Monday, September 22, 2008

You're trying, but are you measuring?

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at OMMA Global NYC last Friday on performance marketing in social media. Thanks to the MediaPost folks and Cathy Taylor in particular for putting on such a great show. My panelists were a sharp threesome: Amy Gibby of eSpin/Hearst, Jamie Tedford of Brand Networks, and Mike Miller of OfferPal. The panel presented case studies on how they has successfully planned, measured and implemented campaigns with measurable ROI or cost-per-action for their clients. It's exciting for me to see performance marketers make strides in social media, as those measurable results will help bolster advertising in the space as brand advertising evolves.

What was surprising about the session is that about 40% of attendees had actually implemented some sort of social media marketing effort. However when I asked "Which if you know how your campaign or effort is doing?" there were no hands raised - that's zero, nada. No one in the audience had any idea if their efforts were worthwhile.

My thoughts? Bravo for testing the waters, but to run a successful test requires setting some sort of benchmarks and metrics for yourself. Even if it's early days and external benchmarks aren't available, set your own. Set them relative to other online efforts. Set them based on your own logic or intuition. Just set some. A successful test doesn't mean successful results, it just means you've learned something - learned how one effort compares to another, either simultaneous or subsequent. This is the foundation for learning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Distribution platforms are not eyeballs

I'm on a mission. That mission is to explain, clearly, that a widget distribution platform does not necessarily make widget distribution happen. A distribution platform is an enabler. It does not have an audience. A company that can distribute content, or a widget, must actually have eyeballs, aka inventory.

Example: several companies, including my own, provide a technology that enables people to grab and share content, when they come across it. This is a great solution for content that has an audience and wants to grow it. What it does not guarantee is that people will find your content in the first place. Currently advertisers have several options for distributing their widgets:
  • Organic seeding - placing the widget in galleries or other trafficked sites such as a campaign microsite, where visitors may grab it. This is worthwhile, but does not guarantee scale of any kind. I've spoken to Fortune 500 companies who spent $100K on a facebook app only to have 11 active users.
  • Running a rich media ad where the ad is grabbable. The conversion rates from view to grab are currently very low - I think this will evolve as people learn over time that ads are grabbable, and more people are familiar with widgets, but right now it's a bonus on top of impressions which are still an important element of a full interactive/social campaign - active widget or application users are typically not the only target audience an advertiser is trying to reach with a broader campaign .
  • Running a CPI campaign. Right now this is the most effective option for securing installs. Whether using Gigya or RockYou or other solution. Just remember widgets make the most sense when integrated into a larger campaign - they are not a replacement for other channels but instead can offer new types of engagement (impact still being researched) against a very particular social media audience.

I see much sloppy use of the word "distribution," where the entity using this language implies they have the eyeballs but where they really only have the grabbing and sharing mechanism. This leads to confusion among advertisers, which only hurts our industry overall. Sweeping challenges under the rug is not the way we'll grow this new industry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Eyeblaster and the Digital Evangelists charter event

Last Thursday night I joined an interesting gathering of people who are actively thinking and making things happen in the world of interactive media and advertising. The event was sponsored by John Haake and the folks at Eyeblaster, but was set up simply as an opportunity for the group to get to know each other and take steps to continue the conversation beyond the evening.

The group spent much of the evening discussing the challenges they face moving interactive advertising forward. What I found quite interesting, and truthfully a bit depressing, was the fact that many of the challenges are inherent to the agency-client structure and haven't changed in the 15 years I've been working in advertising. Issues of control, ownership and incentives are still the primary barriers to fast progress. On the other hand the fact that smart people are still pushing on what they think is right makes me hopeful for change.

Mirroring the industry's challenge of fragmenting media and user created and controlled media was the variation within our own group in terms of communication preferences:, email, twittering, Facebook, LinkedIn - everyone used a different set of tools and no one could agree on a preference.

