An associate alerted us Friday to an as-yet-unobserved (at least by us) clever/lame/unethical(?) email marketing tactic that it appears Chris Dodd's campaign implemented last week to get the word out.
The email in question appears to be an inadvertently Reply-All'ed "test" email to the entire Chris Dodd email subscriber base with campaign manager "suggested edits" to a forthcoming official Dodd fundraising mail, which is itself attached in full HTML below the "suggested edits". In tone, form, and content, it looks just like the kind of "oops-they-meant-to-send-this-to-just-him-not-everyone-in-the-database" that we have all gotten at one point or another. However, our associate expressed strong skepticism about the mail, believing instead that the Dodd campaign had intentionally sent the mail to everyone as designed to simply appear like a mistake... in the hope that it would prompt recipients to at least give it more regard (the looky-loo effect, i.e. "I'm not supposed to be receiving this, so I'll actually read it") and at most to get a forward-on to someone else ("hey check out this goof!").
Well, whatever the case, we're blogging about it, so it's having the intended effect... if indeed this was an intentional "error-copycat". 2008, the year of Election 2.0.
For your review and own assessment, dear readers, attached is the mail in question. And for further consideration by the cynics out there, note that (a) only our associate's email address was on the "To:" line, and, (b) Sheryl's "edits" appear a little more booster-y than feedback-y, to our (admittedly skeptical) eyes.
Accident? Disengenuous new spin on old-school email fundraising? Potentially unethical use of an opt-in list? Wildly clever push into a bold new frontier of email marketing? You be the judge.
But if this turns into a more widely utilized email marketing tactic over time, we want first dibs on naming it. We'll submit, "The Fake Oops".
And we guess that like any other Web marketing campaign, the proof is in the pudding... i.e. in the CTR's and the Conversion Rate. Hey Sheryl, SCG wants to know if you got your $40k this weekend or not. Send a campaign fundraising status update email to Tim this week (oops, plus the whole subs base too!), so our associate can let us know...
I made a few small changes to your email draft -- you'll see them below.
Would have sent to the entire list myself, but I could only figure out how to send this test.
I know you're concerned about sending another fundraising email, but we're only $40,000 short of hitting our November goal, and that money will help keep us on the air and talking about ending the war in Iraq and the Constitution. And honestly, our supporters online are so terrific and have come through for us every time.
Plus, with votes on the war and retroactive immunity coming up, our leadership will help keep the pressure on other presidentials to keep their word.
Ask people to give at this link so we can track the goal publicly.
Campaign Manager, Chris Dodd for President
On Nov 30, 2007, at 10:53 AM, Tim Tagaris wrote:
Hear ye, hear ye: Word of Mouth Marketing Association work session next Wednesday, December 5th, here in Seattle that is definitely worth attending if you are a marketer, advertiser, or someone with similar professional or personal interests.
Register fast - I'm sure this will fill up:
What with the long holiday weekend and the relatively quiet Blackberry, I haven't posted in a few days. And then everywhere I turned there seemed to be something relevant over the past couple days...
First, an article from last Friday's WSJ about how Nescafe, Garnier/L'Oreal, and others have used BlogBang to drive French market awareness of their products by advertising on... and influencing... bloggers sites. BlogBang is majority owned by Publicis, by the way. And here's what I got
when I tried to load their site tonight:
View this photo
No matter what language it's in, "erreur" is never good.
Then I saw a great article - social media backlash anyone? - in Sunday's NYTimes Magazine describing the joys of NON-interactive, unsocial media, one-to-none internet lurking. She argues that Web lurking is the 21st century form of reading. It was a good reminder that many, many, many consumer hours are still spent on the Web just doing a whole lot of content consuming without doing any content provisioning, editing, or anything else vaguely social.
Finally, today's boldface headlines proclaiming Google's desire to advance renewable energy. An admirable goal, and given how much electricity Google's server farms consume, no doubt one they think is upstream-related to their core competency(ies). But it did give me a moment's pause... is it possible for a company to become TOO ambitious? Is it possible - I'm not saying probably, just possible - that Google could overstep its bounds and find that being in the businesses of categorizing all of the information on the Internet, powering internet software, storing all the world's information, trading all the world's videos, publishing a chunk of the world's blogs, delivering mobile phone software, providing radio and billboard and search and display advertising, providing your email, giving you your maps, maintaining and providing satellite pictures for the whole earth, storing your digital pictures, AND, solving the world's energy crisis, is all a little much to manage? Maybe not... but for every GE, there's an IAC. But then again, I'm speaking heresy apparently if I suggest that Google could ever make a misstep and "do too much". 50 million Elvis fans can't be wrong (the investing public, that is...).
Happy Holidays Hiatus.
This blog post succinctly articulates the main issue holding significant brand marketing dollars back from the Web today: the lack of a cogent model and methodology whereby brand marketing can be evaluated for its effectiveness in widening the TOP of the customer acquisition and sales funnel (both online and offline) rather than increasing velocity THROUGH the funnel directly through to online sales.
Today, almost every marketing dollar spent online is judged according to the direct downstream ROI it generates in terms of direct response ecommerce sales. As Joe says in his post, "...the sum value of all impressions on the Internet can only be equal in value to the sum total of all ROI on fully optimized direct response campaigns." The conclusion, of course, being that, "...there is still no accounting for branding..."
All other channels (TV, print, radio, etc.) don't work this way... their marketing effectiveness is measured "ex post" by correlating these investments with subsequent (and, where possible, attributable) upticks in either revenues in a given geographic market and/or something like "unaided positive brand awareness among target audience" (usually measured through expensive and time-consuming market research exercises, which we all know have significant inherent bias baked in).
Until this problem is solved in a clever, widely adopted way, there is likely to be a continuing gap between the size of the potential brand reach opportunity online (which is growing every day, with the steady increases in Web usage by American and international consumers at the expense of other forms of media and content) and the willingness of marketers (and their proxies on Madison Avenue) to accelerate the shift of brand marketing campaign dollars on to the Web.
An interesting and significant challenge that all marketing agencies who focus on the Web, as we do, will continue to struggle with.
Someone alerted us today to a new press release by Movaya regarding their new ability to easily integrate casual games into their mobile software platform. This is news on its own from a local company gaining momentum, but also of interest is how effectively they are deploying social media optimization principles for the construction and release of their press announcements.
An interesting case example of how it can work for your press and communications activities via blog posts that cost nothing, but can get good downstream pickup when they are built in a way that maximizes discoverability.
Has the proliferation of bookmarking, sharing, and content aggregation sites in the last two years created the conditions for an industry poised for rapid consolidation? We think perhaps...
Take a look at the list of relatively similar (I know, I know, "each of these sites is unique, with its own special value proposition and appeal for its target users!", founders would claim...) sites which are now included in AddThis's list for its "Bookmarking" and "Sharing" site widgets. It's astounding.
