Getting in the Conversation with Social TV

t1larg.tv.ipad.fastI was recently at a conference, and took a picture of a PowerPoint slide that I thought was pretty interesting. It showed the growth of tweets about television from Q2 2011 to last quarter. Basically, nobody was tweeting anything a few years ago, and then there were over 18 million unique people tweeting about TV in Q4 2012, representing a 182% year-over-year growth rate. If you are a modern marketer that spends money on television advertising, there are some implications in this data worth looking at.

Are you in the conversation?

Back in the 1980s, I would sometimes go to Times Square to see horror movies. The theatres were uniformly crumby, but the people were the best. Times Square movie theatres always featured an audience willing to give Jamie Curtis’ Halloween character plenty of advice in each scene. In fact, between the chatter and screaming, you could hardly hear the film. That was what passed for “social viewing” in the old days. Today, we are discovering that people still like to share viewing experiences together, and Twitter and other social tools lets you make every television show an Oscar party you can attend in your pajamas. Brand advertisers backing a particular show want the glow of good comedy or drama, and now extending that association may mean inserting yourself into the conversation via a Sponsored Tweet. What’s really interesting about that is your message can be received during the action, without interrupting.

Less TV, More Tweet

The rise of “Social TV” gives brand marketers yet another dimension to ponder as well. With a show’s active and engaged community just a Tweet away, how much media should you allocate to thirty second spots, and how much should go towards the social element? Moreover, social TV means that every consumer seeing your ad can get the chance to interact and talk back socially. We are seeing marketers hashtag their ads and drop into the social stream of conversation. Although this is still a form of “interruption marketing,” it’s the closest that brands have gotten to being a part of, rather than disturbing, the entertainment in a long time. These digital “native advertising” opportunities are proving effective, and starting to take market share away from commoditized 300×250 display advertising units.

Can your company dunk in the dark?

The latest test for marketers is The Oreo Challenge or, more simply put, do I have a social strategy for taking advantage of news and events? Although it seemed like a no-brainer during the Superbowl, “you can still dunk in the dark” was the result of a contemplated strategy. Oreo’s very responsive tweet is a phenomenon that digital marketers are still talking about—the kind of lightning on a bottle that produces tens of millions of dollars  in “earned” media. But getting there requires your marketing team and agency to truly understand everything about the brand they are promoting. If your team can’t automatically speak in the brand’s “voice” and doesn’t truly understand the brand attributes and values, you can’t automatically respond to opportunity in the social space. Teams that live and breathe their brand—and, more importantly, their brand’s key constituency—must be trusted to speak socially…and sometimes loudly, if the occasion warrants it. Of course, there is a good chance your joke will go flat, but that’s okay when you are among your television “friends.”

[This post was originally published on 4/3/13 on The CMO Site]

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Going Native

GoingNativeTalk of ghost publishers and robot traffic has digital brand advertisers questioning some long-held beliefs. They’re wondering whether the promise of efficiency in media is outweighed by the prospect of buying ads that only machines will ever “see.”

As Mike Shields pointed out in an excellent AdWeek article the other day, brand advertisers have found themselves at the mercy of phantom publishers who live to exploit the programmatic technology systems that deliver banner ads. It’s a problem that until recently has largely been ignored, even as gullible advertisers shell out millions of dollars only to receive fake clicks and “views” in return. Writes Shields:

Increasingly, digital agencies and buy-side technology firms are seeing massive traffic and audience spikes from groups of Web publishers few people have ever heard of. These sites — billed as legitimate media properties — are built to look authentic on the surface, with generic, non-alarm sounding content. But after digging deeper, it becomes evident that very little of these sites’ audiences are real people.

Among the money-sucking ghosts that Shields names are an outfit called Precision Media, running some 25 content sites like Toothbrushing.net; Alphabird, running 80 sites; and DigiMogul, operating something called Directorslive.com that has reported a rather unlikely 326 million monthly page views. These and other such scammers, the AdWeek man reports, are less than forthcoming about their operations or owners.

All of which is driving more interest in native advertising, or what we are now calling sponsored content, or “advertorials,” as they were called once upon a time. The idea behind native advertising is a simple and well-proven one: Tailor ad messages to the format of the media. A tweet becomes an ad when it’s a “sponsored tweet” and a Facebook message can become a “sponsored post.”

Companies like BuzzFeed have worked with brands like Old Navy to populate the web with pictures of squirrels in Christmas sweaters to grab mindshare and thus bring their irreverent style to millions of consumers where they are used to consuming content.

