Tag Archives: mediapost

Beware of confusing a social network’s weak mojo with Gladwell’s powerful Mavens

Is someone who blabs about a brand on Facebook or another social network site any more valuable to a retailer than the passive “fan” of that product? And if yes, what is that new value? This was discussed at an Email Insider Summit earlier this week. It’s an important question. But as panelists used the format to think aloud, they began confusing two phenomena. One is the real-but-weak power of social network influence. The other is the strong-but-possibly-nonexistent “Gladwellian” Maven.

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point talked about Mavens as hubs of influence. These folks are strong connections in a social ecosystem. As mavens on this subject or that, their opinion means much in persuading others. Gladwell based much of his book on the research by Duncan J. Watts, described in his book Six Degrees of Separation: The Science of a Connected Age.

This research, which was itself predicated on Stanley Milgram’s small world experiment, suggested that strong ties do most of the work in spreading a message.

The only catch: When the actual pathways were traced in Watts’ experiment, he found that only 5% of the work was actually done by these supposed hubs. He finally concluded that messages can be spread nearly as efficiently without hubs (i.e., Gladwell’s Mavens), and in fact, these myriad weak connections are the key to a social network’s real power to influence.

Can I Endorse Some Tupperware?

The marketers on the panel at the Summit should have kept this in mind. If MediaPost reported their collective thoughts correctly, they were crowded together on thin ice indeed. According to the MediaPost account (free registeration required), “They agree that a person who simply visits a ‘fan’ page and is a static follower is of minimal value. But people who can be tagged as influencers — who forward information to friends or other contacts that result in transactions — have tremendous value.”

When I first read this, my thought was, “Sure, of course people who refer other people to a brand and get them to buy are valuable.” But it sounds like the power of a pass-along is being highly overvalued. Continuing from this account of the discussion:

Email marketers are working hard on algorithms to quantify the worth of those influencers operating via social media outlets. Tim Schigel of ShareThis.com, who spoke on a panel at the MediaPost Email Insider Summit on Wednesday, said: “We’ll see a better understanding of that (soon) … the industry is trying to figure it out.”

Also on the panel was Craig Swerdloff, CEO of LeadSpend, who said the value of a social-media influencer should be “another variable that you put into your algorithm to determine the lifetime value of a customer.”

What is that amount? A back-of-the-envelope calculation could be as follows: If a Netflix customer is worth $9 alone, but that person has 500 Facebook friends, and is able to drive even 1% of them (5) to make a purchase, that individual’s value could be as high as $54.

Yow! That $54 would confer my full value in Netflix’ eyes to everyone else who also becomes a Netflix subscriber. I see the following flaws with even approaching such a calculation:

  1. Lifetime value is a predictive number. It’s a break-even cost of finding someone else to replace me if I should stop using Netflix. That value was probably calculated over a year’s worth of use of the service — probably more. Could these five friends each be as loyal from Day One? And if we waited a year, would I be able to cough up five more Facebook friends who join the service?
  2. How can my friends’ association with me — or even their consideration of an endorsement I send their way — be given credit for their conversion into customers? Are they not Facebook friends of other people who are fans or active ambassadors for the brand? I would guess that they are. And if so, do I get full credit just because I messaged these five about the service? What about the force of these weak connections? Are these many mutual friends who are fans worth nothing?

The value equation being discussed certainly works if I was actively recruiting and selling for a pyramid marketing business (example: “How’d you like to host a Tupperware party and keep half the profits?”) But for something as passive as “You should consider this product,” it would be hard to value an active Maven much higher than the passive fan.

Maybe not any higher at all.

In a world where many weak connections can trump a few strong ones, a better value equation may be an aggregate of all passive fans — where they are also Mavens or not.

Digital out-of-home has unique power to interest consumers

Boring old out-of-home is a surprisingly promising medium for engaging consumers. This can be seen in its recent growth. Due in large part to the advent of digital billboards, spending for out-of-home advertising has grown by 8% for the last three years (surpassed in growth only by online advertising).

Digital Billboards Are “Interesting”

The ability to vary and customize digital billboards has yet to be fully explored. But even with relatively “dumb” billboards, consumers are paying attention. Research conducted by SeeSaw Networks (June 2007/July 2008), and reported in MediaPost recently (registration required), highlights the power of today’s digital billboards to generate consumer interest. Here’s one of the findings in that research:

Advertising On The Media Is Interesting

Medium Percentage of Base
Digital Signage

53%

TV

51%

Magazine

51%

Billboard

37%

Internet

34%

Radio

33%

Newspaper

33%

Mobile Phone

27%

Base: Among those who have seen ads in the media in the past 12 months

As media options continue to explode — and consumer attention progressively splinters — reaching people where they work and play will be even more important to marketers. I’m excited to see how innovations in out-of-home step in to fill that need.

