring interactive tools within the reach of smaller businesses and non-profits. Wouldn’t it be interesting if local and state governmental agencies used tools like this to make life easier for all of us and perhaps to discuss policy questions? There seem to be a lot of options, all of which would lead to better informed—and presumably happier—customers and citizens.

More leveling of the business playing field! The good news is that the platform is free, at least for small volume users. The bad news is that it takes good content and considerable effort to develop a meaningful webcast that will hold users to its conclusion. It is effort worth taking for businesses of all kinds!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is It the End of Surveys?

You may have noticed an article in Ad Age last week, “The End of Consumer Surveys.” It is based on an ongoing program by the Advertising Research Foundation that aims—not to do away with consumer surveys—but instead to integrate conventional marketing research and social media metrics to give a clearer picture of how well brands are doing to get their message out. “Out” is meant in the broadest sense; not just how much is being spent on brand messages in conventional media but how well that is translating into (unpaid) online chatter favorable to the brand.

ARF is being supported in this effort by marketing research firm TNS and its Cymfony Division, which specializes in social media. TNS has a number of resources posted on their site. The ones I was especially taken with were a 2007 white paper “Making the Case for a Social Media Strategy,” (chart at right) and the ARF webcast ”Social Media Analysis for Consumer Insight: Validating and Enhancing Traditional Market Research Findings.” I’m going to hit some of the highlights and try to bring them together for you. The webcast runs about 40 minutes and is worth listening to in its entirety (access it from this page). There’s another in this series coming up on November 12 and other related webcasts on the ARF events page.

Using brands of HDTV as their basic case study, the researchers from TNS used what could be called marketing research triangulation to look at brand impact. They used:

• Conventional marketing panel research to understand conventional brand metrics like favorability
• They used projective techniques to uncover the attitudinal (“emotive”) dimensions that characterize brands in the category
• They used convention web metrics (e.g. visits to websites) and social media metrics (e.g., brand mentions in blogs) to measure online activity and chatter.

Two key metrics which they report—and which they find to be interrelated—are share of market and share of discussion.

One of the products of their analytics that I found most interesting was a list—ordered by “contact clout”—of various contacts points that affect consumers’ decisions about brands. Experience with the brand is really important—points 1, 2 and 4. The first mention of traditional media ranks 9th—articles in newspapers and magazines. This probably reflects the innovative and technological nature of the HDTV product. TV comes in at number 14, but remember the metric is “influences brand decisions” not “creates awareness.” Nevertheless, the preponderance of personal and in-store information sources is striking.

But the main theme of the ARF/TNS collaboration is the need to combine conventional marketing research and social media metrics. Their argument is that just looking at brand activities is not sufficient. It is also absolutely necessary that you look at what consumers are doing and saying. The tough part is bringing the two together. I’ve argued the point in a somewhat different way; use behavioral analysis—first—to find out what people are doing; then conventional marketing research adds value by finding out why. The TNS analysis adds to that argument by demonstrating that you can get some of the whys from online chatter.

Their recommendation for effectiveness includes two kinds of communication—marketer generated and consumer generated. The marketer needs to work at nurturing (“spinning”) social networks and generating real online dialog between consumers and marketers.

The ARF has long been known for serious scrutiny of marketing research issues. This is an important effort to move marketing analytics in a direction that is essential to marketing effectiveness in the Web 2.0 world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Online Content Sharing - The New WOM

The company responsible for the ubiquitous ShareThis icon (see the bottom of this post) has just released a study called “The Ins and Outs of Online Sharing.” The study, conducted by Forrester, provides some fascinating insights into content sharing on the web. Let me give you some of the study highlights.

Who Shares?

A majority of Internet users do share. Interestingly, more adults share email. Not surprisingly, youth (13 to 17) do more sharing of other media types. Are you using videos, wikis (that one surprises me; are there wikis that reach young people, or is it just Wikipedia?), and walls/discussion boards to reach young people?

What Do They Share?

Just read down the list. They share a lot of things! And the only content area where there’s a large difference between adults and young people is the entertainment category. That’s not surprising; how similar adults and youth are in the sharing of other types of content is. Are you providing the kinds of content that your audience most desires?

How Do They Share? Adults mostly use email. Young people share through IM, mobile, and their social networks. That’s hardly a revelation. But marketers need to think about their audience and how they want to share information. Are you making it easy for your audience to share content?

Why Do They Share?
Read this one carefully—people share because they want to help others. (I’ve seen/heard that before, especially in discussions of travel sites where you can share experiences.) It’s an overriding motivation, and it doesn’t differ much between adults and youth. Users also share because they’ve found shared information useful, to share information about product quality, and just simply to show their enthusiasm. Wow—the top 4 reasons are positive. Dissatisfaction is number 5 and the incidence is much lower. Are you making it easy for customers to share their experiences with your product?