Today’s web-based platforms are enabling marketers to be publishers, and engage with their audiences in real-time. Brands brave enough to produce content, or that have a unique point of view — take Red Bull, as an example — are finding that making investments in content and aiming marketing into other content platforms with native advertising efforts are paying dividends that go beyond traditional marketing efforts.

Suit to fit
Your company website may have a blog, but it is meant to broadcast, not listen to, consumers. Native advertising and sponsored content give consumers the ability to extend messages through social sharing, commenting, and mingling user-generated content with content that has been created by brands.

For Scott Roen, vice president of digital for American Express, whose Open Forum is the leading small business website, the idea of tailoring advertising to the format of the content is an obvious advantage. “Where can we be part of a conversation where people want us? It’s getting back to the roots… [native advertising] is not a fad.”

Is native advertising better than the banner ad? “It’s certainly better than what we had before. Anything that makes the user feel the advertising is more seamless is good,” said Mary Gail Pezzimenti, vice president of content strategy for Federated Media. “The brands that have taken the time to establish thought leadership and provide high quality content have permission to engage in those conversations.”

So, is the native advertising trend just a retread from the past, or is it a legitimate new advertising tactic, brought about by platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr? For Benjamin Palmer, CEO of the digital creative shop Barbarian Group, who works with huge global brands like GE, “Native ads will be around as long as the platforms that support it are.”

[This post originally appeared on 3/26/13 in The CMO Site]

The Hourglass Funnel

HourglassSocial media stands to help marketers better work the newly-emerged hourglass funnel.

Marketers have been using the AIDA model in one form or another since its invention in 1898. The path of “awareness, interest, desire, and action” has been relevant for more than 100 years, and even if individual marketing channels have their differences, the way people are brought through the purchase funnel has changed about as much as human nature over the same time period.

That is to say, very little.

Consumer behavior is the same, even if the tools of the trade are different. For example, Pinterest activity demonstrates “desire” in the lower part of the funnel just as much as clipping a coupon does. The fact that Pinterest activities are measurable (and infinitely more cost-effective and scalable) makes all the difference.

What has changed a good deal over the past several years is what happens when a consumer drops out of the bottom of the funnel. It used to be that a purchaser was put into a marketer’s CRM system, where he or she would start to receive new marketing messages via established channels like mail, telemarketing, and loyalty programs.

Of course, that is still happening, but now there is a whole new part of the funnel to work through. This new, inverted funnel explains, for instance, why Salesforce purchased Buddy Media and Radian6 — the marketing is just getting started after the consumer purchases.
Today’s CMO has to have a more developed strategy for what happens after the purchase than ever before. This new socially-enabled funnel means closely linking the traditional CRM to social platforms — not only for “listening” to what your customers are saying, but also to give them an opportunity to start selling on your behalf.

After purchase, you need to encourage your buyer to join your social sphere, and start extending the conversation. This means not only listening to sentiment, but also giving the consumer the incentives to get to the next phase in the post-conversion funnel: social activation.

Migrating customers from being passive “likers” and “followers” to socially-activated users with true brand affinity is difficult. How you communicate within platforms like Facebook and Twitter (both on an earned and paid basis) is critical, along with providing key incentives for such participation. Ultimately, the affinity group you curate can be turned into sellers, either real affiliate salespeople or, in a softer sense, “brand ambassadors” that go beyond social sharing to influence others to purchase.

Today’s successful CMOs have been seeing through the bottom of the funnel for a long time, and putting together the tools and support needed to migrate post-purchase marketing activity from CRM-driven tactics to social activation strategies.

[This post originally appeared on The CMO Site on 3/15/13]

Death of the Digital Media Agency?

Here are the three major trends making media agencies less relevant every day.

On the surface, it would seem that running a modern digital media agency would be fun. Being on the cutting edge of media and technology, being in the “social media conversation,” helping clients understand and deploy groundbreaking new technologies…that is the stuff that has turned scores of English majors into media professionals. Unfortunately, the reality of digital media is somewhat more mundane. At the end of the (long, thankless) day, the digital agency is more valued for reconciling ad serving numbers, collating performance reports, and swapping ad tags than delivering groundbreaking new marketing ideas. The true standalone independent digital agencies (MediaSmith and MediaTwo being great examples) happen to manage both, for most traditional agencies that have added a digital practice struggle to make the technology—and, more importantly, margins—work.

If it wasn’t enough having to make a living on the slim margins digital media offers, the industry’s tendency to constantly and rapidly shift means there are major, fundamental challenges that require the digital operator to adjust their approach to the market. Here are the three latest ones, and how they are impacting digital media shops:

Platform Technology

For digital marketers, it’s all about the tools. Ad campaigns need to be researched, negotiated, served, tracked, analyzed, optimized, billed and reconciled. Just five years ago, each of those tasks would require a separate, and often expensive, software tool. There were relatively few agencies willing to build and maintain the expertise to deliver digital media effectively, and fewer that had the scale to do it at a profit. Companies like Operative were born out of the complicated nature of tools like DFA and Atlas, which were so frustrating to use that agencies were willing to pay others to manage it for them.