Cure for online ad doldrums: Unleash the artists and drive transactions

This post by David Koretz, in last Thursday’s Online Publishing Insider (registration required), put it well:

According to IDC, the average user spends 32.7 hours each week on the Internet, and only 16.4 hours watching TV. So while Internet usage is double that of television, [online ad spending] lags dramatically. In 2008, Internet advertising revenue will only be one fifth the size of television advertising, a third as big as newspaper advertising, and only half of magazine advertising, according to a recent Carat report.

So what does he recommend? Among his prescriptions:

Unleash the artists: As a technology guy, it pains me to say this, but we need more artists in this industry. We need more creative folks dreaming up ad formats that create a memorable user experience and drive consumer action. We need to create new ad formats that leverage the interactivity advantage of the Web.

Most importantly … we need the type of ads that get talked about around the watercooler Monday morning.

And from new formats comes the obvious next step:

Drive transactions: The Web is the best platform for getting consumers from awareness to transaction the world has ever seen, yet few advertisers leverage the Web as a transaction platform.

Great advice all around.

Why hasn’t this advice been heeded so far? Mostly it has to do with playing it safe. Being bold means taking risks. In the recent past, marketers have been rewarded for following the path of least resistance.

Like It Or Not, It’s A New Era

But times have quite suddenly changed. The title of Koretz’s piece is Stop Blaming The Economy. His point being that the recent economic downturn could become an easy excuse for underperformance.

Along with Koretz, I suggest that this downturn should turn up the heat on innovation. For this reason (and possibly, for this reason only) this more competitive marketing environment is something that I am looking forward to.

Boomers are not bloggers, but they still participate in social media

This morning a colleague passed along this MediaPost research brief, with the sexy but deceptive title: Boomers Are Not Bloggers. It stated what most will find obvious, that Baby Boomers have not “embraced social networking or blogs, despite being heavy users of other online services.”

Does this mean you should not focus on a social network strategy to reach this group? The answer is you definitely should have a strategy for them. But to echo the advice in Groundswell, you need to look at this group as observers and “passers-along” of social content — not active participants.

I humbly present a fairly strong case for targeting this group through social media accessed via search engines (i.e., open site such as TripAdvisor, as opposed to closed ones like Facebook. It’s called Boomers Aren’t Immune to the Branding Power of User-generated Content.

Can you provide other examples?

Facebook direct response ads prove how little has changed

It’s a common theme among direct marketers: There is little that actually changes as new media spring up and ads adapt to them. Take Facebook. As David Berkowitz discussed in his post today (and also in his MediaPost piece), an ad series that targets people based on their gender and age is making the rounds. And getting a lot of scrutiny. I had seen another version of it last week, and had mentioned it to him via Twitter. (Thanks for the mention, David.)

Significantly, this ad series wasn’t showing when I just visited a few moment ago, nor could I find in on the More Ads page of Facebook. Coincidence?

Here is the ad in context -- circa April, 2008Way back on April 9 this ad series first captured my attention, although at the time it wasn’t testing headlines customized to age and gender, as this newest batch does. At the time I made a number of screen captures, and took some notes, but didn’t blog about it then.

Now this latest twist (featuring headlines such as, “29 Yr Male Overweight?“) is a great chance to share my research into the advertisement — especially for those readers who first caught David’s post and wondered how the subsequent user experience plays out.

The answer is it’s very old school, with some shrewd modern touches.

Like the best print ads of the direct response print ad “Golden Age” (somewhere between the 1960’s and the 1980’s, I’d venture to guess), it is a carefully tuned conversion engine, as well as a massive blight on the advertising landscape.

The ad itself had the headline “Get Ripped.” The photo is smaller than the new versions, but the copy is written with the same economy and obvious care. When you click though to it, you see a page that is incredibly busy, with three different fonts and primary colors, and a ton going on. (Click to open it full size in a new window).

An AJAX layer offers a clever YouTube video player (I don’t recall checking to see if it was truly pulling from YouTube, or was residing on the advertiser’s server — but I’m guessing the advertisers were not counting on YouTube’s cooperation, and this was indeed locally streamed).

