Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Savvy Search Strategies

Buried in MarketingSherpa’s annual search survey (http://www.marketingsherpa.com/) is some very useful advice on how to use search engine optimization and pay-per-click tactics based on the input from 3271 active marketers. Here is my reading of the tea leaves.

1. You gotta do both to win. Invest in search engine optimization (CEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) to drive traffic to your site. Marketers are much happier with PPC now that they are getting the hang of it. SEO continues to be a cat-and-mouse game between search engine programmers and marketers.

2. The average investment is between 40 and 50 percent of budgets, for both b2c and b2b players. Most marketers expect this investment in to increase over the next 12 months.

The promise of cost effectively delivering interested prospects to a site is a very easy sell internally and this promise added to the general media hype about search makes for a relatively easy budgeting case even in tight-fisted companies.

It’s a fair bet that funds for SEO and PCC are coming from funds formerly slated to outbound acquisition e-mail; a tactic widely seen as on the wane in terms of value and ROI. It is no surprise that spending on search was up 177 percent over the past 12 months and only 21% of those surveyed said they aren’t doing search marketing.

3. The more search is used; the costs grow and conversions plummet. It is almost an economic law. As a medium matures the costs go up as competitors swarm in and prospects get divided among more and more competing brands. In the end, search, like TV, will yield less at higher price points. This process has clearly begun.

4. To find the right niche and to channel the best prospects to their sights the average keyword volume was up 90 percent to 17,314 keywords in 2005 over an average of 9100 in 2004. This number of keywords and the variations thereof mandate dedicated resources and probably some moderately sophisticated software to manage these campaigns where marketers scatter PPC ads over many more categories and subcategories in search of competitive advantage.

5. The best players are using veteran SEO agencies with sophisticated tools to manage and measure these buys. This isn’t something that you can have somebody in the marketing department pick up and handle in their spare time.

6. The Holy Grail is keywords that not only create clicks but that bring site visitors that engage with your site. This process is called “conversion.” This usage of the word is unique to the search community. It should be distinguished from the usual direct marketing meaning of this term which implies somebody took a desired action, identified themselves, signed up for something or actually bought something.

This is a particular dynamic of the search business where the interests of the media
(e.g. Google and Yahoo) and the interests of their clients diverge somewhat. The search engines get paid on every click. They care, though not all that much, who clicks or what the clickers end up doing. As fewer people who click engage, give up their e-mail addresses or buy stuff, search marketers redefine success.

7. Initially search delivered eager-to-buy prospects; people who self identified their interests and the urgency of their need by clicking on your key word. Now the promise of search marketing is beginning to shift. Rather than expect an immediate conversion from clicker to interested prospect, instead now measure some combination of engagement and brand awareness. As search marketing grows and becomes part of the media landscape it performs just like everything else. Response rates drop.

8. Finding the Holy Grail is about creative. You may be wondering how creative you can be with a 3 word headline, ten words of copy and a unique URL. But that’s the game. In fact the space restrictions are even more onerous since most ads include the words CLICK NOW or CLICK HERE.

9. Copy testing has become a separate thing all together. And not surprisingly agencies, especially agencies new to search marketing, are much more eager about creative testing than company marketers are; probably because they want to burn up more hours learning the business at the client’s expense.

10. In finding a platform for testing, Google and Yahoo/Overture are the whole act. Everybody uses them. In fact between 50-80% of marketers don’t even mess with the other 12 second tier search engines. Though given how cheap they are, many agencies are inclined to work them into the mix to bring overall cost-per costs down.

11. This near total dominance by two platforms is driving Microsoft to covet the pot of gold they are NOT earning and to devise technology to differentiate their offering and woo the search marketing crowd. Microsoft’s nascent adCenter is being tested in Singapore and France. It promises to offer more sophisticated search targeting by marrying key words with 400 million stored profiles across Microsoft’s portfolio of sites and services. They are threatening to roll it out in the USA in October or November 2005. They have the cash, the clout and the company to sell this idea and gain huge buzz and awareness. But the big money won’t change hands until they prove that the targeting , the interface and the results are better.