Is It Easy to Share? The good news is that it’s generally pretty easy. The number is well under 50% for most types of sharing. Youth experience more problems. That’s not surprising; they are sharing various types of media and that makes them more likely to run into problems. Are you removing obstacles that inhibit your audience from sharing?

The study also identified an intriguing segment—the Power Sharers. Power sharers use technology other than email to share content at least once a week. They also:

• Share with more people, regardless of the channel they are using
• Share different types of content more frequently
• Share for additional reasons. They are more likely to be motivated by community and by what the report characterizes as “self-expression.”
• Face more obstacles to sharing, especially lack of relevant contact information.

Pure and simple, these are opinion leaders. They’ve always existed and they’ve always been powerful. The Internet lets them exercise their particular expertise and passions in ways never before possible. It gives them the potential to reach more people than ever before.

Are you trying to identify opinion leaders and harness their enthusiasm in the service of your community?

Take another look at the Pickens Plan. I got an email from two individuals as soon as I joined; one was the regional coordinator. He’s being very quiet about how this now-sizeable community is being run, but I assume these people are volunteers. If I’m right, it’s an impressive harnessing of the enthusiasm and outreach of opinion leaders.

The report is lengthy and well interpreted. You can request a copy from Jeremy Bock at ShareThis.

These data remind me that Web 2.0 isn’t about technology. While Web 1.0 was about communication, Web 2.0 is coalescing around the concept of community. This study goes one step further in suggesting that we have to build those communities around (multi-media) content that is relevant to people’s lives (B2C) or work (B2B) and make it easy for people to interact around that content. People are voting with their Send, Forward, and ShareThis commands.

Are you letting them vote for your brand?

What is UGC Saying About You?

The recurring nightmare of any marketer who has programs in the social space is user generated content that reflects poorly on her brand. The Internet is awash with posts, comments, reviews, photos, videos and more. How can marketers use positive UGC to their advantage while mitigating any damage from negative commentary?

Most of us do it simply—from moderating comments on blogs to using Google Alerts to see what others are saying about us/our brands. These solutions tend to be labor intensive, but they work for the small publisher or a brand that’s not too much in the public eye. When the volume of Internet buzz becomes great, however, protecting the brand’s reputation becomes a massive project.

The issue becomes even more complex when the marketer wants to advertise on social networks, which will be a growing activity according to eMarketer (August 29, 2008). How can he keep up with UGC on far-flung sites? It’s even worse when the ads are placed on networks, making it difficult to even entirely know where ads are being run.

Enter a firm that promotes a comprehensive moderation product. Keibi has a product that helps online communities identify and moderate questionable content. Content includes videos and images as well as text. They also offer moderation services.

In a lengthy presentation from a recent conference Keibi points out that moderation can be done at three points:

• Moderate all content before it is posted
• Moderate only user-flagged content
• Moderate most or all content (after posting) each day (slide 31).

Each level obviously requires a different level of effort and amount of human resources.

They stress the importance of well-thought-out terms of service. Enforcing the terms of service provides a safe environment that gives a good user experience and makes advertisers comfortable with your site (think Facebook and the difficulty it still has in monetizing its huge traffic; slide 44). Part of the presentation deals with legal issues affecting content (slides 44 – 63).

Finally, there’s a case study of Piczo, a teen communications site that has had success in creating a trusted site using these tools. From this chart (slide 68), they have the active cooperation of their audience, and that’s clearly a plus.

The entire presentation can be accessed from this page. Slides 18-44 are the most relevant for most marketers. The earlier slides give an overview of social networks. If you want a comprehensive overview of advertising issues associated with social media advertising, try this recent IAB publication. They list a number of kinds of advertising on social networks:

• "Overlay” video ads that appear part way through the video and cover only a small part of the screen
• Conversation targeting, essentially souped-up contextual targeting
• Building your own community; wonderful if you have a willing audience and the time and resources
• Brand channel (on a site like YouTube)
• Brand profile (think the Boone Pickens Facebook page)
• Brand wrappers, which are sort of templates under another name
• Widgets in all their many variations

There may be more, but you get the idea. Social networks are where people are today—all ages, but especially the young. Marketers need to be there also. Products like the moderation suite from Keibi are needed to give them confidence in being there!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Crest Weekly Seeks Bloggers

In late August I noticed an article in Ad Age about a new P&G product—Crest Weekly Clean Intensive Cleaning Paste—that is being introduced with little television advertising. I’ve pointed out before that, especially for one of the huge mass media advertisers, P&G really gets the Internet, so I thought I’d keep an eye on what happened. There’s an interview today in iMediaConnection with Ted McConnell, the company’s interactive innovation director, that briefly mentions the program. It’s worth reading for its reflections on the role of interactive in today’s media mix; it reminded me that I was going to watch this program, especially the outreach to bloggers.

