The Two Sides Of Online Marketing

There is the storytelling side of online marketing and the data-driven side of online marketing. Just because its measurable doesn’t make it better.

Storytelling entails all the visual, front-end stuff like email, facebook posts, tweets, custom designed landing pages, commercials, catalogs, sliding images on the home page, etc. There is some analysis of data to make decisions here but most of it is a creative endeavor fueled by gut decisions.

The other side of online marketing is the data-driven optimization side. This side entails optimizing advertising channels based on strict data. Paid search doesn’t tell stories. Writing meta-data for better ranking organically, landing page multivariate optimization, getting better data into product feeds for comparison shopping engines – it’s the evergreen stuff always running behind the scenes that fits into this category.

The data-driven stuff is very measurable so it’s held to a higher standard than the storytelling stuff – much to the chagrin of the direct response marketers, but measurable isn’t always the only thing that matters. The people in the company responsible for doing the storytelling stuff don’t actually want better data. If you’re not sure what’s working, you can’t get blamed. And since you can’t get blamed, you get to decide, to be creative, to create stories that reinforce purpose, instead of nitpicking every last detail.

The truth is you need both. 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!” You need the storytelling side to balance this out and aim for higher aspirations and lead customers to where you want them to be.

What Happens When Conversion Rate Is So Low It Doesn’t Matter?

Of course conversion rate will always matter but what happens when your site’s conversion rate is consistently below 1% or .5%? It won’t be long before conversion rates less than 1% are the new normal.

There are two forces at work here: 1. Increased com­pe­ti­tion as peo­ple spend more time shop­ping online—more shop­ping equals more vis­its per pur­chase and con­ver­sion rates will nat­u­rally fall. 2. Increased mobile vis­its where shop­pers seem to pre­fer to use smart­phones to browse, price check, and find store loca­tions – not purchase.

Lower conversion rates aren’t a bad thing since incre­men­tal traf­fic still means more revenue. What will be bad is if the only metric you look at to measure success on your site is your conversion rate. What about the other 99% of traffic? Is that not worth trying to quantify?

No one gets married on the first date, likewise no one buys something the first time they meet your site. How many little interactions, downloads, engagement, likes, views, subscriptions, reviews does it take to add up to a conversion?  Like Avinash says, If you solve for conversion rate are you solving for all your traffic and are you improving the website experience for all your customers?

Not All Impressions Are Created Equal

The bigger the reach the smaller the individual impact. The higher the frequency the more is wasted. The more people the message is designed for the more generic and uninteresting the message needs to be (the compromises necessary to make something appeal to everyone mean that it will almost certainly not appeal perfectly to anyone).

A message hyper-targeted and relevant, designed for a specific individual gets noticed and acted on every time. Those who receive such direct attention become loyal ambassadors. But you can only make a handful of such interactions at a time.

I think there is a sweet spot between reach/frequency and effort/impact. Too much marketing done today is still too far over on the reach frequency side than it should be with all the social media tools at our disposal.

Frequency reach vs Impact Effort

No Better Time For Starting Something New

Social Media is a one to one medium that gives brands a unique opportunity to be very customer focused. Not only is individual connection what the web is built for, individual connection is what we as humans most desire.

But many brands still only see online advertising through the lense of scale – using Facebook like a megaphone and Twitter as a mass marketing vehicle, which explains the constant lust for more and more friends and followers. But you can’t blame big brands for this, everything they do is done at scale, the ability to produce and distribute in enormous quantities is part of their essence. They are built to neglect the individual needs of their customers – they only work at scale.

As big brands are trying to fit into a one to one connection marketing world, smaller companies have an inherent competitive advantage online. We as consumers have pretty much everything we need but the one thing that never decreases in demand is attention, appreciation and belonging.

Increasingly the way we derive attention is through the content we share. The content we share is a reflection of our identity. Instead of someone deciding to share content about a product or experience after they have purchased it, the reason for purchasing something is to share it to friends (the point of going to that concert is so that I can tell everyone that I went).

Combine that longing to belong with creating identity through sharing along with our newly found weird niche passions (thanks to the long tail) and the money and resources to make use of the abundance of choice that now exists, and the environment is ripe for a small business making niche products hyper targeted to excited and neglected (by big brands) customers via social media that gives each customer the feeling of belonging.

Small Business Comparative Advantage

How To Choose The Right Vendor, Agency or Consultant

I think the rule of thumb for choosing a vendor, agency or consultant, is whether or not they will leave you off better than when they found you. And this is not just in terms of increased sales or other KPIs. As they increase sales are they also increasing the competency of your organization so that one day the vendor/agency/consultant will work themselves out of a job?