We at Spring Creek Group take a pretty aggressive approach to utilizing as many of these sites as we can keep up with... we've got the public Digg profile keeping track of articles and posts we find relevant and interesting for our industry, we've got the Delicious bookmark roll growing, we've got the StumbleUpon account setup and tracking what we like, etc. But the list is becoming too long to keep up with, much less manage lately. Furl, Magnolia (not to be confused with ExxonMobil's Magnolia.com, mind you...), Reddit, Newsvine, and on and on and on and on. Admittedly, we're hedging our bets and experimenting for the sake of experimenting (on behalf of our own brand and website discoverability / SEO benefits, as well as to just have a sandbox in which to play on behalf of our collective opinion to share with our clients) by maintaining somewhat active accounts / profiles / public pages across as many of the content sharing sites as we can reasonably keep up with.
But the punter in me wants to place the bet: how long before the grand consolidation occurs? A year... two... three? Does "the internets" need ten different bookmarking sites? Does it need twenty? Perhaps... or perhaps not. Network effects are going to win out here eventually... the value of these sites is not only in helping all of us information-overloaded, easy-to-lose-vital-stuff-online types just keep track of "all the news that's fit to blog"... it's also in creating that body of shared feeds and links and thumbs-ups that allows any individual to subscribe to the "hive mind" of shared interest across many others inside the given site or network.
But our grey matter just isn't wired to keep up with more than about 5 or 10 things at a time, be it concepts or phone numbers or preferred bookmarking sites. Pretty soon, we're going to need a bookmarking site just to keep track of our bookmarking and sharing sites, profiles, and accounts (how meta is that?). Maybe someone will come up with that and become another newly minted grillionaire-on-paper. Or maybe the big guys with the best business models and the largest UU shares will start gobbling up the little fish to expand their shares further. We'll see.
Until then, feel free to subscribe to any one of our "springcreekgroup" sharing site feeds. They're all special in their own, unique way (for now).
...and it may just change the direction of momentum on "behavioral targeting" based online advertising techniques and the promise of 'right ad, right place, right time, right price' that many in and around the ad networks are now chasing as the holy grail.
If the volume of outspoken privacy proponents on blogs like this one are any indication, there seems to be an awful lot of "fear and loathing" still out there around the topic of tracking, cookies, and targeting. [Apparently a lot of people don't mind - even prefer - the tradeoff of less relevant advertising in exchange for more behavioral data protection. This seems like another example of psychology vs. economics, namely that not every sociological behavior can be explained solely using clever tools of economic theory, because the simple fact is that most human beings aren't perfectly rational. See: The inability of economists to develop a cogent theory explaining tipping -- similar to explaining why anyone would pay more than nothing voluntarily for Radiohead's new album, as I recently did (3 pounds sterling, an increasingly princely sum with the weakening of the dollar, Thom Yorke you can thank me with a short comment post to this blog when you are ready...)].
If the American Internet-surfing public gains the opportunity to remove themselves from Web tracking, does that blow a large-type hole in the online ad networks' ability to command above-remnant rates for their inventory in the long-run?..... Or will this whole conversation ultimately be inconsequential to the larger trend of aggressively skyrocketing marketing and media spend online?
Time will tell.
Either way, brand marketers (and the agencies who serve them) are going to need access to Web media planning and buying tools that are more effective and more efficient than a room full of grey matter if they are going to keep growing their ROI at a comparable pace to their growth in spend. And they are going to need tools that rely on more than just clickstream and cookie data, it would appear...
Colbert nation activates over a million Facebook group joins in a few days. Barack Obama's campaign supporters spawn more than 18 different Facebook groups, and he just did a MySpace interactive video conversation (not to mention is leveraging his Digg, MySpace, YouTube and other social network and content aggregation profiles to the hilt). Ron Paul, "the red libertarian", has 75 thousand MySpace friends. Hilary did her "vote for my campaign song" thing, but c'mon, does anyone really trust an online vote that selects a multi-platinum Canadian as the winner (of anything?). Mike Gravel hasn't made much of a splash so far, but his ripply youtube video became a viral phenomenon (even if no one knew what it - or he - meant by it). MoveOn is being both copied and vilified for its web messaging and fundraising.
All in all, these are fascinating times to observe the social media space... and certainly will be through "Indecision 2008".
The BlogWorld Expo site recently published a host of useful and timely blog statistics. We thought we would reproduce them here, in case anyone is looking for good stats to use in client presentations, background research, or white papers on social media. Here you go (thanks BlogWorld)...
|Important Blogging Statistics|
Well, after having a couple friends describe the incredible value in having a tiny, virtual you to place all around your social-media-osphere, I went ahead and created a Meez. Looks like a more chipper, dapper me. Not sure how, exactly, this enhances my online reputation. Perhaps it's just another easy way to add a widget goo-gad to your blog, MySpace page, Facebook profile, or whatever. In any case, for our small readership out there, now you have something to look for at the George and Dragon when I show up on rainy Saturday mornings to watch the Gunners vanquish whomever they're playing that week...
AdReady launched (in beta, but you know, beta is the new gold when it comes to web services) today. Pretty cool. Yet another nail in the (slowly being lowered, but still...) coffin of online media buying requiring actual human beings (read: agencies).
Very interesting. We're going to try it out for SCG and just see how the user experience goes...
There is a fascinating article in last Sunday's New York Times about Nike as the poster child for innovative "one to one" marketing via Internet affinity sites, community-building, and straight-to-Internet branding initiatives. This article is a must-read for those in the Web marketing space.
Also interesting to review is the multi-media graphic chart which accompanies the article -- a telling sign of the shift of major CPG brand advertising dollars from "traditional" brand channels like television and print on to the Internet.... including Web-marketing initiatives that can't even be classified according to typical media buying categories (kind of describes most interactive marketing initiatives, doesn't it?).
Awesome pull-quote from Trevor Edwards, Nike's SVP for Global Brand: “We’re not in the business of keeping the media companies alive,” Mr. Edwards says he tells many media executives. “We’re in the business of connecting with consumers.”
The shots heard 'round Madison Avenue (and at 30 Rock, Burbank, Century City, etc.) keep getting fired, louder and louder.
Advertising budget allocations for top brand advertising companies graphic available after the jump here.
I went to a great lecture last night at Town Hall here in Seattle given by Cameron Sinclair, the funny, inspiring, inspired founder of Architecture for Humanity (and, full disclosure, an old acquaintance from my days in New York). He was in town to soft-sell/plug his new book, "Design Like You Give a Damn", which is a wonderful read. Basically, in highlighting the visionary work that Architecture for Humanity does, Cameron's book presents a bunch of examples of what true collaboration, passion, and just a little money can do to address one of the lowest-order needs in Maslow's Hierarchy: safe, functional housing.