Folks who wouldn’t know better would assume this ad is a loser. “Who could possibly respond to something this schlocky?,” they might ask. My answer would be that, like the pattern on the carpeting of a Las Vegas casino floor, everything about it is there for a reason. And it’s all there because it’s effective, as proven over time, with much testing.

But Wait!

The best part for me is shown below. When I tried to close the window, I got a fake system message saying, “Hey Wait!” It goes on to say a live agent would like to give me a “last-minute saving,” Okay then. Points for persistence.

A clever way to stop people from leaving

What do you think of this surprisingly old-fashioned approach? Do you think it will work — with, or even without — the age / gender personalized headlines?

Why the debate about in-house SEM vs outsourced work clouds an important issue

This morning, MediaPost featured “The Great (And Completely Ridiculous) ‘In-house vs. Outsourced SEM’ Debate,” by Dave Pasternack (registration to MediaPost is required). The piece begins with Pasternack asserting that in his 10 years in the business, “I’ve never, not once, seen a search campaign created by an in-house team outperform one crafted by a competent SEM [search engine marketing] agency.”

I trust that what he says is his experience, although at least one other in the comments reports differing results. Also in the comments, David Berkowitz found some of Dave’s arguments to be as “spurious” as the premise itself (Hark! Do I hear you composing your own post on the subject, David?).

I’m letting that discussion continue without adding to the din.

But my opinion is that the debate itself — in-house versus outsourced SEM — clouds the true secret to optimum ROI: Working together, in-house and agency pros are more likely to get a campaign that really hits one out of the park.

No one understands the subject domain as well as those who live and breathe it. And successful SEM requires content that uses this knowledge. Customer-focused internal SEM pros can add a level of richness to an SEM campaign that no outside agency can match.

SEM Is More Similar Than Different Across Industries

So what’s the problem with most “pure-play” internal SEM work? It’s a question of experience. When someone is handling multiple campaigns for many different types of clients, the similarities and synergies become apparent. Knowledge has a way of “cross-pollinating” between campaigns and clients. That’s a huge advantage. Also, this level of activity forces a heightened level of process that is just too difficult to match in an internal campaign.

As with most black-and-white debates, this one distracts from the benefits of a middle ground.

In every industry, and in every business category, there are those brands that lead the way in SEM. For the majority of these market leaders, I would be shocked if there wasn’t a smart blend of internal and outsourced efforts and expertise at work.

Both sides of the desk have something superior to bring to an SEM campaign. I suggest we SEM agencies work harder to remember this, and to promote this important truth.

Can video be the future of “print” journalism, and the salvation of newspapers?

It’s an interesting thought. As anyone watching the industry knows, Craigslist.org and other web-based classified ad services have eroded the financial underpinnings of the newspaper. Last month Mike Cassidy, in MediaPost (registration required), postulated that a new media phenomenon may actually come to the newspaper’s rescue.

… Newspapers are in a position to leverage their unique assets and benefit from the video trend. By having journalists and reporters not only file their stories in a video format, but by also providing B-roll or ancillary footage, newspapers can create more and higher-valued ad placements.

I see a similar opportunity when it comes to video and classifieds — with the real question being, who will leverage it?

The answer is that several publications are certainly trying. One of the first is IC Places Orlando. Here is an example of how the journalistic infrastructure of the newspaper could be leveraged to provide an ad product that other web properties would have to struggle mightily to match.

Newspapers have gotten into their current pickle by being too slow to realize how serious a threat the internet is to their business model. They now have to do something — or actually, many things — differently in order to remain socially relevant and financially viable.

As the 1980’s hit announced, Video killed the radio star. Will it help save the morning paper?

Making things up as you go, and why I love my job

When I speak to groups of college students, I can’t help sounding a little frenetic. Concepts and cases spill out of my mouth, and I never fail to leave the classroom elated. Just as surely, a few audience members appear — as they file out — to be feeling the same way. (It could simply be because I stopped yammering!)

I try to wrap up each presentation, whether it’s on database marketing, or web marketing, or new media, with a story from my childhood. A topic that fascinated me was the advent of television. I would read the memoirs of TV pioneers. (My favorite was Dick Cavett’s. He continues to spin great yarns in his blog. A notable recent blog was on his encounters with William F Buckley, Jr., on the screen and off.)