This is an unselfish stance for a partner to take that requires:

  • Transparency. The client needs to see exactly how their partner is doing what they are doing. Too often agencies pull the wool over the eyes and make what they are doing look like magic so that the client feels like they could never leave. Vendors that use superior algorithms as their core competency maintain their clients by selling a threat that if they ever leave they will be worse off.
  • Aligned Interests. When the consultant or agency is “open kimono “ it becomes very easy to see if they are on your side or if they want to do just enough to stay employed.
  • Constant improvement. Due to transparency and aligned interests, as the client becomes more capable to handle the things the agency was initially hired to do, the agency needs to provide more value and take on other deficiencies that the organization has.

Too many agencies keep their processes secret for fear of losing their job but when the partner has reached a point where their services are no longer needed due to their transparency and aligned interests they can gracefully bow out and send the improved client on their way. Of course any client who has ever hired a partner with this level of commitment is rarely ever let go.

In Defense Of Being Tracked Online

Are you ultimately responsible for your purchase decisions? In other words, are you powerless to resist the most hyper-targeted and relevant sales pitch? Hopefully the answer is of course not – if you don’t want to buy something, no advertising, no matter how well designed can convince you otherwise.

That frame of mind is important to keep when articles come out that get people fired up about their lack of privacy online. Recently there was a New York Times Magazine article where Target’s data mining was described as being able to detect when a teenage customer was pregnant, before even her own father knew. I don’t think the negative outweighs the positive. At its worst Target is trying to make their catalogs more relevant in hopes someone will be influenced to buy, at their best Target is removing spam and junk advertising and delighting people by helping them find the products they need.

The perceived threat out there is that there’s so much data collection going on that users don’t know about, but so what? Offline tracking has been intrusive for a long time and no one has ever been hurt.

The steps being taken in congress with The Privacy Bill Of Rights will require the net’s biggest online ad networks to respect a “Do Not Track” setting in browsers. Ok, thats fine – giving people a consistent and clear way to not be tracked is not a bad idea. But those people who choose to not be tracked will have an inferior experience on the web as a result.  Taken to extremes, policies like this could lead to damaging the web for everyone.

Personalization is where online retailers predict what you’ll want to buy using all the data they have on you – showing mens jeans on their home page instead of kids socks because they know you’re male, looked at jeans last time you were on the site and don’t have kids. This is what makes TV ads so intolerable is that they have no clue who is on the other side of the TV so they can’t help but be irrelevant. I will only be better off if I never see another commercial for tampons.

Do you want your barber to forget what kind of haircut you like each time you show up? These are the value adding benefits that tracking has. Content online is funded with ads so less relevant ads means there are less advertisers who want to advertise because the returns go down, which means less quality content being produced on the web.

I like being tracked. So far for me its all been upside – more relevant ads and personalized website experiences.

Visualize SEO Potential

One way to do this is to export your top 20 organic keywords sorted by visits from Google Analytics. Then take that list and copy it into the AdWords Keyword Tool to see what the local search volume is for each of those keywords. Then you can easily find the percent of the Local Monthly Search Volume that your keywords are getting.

One step further is to see what would happen to revenue if you increased those keyword visits by something like 5%. Using the Per Visit Value from Google Analytics you can take the difference between the amount of visits you are currently getting and how many you would get if visits were 5% higher and then multiply that by the Per Visit Value to see what the gains in total revenue would be.

The prospect of taking a keyword from less than 1% of total Local Search Volume and getting just a few percentage points more seems very doable especially when the increased revenue looks so high.

Visualize SEO Potential

Algorithm Fatigue

An algorithm is a set of instructions and multivariate calculations that learn and adapt over time. The premise for using algorithms for digital advertising are enticing because an algorithm can take in bigger data sets than any person could analyze on their own and make smart decisions based on the instructions it is given. An algorithm should meet customers’ goals and create value in the most cost-effective and transparent ways possible.

Unfortunately, the word algorithm is often one of the first talking points that vendors in digital advertising refer to but can say very little about given that most platforms are built on proprietary technology.  This overuse of the word has created ‘algorithm fatigue’ and resulted in loss of meaning. The value proposition for many vendors is, “our algorithm does the heavy lifting and will meet your advertising goals, so sit back and don’t worry about how.”

The problem is that I want to worry about how. I’m glad that the algorithm has figured out how to meet my advertising goals, but were they the right goals- should I have set them higher/lower? What does the algorithm know about my customer, competition or industry that I don’t? How much money is it keeping for itself from arbitrage between me and the publisher?