The sea change in the industry has been about SaaS model “platform” technology that is giving anyone willing to login the tools to effectively manage many different aspects of digital media, from guaranteed display advertising, to real-time bidded display, to search and even social. This not only levels the playing field for smaller agencies, who now have nearly the same level of access as more deeply pocketed rivals, but once obscure DSP type technology is blowing the lid of the supply side’s hold on inventory, giving the local corner agency the ability to arbitrage media like a pro. Not only that, but many of the platform technologies available are venture funded startups out for any revenue they can get, and more than eager to sacrifice some margin to win sales by offering service behind the product. Most trading desks are pushing the buttons for agencies, and many platform technologies do the same. Ask yourself if your technology partner is looking to help you—or eventually displace you completely.

The challenge for digital media practices these days is not how many digital tools they have access to, but how they are utilizing them to extract the best advertising performance, whether it is for branding or performance or even the nauseatingly titled, “branded response.”   There are only so many tools an agency can realistically use, and fewer that they can use effectively. Getting the mix correct, and choosing your partners wisely is the difference between being a digital media tools provider, and your client’s digital media expert.

Shift back to Premium

Back at the Digital Publishing Summit, I heard Greg Rogers of Pictela say this: “Nielsen says people visit 2.9 sites a day, and one of them is Facebook.” I don’t care how many industry conferences you go to this year; you will not hear anything more significant than that statement. Why does it matter? It matters because everything this industry is trying to do with audience targeting depends entirely on reaching consumers across a wide variety of sites. The Holy Grail of advertising we have been chasing (well, venture capital has been chasing) is based on the notion that you can find me with a targeted ad, wherever I am on the web, and not have to pay some huge publisher gatekeeper a premium to get to me. If those people are all on Facebook, that’s kind of a big problem.

It also means that all of the standardization we have done with ad units and ad operations procedures that have been designed to make deploying 3 ad sizes all over the web was a terrible mistake. If a consumer is visiting 2 sites a day that aren’t Facebook, and nobody is clicking on an ad (well, 0.03% of people are clicking on an ad, but it turns out they have no money anyway), then what? It means that marketers have to engage consumers with ads that do things on the page, such as expand, or play video, or tell a story. The exact types of things you cannot do with a standard 300×250, 728×90, and 160×600 commoditized ad unit.

Sorry, but we made a big mistake. Flooding the web with cheap banner ads doesn’t work for performance (unless the media cost is so low that ROI is almost  guaranteed), and it doesn’t work for branding either, thanks to “banner blindness” and a the general reluctance of consumers to drop everything they are doing online, only to be transported to someone’s really big ad (their website). Coincidentally, nobody really wants to “like” your client’s brand, or be their “friend” either. That’s the modern version of the .03% click rate: the sub segment of consumers that will “like” a washing machine company are the same people that have been punching the monkey for the last ten years.

The future of digital display advertising is about using highly premium ad units to engage consumers on the page, and provide them with a rich branded experience. That is why concepts like Project Devil are coming back to the forefront. Your agency has to be an expert at understanding how to deliver customized ad experiences at scale, but also leverage the existing, commoditized tools for display to achieve reach. That means that creative agencies, who increasingly have access to platform technology advertising tools, can put themselves in the driver’s seat by making  the creative—and deploying it too.

Social Media

Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has access to platform technology, and creative is once again coming back into the forefront. What’s the next challenge for the digital media agency? The coming threat from social media.  If you thought the increasing dependence on social media for marketers would be a boon to the digital media agency, you may want to think again. Much of the social media focus for big brands is within their PR firms, who are challenged to build and maintain a brand’s “social media presence” on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I recently met with a few PR firms who were charged with attracting “friends,” getting tweets, and “likes.”

They are going to do that with media money—and some of them want to keep that money in house, rather than partnering with media agencies to do it for them. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable, as the cost of hiring a media team would erode much of the margins. Now, with ubiquitous access to platform technology, PR agencies are looking at building small in-house media teams to leverage social budgets, and make deploying social marketing campaigns a core expertise.

The successful digital media agency’s greatest expertise has always been adaptability. The best ones are already building the tools and expertise to help marketers navigate through these times, and partnering with technology companies that can evolve alongside them.

[This post was originally published in eConsultancy on 7/12/11]