[ BTW, Cameron's talk was in the basement of Town Hall, seeing as Governor Gregoire was occupying the big room upstairs, but in a twist that didn't go un-noticed by everyone our room was full-to-bursting with young people hearing about a not-for-profit that works much more swiftly and efficiently than national governments often do to repair local housing conditions after natural disasters and armed conflicts... while the Guv's appearance didn't seem to be exactly packing them in... ]
What's most fascinating about Cameron's vision - and his organization's approach - to me is the central principle of everything that they do: ego-free collaboration. It's at the heart of every project, goal, activity, and achievement that they pursue... and it was the thread that ran through Cameron's whole lecture last night. According to AfH, good housing design for developing, displaced, or underfunded communities emerges more efficiently and effectively from local citizens working collectively with smart, motivated people who can draw decently well -- as opposed to AIA-certified, big-name-on-the-cornerstone-sign "starchitects" whose focus is increasingly on what Sinclair called "expensive gems of design available only to governments and the extremely rich". He cited numerous examples - many highlighted in his book - to illustrate how budgets of as little as $10k, $20k, $50k have produced lasting, effective new construction community meeting places, clinics, learning centers, and most importantly permanent dwellings in the places that most desperately need them. [ Kosovo, sub-saharan Africa, Sri Lanka, Biloxi, to name just a few of the 100+ collaborative project sites that AfH has worked on over the past 8 years ]
Any technologists, marketers, or business people out there who have read this far may be wondering, "what does this post have to do with the usual themes of technology, marketing, and business that these guys usually post about?" So I'll wrap up my plug-by-post for AfH and Cameron's book by highlighting one of the most fascinating new initiatives that AfH has spearheaded: the Open Architecture Network. The idea is so simple, and so killer, that it is nothing less than an effort to turn the whole architecture profession on its head. Rather than individual, reclusive design geniuses sitting in rarefied offices turning out perfects gems of dwelling design at a glacial - and expensive - pace, Sinclair believes that a free-to-all, edit-whatever-you-want open source architecture design wiki on the Internet can turn out better design, more designs, and more practical solutions to the world's housing challenges for vastly less money in vastly less time. Pretty cool. Check it out -- AutoDesk, the leading CAD software solution for architecture design, has even lent their collaboration effort to provide the free Freewheel collaborative design webapp that powers the platform.
Kudos to AfH for tackling a gigantic problem one structure, one community, one family at a time. Is there any other way to change the world?
[ Oh yeah, and one other thing: AfH is probably one of the most effective practitioners of "cheap marketing via viral and social networking tools" that I have ever seen, for-profit or not-for-profit. They have a Facebook group that numbers in the thousands, Cameron uses LinkedIn like a champ to respectfully solicit help and support for resources to fill gaps on projects as they are taking shape, they have incorporated all the best viral-sharing tools like Delicious bookmarking etc. directly into their site, their email newsletters are kindly infrequent but always informative and useful, and more than 50% of their funds come in via volunteer-organized social events like school hot-chocolate sales and through small gifts from young people via the Web. Totally cool -- many, many lessons to be learned for even the biggest, most well-funded and sophisticated marketing teams and dot-orgs. ]
Keep it up Cameron and AfH - no small visions, right?
Shocker. As long as companies will overvalue "presence in a market", there will be overpaying for acquisitions. The financials on this deal never seemed to justify the valuation, but the magical allure of the mystical "cross-sell" beckoned.
If only Spring Creek Group could get purchased for a spurious multiple of actual expected future value someday :-).
Marketers and the journalists who follow them have known for some time that occasionally self-promoting corporate figureheads -- typically of the small-but-growing-company/ homebrewed-brand-impressions-are-good-brand-impressions-because-they-are-so-delightfully-cheap variety -- will utilize comments to blogs with posts relevant to their industry (discovered through diligent monitoring of the blogosphere via an RSS reader sucking in feeds with a pile of industry keyphrases and brandnames) as a mechanism to get brand impressions and site links-back on the gratis.
However, as this article reports in the Old Grey Lady today in its most venerable section, apparently the tactic works wonders for those seeking a particular sliver of social status, popularity, and even "fame". The "All-Stars of The Clever Riposte" not only achieve some small measure of Web-based recognition for their perfectly-timed rebuttals, follow-ons, commentary, and non-sequitors.... a few have also managed to actually cross the chasm into real-world, flesh-and-blood fame and party-invites. (Parenthetically, as indicated by the parentheses, yes I did just use the phrase, "cross the chasm".)
Aside from my continued
amazement at delight that the Times continues to accord its social media stories all-star treatment in their own right via front-page weekend edition coverage (see this post and this post and this post), I am always excited to see the real-world-ripple-effects of the blog revolution covered in the mainstream news media. It still feels a little like what the horse-and-buggy drivers must have said about the first few Model-T drivers when they saw them start to occupy their dirt lanes in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston with increasing frequency. [ "Oh looky there, another one of those quaint little automated buggies! Those things are so cute... and they're starting to pop up all over the place! Well, they're kind of amusing to look at, and I bet the drivers of those new-fangled rattletraps must think they are some kind of 20th century pi-o-neers or something. Well, no bother, I'm sure glad this here mule and carriage will always be the most important form of transport in these parts!" ]
In any case, it's always interesting to read the side of the blog story that relates not to blogs as citizen journalism, or skip-the-agency-marketing, but just as good old fashioned social climbing. As George Costanza learned, the value of a clever comment is all in the timing (whether or not you've got the benefit of a prop shrimp cocktail).
Peace, love, and timely commenting.
I’ve been attending the OMMA Conference in NYC the past couple of days. Lots of interesting topics being discussed. Following are a few take-aways.
Online Video is Hot, Hot, Hot
Every presentation and panel I’ve attended has included video as a key focus. Brands are drawn to it for its ability to attract and engage. Also, YouTube, MySpace, and other social networking sites have made it the most viral of all formats. The kids love it and as a result so do the brands.
During a presentation on Monday Babs Rangaiah, Director of Media and Entertainment at Unliver shared a few of his company's successes with online video campaigns. Here's one example that made the rounds on the Web. (I had it forwarded to me by several folks including my wife several months ago)
The jury is still out on how much lift marketers actually see via video campaigns however. One question I have is if its popularity among advertisers is in part driven by the familiarity of the format and a compatibility with most agencies’ creative capabilities.
The Power of Behavioral Targeting is Undeniable
Behavioral targeting via companies like RevenueScience and Tacoda offer technologies and access to ad networks that can target advertising based on a user's behavior. The results of this approach to advertising are pretty impressive with click-through and conversion life (if you believe the companies' statistics) of well north of 30-40%. It is no surprise then that virtually everyone here is aware of and interested in leveraging the power of BT to improve the performance and reach of their online marketing campaigns.
The Need for Metrics and Measurement is Greater Than Ever.
