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?

Smells like fear of new media

I just finished reading "Struggles of a Mad Man" in the Dec 3, 2007 issue of Business Week. The article looks at Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts and how both his traditional advertising business "may be flirting with irrelevance".

As a former media buyer for FCB in the early 90's, it's certainly been fascinating (and fun) to see the balance of power shift more towards the folks with data and quantifiable results. It's what I find so exciting about the continued convergence of media and creative - like social media applications / widgets - the line between creative and inventory these days is certainly blurring. So I was taken aback to see there are still senior advertising people like Roberts who think that creative and analytical are two completely different worlds. Roberts is quoted as saying "A media agency couldn't emotionally touch the consumer in a million years," "They have no f---ing idea. They don't have feelings. They're media people." Wow. Granted, most media agencies weren't founded to do great creative, but to assert that media people don't "get" brand building and connecting with people smells more like fear than insight.

Solve your customer's problems, not your own

I recently opened a new cell phone account with AT&T. Tiffany was very helpful and told me they could transfer my phone number from my company's corporate account to my new personal account, as long as my company put a note on the account giving permission for the transfer. She told me to call back once the note was in place.

I called AT&T back to complete the transfer. Tiffany was off that day. I asked the gentleman who answered the phone if he could help me, here is what transpired:

Me: Hi, I'd like to transfer a phone number from my company's corporate account to the new account I opened with you a few days ago. There is a note on the account allowing the transfer.

AT&T: That's complicated. If we do that it will no longer count as a new activation and you will lose all the discounts associated with the account.

Me: I don't understand, Tiffany said this would be no problem. Why wouldn't this count as a new activation, since I'm a totally new account for you?

AT&T: The number you want to transfer already resides with AT&T, so it's not a new account.

Me: That doesn't make any sense to me. I'm just looking to transfer the phone number, not close another account. The corporate phone will have a new number, I just want to move the numbers to different phones. What do I need to do to make that happen?

AT&T: Did you purchase the phone through us?

Me: No, I got the phone as a gift, I just activated a service plan with you.

AT&T: Oh, well that's a different story, we can transfer the number in that case.

Me: Can you explain that to me? You make money on cell phone plans, not on the phones right? Why do I still not count as a new activation. There is a new account and a new bill being paid every month that AT&T didn't have before.

AT&T: It doesn't count as a new activation unless there is a new phone and phone number.

Me: That's idiotic, but I give up. What do I have to do to get the number transferred.

AT&T: It's probably best for you to come in to do that.

Me: But Tiffany told me I could just call her and she would take care of it.

AT&T: She's in tomorrow after 11.