In the August 21 Ad Age article, P&G spokeswoman Allison Yang said that TV for this product launch would consist mainly of 5-second tags on other Crest ads. That’s clearly reminder advertising, not Awareness > Information in the old advertising hierarchy. So what are they doing and why? According to Yang:

The product "is not necessarily intuitive," making TV ads relatively less effective at explaining Weekly Clean, she said. . .

"What we've seen with research with consumers is that once they've seen it, they tell everybody," Ms. Yang said, another reason for the emphasis on buzz marketing vs. conventional media.

"The feeling you get is so unique, and women especially love it," she said. "A lot of times you come out with a new toothpaste flavor, and it's not something people talk about."

It appears that their “research” is also not traditional. It seems to have made heavy use of P&G’s VocalPoint Community. Call it a community, call it a consumer panel--my research made it clear that they’ve been working on this resource since at least 2005. Community building is important, but it’s no silver bullet!

The product does not appear to actually have been launched yet. The material safety data sheet is up, but that’s all I can find on the Crest page. Bloggers are busy though; this chart is for the last month. I just searched ‘crest weekly,’ so I got some garbage, but I doubt many people are going to use that whole long product name. Go do a search for yourself, especially if you aren’t familiar with blog search. I got some interesting hits. The jet-set beauty blogger is just the kind of review every product would like to get, but it’s her content, not P&G’s. I found Deal Seeking Mom even more interesting—maybe just for the sheer volume of activity on this blog—and she appears to own three blogs. And has 5 children—I’m overwhelmed!

This is another marketing program worth watching. I’ll try to update soon. In the meantime, if you see anything, please share it with me. I’m sure P&G has good monitoring systems, but don’t underestimate the effort required to keep track of Internet buzz.

A quote from Ted McConnell in the iMediaConnection interview struck me:

"I'm driven by the idea that, somehow, the $700 billion a year that humans spend[s] on advertising could create a lot of good and achieve its business goals if advertisers focus harder on crafting value rather than messages."

Well put. The value starts with a good product. If it’s good and potential consumers will like it, there’s no reason for not putting it out there and letting customers become brand evangelists to help spread the word. We know “real people” are more believable than marketing messages. Is there any reason—short of a mediocre/bad product—not to encourage them to have their say?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Portals Open Up

While financial dominoes were falling over the weekend, two of the big portals announced major changes in the way they offer services to consumers, advertisers and developers. Neither is totally new news, but events over the weekend represented major steps in making the new strategies reality.

As early as October 2007, Chief Yahoo Jerry Yang made a post on the corporate blog that gave the broad objectives of his strategic review. He said Yahoo! intended to:

1. Become the starting point for the most consumers

2. Become the must-buy for advertisers

3. Deliver open, industry-leading platforms that attract the most publishers and developers

In April they announced Y!Open as the implementation of these strategic goals. According to PC Magazine, “YOS is a bold initiative to open all Yahoo sites, online services and Web applications to outside developers, and give users a "social profile" dashboard to unify and manage their Yahoo services.” This past weekend the project became very public when Yahoo invited 300 developers to Open Hack Day. According to Yahoo a “hack” is a little program, easily put together, that does something useful and fun. For example, one developer has developed an app that allows users to combine Flickr photos with the My Trips section of the Yahoo! Travel page. Since I had to look to find what My Trips actually was, it immediately occurs to me that this can be promotional for Yahoo’s lesser-known services. For more complex apps developers can use APIs like Yahoo’s BOSS, which lets sites construct their own specialized search services.

This graphic representation of the Y!Open concept comes from a video made at last week’s conference. Yahoo CTO Ari Balogh would like for you to think of the new Yahoo as an open, social, and very sticky platform. It looks quite comprehensive, including search, dynamic pages, mail, mobile and other. You can access the video from this page.

AOL’s strategy seems less comprehensive than Yahoo’s. They are allowing users to check other mail from their AOL page, and they explain how it works on their corporate blog. This is a step for the once-walled garden, but it’s not a major change in strategic direction. AOL does have APIs for developers. Some, like the one for MapQuest, are widely used, but they seem to be individual services, not a major opening of the AOL platform.

Both these strategic moves, especially coming so close together, are indicative of evolutionary growth in the Internet, all in the direction of Web 2.0. On one hand, it clearly indicates the continuing desire of the large portals to be the oft-visited gateways to the Internet for their users at the same time they offer an array of increasingly-social services that keep users on their own sites longer.