During the Q&A of every session, questions of ROI and measurement were voiced. Today, marketers intuitively understand the promise of measuring the performance and ROI of online marketing programs. However, the processes and ad formats that are most interesting and promising from an engagement and ROI perspective are not necessarily compatible with the tools and services available to measure the effectiveness of these efforts. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area as well as a tremendous amount of opportunity for analytics and measurement companies.
There was a fascinating article in today's New York Times on the front page about the role that social media engagement and blog monitoring is playing in the State Department's efforts to gather - and understand - information about the Muslim and broader Arab world's perspectives on the United States.
Another relevant article in the ongoing coverage we have been tracking about the current - and potential future - role of social media not just in business and marketing, but indeed in the evolution of this country's foreign policy and U.S. intelligence gathering efforts. [ See also our previous posts on the topic here and here in this blog. ]
Scott Karp has an interesting post up about how FUD is slowing the adoption of online advertising by a surprisingly large percentage of established businesses. His commentary is in response to a recently released McKinsey study on the perceptions and digital marketing plans of major corporations in five different sectors.
While Scott's reasoning is sound and more or less representative of the conventional wisdom among the digerati, it fails to acknowledge the fundamental structural barriers that are at the heart of what appears to those of us on this side of the digital advertising divide to be a maddeningly slow rate of adoption of online marketers.
In order to understand why it might be that many businesses appear slow to embrace the medium it's necessary to examine the value chain along which a particular business sits. Many of the largest companies with the most recognizable brands in the world do not sell directly to consumers. They sell to companies that in turn sell to consumers. Look within the pharmaceutical, apparel, and packaged goods industries and there are numerous F500 examples of corporations that spend billions of dollars on advertising but do not sell directly to consumers. What does an online "conversion" or "acquisition" or "action" really mean to a business with a model like this and how does one measure such things when they probably don't occur on a site in the control of the business?
What these businesses are attempting to do through advertising is reach as many people as possible with messages and enticements to get them to go to one of the many conveniently located and enticingly merchandised points of sale (POS) and buy their product.
The order "funnel" for businesses like these isn't nearly so attenuated. There isn't one point-of-sale or Website there are 10, 100, or 500 and only one (if they're lucky) is under their control. Another term for this reality is "channel conflict". Online advertising today is predominantly direct response and yet many of the world's largest businesses with the biggest brands aren't interested in or capable of running direct response campaigns.
Following are a couple of illustrative examples of the point I'm trying to make:
1. If you're the Charmin brand manager at P&G, does it make more sense to spend $10MM on TV or keywords+display?
2. If you're running the TV and Home Entertainment business at Sony, will your large retail customers like Best Buy be happy to find out that you're aggressively buying online media at the expense of fewer TV spots in their best markets? Do you have the metrics to show that your online ad campaign drove sales across channels for the majority of your customers?
Until recently, I had thought that traditional measures like reach and frequency would cease to be meaningful as soon as large advertisers discovered the wonders of performance marketing online. My thinking has changed on this topic for the simple fact that direct response advertising and marketing doesn't make sense for every industry and yet the planning, buying, and measurement of online advertising force us down that path.
There is a huge opportunity for businesses that can bridge the gap between the strategic value of advertising to a large number of companies and the manner in which the value of online advertising today is captured, measured, and evaluated.
Those of us in online advertising may yet have a thing or two to learn from "traditional" advertising.
Social media coats the Week in Review section from the holiday weekend Sunday New York Times this week:
This article discusses how blogs have displaced traditional news media as the channel that distributes first - and best - the scandals and "open secrets" of politicians today.
This one focuses on the ways that the intelligence agencies have co-opted the lessons of wikipedia and social networks like Facebook, and are in the midst of launching their own large internal "intelligence wiki's". (Also, I was reminded of this post which we made a while back about this issue...).
And finally, this article in the Styles section (I don't read this section first. Really.) describes how a new kind of book tour is emerging: the virtual book tour, conducted via PC and visiting blogs around the web.
So that's three big articles about how online social media is substantially changing: national politics, national security and intelligence gathering, and literature.
Yet many continue to insist that this whole phenomenon is just a way to goof off and waste time on the Internet for "the kids".
Really? Are you willing to bet your company's brand equity on that?
I was reminded of the assertion that we made at the conclusion of a recent post, that "If a company and its representatives are actually helping their customers - rather than annoying them - without excessive bias or obvious cash-register goals, then it's going to be good for all parties in the long run. And this is true online, offline, or wherever it's happening."
Heavy-handed marketing gaffes don't only annoy people in the "social" spheres online... it happens in the real world, too.
We've been tracking articles and posts related to social media marketing for corporate marketers for some time now, and Inc Magazine just released the results of a new study (available here) which validates that many middle-market and large-entreprise corporations are actively pursuing opportunities to extend their brand awareness and customer engagement into the social and interactive media channel online. Very interesting reading and information here!
Good news for BuzzLogic, BuzzMetrics, Visible Technologies, and others building robust technology software and web services solutions for this express purpose. This channel is so large, so diverse, and so voluminous in terms of content generation that effective monitoring, tracking, monitoring, and engagement really requires technology in order to be done effectively for most large brands / businesses, in our view.
And good news for our under-development-but-soon-to-launch "Social Media Management" service line at Spring Creek Group, we hope. Our approach is to leverage both commercially-available technology + custom developed "Topic Monitoring" software to ensure that we are able to canvas the largest possible area of online conversation related to topics and brands of interest to our clients. In addition, our team has developed a detailed and specific methodology for "Social Media Management" tailored to the needs, risks, and opportunities present in the social media channel for innovative corporate marketers. We believe that the combination of an experienced team, a solid methodology, and powerful technology tools creates a unique, new kind of agency service offering to the marketplace that can unlock new brand and reach opportunities for our clients. [We will be sharing more information and details soon through this blog and our "official" company website soon on the topic...]
We agree with the conclusions reached by the author of this article: namely, that taking a pro-active and reactive broad-based approach to increasing brand awareness among target audiences in the social media realm can yield significant benefits in terms of both brand equity and increased site traffic and business growth, when managed carefully through a strategic program based upon core principles of transparency, ethics, and valuable contributions. It's hard work - certainly harder than simply bidding for sponsored link placement of a text ad in search results - but the incredible growth in interest and usage of large social networking sites and other forms of social media such as blogs, forums, and micro-communities means that large marketers are rapidly taking note. Of course, as we advocate with our clients, it's of foremost importance that corporate marketers understand and respect the underlying goals of these sites for their users. Savvy marketers don't - and won't - treat these sites as just another opportunity to "push" standard marketing messaging, promotions, and offers out there. And the ugly phenomenon of the "splog" is clearly on the wane. This cautionary tale is just one example - but clearly not the only one - of how horribly these activities can backfire for marketers and their proxies when they aren't managed with the highest ethical standards.