Back when Cavett was a struggling comedy writer, he suddenly found himself replacing Jack Parr on the fledgling Tonight Show, which topped the ratings in its time slot as the first nationally-broadcast talk show. The rest is history. It is also history steeped in the possibilities of a humming, glowing box that was new to households everywhere.

I tell the students how fortunate they are to be born in a time when other revolutionary technologies are emerging (which, together, become a sort of digital connectedness). They, and I, are part of a exciting adventure. This came to mind as I read this, by MediaPost’s Search Insider columnist Gord Hotchkiss (registration required):

We’re building a new world up as we go. More correctly, a new world is emerging organically from the efforts and thoughts of millions of people. It’s a world defined in an ethereal middle space, a world of mind-spawned musings and accomplishments, shared and propelled one packet at a time. We’re not discovering anything, we’re building something entirely new. At any given moment, hundreds of millions of us are making it up as we go along. It’s a Darwinian experiment on a grand, grand scale.

Can you describe to me a better job than being a part of that?

Watching your unsubscribes: Content and frequency are open to negotiation

In sales there is a belief that each objection is an opportunity. Each “no” you hear is simply a stepping stone to a sale. This attitude helps salespeople continually refine the conceptual packaging of their wares. If the objection is “I don’t have room for it in my house,” this is an opportunity for the salesperson to stress how the product packs flat, or serves a second use that helps it earn its keep.

Now consider the unsubscribe action in an opt-in email series. Melinda Krueger, MediaPost columnist and email expert, recounts a recent In-Box Insiders discussion about how approaching “unsubs” needs to be more like approaching any other type of objection (registration required for MediaPost). Ultimately it’s an opportunity for a more satisfied subscriber.

Several aspects of your unsub process should be examined, Krueger advises. Of her list, two provide a real opportunity for negotiation. These are chances for departing subscribers to come back to the fold by refining how they receive the emails:

Content Preferences — Give subscribers the options to indicate their preferences to improve relevance. These can either be positive “I am interested in silent sports” or negative “I am not interested in articles on camping.”

Frequency Preferences — Allow subscribers to reduce the volume of communication: “Send me email only once per week/month/quarter/year” (depending on your sending frequency). According to Stephanie, “offering even simple frequency options at the point of unsubscribe helps preserve up to 50% of those ‘exiting’ subscribers.”

Just as in sales, an unsub is an opportunity for a win-win with the customer. And like the classic sales objection, even when the outcome of meeting an unsub isn’t ideal, the chance to learn more about your product is significant. All you need to do is politely refuse to settle for a simple “no.”

Email deliverability issues sound familiar to direct mail pros

Recent discussions about email deliverability sound oddly familiar. Before email become a major marketing channel, Standard Presort Mail (known then as Third Class or Bulk) was the exclusive direct response medium. Mailboxes overflowed with catalogs and sales pitches. Back then this would be the case year-round, not just right now — in the protracted post-Halloween holiday season. It was inevitable that direct mailers would begin to seriously strain the postal system, using mail as something for which it was never designed. Weekly DM News reports would outrage readers with fresh tales of huge batches of mail delivered late or not at all. Delivery costs rose and delivery satisfaction fell. And thus emerged other media, following supply and demand (and abetted by Moore’s Law). These media included email. Now the outcry continues, but with this newer channel.

Fellow veteran of direct mail Melinda Krueger (MediaPost’s Email Diva) has a good post in that publication (registration required) about the influence of a dedicated IP address over deliverability. It’s a good primer to the topic of email reputation and how it is measured through the lens of an IP’s suspected spamming track record. More importantly, it helps the “lay audience” — those who think an ESP is a psychic ability and not an Email Service Provider — grasp the unintended consequences of email marketing.

Once again we marketers are using a medium for something no one considered at its birth.

Gamers in the ivory towers

A recent survey of 7,100 executives revealed a secret C-level indulgence: video games. PopCap Games conducted the survey, and here is a summary of their findings:

This representative sample suggests that as many as 80 million white collar workers play casual games. Of those white collar workers surveyed, nearly a quarter (24%) said they play “at work” — with fully 35% of CEOs, CFOs and other senior executives saying they play at work.

Tameka Kee of MediaPost points out the most promising implication for business-to-business (B2B) marketers: “These ad-supported games reach their targets on an unexpected, but increasingly popular medium.” In other words, they reach the men and women who screen their calls, have someone else sort through their mail and block unknown emails.

At last we know what they’re doing behind those closed doors.