On the other hand, it offers huge opportunities to smaller sites and less technology-focused businesses to take advantage of leading-edge user services. Using the APIs of the tech powerhouses, they can develop their customized services at relatively low cost and have them hosted on the powerhouse site.

Google, Amazon and eBay are all major originators of this open platform strategy, making it a key part of their business model. Yahoo is making what appears to be a bold move to join them; AOL is moving although perhaps less boldly.

This all suggests a new type of business consolidation. It’s one that is not represented by mergers and acquisitions, but by shared services. Interesting and worth watching!

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Facebook Experience

I may be the ultimate multitasker. I always have TV, usually live news, on in the background while I’m working. I often just turn a video up loud so I can listen without bothering to mute the TV. It works for me. . .

Yesterday, I read on a blog or heard on TV something I considered unusually nonsensical about alternative energy and the (non) positions of our political candidates. What strikes me is that none of them are willing to state the basic truth; it took us a long time to get into this mess, and it’s going to take years to get out, even if we have broadly-based commitment, which we clearly don’t have at the moment.

I’ve heard the TV ads of T. Boone Pickens. They make sense, and I had looked at the Pickens Plan website, which I thought was impressive. But yesterday, something made me mad enough to go there and sign up, right in the middle of writing my blog post. I didn’t want to spend much time, but I did decide to register and add their icon to my Facebook page, frankly not knowing exactly what was going to happen. With very little effort it went onto my profile page; if I could have gotten it onto my home page there, I don’t know how. Doesn’t much matter anyway.

When I noticed a picture of one of my former students and her beautiful children, I decided to say hello, so I sent her a quick Facebook email. The Pickens Plan icon had been added to my email template—fascinating, but I needed to finish the post.

Today, I wanted to explore further. I checked my profile page and see that there’s a feed with one piece of current news from the Pickens site. I discovered that the link that shows on Facebook, www.pushpickensplan.com, is the personal page of the site, not the home page. I was there, so I filled out a profile; just what they intended, I think. They ask more questions and allow for more detail than most profile pages. That level of detail will help other members who want to organize something, which seems to be the main objective. Maybe some human attention will be paid at “Pickens Central.” That remains to be seen. I was member number 157330, so they can’t spend much time on each one! He’s already maxed out his Facebook friends at 4921!! (If you have a Facebook account, you can log in and see it. If you don't--why not?). But you can still invite your friends to his own community, and there are multiple opportunities to do so. You can also see other members by zip code. “Cape Cod” also worked for me, which suggests a robust search engine, since it’s not a zip, town or state.

So the community building efforts look good. It also has a MySpace app. It has email, RSS and supports Twitter. It also supports a blog that is apparently open to all registered members—not that common in my experience. Like Facebook (it looks as if it may use the same wall application) I can upload photos and videos to my personal page.

I successfully added a “member” badge to this site; see the right bar. It has a link to my personal page on the Pickens site—cool! They have other widgets that have news feeds.

At this point, I’m a bit tired, and I don’t think I’ve fully explored the capabilities of this site. It occurs to me that if I was spending a lot of my own money on this campaign, I’d want the best, and that’s what he has, although I can’t find out his agency of record or site developers. But they are good!

It also occurs to me that what I initially considered the quick addition of an app to my Facebook page—mostly to see how it worked—led me on quite an odyssey. It inspired me to set up my own personal page and to see who else in my area was involved. It also offered me opportunities to spread the word—some of which I took; others of which I want to think about.

My personal opinion—a smashing use of Web 2.0 techniques in the service of a critically important public issue!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wither Digital Marketing?

Every so often I like to stop for a moment and look at the stats for online marketing, broadly defined. I’m such a believer, that I need an occasional reality check, positive or otherwise. Today’s eMarketer newsletter asking “How Much Marketing is Digital?” suggested this was a good time. And the news in terms of continuing spending and future estimates is positive. eMarketer forecasts (newsletter, March 31, 2008) online to be 10% of all media spend in 2009. Will growth in online slow as a result of poor economic conditions? At least some analysts don’t think so. According to Karsten Weide, of IDC,A bad economy forces advertisers to save money by eliminating the least-effective forms, thus speeding up the adoption of new media advertising.”

Nielsen data for May (the most recent I could find) shows the Internet share at just under 7%. That’s a bit different from the eMarketer data, but there are lots of data sources, lots of definitions. There doesn’t seem to be any argument about the trend; it’s upward and the best argument seems to be the effectiveness one.

Today’s eMarketer article refers to the same Sapient study reported on by Marketing Charts on September 5. They quoted survey data that showed CMOs planning to spend more on digital with some of them inching up toward 50%. The main focus in this popular article was on agency relationships and the ability of agencies to meet digital needs. The CMOs surveyed weren’t confident they have that ability. According to the article: “More than one-third of marketers surveyed said they are not confident that their current agency is well-positioned to take their brand through the unchartered waters of online digital marketing and interactive advertising.”

