There once was a time when social media was the solution to all of advertising’s woes. Social media was to replace antiquated interruptive advertising techniques by allowing customers to have “relationships” with brands. Brands could “join the conversation” and let customers “tell their story” too. All of this “engagement” would be called “earned media’ instead of paid media. But reality has struck, we’ve all been duped (including me) and it looks like what really matters is what has always mattered: interrupting people with interesting ideas about interesting products.
From Forrester “Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers. Forty-eight percent of consumers reported that social media posts are a great way to discover new products, brands, trends, or retailers, but less than 1% of transactions could be traced back to trackable social links.”
Sure, the same arguments are still valid: social media (and display ads) has an impact the same way TV ads have an impact – people just don’t click through as much so the influence doesn’t show up in the data. Another valid argument is that most brands still just aren’t using social media right: they post self serving drivel that no one cares about.
But consider this quote directly from Facebook: After instigating the biggest bait and switch in ad history, Facebook has the audacity to say in Time Magazine, “Like many mediums, if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising.” Facebook itself concedes that trying to market a product by engaging a community with posts is ineffective.
Create your own site, for creating quality, interesting, unbiased content where you have full control instead.
The common advice is that you should include a blog to your ecommerce or business website. So attached to your site is a blog.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/blog. The reasons behind this are sound:
- Build traffic through search engine optimization
- Increase credibility
- Enhance customer interaction
But there is a common problem with corporate blogs: they lack credibility. This is especially true of big companies. When the blog isn’t boring every visitor by incessantly talking about itself, PR wants to throw in the latest earnings report and then the marketing team wants to repurpose it’s email creative in a post about the monthly sale.
I think there is a better way to still get the benefits of blogging for your business without having a corporate blog: give your blog it’s own brand.
Instead of yoursite.com/blog, make a whole new site that’s sole purpose is to be the voice that speaks to your target audience. It’s hard to not come off unbiased when right next to your content you’ve got links to buy all your stuff right there. With a separate blog you can say all the things that resonate with your target audience while not worrying the brand managers that you’re going to be “off-brand”. At the same time you can still slip in links to your own business when it’s called for.
This may seem sketchy but it’s a standard business practice. Big companies that are no longer “cool” buy smaller ones who have more credibility in the marketplace. Nike would never tell you that they own the counter-culture brand Converse. Or the company that owns the posh ski brand North Face would never let customers know that they also own the skate and surf company Vans and the cowboy brand Wrangler.
Keep yousite.com/blog for all the lame content that no one reads if you want to so that you can appear “relevant”. But build a different blog outside of your brand. If you can, build a few. Retailers need to become publishers online instead of relying so much on other content sites to post their links and serve their ads.
I think the distinction between queries and keywords is important. A keyword is the flat, literal, lowest-common-denominator word that you want as much commercial intent in it as possible. A search query is the actual phrase that the user puts in the search box. More often than not search queries are absurd
. The keywords you select are just as much about what queries you don’t want your ad to show up for, as the queries that you do want your ad to show for.
As seen above, search queries of all types are swimming through a stream and you lure the ones you want your ad to show up for by using keywords, match types and negatives.
Often online marketing budgets fall into two camps: direct response and branding. The purpose of direct response is pretty obvious – to make money at a return that is aligned with the business’s goals. The other camp – branding – I’m kind of convinced is always a waste of money (at least the conventional idea of brand marketing is).
Boiled down to it’s most simple terms, advertising is when you are trying to persuade someone to purchase your product. Too often the idea of a “branding” campaign is something that is far from persuasive – it mostly consists of showing people your logo. Persuading someone is about highlighting the product benefits and differentiation with similar products. Customers rely on their own experience with products more than anything else. Showing your logo to more people is not enough to overcome the inertia of purchasing habits and get someone to make a change. Persuasion isn’t easy; trying new things is high on the list of things people most want to avoid.
From the Ad Contrarian:
“Next we have to realize that successful brands are by-products. They don’t come about by “branding.” They come about by doing lots of other things well. Like making great products; satisfying our customers; differentiating our products in advertising.”