Vendors and advertisers alike should focus the conversation around algorithms on customization to fit their needs and bottom line revenue results that are transparent.

Product Adoption Curve Marketing

Most marketing campaigns are tailored to the Innovators and Early Adopters and then prematurely abandoned. I’ve been thinking about what a long term marketing plan would look like if it were based on the diffusion of innovation bell curve. Below is a marketing plan to build a sustained campaign that meets consumers at their level of product adoption rather than trying to get them to become innovators or early adopters.

These people are itching to go first and be the ones to share with everyone else their opinion. Your objective here is to build buzz for everyone who comes later.

  • Create coming soon trailers for the product. (Kickstarter is pretty much just a giant “coming soon” site for introducing new products)
  • Seed product to a select few – typically niche bloggers and tastemakers who are hungry for exclusives and breaking news for their audiences
  • Presale to the best customers and allow them to flaunt their exclusive invitation through social media
  • Send an email to your best customers giving them first dibs, stroke their ego by giving them something to share that fits their personality
  • Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook status updates are applicable here. Social media is short lived and focused on breaking news

Early Adopters
Encourage those that get a thrill out of being the first to explore, adopt and adapt. Make them the heroes on your site. This is as far as most project launches go.

  • Create the hub of content on one your site. This page will be the place all in-bound links point to and aggregate all external content
  • Gather the early reviews, re-tweets, reactions, youtube “unboxing” videos and sort them all on this dedicated category page on your site
  • Use display ads hyper targeted to be on the most important niche blogs and sites of interest to the target audience
  • Be as relevant as possible about the exciting new release

Early Majority
Social proof is important to the early majority. Leverage your content hub page to give them this proof.

  • Use product reviews in emails to convince them of the consensus of the crowd to overcome their risk averseness
  • Create content around the product – Highlight all the use cases that have been identified from the early adopters
  • Paid search – broad category keywords to capture people who are in the market for your product but uneducated to your offering
  • Incentivize affiliates to post about your offering

Late Majority
Statistical proof is important to the late majority – in their minds just because it’s popular doesn’t make it worth it.

  • Build campaign landing page with keyword research and backlinks in mind to grow in organic rank in search engines (if your product is on the first page of google it must be good)
  • Promote all reviews together in quantitative format showing average review over time
  • Paid search – product specific keywords to capture people who know exactly what they are looking for
  • Advertise on comparison shopping engines for these people who know what they want but are looking for the best deal
  • Use remarketing display ads to remind past visitors of your offering to keep the purchase top of mind

They are risk averse, skeptical and patiently waiting to make the best choice.

  • Put it on sale
  • Use affiliates to promote the product with coupon codes

Mostly all of these tactics can run in tadum (except for the tactics for innovators and laggards) because each customer is at a different point in the curve at a different time. Just because something doesn’t take off right away doesnt mean its not worth sticking with – especially online, it doesn’t take much effort to design something to last.

Omni Channel Check List

What it is that defines a retailer as an “omni-channel” retailer is a little difficult to pin down, something about web, mobile, and brick-and-mortar “integrating” into a  “seamless” customer experience. The fuzziness of the definition is what causes “omni-channel” to be such a buzzword that executive leaders, gurus and CEOs like to throw around with little reprise because no one really knows what it means.

To make the buzzword mean anything I think it helps to define the tactics that make it up. The following is a checklist of tactics that would make the web, mobile, and brick-and-mortar “integrate” into a “seamless” customer experience. When a retailer does these things they would be “omni-channel”.


  • Order online and pick up in store
  • See instore product inventory online
  • The ability to filter products online for only products available in your local store
  • Access information about products in the store using mobile (for example: qr codes on products lead to online reviews)
  • The ability to recognize an offline shopper when they are shopping on your site to personalize their shopping experience
  • Measure the influence of online paid media to offline purchases
  • all shopping channels work from the same database of products, prices, promotions, etc
  • Offers are customized to the customer’s purchase patterns, social network affinities, website visits, in-store visits, loyalty programs, etc.
  • The item in the mobile shopping basket persists in the basket when the shopper logs on to their account with the same retailer using their laptop, or any other device
  • A relevant, targeted single marketing message across all channels and touchpoints
  • Drive customers to stores with advertising on mobile to customers within a certain distance from stores
  • Store associates can have access to inventory online if items are out of stock in store
  • Individual Facebook pages and other social media sites for each store
  • Each store has its own localized page on the website
  • Buy in store and get incentives to join email or social groups online

I’ll add more as I come across them.