What are the CMOs looking for from agencies? The article has a top 10 list, all worth considering. I’ll list just the top 4:

1. Greater knowledge of the digital space
2. More use of “pull interactions”
3. Leverage virtual communities
4. Agency executives who use the technology they are recommending

All this makes perfect sense, and agencies clearly have a major role to play in helping their clients navigate the choppy waters of new media, made even more difficult by economic conditions. Agencies have been struggling to service their clients in newest media and technologies (think direct and database marketing, for example) for as long as I can remember. And that will undoubtedly continue.

But it’s not enough to place the entire burden on agencies. Marketers have to understand the issues; they have to ask the right questions; they have to demand objectives and metrics that encompass the new media environment. Look at item #4 above; they want executives of their agencies to be users of the technology.

Marketers have to follow their own advice. I keep saying there is simply no substitute for using the media, trying out the technology for yourself. But marketing managers can go a step further.

I wonder how many marketing departments have any kind of a coordinated approach to who needs to follow which disciplines, newsletters, webcasts; who needs to spend some time on Facebook or MySpace or in relevant virtual worlds. None of us are going to learn to deal with the new media environment by staying in our comfortable traditional media cocoons.

More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Engagement Metrics for Social Networks

There was an article today on CNET about start-up BuddyMedia and its new BuddyBrain metrics product. You can see the concept but there’s no sample data yet. The company’s press release provides data from 10 of their clients’ most popular apps:

• The app-vertisements averaged 140,000 installs during the first month of a campaign • Users spent an average of 2 minutes, 35 seconds interacting with applications
• 85% of users who installed the application(s) returned for multiple interactions
• 56% of users returned 9 or more times during the first month

The press release asserts that this is engagement rates 75 times higher than those achieved by banner ads and 5 times higher than with TV. This gives you a sense of the types of metrics they are collecting. Most of their apps so far seem to be on Facebook, so the level of interaction is understandable. Here’s an article with links to several of them. These apps encourage interactivity, that’s certain.

Is there any support for this kind of comparison between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 media engagement? Not that I could find. But I did find an interesting post by Jeremiah Owyang on an informal metrics survey that he did. It’s a long list and you should read it for yourself. The top 3 items are:

• Meets a business objective
• Supports Community Goals

• Encourage[s] Member Interaction

A more recent post gives the winners of the Forrester social network marketing assessment. They looked at programs from 16 firms. Only one passed using their “ ‘Social’ criteria (rather than traditional marketing tactics) that meet[s] the needs of the community.”

The one “pass” was given to BMW’s graffiti wall app that I’ve written about before. My sense was that it not only had many engagement features, it was clearly centered on the product; this is a marketing program, after all. The BMW campaign scored a 9 (“pass” was 8); Sony BMG’s Alica Keyes progam on My Space scored a 7. Half the 16 firms studied scored 0 or lower!

Most of us have a long way to go in learning how to effectively communicate with our audiences on the social portals and in other social media contexts. Part of the answer is to measure how well we are doing, and BuddyBrain is one approach to doing that. But there’s no substitute for the attitude adjustment that virtually all marketers need to make in order to function successfully in the Web 2.0 world. We have to quit shouting and start listening. Only then will we begin to develop creative ways of engaging with our audiences.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Testing for Marketing ROI

Today seems to be testing day in marketing newsletters. I read an article in today’s SearchBuzz newsletter about multivariate tests and thought I should check out the tools. When I wrote about testing earlier I emphasized A/B splits (bivariate) because I think that’s an easier way to start. While I was working on that, along came this week’s chart from Marketing Sherpa that does a nice job of summarizing some of the strategy issues. But do you need a big budget to test?

In the earlier post I mentioned Offermatica (recently acquired by Omniture) as a testing tool. I really like their demos of both A/B splits and multivariate tests. They’re just a bit harder to find now. You have to look on Omniture’s product tours page and select Test & Target. But this is a hosted service, not DIY.

But the tools I wanted to take a look at are Google Website Optimizer and Widemile's Page Optimizer. Google’s is free. Google, of course, has a video.