Instead, the approach that we believe works best for marketer engagement with the social media channel is to listen, learn, and demonstrate that the company and it's representatives (clearly identified as such - nothing emerges so painfully for a company in the long run as an "anonymous" or "veiled identity" post with clear vested interests) are paying attention when a conversation is actually relevant to their products or services.
Interesting new opportunities are emerging every day for marketers. The key is to approach them wisely in order to minimize the brand risks and maximize the long term opportunity to connect with more potential customers and create new sources of information and value for them online. The most jaded among us might say to this, "Come on, these sites and communities should be left 'pure', unencumbered by the presence of any corporate participation or influence!" We're sympathetic to this perspective - who among us hasn't been annoyed by the seeming incongruity of video ads on the pre-roll in movie theaters when we paid good money for our tickets, or by the constant barrage of audio ads interspersed between the "programming" on any Clear Channel radio station. But the reality of the world we live in today is that most media channels are partially or largely financed through the advertising support of corporate sponsors. And - more importantly as it relates to this topic - a huge amount of consumer identity and chit-chat is generated by the brands with which we associate ourselves. We live in a consumer economy (just ask this guy), and a lot of the time what we talk about when we talk about ourselves is what we're buying... and why. So the companies and the brands and the products are interwoven through many of our conversations anyway -- because we want them to be, because in the world we live in today we often signal to the world who we are through what we wear, eat, drive, read, watch, hear, and talk about around the water cooler.
So given that this is the world we live in, the question is: Would you rather know that your gripe about a product is actually being heard and given credence by an actual human being within the company that makes that product, or are you content with your gripe just sitting out there disregarded forever? The flipside of this question is: Would you rather find out first about a great deal on that perfect pair of shoes you've been looking at, before you buy them rather than after? Not everyone is going to answer these questions in the affirmative (we probably wouldn't either, all the time)... but if you think that you would answer "yes" to these questions some of the time, then there would appear to be a role for respectful, valuable, logical, ethical marketing of the appropriate sort in the social media realm (just as there is today in/on your search results, your email, your content portals, your blogs, your mainstream news sites, your radio programs, your viral videos, your mobile phones, etc.).
As with any other channel, if a company's "official presence" around and inside the community and its content can share useful information and create "real value" for the community's members, then consumers will generally respond with heightened likelihood to make a purchase decision down the line in favor of that company. If a company and its representatives are actually helping their customers - rather than annoying them - without excessive bias or obvious cash-register goals, then it's going to be good for all parties in the long run. And this is true online, offline, or wherever it's happening.
Or, more accurately, "of course they've already thought about this... and are nearly ready to release it."
From our blog post earlier this week:
"...I hope you get to participate in the auction next January, use your share of the spectrum to build a device-agnostic digital broadband wireless network, and let us all switch over to an ad-supported completely "free" unlimited voice and data service..."
From today's Washington Post (after the news broke in WSJ):
"Google has developed a prototype cell phone that could reach markets within a year, and plans to offer consumers free subscriptions by bundling advertisements with its search engine, e-mail and Web browser software applications, according to a story published today in The Wall Street Journal."
Someone told me yesterday that email is largely useless as a marketing channel/medium if you're trying to reach a target audience under 25. Those people are spending all their time online in web communities, MMORG's and funky derivatives, and IM - so the assertion goes. I'm not sure I totally believe it - yet - but it's an interesting hypothesis that the useful life of a "push" marketing channel on the web is 5-10 years. (Search marketing, on the other hand, will never go away, because it's "pull" - you come to it, rather than it coming to you. Unless, that is, some open source, non-commercial project (like this one?) figures out a better mousetrap for information discovery and provisioning on the web. Seems unlikely any time soon, but who knows... mass altruistic collaboration has changed the game before.)
I recently claimed a gmail address for my young daughter, thinking myself clever and anticipating that it might be gone by the time she is old enough and ready to start using email. Perhaps what I should have claimed for her was a profile handle in the critical mass communities? But then again, by the time my kids are old enough to be viable marketing targets online for consumer corporations, they will probably be spending all their time on a lightweight indestructible fuel-cell-powered handheld mobile client device with always-on free wireless broadband service supported by a steady stream of cleverly integrated contextually relevant content-specific product placements. In which case, effective marketing will all come back - as it always does - to building a great brand.
Reviewing the Arsenal fixtures calendar and upcoming start of the 2008-2009 Premiership season on my beloved Gunners website tonight, I noticed not one but two tips-of-the-cap to Microsoft technologies tonight on their site: Integrated Live Search, and a funky little Vista Gadget for the early(ish) adopters of the new OS. Who knew that the Islington-Seattle connection goes deeper than the regular broadcasts of Gunners games at the George & Dragon?!
Go on you Gunners - R.I.P. Thierry Henry, long live the youngsters (and Fabregas... and Van Persie... and Hleb... and Rosicky) - this is your season.
Please note that your run-of-network display advertisements for Yahoo Personals, which greet me nearly every time I am forced to check my spam-laden Yahoo email account (that I only ever use anymore for ecomm, my address having been scraped, sold, purloined, and generally abused so thoroughly that it's effectively useless for actual personal communications), long ago ceased to be convincing as actual examples of real single people using your service. "Megan" from "Ann Arbor, MI", the persona whose chipper blond visage must inspire the highest click-through rates since her ad seems to be the most frequently displayed, probably long ago tired of having her real friends in real life wherever she really lives say, "Hey, did you know your ad is STILL running for that Personals service in Yahoo?!". Assuming that "Megan" actually does exist as a real human being somewhere and not as a computer-generated avatar soley for advertising purposes, please have mercy on her: remove her from the endless purgatory of your house ads inventory. Eventually your target audience is going to note the sheer duration of advertisements which imply that "Megan" is "still single and available, if only you'll try our service!", and just stop believing that someone, anyone, could actually be both representative of your Personals service AND willing to be featured as such for so very long. Which is just going to make the ad unbelievable at best, and annoying and off-putting to all of us who have to keep seeing it over and over again at worst.
So, YPPM, for the sake of your many website users - or just for the sake of "Megan", whoever and wherever she may be - will you please log into your house ads management application and change out all those stale old reliable rectangles? Nobody is buying the illusion anymore that Megan is hanging out in Ann Arbor, MI, waiting like Godot for the perfect new subscriber to Yahoo Personals to finally, at long last, contact her. And if I have to keep logging in to my email account occasionally to check on the status of my Amazon orders, I'd at least like to see what other kind of chops the creative graphic designers in Yahoo's house advertising department have got.
Thanks for listening, YPPM, hope the unsolicited advice isn't too harsh - and have a nice day.
