Monday, June 13, 2011

Creating Brand Awareness on the Internet

In my last post I promised one more rant before I shut down for the summer—a continuation of my long-term campaign against awareness as an objective, on the Internet in general and in social media in particular.

I wrote about the issue two years ago in the context of metrics. At the time, it seemed quite reasonable to me that if you want to measure the accomplishments of Internet marketing programs you need to set behavioral objectives and collect the behavioral data to measure them. That still seems a perfectly logical argument to me, but it doesn’t make my point explicitly enough.

What I’ve seen in the interim is two-fold. First, endless students who tell me they want to create awareness (of their brand, presumably) in social media or on the web in general. I keep pointing out that it requires marketing research to measure awareness and that takes time and money. If people do something—register for your site, sign up for a newsletter, become a fan of your Facebook page, whatever—they are aware, aren’t they? Ok, the awareness and the behavior can be almost simultaneous, but the behavior is a manifestation of awareness. Not only that, any of the actions I suggested—and many others I can think of—put the marketer in a position to communicate further with the customer/prospect. That’s what I meant in the last post when I said that attitudinal awareness objectives on the Internet simply constitute leaving cards on the table. I like that phrase; it captures the foolishness of the way many marketers still approach the Internet.

The second think I’ve seen is practitioners setting awareness objectives even though I think they understand the argument for behavioral objectives. Behavioral objectives imply measurement. They know that the necessary marketing research to measure awareness objectives is unlikely to be done, hence no measurement. That constitutes hiding behind awareness as a hard-to-measure objective.

Actually, there is a third issue. Most of us have grown up practicing and teaching traditional mass media. That is still the mind set of most marketers. More so older ones, but also younger ones who should know better.

The lack of understanding of the fallacy of awareness on the Internet often leads to a major strategic error. It especially shows up in something like “we want to create awareness in social media.” The question is how do you get people to your social pages in the first place? They have to be aware before they initially visit the page and sign up to be your fan. How do you create the level of awareness and interest that gets them to your page or to your website? Oops, we hadn’t thought about that! Actually, what they often have not thought about is that it’s going to require some money to make this happen.

Yes, there is such a thing as social sharing and it can create awareness. A recent study from ShareThis and Starcom MediaVest suggests that social sharing can create substantial referral traffic. How many of the referrals are to customers who previously had no contact with the brand? That doesn’t seem to be a question the study, based on the ShareThis database, can answer. Actually, I’d like to see the entire study because I don’t understand some of the explanation in the blog. However, their data seems to make it clear that sharing is not likely to create viral content and that people only share in one or two content categories in which they are particularly interested or expert. The latter is what we’ve known about WOM in the physical world for a long time; the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’d like to encourage you to think about this issue by doing some reading and listening. First, the Bain online branding study “In Search of a Premium Alternative” in which they point out the predominance of direct response ads on the Internet and decry the lack of online advertising alternatives that break through the clutter. Then you need to listen to Randall Rothenberg’s introductory speech to the “Future of Display Advertising” conference last week. He builds on the Bain study and recent announcement of new “Rising Stars” ad formats, designed to allow more creativity and impact in the online branding effort.

But don’t leave it at that. Take a look at the 6 new formats on the IAB site. Look at how many options they give for viewer behavior—from watch a video to download a mobile app—and everything in between. Again, the point is to encourage viewers to take action—action that can be measured. No need for awareness objectives here!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marketers Could---but Should They?

Marketers are faced with an overabundance of options for all types of strategic decisions. This is especially true of channels choices. By that, I’m mostly referring to communications channels, but the same principles may be true of e-commerce channels.

The current atmosphere reminds me of the mid-1990s when companies were waking up to the Internet and asking, “Should we have a website?” It quickly became, “We must have a website because everyone else does.” It was bad reasoning then; it’s bad reasoning now. Only now it’s, “We must have a Facebook page because everyone else does.”

Now every business or non-profit organization has a website. Many of them aren’t very good. They don’t fulfill the business mission and they don’t provide good customer experience. So sadly, before marketers have fully comprehended the issues of ‘traditional’ online marketing, they are faced with the explosion of social networks. And they are FREE! Clearly, we’ve got to do that!!!

I’ve been pointing out for quite some time that social media marketing is not free. It takes skilled people who are committing time to it. So nix the free argument.

We’re back to square one. There are a lot of channels to choose from. Marketers COULD use any or all of them. The real question is which ones they SHOULD use. And notice the consistent use of plural. You do not reach any target audience today with meaningful impact in a single channel. Multiple channels must be assumed.

That makes the real question how to choose the correct combination of channels to accomplish marketing and business objective. I’ll make my recommendations; your additions are solicited.

First, there is your target audience. We know the general outlines. Younger people are more likely to use social networks; older segments are slower to go online, but according to Pew, once they are there they eagerly search for information and engage in gaming, for example. It is important to remember that these are generalizations and the specifics of both demographics and use behavior can change from one product category to another.

Second, there is your position in the value chain. Are you a manufacturer? If so, is your Internet objective to support your retailers and distributors or it is to open another channel to reach customers directly? Are you a dealer or distributor who needs to communicate with and develop loyalty among B2B customers? Are you a small retailer who wants to participate in the frenzy of local marketing? In these cases, channels have been defined and the different channels imply vastly different marketing strategies.

Third, there are your specific marketing objectives. Do you want to sell things? Do you want to generate sales leads? Do you want to grow your social media followers—which is nice, but not enough. What is your PURPOSE (potential marketing uses) for having social media followers? This is about marketing effectiveness, not about bragging rights. Please don’t tell me you want to generate awareness. I’ve written about that before and plan to update my campaign against awareness objectives for Internet marketing soon. The Internet is about generating desired behaviors among targeted audiences. Leaving it at awareness is simply leaving cards on the table.See the video on the McKinsey Quarterly (free registration required)>

The pressing strategic issue is, “Which of the 4Ps comes first?” Ok, I’ll accept that you usually have to have an offering first. But then what? Does your choice of channels (multiple but integrated) determine the outlines of your promotion, including creative as well as the service and tech infrastructure you have to put into place? Take a look at the section of this Eric Schmidt video in which he talks about ‘designing for mobile first.’ He’s talking about disruptive business models, but it also has a strategic lesson for marketers.

As I write this, I realize that we marketers have a semantics problem that we must be clear about in order to make wise strategic channels choices. There are channels of distribution from the traditional Manufacturer > Wholesaler > Retailer to Manufacturer Direct via E-Commerce. Those are choices that, once made, are difficult to change for reasons of both infrastructure and relationships.

Then there are communications channels choices. There are a myriad of those from television ads to a Facebook page. Some of those can be specific to a particular marketing campaign—television advertising, for example. Others, like a Facebook page, need to be maintained once they are established, with involvement in marketing campaigns as required. The point is that the communications channels choices are more temporal than the distribution channels choices, although they have their own elements of stickiness.

My point is that the choice of communications channels sets the direction for a lot of the marketing work that must follow. What do you think?