Widemile’s business model is to provide technology to agencies and marketing services firms so they can offer testing services to their clients. They have a simple summary that describes the efficiency of A/B split testing against multivariate testing. You can test many variables at once when you use experimental designs (what we refer to as multivariate testing). That seems like stating the obvious. However, what may not be so obvious is that multivariate tests are much harder to “read.” The real question is, “Are these small differences statistically significant?” As the conceptual examples in my earlier post showed, that takes you right back to your statistics courses. And if you’re like me, you absorbed the fundamentals represented in the text box that starts “Choose the variables to be tested.” But you may share my reluctance to base serious marketing decisions on my personal statistical skills and my concern that the automated tools won't produce the right answers. Automated testing products need to take into account necessary sample sizes for statistical significance. They don’t want to burden users with that type of statistical detail (yes, I understand, it’s a bit scary), so you need to ask questions about statistical significance and confidence levels, even if it means you have to drag out an old stats textbook.

Since Google’s tool is DIY—and they don’t particularly want to talk about the significance issue either—I wondered how it was dealt with, if at all. They have a good blog that is well written and may help with some of your concerns. One of the entries I found was for a sample size estimation tool from one of their partners, a site called WebShare. If you followed my advice in the earlier post and read Paul Berger’s chapter on testing in our (free download) direct marketing text, you’ll find it follows the basic steps, although there are still issues. Specifically, it’s a one-tailed test; see the Improvement call-out on the tool page. It’s only looking for better results; not whether the results are either better or worse. That’s probably realistic for most marketing tests. They give you a nice comparison chart—various % improvement, various significance levels. Try it for yourself!

Most of us have a lot of questions about what will work best in our marketing programs. A/B splits will answer a few of these questions for us. Multivariate tests will answer many more questions in the same time period. Whether you are using marketing services of one kind or another, or whether you’re going to try it DIY, do it with care. I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote:

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

Don’t accept insignificant results. And remember the old direct marketing rule to keep testing. If it’s an important marketing decision one test, especially one with a small sample size, is just not enough.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Special K Meets the Online Challenge

Perhaps you noticed the Ad Age article Thursday on Kellog’s advertising entitled “Digital ROI Surpasses That of TV.” There was a follow-up on Saturday with a more specific headline, “Kellogg Says ROI on Digital Trounces TV by 'Factor of 2'.” Something interesting going on here!

Unfortunately, they aren’t talking about their advertising metrics, and that may be the most interesting subject of all, given their pronouncements on ROI. But a quote from CMO Mark Baynes seems to capture the essence:

"Maybe the biggest opportunity over time is driven by what the digital environments afford, and we are working to embrace this aggressively."

What are they doing?

I think the Special K Challenge is aptly described as an integrated promotional campaign. It’s been going on since at least 2006, winning an award from Promo magazine in that year for its multidisciplinary campaign. In the November 2006 issue of the magazine the components of the integrated campaign described the components as follows:

Sweepstakes: instant-win participants could redeem a free pair of blue jeans when a goal size was achieved
Online: advice, tools and chat to keep dieters motivated and engaged

FSI Coupon: with seasonally relevant on-pack offers and a coupon offer that boosted multiple purchases

Retail: events in key markets and promotional P-O-P garnered in-store attention for the Challenge, which was reinforced by on-pack punch

Media: print ads in fashion and parenting magazines and newspapers, as well as heavy cycling through TV programming with large female viewership kept aw
areness high

They seem to have stayed with those basic components to a large extent over the campaign and the message has been consistent with a variety of executions. One of the main rotating themes on the main site is a “get a friend” approach. That’s good weight loss/exercise advice; it’s also good direct marketing strategy. They aren’t talking about the effectiveness of the Yahoo! Group, but it seems to be active, and it has a lot of content. One thing you notice when you track the program around the web is the aggressiveness of their “diet” competitors (the challenge is not described as a diet). When you search “Special K Challenge” they own the first place in the PPC ranking; all their main competitors appear to have purchased the term also.

Where are they doing it?

That was one of the more interesting results of my searches. I wanted to find a banner ad. I found one on an Australian site. I hope the banner works for you. It’s a great interactive banner. The message is essentially the same as in the US. Get ready for summer by dropping a jean size.
The UK site features a more individual approach. That’s interesting. Is it just execution, or is the friends/groups approach less successful there?

The one that really surprised me is the execution of the campaign in the United Arab Emirates. They continue to focus on the “drop a jeans size” theme. The “wall” section of the site says 2500 women have taken the challenge and lists inches lost by various participants. The current campaign there seems to have an events thrust. According to an article in local business paper Al Bawaba in May:

Hundreds of residents from across the UAE descended on Jumeirah Beach Park yesterday to participate in K-Day UAE 2008, which kick started the Kellogg's Special K two week challenge in the UAE, and follows from the phenomenal success of the challenge so far around the globe.

Is this why the Special K Challenge has achieved such an impressive ROI? It is a long-running campaign—giving a change for learning and development. It has been consistent in theme and messaging, keeping a clear focus. There have been various executions of the basic message. The campaign runs globally, with a consistent message adjusted for local effectiveness. The answer is clearly yes, for all those reasons!