12. And if you aren’t baffled by search marketing or you don’t fear Microsoft, consider the research done by Marketing Experiments. They put 9 press releases on the Web using BusinessWire (http://www.businesswire.com/) and ran simultaneous PPC campaigns on Google. Over the same period of time, they attracted more clicks from the PR effort at dramatically lower cost-per-clicks than for clicks coming from relevant targeted key words.

So maybe search is our most effective current traffic building or perhaps it’s all a tempest in a teacup easily trumped by clicks from content.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Twin Challenges of E-Mail Deliverability

Half of all e-mail marketers say deliverability is their biggest problem. Yet many of these marketers confuse deliverability with impact or effectiveness. E-mail has become a two-part game – 1) getting it to the desired recipient by eliminating bounce backs and 2) getting the desired recipient to see and potentially read it or act on the message.

Tactics to reduce bounce backs are evolving. Tactics to insure true delivberability and impact, especially for for outbound acquisition are still elusive.

Bigfoot Interactive reports that overall deliverability in Q2 2005 was 94.4%, an astoundingly high number considering the increased use of spam filters, a legion of suppression tactics employed by ISPs, blacklisting and a general paranoia about viruses and spam. But remember, even if true, this means that 94.4 percent didn’t bounce.

It does NOT mean that 9 out of 10 addressees opened, read or acted upon the promotional or editorial e-mail sent to them. A huge percentage of the e-mails that didn’t bounce back ended up in “junk” or “bulk” e-mail boxes and were deleted without being seen. Many more made it to an "in" box where they were not recognized and deleted manually without being seen.

But remember, even if true, this means that 94.4 percent didn’t bounce. It does NOT mean that 9 out of 10 addressees opened, read or acted upon the promotional or editorial e-mail sent to them. A huge percentage of the e-mails that didn’t bounce back ended up in “junk” or “bulk” e-mail boxes and were deleted without being seen.

Jupiter Research is saying the average e-mailer uses 2-3 simultaneous tactics to prevent bounce backs. Michelle Eichner of Pivotal Veracity says that tactics should include

Scan your content and address records to eliminate elements that would trigger a bounce back

Be sure your HTML aligns with the WWW Consortium standards

Manual check how your e-mails will come across on Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Lotus Notes, Outlook and Eudora

Check to see that you are not on the black list

Monitor abuse boards to be sure they are not talking about you.

Ask your subscribers to put you on their “safe” list.

The tactics for insuring that you get into an active “in” box are almost non-existent if you are trying to reach people who have not subscribed to your e-mail offering or who have not opted-in to receive e-mail from you.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Positioning PR for Maximum Results

I am amazed at how much business people expect from public relations. But I suspect that the overblown expectations which usually follow from the injunction “let’s get some PR on this” have more to do with tight budgets than realistic marketing strategy.

PR is an incredibly competitive sport. Each day thousands of story ideas compete for space and time in hundreds of trusted media outlets. The best PR people know how to frame the story, how to craft the pitch and exactly who to talk to. And even the best practitioners have to compete with wars, hurricanes, elections, coups, Wall Street, Congress, court decisions and other stories considered competitive hard news topics by the dominant media which can easily shift the news agenda and overturn all previous plans or promises.

PR, as opposed to advertising, carries the implied third party endorsement of the medium in which it appears. Most people, even skeptical, media savvy people, believe that “If the Times prints it, it must be true.” And yet this added credibility is never as strong as a paid call to action.

Another aspect is the trade-off between endorsement and editorial control. In a typical PR placement, an editor or a producer makes a decision on what to say, how to say it, how much or who to include and what to exclude. In fact, as a point of pride and to illustrate the distinction between editorial and advertising, it is rare for newspapers or TV stations to print or air prices or contact information.

As a result, people reading or viewing a story about an event, a concert, a performer or a product are much less likely to pick up the phone, type in a URL or initiate a Google search than those who see an ad asking them explicitly to take these actions.

Marketers fantasizing that a PR campaign by itself will sell out a theater, empty a warehouse or drive traffic to 800 numbers or websites are kidding themselves. PR, like brand advertising, builds awareness, creates a buzz and begins the demand generation process. But rarely will PR alone play the role of direct response advertising.