[Postscript note to anyone else in online marketing who may have stumbled across this post: Even the mighty Yahoo can illustrate the point that fresh, thoughtful, original content that assumes its viewers are comprised of a fairly savvy and skeptical audience still counts in effective marketing... even in the data-driven, CTR-dominated world of Internet display advertising today.]
Yes, it's interesting that Google is trying to impress upon the powers that be at the FCC the importance of changing the spectrum auction rules to allow them to have an even playing field in their opportunity to acquire spectrum rights along with the other wireless broadband providers and mobile carriers. No doubt another example, among many of late including their efforts a while back to build radio and billboard channels for their "direct to the masses" multi-channel advertising strategy.
What's almost more interesting to me, however, is how much press it's getting. An FCC spectrum auction is about as exciting (especially in light of the market's dramatic correction last week, the impending WSJ family's decision about the Murdoch offer, the watch-it-while-it-happens collapse of the residential mortgage market, etc. in the news today) as watching bread rise for all but the most ardent mobile industry followers and big carrier players... yet it was front-page news today in the mainstream media, the usual web business news outlets... even NPR's PRI "Marketplace" segment tonight on drive-time.
As much as it's indicative of Google's strategy, what it illustrates for me is how pervasive Google's grip on the collective technology market's psyche is. The mere presence of Google's interest in the auction propels the event to the headlines. What a marketing juggernaut. For a company that is still a "one-trick pony" for most consumers (I know, I know, "Google Desktop rules", "Picasa is great", "Gmail is the ONLY email address to have for the intelligentsia's personal mail", and all that... but really, when it comes down to it, search is what Google's brand equals for 90% of most average everyday consumers), I find it amazing how their involvement in a government auction that won't yield any changes in the mobile market or wireless services for average consumers until at least 2 years from now... and probably longer... can elevate the profile of the event.
Anyone reading this post involved in the mobile industries might take umbrage with my views, insisting that this is a turning point in the potential users - and uses - of the wireless spectrum in this country, etc etc etc. But if this was anyone but Google - if it were even Microsoft - would it really be page B1 news? I've got to believe that part of it is simply the unquenchable thirst on the part of business journalists to have something - anything - to write about Google on any given day. What a choice spot to occupy for so long - the frontal lobe of stringers, analysts, commentators, bloggers, influencers, and others. Kudos Google -- I'm raising my entrepreneurial highball glass to the confluence of killer services, incredible market cap growth, strategic savvy, and acquisition appetite that has created the most rock-solid technology brand of our new millennium.
I hope you get to participate in the auction next January, use your share of the spectrum to build a device-agnostic digital broadband wireless network, and let us all switch over to an ad-supported completely "free" unlimited voice and data service compatible with our PC's and all of our legacy AT&T, T-Mobile, Cingular, Nextel, and Verizon phones before the first kickoff of the 2010 South African World Cup.
A worthwhile read. A quote from Cisco's Dan Sheinman:
Though it may sound like an activity relegated to high school and college kids, social networking is going to be the avenue for marketers and media companies to reach consumers and enterprise customers alike, Scheinman said.
Well, it's been a long hiatus since my last post... and i'm not proud of it. We often advise our clients that a blog is one of the most potent, powerful, and direct tools that they have (or could have) in their effort to speak "plain talk" directly to their site users, customers, and other stakeholders and constituents out there. Yet we've been so busy with the work of Spring Creek Group lately that we (and in this post I'm using the royal we) haven't been as diligent as we could be about using our own blog to "walk the talk" and communicate what we're seeing, what we're doing, and what we're passionate about when it comes to this business we're building.
We may not have a large readership, and our site could certainly use some attention (another topic for the "walk the talk" mantra)... but after only 8 months or so we're proud of what we're building at SCG. So if we're advising our clients to use the blog as the voice of their business, and a chance to put their best foot forward from a communications standpoint, then we had ought to be doing the same.
And the same goes for our site... if we're going to be advising our clients about ways that they can improve the user experience and lower their cost of conversion/acquisition/sale on their sites, then we ought to be carving out the time to continuously improve our own site as well. So shame on me. We have more to share, and we can do a better job putting our best foot forward with our own online marketing through our own site.
A better effort starts today.
And if you're one of the small group of people reading this post, then thanks for taking an interest - any interest - so far. We'll try to make your bookmark, or your decision to RSS us, more worthwhile and valuable from now on.
OK - mea culpa compete.
So here's a gripe that I welcome bright ideas on:
Why won't Google Analytics allow for some way to force a user cookie reset if you screw up the data provisioning on the User Generated variable in the past? One goof and you get a lifetime of bad data from past users whose only crime is using your site before you realized that you had the Urchin script affiliated with the wrong piece of data on a particular page. Any suggestions on this one welcomed...
Over and out.
Interesting data on the newspaper biz and not at all surprising. Newspapers are the consummate local brand - inextricably linked to the community. As such, they have always been the primary source of conversation starters among friends and strangers in the communities they serve. As these businesses come to embrace the online channel fully, they are creating places and spaces for these conversations to flourish. Here are but a few good examples of newspapers that are combining their strategic assets - brand, reporting, and editorial - with the features and functions unique to online that are aligned with the objective of generating more high-value advertising inventory:
New York Times
San Francisco Chronicle
Dallas Morning News
Why it's taking this long for newspapers to see the opportunity in front of them as they transition online has everything to do with out-dated business models and nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the local content papers produce and sense of community that content engenders.
The more I use Facebook, the less I find myself visiting LinkedIn. Is the former a perfect substitute for the latter? As I've discussed in previous posts, the scarcity of attention forces many of us to make choices about where we spend our time online. I want and need my attention to be rewarded which is what happens when I go to Facebook (a little too much to be honest). This fact has changed my perception of LinkedIn to be honest. What was 6 months ago one of my favorite online applications now looks and feels to me like a glorified online contact manager. While LinkedIn is about managing contact, Facebook is about creating and sustaining relationships and relationships are what I care about the most these days be they personal or professional.
A year and a half ago, I did a presentation at a Word of Mouth Market Association (WOMMA) conference on reputation management. At the time, the idea that an impression (skewed or not) of one's reputation could be had with a simple Google search was still new and poorly understood. Google was perceived by most as the place to get information about inanimate objects like websites, images, places, documents, and products among other things. It was viewed less as a channel for getting useful information about people and for the most part this was true.
With the emergence of consumer generated media publishing through sites and services like Blogger, Flickr, MySpace, LinkedIn, and YouTube it became fast and easy for people to post the details of their lives online in multi-media format. As the hurdle for globally distributed self-expression came down, the desire to publish content about oneself and one's life in the form of reviews, resumes, social connections, audio, images, and video has increased. What used to be kept in private diaries and scrapbooks under the bed, today gets posted on Facebook in real-time. Today, this is how a whole generation of people (primarily in the developed world) connect and communicate.