So integrated marketing communications work—no surprise there! The ability to measure the effectiveness of online within that complex framework and to identify online as more effective than traditional media—in this case TV—is the achievement of Kellog’s marketers. They deserve all kinds of credit for careful, clearheaded marketing planning and measurement. Many of the rest of us could take lessons!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Politics, Community and Social Networks

Political marketing is fascinating, and today my inbox is so full of political messages that I can’t resist some comments. There are the usual emails from the candidate, the vice-presidential candidate and various members of the campaign staff. The marketing question is whether they’re overdoing it. In one respect, it’s definitely overkill. On the other hand they don’t have much time, and they have to make use of it. I also got one from the Massachusetts campaign office that’s definitely appealing to community.

The one that struck me most, though, was from the AARP. I used some of their data in an earlier post on seniors on the web and it’s one of the many newsletters I follow. The one today shows just how far we’ve gone—not just the young on Facebook, which gets most of the attention, but their elders via email—in changing the way politics works in this country.

I’m being asked to submit a question for the candidates. That’s becoming standard. But reaching out to your entire email list seems less common. Even more unusual is their promise to give all questions to the candidates—not just a selected few. That’s a powerful appeal and may be especially relevant to this older target audience.

I can’t help also noticing that AARP understands its constituency in other ways. I size-reduced the text in the newsletter so you could see as much as possible; it’s clearly larger than normal newsletters. I’ve compared it to an excerpt from one of today’s WSJ newsletters so you can see for yourself.

The message is short, straightforward, and it’s focused on a single message. They use a powerful (not particularly pretty) color combination with bold and underlining for emphasis. The call to action is emphasized in a box. All good direct marketing techniques.

I don’t pretend to know where this is going, much less where it will end, if at all. However, what I do know is that candidates and organizations are building huge email lists. Many of them have great potential for segmentation. Consider the AARP. “Submitted a question” is a potential identifier of an activist segment. What is the potential for using more advanced segmentation—question included the term “health care” or the term “health care for veterans”? The potential seems enormous if the organization has a use for segmentation at that level.

There’s an exciting communications frontier ahead of all of us. One aspect is to use email better—not to “blast” your email list as politicians do, maybe out of necessity. Segment and deliver relevant messages—that’s the email challenge.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Data Visualization Tool

I think a lot of us are at the general level of, “If I put this data into an Excel spreadsheet, I can display it as a pie chart.” Today, there are other options, many of them free. Some look rather complicated. The one that made the New York Times over the Labor Day weekend looks usable to the amateur. You may have missed it; I did, but fortunately one of my colleagues sent me a link. Thanks Kathy!

Here’s a list of data visualization tools, all of which appear to be free. The list is about a year old but I couldn’t find anything more recent. The good news is that all the links I checked are still there. These are mostly services that relate to social media, not to serious data analysis, but the survival of free services is always good news.

Many Eyes is a project of the IBM data visualization lab. A quick look at its home page suggests a variety of uses from charts based on data from the Organization for Economic Co-Operating and Development to analyses of sports to analyses of the speeches of politicians. There’s a lot on the site to look at and understand what can be done. Along the way I found an incredible table that catalogs the types of data visualization that you might find useful to orient yourself to this space.

These five charts show basic types of graphics you can do with Many Eyes. I took all these examples from the Many Eyes blog. You can also do things like change colors and sort data, for example into either ascending or descending order. The blog has two tutorials; one for the layperson and another for nerds! If you want to learn more, the IBM Visual Communication Lab has a press and presentations page with many links and some videos. Many of them are conference or IT classroom presentations, and they are long and tell more about the “how” than marketers are likely to want to know. But you ought to take a look and see what’s there.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review (subscription may be required) contains an interview with two of the principles in the Visual Communication Lab. Wattenberg and Viégas suggest some potential management uses:

• A team doing a complex market analysis might use a collaborative-visualization intranet site to get a much better understanding than is possible today of the ways in which one month’s data differ from the previous month’s.

• A company seeking to wring costs out of its supply chain might post a treemap showing items’ relative sourcing expenses, enabling “many eyes”—those of employees and suppliers—to spot new areas for potential savings.

• A real-time visualization of weather-related bottlenecks in air traffic could help airlines by making travelers more understanding and tolerant of delays. It could also help travelers figure out the best ways to change their flights to avoid holdups.

As you can tell, they are focusing on Many Eyes as a tool for collaboration, internal or external. It’s a fascinating tool. If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear if it’s as powerful and easy to use as the website suggests.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Zappos - Powered by Social Media?