If you don’t target your most likely audience and communicate with them directly by making an offer, you are wasting your PR effort. PR combined with well placed; controlled messages with clear calls to action are a “best practices” formula for success. Anything less is wishful thinking.

Friday, September 09, 2005

DRTV Gets Its Due

Direct Response TV advertising (DRTV) seems to be the fastest growing segment in TV Land. Sales are up 25 percent during the first half of 2005 to $1.2 billion, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a growth rate double that of cable TV. Sellers are reporting 100 percent renewal rates from DRTV advertisers like J&J, Pfizer, Orbitz and L’Oreal. Packaged goods and financial services advertisers who long disdained DRTV are now embracing it.

My...how things have changed.

Not too long ago DRTV was the late night and weekend province of the Ab Roller, Hooked on Phonics and Ron Popeil. It was, if you believed the white shoe ad guys, a sleazy neighborhood frequented by brands on the deathwatch, jobbers with leftover inventory and small time entrepreneurs running boiler room operations in search of quick and dirty wins.

Fast forward to a time of tight budgets, fragmented viewing, integrated marketing and creative executions that can simultaneously promote the brand and carry a call to action. Presto! The ugly duckling becomes a swan.

DRTV can be branded and responsive. DRTV is carefully tracked to yield a clear ROI. And DRTV at 40 percent of the cost of upfront or scatter inventory is still bought creatively to finesse network issues and zero-in on target audiences. DRTV reinforces brand awareness. DRTV drives phone calls. DRTV drives web traffic. DRTV provokes search engine queries.

DRTV has always done these things. This is nothing new to those of us who have toiled “below the line.” We can all enjoy a brief “I-told-you-so” moment, bask in the recognition for a previous undervalued media channel and savor a back-handed compliment for all those savvy media people who have mastered the nuances of DRTV.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Seifert's Ethics Sideshow

As part of her sentence for defrauding the government former Ogilvy and TBWA executive Shona Seifert was required, by US District Court judge Richard Berman, to write a Code of Ethics for the advertising industry. The judge evidently thought we, as an industry, were down a quart.

The 18 page document written by Ms. Seifert and filed with the court on August 31st is an odd duck that has spawned some interesting commentary and controversy. Anyone looking for a set of rules or anything approaching a handbook will be disappointed.

Instead Ms. Seifert addresses her “Proposed Code of Ethics for the Advertising Industry” to “frontliners everywhere.” Her first words, “None of us ever plans to be thrown under a bus” make it clear that in addition to a few gratuitous rules, our girl Shona is out to prove that she was the sacrificial lamb; that she took one for the team.

If you doubt my interpretation, consider her fifth line, “If you are a frontliner you are more likely to find yourself in the line of fire. And it may be better for others that you take a bullet.” To which she adds in hindsight, “Don’t compromise your own values to achieve someone else’s goals.” Nah. Nobody in the ad game ever does that.

This is a funny sentence and a funny response to it. The language is elliptical, filled with clichés and obvious imperatives. For example she writes “Don’t take a government contract if your agency is not well versed in the regulations.” This and many other Business 101 statements make me cringe. I wonder if her PowerPoint decks and her client memos were as ponderous and as vacuous. On the basis of the writing alone, I’d sentence her to prison.

Ogilvy and Shona did what most agencies do. They have the most junior players keep records using rudimentary systems. Then they ask senior people to continually project workflow, estimate revenues and cover the number of hours worked at target margins. Shona and her team held record keeping as a low priority and when necessary to protect their jobs and their bonuses manipulated the data to make their numbers.

Unfortunately they messed around with the government, who cares more about accounting than creative. Shona makes my point by discussing the importance of big ideas and brilliant work versus bookkeeping. She advises her peers that “boring work has never resulted in a prison sentence. Poor timekeeping practices have.” Consider us warned.