Being a widget evangelist I have to refer to John Morton's great post on the evening:

"The word “widget” was mentioned approximately 112 times, but I lost count somewhere in the mid-60s. Why was “widget” talked about so much? It’s a buzz word of the moment that’s started to stick with people across the marketing industry. The term has stuck, but not a definition of what it means is pretty vague. . . .. Again, here’s another topic that I think we can explore further."

John I couldn't agree with you more and look forward to helping to make widgets a more clearly defined set of marketing opportunities. Check out this link to see some of the intial forays into branded widget advertising.

I'm looking forward to continuing the dialog and really enjoyed meeting everyone that evening.
As the lone West Coaster it was of course a treat to be out in NYC, at ValBella Restaurant; David Pogue of the NYT is really a lovely guy - my thanks go out to him for tracking down a cab to share at the end of the evening.

Attendees: Amy Auerbach from PHD, David Berkowitz from Marketer’s Studio, Matt Enos from Tribal DDB, Amaya Garbayo from Mindshare, John Haake from Eyeblaster, Liza Hausman from Gigya, Alex Jorissen from Eyeblaster, Lindsey Kollross from MEC, Gefen Lamdan from Eyeblaster, John Morton (me) from LLC, Linda Payson from Avenue A | Razorfish, David Pogue from The New York Times, Adam Romero from, Adam Shlachter from MEC, Troels Smit from Eyeblaster, Doug Stivers from Beyond Interactive, Persia Tatar from Media Post, and Ben Weisman from Eyeblaster and Digitas and Lucas Binder of UBS.

Monday, March 24, 2008

OMMA Global Hollywood

So I spent last Monday and Tuesday at the OMMA global hollywood conference where I spoke on a panel that was supposed to be about Widgets and Behavioral targeting. This was a tough topic as both of these are still marketing practices that have yet to go completely mainstream, but the panel which included Michael Cartsonis, Director of Client Services, MuseStorm, Sudhin Shahani, CEO and Co-Founder, myMPO and Seth Goldstein, CEO, SocialMedia Networks did a pretty good job discussing the opportunities to target with Social Media advertising and try to come up with content that was helpful for the audience, which is what it's all about. Moderator . Trent Adams, Founder/Chief Innovator, matchmine runs his own company, is an astrophysicist and is also a member of the dataportability group - it was most interesting just to sit with him and talk about the industry. As it turns out both MuseStorm and use Gigya's wildfire technology - nice to have it all in the family, and great to meet everyone on the panel.

The conference could have been galled OMMA Widgets - it was amazing to see the word come up in almost every panel and keynote. There certainly is an amazing amount of buzz and excitement about using widget as engaging ad units and it feels like they are moving well into the mainstream this year given the % of advertisers that say they are going to use them this year. Stats were quoted at 60%+ at the conference.

Doubleclick announced that Monday the availability of their widget ads product (powered by Gigya) hosting a session explaining how the new product works, and also did a paid session given folks a nice overview of the lay of land in the world of widgets.

I think the fun for those of us in the widget space now will be showing that these campaigns have real impact, and determining metrics that are comparable to what advertisers are used to via rich media campaigns - interactions, time spent, and ultimately brand attitude/purchase intent. It's most exciting to me to be a part of establishing these metrics for widgets and proving real value, taking the product from experimental to a new key element of online marketing.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Thanks to David Meerman Scott

A quick call-out for being one of the few who can articulate his thoughts clearly, and provide a straight-talking, logical, and insightful set of how-tos. I'm a huge fan of "The New Rules of Marketing & PR".

Widget challenges are opportunties

Kudos to Jeremiah Owyang for continuing to ask the difficult questions around the widget/social media economy in his recent post and again today on his panel at the Graphing Social Patterns West conference.

Before getting down to business I just have to ask: Why all the posts with pictures of the hotel and pool? Yes, it's sunny and beautiful here but you can find the same pictures on the hotel website, plus we're all indoors, not at the pool. But I digress.

First, I do agree with many of these challenges as described at a high level - 1) it's a new space and the metrics are not yet established and consistent, it's definitely something I'm working towards on almost a daily basis in order to deliver real long-term value to our brand advertiser clients 2) immature market - by definition given the age of the industry and 3) difficult to monetize - certainly many are finding this challenging.