Want to learn more about the girl you just met? Look them up on Facebook using your phone. Interested in finding out what kind of guy your boss really is? Google him. Want to find out what the kid you're considering for an internship does in her spare time? Check her out on MySpace.
Amidst all of this change and empowerment of self-expression, there is an important lesson for us all. Be thoughtful and, dare I say, strategic about the things you post about yourself online. When you put something online, there is by definition at least one audience for it and quite possibly more than one. Depending on what you post and where you post it, you will convey meaning to members of each of your audiences. To people that know you in one context it might say one thing but to the people that know you in another context, or to those that do not know you at all, it might say something completely different and unintentional.
Here are some useful tips for how to get a handle on your reputation online.
OK, so I'm about the 3,402nd person to point this out, but Marc Andreessen's blog is fantastic. He writes primarily about issues of importance to folks working in and around emerging businesses. I you haven't done so already, I encourage you to give it a visit. Here's the link:
I've been playing around with the iLike app for Facebook and I have to say I'm blown away. If you have not used either of these sites or experienced the pleasure and fun of a combination of the two via the iLike application for Facebook, you should. If you love music, you will be impressed and likely distracted from the 10 other things you should be doing.
The whole of the experience is certainly greater than the sum of its parts which is the lesson here. For sites/services exploring ways of engendering a greater sense of connection and community with their audience, it's insanity to do it yourself without trying to do it atop an open platform like Facebook first.
For sites/businesses that are vertically focused (autos, restaurants, movies, etc.) but still lack a vibrant community, Facebook's open platform looks like a tremendous opportunity to address this problem rapidly and at low cost.
Steve Rubel wrote something today that caught my attention. In this post he writes about Marc Andreesson's blog and how good it is. I agree. But that's not the part of his post that got me to thinking...
Later in the post, Rubel writes:
We are reaching a point where the number of inputs we have as individuals is beginning to exceed what we are capable as humans of managing. The demands for our attention are becoming so great, and the problem so widespread, that it will cause people to crash and curtail these drains. Human attention does not obey Moore's Law.
What struck me about this statement is that the new new things on the Web today more often than not fragment our attention rather than focus and reward it. Twitter is a fantastic example of a technology/service that delivered a burst of value - "Wow, that's kind of cool. I get mini-posts from Rubel and others on my blog roll in real-time on my bberry" - followed by a disorganized, disorienting stream of consciousness - "the Pistons look like they're going to go down to the Cavs again..." - that pretty quickly soured me on the whole thing. I would be interested to see the churn rate among Twitter members. I suspect they're considerable.
I am at a point in life where I do not need to know nor do I care what non-members of my immediate family are doing, let alone thinking, in real-time. Our attention is better spent on other things. I would venture to guess that most people with families and jobs feel similarly. Which brings me to my point...
Compete.com has done a lot to define and promote the concept of engagement in measurable, operational terms. This is important to those of us in the business of marketing online in that it recognizes the value of visitor "attention" to publishers and advertisers. The ability of a site or service to compel people to give their attention to it is ultimately the measure of how well the site or service creates value for visitors.
This is a big reason why Google's dominance in search has created a money machine for the company. As a general rule, when people search, their attention is focused on finding relevant results. To the extent that AdWords provides relevant alternatives to natural results, it creates value for both the searcher and the advertisers. Instead of breaking the attention of the searcher, AdWords rewards it. AdSense to a lesser extent enables publishers to create a similar dynamic between their content and their audience.
A lesson I've learned over the past few years is that services, apps, and widgets that reward rather than distract the attention of an audience create tremendous value which can be shared among consumer, publisher, and advertiser. If you are working on creative or putting an online media plan together, think about how what you are creating will reward the attention of your audience before you do anything else.
This morning I came across this post on the 37Signals blog. It's pretty insightful not only because the core message is correct but also because the 37Signals service line is a terrific manifestation of what a company can achieve if it stays focused and embraces a process that forces hard trade-offs and fast choices. They clearly walk the talk and have achieved business success as a result. Basecamp is one of our favorite services here at Spring Creek Group. We use it to manage all of our internal projects as well as client engagements. Its simplicity, easy-of-use, and cost-effectiveness make it an indispensable tool for us. In an "on demand" world of software as a service, you can't keep things simple without maintaining focus and at the end of the day the simplest solution always wins.
Andy Sack, the co-founder and CEO of Judy's Book and a former boss, has talked and blogged about finding a topic about which people are passionate as being a requisite for a successful online community. He's right and these days there is no topic many of us are more passionate about than politics. As a result, the political campaigns are being led by their supporters and 20-something staff members to dive into a broad array of social media technologies in an effort to find and engage individuals and communities with similar passions and political beliefs.
In 2004, Meetups became an integral part of every campaign. Since then, campaigns have come to recognize the power of user-generated media as practiced by hundreds of millions of people on MySpace, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, and more.
What is happening today is a truly multi-channel approach to getting the message out with clear calls to action to people to including donate money, write letters/email, volunteer, or attend an event. Each of these activities being the bread and butter of American grassroots politics since the birth of our nation. The tactics and scale of reaching people is undergoing a revolution before our very eyes but the response these efforts are designed to engender hasn't change much.
What this means for online marketers is that we can and will learn a lot by watching how the 2008 political campaigns identify, engage, and motivate people to act on their behalf. Whether your objectives are to build brand awareness, generate buzz, or increase order volumes, what the campaigns are doing online will provide a blueprint for optimal roles that social and user generated media can play in your marketing mix.
What is really striking about this was how simple and satisfying the experience of reading news and editorial on my Blackberry has become. Adding to the intrigue, I recently picked up a video iPod and have discovered the joys of photos and video on the super-small screen.
For years people have been talking about the time-shifting that took off with TiVo and has only accelerated with the explosion of online video. The mass adoption of mobile devices like the Blackberry and iPod has suddenly made place-shifting commonplace.
I think it's useful to frame the concept in more general terms than simply watching TV from any laptop or device. Place-shifting is being driven by content as much as it is by a specific medium (TV). It's common knowledge that people are spending more time online and less in front of their TVs because that's where the more interesting and interactive content is. It's not about getting TV anywhere, it's about getting the greatest selection of content.
So what are the implications for online marketing? A few things come to mind:
1. Content rules more than ever. Strategies and plans need to be formulated with multiple channels and media in mind. Search still rules but the simplest mobile content channels (RSS, SMS, etc.) will continue to rapidly grow in importance.
2. Interactivity and participation work really well in a mobile world. When developing ideas for interactive campaigns consider the mobile user. Reaching this audience is still relatively difficult to do with compelling content but the barriers to doing so are falling rapidly. Get just a little bit ahead of the curve and incremental improvements to any online marketing program can be the result.
3. Tracking and analytics are lagging. As far as I know, the most popular analytics tools do not provide much visibility into the ways in which the mobile users are accessing and interacting with online sites and content. This will change but it remains a challenge.