I hope the judge is lenient with her. This is a mealy-mouthed apologia that dances around the issues, has all the weight of a Hallmark card and attempts to position Ms. Seifert as less than the felon she is.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

E-mail Danny Flamberg dflamberg@gmail.com Posted by Picasa

Danny Flamberg Posted by Picasa

Proving the Obvious: Consistency Counts

It makes me crazy to read study after study proving the obvious. Yet in a risk averse marketing world nobody can make a decision based on common sense or practical knowledge, everyone needs a third party expert or reference. This bureaucratic, CYA-driven thinking yields Katrina-like performance.

For example consider recent research by Basement, Inc. (for SugarShots liquid cane sugar) designed to test the proposition that a cohesive graphic theme carried across channels will have a positive impact on the viewer.


They constructed a test whereby one group of random prospects saw an ad and were directed to a website that looked the same as the ad. The second group saw the ad and was directed to a site that looked different from the ad.

Wanna guess what happened?

Those who saw the consistent graphics were much more likely to take the survey and were 17 percent more likely to have an interest in purchasing the product.

Is there anyone working in advertising, marketing or any form of communications that doubts the value of consistent, one-voice messaging? Can anyone seriously argue that using different graphic treatments for related channels enhances the brand experience or enhances the way consumers process and respond to messages?

Consistent presentation sets expectations, creates a comfort and establishes a recognition zone that engages prospects and puts viewers in a frame of mind most likely to begin the sales process. Shrinks call this schema-driven processing; basically customers recognize familiar patterns which reduces anxiety and requires less brain power than seeing something new or different.

Savvy marketers not only use graphic continuity but they understand and use different channels as related parts of a single narrative. The ad sets the theme and provokes inquiry. The landing page extends the theme and gives the prospect opportunities to interact and customize the conversation. The follow-up e-mail or phone call or direct mail package wraps the theme around customized content and presents specific offers or calls to action. Consistent visual cues and language make the experience as complete and immersive as possible.

So please consider this obvious thing now proven definitively.
It is available for quotation and use as an all-purpose excuse or rationalization.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Google Hedges Pay-Per-Click Rankings

Some things just can’t be bought.

For instance, if you pay the highest per-click fee on Yahoo’s search engine, you can be sure that your ad appears in the top position under Yahoo’s sponsored listings for that particular word or phrase. The guy paying the most gets the top spot. It’s a pure pay-for-position deal.

Google does it differently. At Google cash is only part of the equation that determines which paid ads get top placement. They use a relevancy algorithm that factors the cost-per-click paid with the total number of clicks an ad gets to determine the ranking of paid results for any given word or phrase. So even if you pay top dollar, if they don’t click you don’t get the top position.

The difference in how these engine’s allocate the best paid real estate on search result pages forces marketers to make some savvy guesses about the likely reaction and click rate for key word ads. If your copy resonates and you are top bidder, Google will do your bidding. If not or if your not sure, better to buy your way to greatness on Yahoo or on MSN, as served by Yahoo’s search engine, even if they are delivering fewer searches.

Only a market leader with 79 million monthly online searchers and a significant lead over the competition could impose its will this way.

Why Econometrics Won't Save the 30-Second Spot

If you follow the predictions of WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, and many who follow advertising do, you might believe that econometrics will find the data to save the 30 second spot from oblivion.

But in this case, Sir Martin is jaw-boning a likely acquisition and looking to spin things in his favor.

The reality is that econometrics has been around a long time and has produced some very valuable models. Why hasn’t it already been applied to TV advertising?

There are several good reasons:

You need lots of data to build reliable models. All we have for TV is the buying data. Data about timing, impact, attitudes, behaviors, purchases, wholesale and retail prices, promotions, coupons, store locations and data to support correlations between spots running and products moving off the shelves is virtually non-existent.
-Econometric modeling costs a lot and requires sophisticated researchers. So far the attacks on TV haven’t been sufficiently threatening to warrant the level of cash outlay required.
There are too many related yet uncharted variables. Even the best models would be sophisticated guesses that would have to be validated over time by even more data (that we don’t yet have). That’s an awful long way at an awful high cost to be so easily dismissed.

Sooner or later advertisers will want to understand how and why TV ads impact sales. They will want measurements that assist them in making budget allocation decisions based on media effectiveness in generating immediate and short-term demand.

Just don’t bet on econometrics to provide the answers anytime soon.
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