Trying to quantify the value of branding ads usually ends up being very anti-climactic. You can count the amount of impressions that were delivered to the targeted demographic, use click-through-rate as a way to evaluate relevancy – of those that click through you can measure page depth, return visits, bounce rate – all of which give you an idea of the kind of impact you made on the visitor – hopefully an indication that they will buy from you next time when they are ready.
So why would anyone want to do “brand advertising”? Because your direct response budget has such high return on ad spend targets that you end up only advertising to those people at the bottom of the funnel – you’re preaching to the converted. You’ve got to pay to add more people at the top of the funnel right? Yes, but you can do better than “brand advertising.”
Maybe it’s just semantics but when you think about your next media buy, your display ads, or the next bit of content you create, make sure that it has something to it that will persuade someone to buy instead of having the sole purpose of “branding.”
Multivariate testing allows marketers to test unlimited combinations of elements on a web page in a live environment and measure the significance of those changes on the site’s conversion rate by allowing the visitors to vote with their clicks.
The typical mindset for testing content on a website is to find which variation of site elements performs the best, and then implement those changes permanently: make a test, discover the winner, turn the test into what 100% of visitors see, and then move onto the next test.
There is a big flaw with this mindset: it assumes visitors don’t change preferences over time. The winning variation was good this week but that is no reason to think that it will be the winning combination the following week. One of the least understood aspects of e-Commerce is how much web visitor behavior changes from one time interval to another.
Giving the test more time to run doesn’t really solve this problem because all visitors who visit once the test has been declared over could be different than the ones that visited during the test. A winning variation is only winning during the time it was running.
The solution is to have the variables run constantly. A winner is never declared and implemented permanently because there isn’t only one clear cut winner. As the seasons and visitor preferences change, the system changes with it. For example: the combination of variables that are successful in the summer, when the products are full price and customers weigh pros and cons, read reviews and analyze costs to benefits, will be very different than the variables that succeed during holiday, when visitors are under a time crunch, want nothing more than a low price and to get in, buy and get out.
For this reason saying something like, “we need to do some testing to make sure our site is in tip top shape for holiday,” can cause some serious problems. How visitors act now is not how they will act then.
Online marketing has up to this point claimed that big data which allows more precise targeting is the solution to all of marketing’s woes. I think that data can go a long way but there is a point
when more data isn’t the answer. Focusing on the data too much can have some negative impacts.
First, left to their own devices, the data-driven direct response people will compromise and dumb-down everything to the point of complete blandness with the excuse of “it’s what the visitors want!” People don’t always know what they want. This is something that Steve Jobs knew well according to Guy Kawasaki:
“Apple market research” is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, “Better, faster, and cheaper—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can only describe their desires in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all people said they wanted was better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machines. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.”
Second, as soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metric rather than doing the rest of their job.
Third, data isn’t enough to motivate others. From Seth Godin: “In my experience, data crowds out faith. And without faith, it’s hard to believe in the data enough to make a leap. Big mergers, big VC investments, big political movements, large congregations… they don’t usually turn out for a spreadsheet. The problem is this: no spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe. The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s one the rest of us don’t think is a good one. Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission–which is emotional connection.”
Generally, SEO is simple, but not easy. The majority of it is common sense stuff. You can learn the lion’s share of SEO tactics directly from Google here.
But, SEO is not necessarily common sense to the average non-tech savvy business owner and unfortunately SEO is often sold as something only experts with very technical expertise can do – sometimes even thought of as “secrets to rank higher in Google”.