You may have noticed an article in today’s Ad Age by Pete Blackshaw about the corporate culture at rapidly-growing shoes site Zappos. Compete shows their traffic up more than 31%

against last year, so they must be doing something right. (I think the comparison is against all of Nordstrom, not just Nordstrom shoes.) According to Blackshaw, each year the firm publishes a “culture book” filled with employee testimonials about what a wonderful place Zappos is to work. Sounded interesting, so I took a look. What I found is a not-very-pretty, somewhat-edgy site that says it is "Powered by Service (TM)." There's a lot going on and much of it is social media based.

For example, when you click on the Naked People box (yes, I let myself be suckered) you get a product page.More to the point, they seem to have customer reviews on every page, beginning further down on the home page. The number of reviews seems infinite, but a quick scroll through some of them showed unanimous favorability on both products and service. Free shipping seems to be a real winner, plus they seem to have rapid fulfillment.

Zappos is also a major user of Twitter, led by its CEO Tony Hsieh. According to Twitterholic he is 42nd on their list with 10,917 followers. Barak Obama (his website, really) is first with 71,304. I don’t know that the senator twitters himself, but it does go to show that you can’t escape politics at the moment.This is a shot of the customer twitter feed; this morning employees were mostly twittering about Sarah Palin (politics again!) and I decided to skip that. But the point is that the employee section doesn’t seem scripted. According to Hsieh:

@zappos (Tony): We’re not really looking at Twitter as a way of driving additional traffic — it’s really just a great way for employees and customers to see that we are real people, and it makes the relationship a lot more personal, which is what we ultimately want people to feel about the Zappos brand.

@zappos (Tony): Our #1 priority as a company is our company culture. We believe that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff (like great customer service) will fall into place on its own.

A site with a lot of shoes and a lot of social marketing moxie! I also don’t see anything to counter the “great place to work” argument. Put both together and it seems to make a powerful marketing machine!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What It Takes To Build Community

While I took some lovely end-of-August time off, there’s been buzz about the Deloitte & Touche/Beeline Labs/Awareness Networks study with the provocative title “Tribalization of Business.” It has some worthwhile findings to which I’d like to add my two cents. You can access the entire presentation on Slideshare.

I’ve written before about successful community building, especially in the B2B space. Whether you believe that “communities will transform most business processes” (slide 23) or whether you have more modest expectations, most of us are interested in what makes communities work and why they fail. The study has some interesting data on those two subjects.

Talking about the dynamics of communities they point out that the more content you have the more members you will attract and the more members you attract the more content you will get. That’s a really virtuous circle! To be more specific they identified the three most powerful forces for success as the “ability to connect with like-minded people, the ability to help others, and community [that is] focused around a hot topic/issue". Of those, connecting stands out, and I’ve found that there’s no substitute for hard, continuous work to make those connections—no build-it-and-they-will-come mentality allowed. Everything from one-to-one contacts “thanks for the great content I just linked to” to formal email campaigns that build awareness and traffic can be useful. Above all, integrate your communications, so they all lead into your community. But don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s all about traffic. It’s about measurable increases in awareness and the new ideas that you get (slide 14). Connie Bensen encourages managers to think about “Return on Interaction.”

Don’t overlook the importance of people helping other people. I keep running across that issue as people talk about product and experience ratings. They really want to tell others about wonderful products or services and to keep them from making mistakes they’ve made. Harness that desire to help! I’d also point out that there are two sides to that coin. A hot issue draws a lot of attention and it may be hard to make yourself heard. When I first started a green building blog, there wasn’t a lot of Web 2.0 type of activity. In three years, that’s changed and you have to be really clear about where you can make a contribution and where you need to leave it to the experts. That’s fine; you just need to understand your own role.

The other side of the coin, of course, is what causes communities to fail. Note that lack of awareness isn’t number one, although it’s important. Number one is “getting people to engage.” Boy, is it ever! Some audiences—as we know, particularly the young—just engage all over the place, although it may not be around the subjects we marketers are interested in. Other audiences don’t engage much, no matter how hard you try. That’s obviously the older, less web-savvy. Do all you can; ask questions, run contests, add a poll to your content from time to time—anything you can think of that’s relevant and meaningful. Silly or obvious doesn’t work; it has to be significant to the visitor. Number two is “finding time to manage the community.” It takes nurturing, it takes oversight. If you don’t have the person power to give a community effort the attention it deserves, don’t do it. Especially don’t make the mistake of trying to substitute technology for human talent (slide 23).

Dion Hinchcliffe has some compelling thoughts on what makes communities work on his ZDNet blog. He starts with keeping the needs of the community (not the marketer!) paramount—surprise, surprise—and continues with other good insights. If you want more thoughts on strategy, check out the best practices slideshow posted by Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester back in the spring.

And remember, there’s no technological substitute for thoughtful and skilled human attention!