What I don't agree with:

1) "advertising is not an effective way to monetize in social networks" - while many are failing because the user attention is not there for traditional display or ad sense ads, advertising done as part of the experience and/or entertainment content itself makes sense - and we're seeing not only the adoption but the detailed interaction with these branded widgets. Nobody wants to see a full blown commercial in the middle of watching a movie, but remember what E.T. did for Reese's Pieces. It just has to be executed well.

2) CPI as bastardization. This comment was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. I tend to give users a lot of credit for being rational actors - they use or take what they like, and get rid of what they don't. You can't say on the one hand that there are low barriers to entry, the space is cluttered with clones and there are very few high value widgets, and then say that one of the few effective ways of breaking through that clutter is inappropriate. If users don't like the widget they can say "no thanks" or if they got it wrong then they'll delete it. Over the long term a bad user experience can't be overcome with a CPI strategy. If Jeremiah is simply saying that VC money is funding the promotion of bad apps, I won't argue with that; I'll just say that it can't go on forever and isn't the foundation of a real business.

CPI makes the most sense to me for two reasons: The first is context - the biggest challenge for advertisers (whether brands or app/widget marketers) is reaching people at the right time - reaching widget users at the time they are updating their pages with new content is exactly the right time to present them with additional choices. The second is a bit more difficult to explain, but brand advertisers who are used to CPM buys still want to get those impressions, but they want them on user profile pages, and they want to pay for and receive them over a matter of weeks or months, in conjunction with a broader ad campaign. To get those profile impressions and meet that criteria, they need to secure installs via CPI. Otherwise it's anyone's guess what they'll get. The media has to be accountable, i.e. what you budget for is delivered, in the time period designated.

3) Low Utility. Jeremiah says: "I’m trying to think of a widget that provides business utility, or one that improves my life other than casual communications or entertainment. Reminiscent of the web in the mid 90s, we’ve yet to see the business value."

I don't disagree there is enormous opportunity in the area of business value, but what drives virality and the enormous popularity of MySpace and Facebook is, as Ari Paparo
so nicely put it, the "make my day" factor. Not the business utility. While I personally, like Jeremiah, love a great new networking or business tool - this misses the point of what the majority of social network users are looking for in the majority of apps and widgets - fun and escape in conjunction with friends.

4) Disposable. I suppose this depends on your point of view - certainly it's more efficient for developers to build an app or widget with staying power - but along the lines of points 1 and 3 above, when it comes to brand advertiser widgets a relatively short life might be entirely appropriate for the campaign objectives, and still represent a really fun and entertaining and valued experience for the person using it. Objectives really are the key here - an advertiser might build a tool for long-term dialog, but something entirely different to drive awareness of a new product - matching the vehicle to the goals is crucial.

Jeremiah, thanks for chatting with me today and asking my honest opinion. I certainly appreciate your insights and perspective. Maybe next year they'll hold the conference in August, by the pool.

Where's the beef?

Over the last few weeks I've been doing some competitive analysis in the widget space, visiting websites and reading press releases to try and learn more about how each of the companies I'm reviewing differentiates itself, how it solves its customers' problems, and why the deals they are doing are important. It's been a frustrating time to say the least.

After visiting every nook and cranny, I'm frankly still not sure of these companies' marketing or business goals.

Most sites I've visited appear to be written only for someone extremely familiar with their business and industry - so I have to ask - what purpose does the site serve? Pages littered with jargon to "describe" what they're doing, confusing copy sadly lifted in some cases directly from a competitor's site. There are surprisingly few concrete examples that would help a journalist, analyst or potential customer get their head around the opportunity or product. Where there are limited product descriptions, I find a lot of reasons why the company thinks their product is great, but not much in the way of why a customer might think so.

Just as befuddling are the press releases, touting partnerships that both parties are "very excited" about and lauding each other as "great businesses", but lacking any context or explanation of why the deal was done, what it means in the broader context of the industry, and why the reader should care. Where's the beef?