I read 35 books
World War Z
The Power of the Dog
Best Nonfiction: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Watched 88 movies
Silver Linings Playbook
Gone Baby Gone
It’s A Disaster
Safety Not Guaranteed
Side By Side
Kings Of Summer
Movies that messed with my head for days: Capturing The Friedmans, Compliance
Worst Movies: Upstream Color, A Serious Man
Watched 216 episodes of TV
Breaking Bad season 6
Newsroom seasons 1 & 2
Arrested Development was mostly a disappointment
Couldn’t get into House Of Cards or Game Of Thrones like everyone else
Swingin’ Utters – Poorly Formed
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Off With Their Heads – Home
Plow United – Marching Band
Telekinesis – Dormarion
Biggest Purchase: 2005 Toyota Sienna
BIggest Holy Crap! Moment: Discovering the elusive buzzing sound in the house that lasted for weeks was a woodpecker pecking on a pipe on my roof
Most Satisfying Moment: Seeing my first short story published on Amazon
Best Purchase: Acer H5370BD Home Theater Projector
Most Embarrassing: Falling over at a stop light on bike while towing both my kids
Scariest Moment : Seeing my kid choke on asthma induced frothy, white sputum
Runner Up: Driving a rental car in downtown Sevilla, Spain
Saddest Moment: Watching Boulder flood
Biggest investment in time, smallest return: the delusion of making passive income from advertising on a niche content site – movingtobouldercounty.com
Firsts: played poker, sold a car on Craigslist, used an ear candle, ran out of gas on motorcycle at a stoplight, our backyard chickens laid their first eggs
Biggest Bonehead Move: Packing too much wood in van from Home Depot causing windshield to break when stopping at a light
Best Vacation: Trip to Spain & Germany
Most Frustration Inducing Project: Building a pergola in my backyard
Biggest Bummer: Hundreds of shirts for Minimalist Tees misprinted and ruined by incompetent screen printers
Biggest Point Of Pride: My appearance on this video at the Andrew WK Concert in Denver at the 1:29 mark
Best Moment: Becoming a foster parent to an awesome little boy
I measure the value of any website by the quality of information that I get from it (Snapchat is by definition made up of trivial content, stuff not worth keeping around, therefor I have no interest in the medium). Facebook has also dwindled in value for me. I think there are three main trends for the decrease of quality content on Facebook:
1. The assumption that what gets clicked is high quality. Facebook’s algorithm EdgeRank filters what will be at the top of my newsfeed based on multiple factors. One of them is what my friends are clicking, Liking or commenting on the most. Just because my friends read something doesn’t mean it’s good. It could be that the piece of content has been refined and tested to the point of becoming irresistible click bait. It’s just like how I continue to eat Oreos until the package is empty while wishing for something more nutritious to save me from my own compulsions.
2. What gets shared is for the value of the author, not the reader. Most of Facebook is made up of image crafting – where the author’s sole motivation is to affect the way people think of them. This content is insufferable because it holds no value for me, the reader. Friends who publicize their consumption of content that they think reflects well on them isn’t content I want to consume.
3. Content from pages you “Like” won’t show up in your feed if the page admins don’t pay to boost it. So even if I want to use Facebook as a way to deliberately stay updated by specific brands or business I like, it won’t let me. EdgeRank has tweaked posts from pages to have decreased organic reach in an obvious move to make more money.
I’ve been a hardcore RSS fan for years because it keeps me from being at the mercy of a blended, algorithmic deluge of incoming news. I like to pick what I’ll see and when, and not rely on luck and the self interested filtering of a social network.
I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
where he discusses the concept of the inverted U curve which explains how having more of something can be counterproductive. I think attribution analysis in online marketing applies to the same curve.
In my graph you can see that more information from attribution modeling does in fact produce better investment returns. But each additional piece of information yields less marginal utility – known as the law of diminishing returns – and, at some point, additional information begins to have the opposite effect.
Count of visits before purchase is increasing. Amount of sites visited before purchase is increasing. Time spent researching before purchase is increasing. Amount of devices used to access the internet is increasing. Amount of sales offline influenced by online research is increasing. Amount of time spent online generally is increasing. All these factors combined turn attribution analysis into a brutal rabbit hole.
Eventually, assigning specific value to any individual interaction is an exercise in futility. Gone too far and it will begin to take away value. I think the online marketing manager of the future will employ a kind of marketing mix strategy rather than a channel ROAS strategy.