Place-shifting is real and is increasingly relevant to online marketing. Successful strategies in the days to come will hinge in part to how well marketers exploit the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls of this emerging trend.
The fact that Google is now enabling bid management to be handled in this fashion makes tons of sense and will, as the Search Engine Land post points out, create a significant amount of additional pressure on SEM and online shops to deliver material value to clients. In addition to the marketing services firms that are affected by this new feature, it will also be interesting to watch how lead gen businesses like Service Magic and HouseValues are impacted by it over the long run. Isn't Preferred Cost Bidding really what lead gen is all about from an advertiser perspective?
Well, let's assume that at the moment we're still firmly in the middle of the Web 2.0 era. In line with that, John Cook over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did another roundup recently of the long, distinguished list of Web 2.0 companies in the Pacific Northwest. An interesting read and a handy bookmark for people who like to "kick the tires" on a new company that they heard about over cocktails in Belltown...
And, incidentally [begin self-promotion] Spring Creek Group is associated with a few companies on this list or soon to be on this list...[end self-promotion], so we're big fans and supporters of several of these local companies too.
For those of you that don't remember the original Apple ad upon which this is based, it ran only once during a Super Bowl. In spite of its limited run, it received a tremendous amount of favorable coverage and still gets shown as part of marketing classes at universities around the country as an example of truly creative, effective advertising that works on multiple levels. But I digress...
I caught a bit of the discussion about the video tonight on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show where they speculated about who was behind it. Could it be Obama's campaign, a conservative outfit, or someone else? Over the course of the conversation, they showed a loop of the video. As I watched, something caught my eye. So, I sat down at my computer, found the video on YouTube and went through it frame-by-frame to be sure I wasn't imagining it.
Here's a screenshot:
Notice anything? Clearly Olbermann and Cilliza did not as they speculated on who would have the motivation and the ability to do such a thing while forgetting the obvious suspect: Apple and/or their agency of record (TBWA\Chiat\Day) Unless, I've lost my mind, I could swear that's an iPod clipped to her waste band and iPods weren’t even a glimmer in Steve Job’s eye back then.
My guess is that based on recent coverage of Obama's "rock star" treatment in front of adoring crowds around the country, Apple realized Obama's got some serious mojo and is perceived as someone new, fresh, and disruptive in politics today. Based on this not terribly original insight, they found an extremely clever way to generate HUGE free publicity and PR for their corporate image and the iPod.
What's more, if it is Apple behind this then they picked a target audience that is PERFECT at both the strategic and tactical levels for this to work. Political blogs are the most heavily trafficked in general with well educated readerships that are young(ish) and engaged. In addition, a lot of these folks are also active in online communities including Flickr, MySpace, and Facebook.
Not saying it’s Apple but they are the odds on favorite in my mind. I just can’t think of a simpler explanation for the iPod showing up in multiple frames throughout the video and you know what William of Occam would have to say in response. It's there for a reason and the simplest explanation is there's a commercial purpose behind it.
One final thought on this relates to what the video actually is. I've tried not to call it an ad in this post for a reason. It's not one. No one has paid a dime to place it anywhere. 100% of the distribution has been for free if you don't count the time schleps like me have spent posting it on blogs. That's interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I suspect that means it's not governed by campaign finance laws (not positive but it would stand to reason). Second, its yet another demonstration of the willingness of individuals to spread a message when it's packaged creatively and distributed for free.
A little one-pager that caught my eye as well, though, is about "Building a New Nest" -- companies that have cracked the challenge of building trusted online communities that actually create value for their customers without (obviously) using it as a marketing opportunity. Of course, the message of these examples is: deliver value and people will thank you, and reward you, for it.
Give it a read here.
[Fair warning - you need FC's little code from page 10. But that's my own little plug for you to go buy the issue if you don't already receive it -- it's well worth it.]
We often get asked whether or not potential customers will really trust a company's community - "why wouldn't they go find another community to talk about these things?" This little article is just a nice, concise proof-point that occasionally companies get it right. The key takeaway is: "Make it useful, unique, valuable, and trustworthy... and if you don't abuse the trust, you'll be rewarded for it." Sounds obvious, but it's hard to get right. And those are the principles for fostering a good community out in the "real world" too.
While it is no doubt a creative presentation of important information to anyone in the market for consumer electronics, I'm not sold on the idea that it offers a more effective means of merchandising for anyone with an interest in selling products. It no doubt is fun to play with but as a tool for people to actually shop with, I didn't find it all that helpful.
The larger point is that creating stickiness in a retail context is only as good as its ability to convert shoppers into buyers. At the end of the day, shoppers seek satisfaction through the purchase of goods and services. To the extent that a site can make that experience more fun and enjoyable along the way then everybody wins.
In addition to ShoppingPath, there are other sites out there, Mpire immediately comes to mind, that are also doing innovative things with aggregated price and product information. The question remains how do/will these new and different approaches lift click-through and conversion rates thereby displacing the dominant players in the comparison shopping space?
These numbers are pretty telling. Building an ad-based online business is hard in particular when you're counting on an exit for the investment of time and capital to pay-off.
- At the $1 RPM (CPM/CPA/CPC) level achieved by most general sites, you need 4 billion page views/month.
- At the $5 RPM level achieved by demographically targeted sites, you need 800 million/month.
- At the $20 RPM level achieved by highly targeted sites, you need 200 million/month.
An interesting side-note to the original post is its focus on top-line revenue as the core metric used to establish the value of an online ad-based business. In the short run, it might not make much difference to a VC whether one uses revenue, income, or EBIDTA to value a business but it signals, what I think is a dubious perspective. I question the value of this perspective to entrepreneurs because while revenue is necessary it alone is insufficient to create a growing, sustainable business. What is both necessary AND sufficient to fuel the growth of an online ad-based business is a talented team, a great idea, and, last but not least, cashflow and profits as early as possible.
Focusing on top-line causes one to lose site of where the value and leverage needed to invest in and grow our business really comes from which is, in every industry of every kind, the same thing: cashflow.
The basic reason is that people are different and the contexts in which they use a MySpace verses a Yahoo! verses a Google are different also. For example, my mother has never and will never spend a second on MySpace eventhough she's online a couple of hours every day.
So, in addition to providing interesting data what I'd love to see is data that is useful as well. For starters, how about slicing the time spent by a few basic demographic dimensions (age and gender)? Then we'd have something to talk about...
The only comment worth adding is that as transparency increases a greater burden is placed on the shoulders of the PR folks to know more than what they're pitching that day. They need to know the product, the market, the industry etc. so that they can initiate and carry on informed conversations on behalf of their clients. Another example of how traditional agency models are being disrupted these days.
Check it out - Tufte must be cracking a smirk somewhere that all that news that's fit to print now also includes all the interactive graphics that are fit to post...