Thursday, March 25, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Building or Buying The Right Model; I Say Build For Now

Our business is maturing pretty rapidly but one of the biggest issues is that we don’t have any easy way to make an equivocal comparison to the impact we make on driving appreciable business growth.

Let me elaborate a bit.

If you exist in the world of traditional marketing you know there are many different options for forecasting the effects of media spend on sales. Any large marketer who spends multiple millions or billions of dollars per year on marketing has a media mix modeling system that they use to input a set of assumptions and projected spending and this model spits out a pretty decent forecast of what said marketer can expect to see as ROI. These models certainly have flaws and in many cases these models are tailored to be proprietary based off of an initially offered marketplace product, but they are consistently flawed and marketers tend to use them as directional data. The issue is that while digital is maturing quickly and more tactics are being considered, these tactics are not capable of being included in the models because they aren’t updated frequently enough and with an accurate level of data that would make them statistically valid.

It starts with the syndicated research tools. Many of these tools only track display and search. Most are not capable of tracking social media, CRM, or viral efforts nor are they capable of accurately tracking many ad networks, specifically those with behaviorally targeted components to them. These are tactics that are fast becoming an integral part of digital strategy. They are difficult to track because they are not standardized formats, like banners and buttons, but they have a decided impact on the ROI of a digital campaign. They are also a little difficult to track partly because they are so targeted that they are difficult to understand the duplication patterns with other media. The third reason they are difficult is because the creative impact is far too variable vs. that of a standardized TV or print ad, which has years of historical impact factored into it.

The flip side to this whole discussion is that many of these ROI predictor and media mix models are the bluntest of instruments, to say the least. They may have a plus or minus of 15% on actual sales delivery impact and may not have been robustly updated since the eighties, but marketers use them and in some cases they treat them as gospel. These tools are built for a broadcast-centric landscape and are not easily tailored to an engagement-centric landscape where the desired impact of marketing is to involve in conversation as well as create it. If I were a betting man and I had a scientific background or one in economics, that’s where I would spend my time to become a millionaire. I would try to create a new model that takes into account the ability to be involved, not just to inspire.

But I digress; a good carpenter never blames his tools.

You can go on and on all day trying to talk about and point out all the flaws in the model but it still comes down to understanding and being able to build off what has come before you by factoring in what you know to what is already understood. Many smart people and many smart companies are tackling these issues on their own and doing a great job of it. Strategists are addressing the model and building their very own proprietary models (we have our own at my company). The partners you work with should be able to explain to you what they are working on and validate their assumptions for you and your business and if they have not progressed to working on these yet, you should push them to do so. Fundamentally what works for you may be exclusive to you, but if you can consistently use your model and get a read on how it correlates to success, then you can plan for the future.

Hopefully, sometime in the not too far distant future we’ll catch up as an industry, but don’t wait around for us. Things are changing just a little too quickly.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Digital Influentials Volume 2, Issue 4: An Ode To EPMD (Making Money and Music Online)

Anyone remember EPMD? They were the groundbreaking rap pioneers whose name was an acronym for “Erick and Parrish Making Dollars” (read about them on the Wikipedia here - All their music was about business and making money one way or another, so this issue of the Digital Influential’s is dedicated to them as we uncover ways to make a little extra money (and maybe a little music, too)! Of course, the funny thing about this issue is there are so few companies online that can make money by making music. Ironic, isn’t it? Well, let’s get to it, because it’s “strictly business”.

Do you want to make a little extra cash? If you have some free time check out FIVERR ( Fiverr is the place to make $5 at a time. It’s pretty simple; post what you can do or review what people are looking for and the micro-payments can start rolling in; “business as usual” style. People will do just about anything; create flyers, record videos, animate your Flash ads, even post a positive review of your site. Seems easy, and the price is right!

Maybe $5 just isn’t enough? Maybe you want to have recurring payments on your site? Then look no further than CHARGIFY ( Chargify is a one-stop-shop for creating monthly, recurring bills from you to your clients. It mostly appears applicable to Web 2.0 companies that can charge for ongoing services, but a little ingenuity and you can create recurring payments for anything! Imagine a recurring $5 payment for posting a positive review of your site every month! Or, just maybe, people will pay you $10 a month to be part of your posse? That would be dope, yo.

Of course, if they’re going to pay to be part of your posse you’ll have to give them some content to read. Say hello to GROGGER ( Grogger is a tool for crowd-sourcing content for your blog (filling in the holes left by your “unfinished business”). If you want more content and/or your tired of trying to write it all yourself, work with Grogger to get loads of appropriate material. They help put you in touch with writers who’ll be happy to create content for you in a competitive environment where only the best rises to the top!

Of course, if all your content is on Facebook and your photos dominate it, then you need to find a way to create something to leave behind that’s not digital. Check out PIXABLE ( Pixable allows you to create printable photo-books of your Facebook photos and share them for the world to see! You can create calendars too! They make money by you packaging up your memories for others to see (I wonder if Erick and Parrish have many pictures on Facebook).

Maybe your posse “Gots To Chill”, so why not let them play some games on your site and you can make money – meet HEYZAP ( HeyZap helps you put flash games on your site and make money. The games generate revenue via ads and/or virtual goods, so sign up, get engaged and start making some extra cash the old-fashioned way - by earning it playing games!

Now – what’s going on with the iPhone apps this week (and how can I get into some music)?

ATTIC is a cool app that allows you to surface older, un-played content from your iTunes library (you know, like the old “Business Never Personal” album). If you’re on a trip and want to create little 3-song blocks of your favorite artists, check out TRIPMIX (maybe some Redman will make you feel better). Of course, you could always create your own music with THUMBJAM and rock the party (especially since you made all that money on Fiverr).

Well, that’s it for now. “I’m Housin” my way home - Have a great week everyone!

Friday, March 19, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Has The Time For Mobile Marketing Sailed By?

Do you ever get the feeling that the ship has set sail and you may have missed the boat? When I think about the mobile advertising space I tend to feel that way. At least a little bit.

For years mobile was promised to be the “next big thing” but the feuding of the major carriers got in the way of any single standard being developed for advertising on the primary platforms (“on deck”, so to speak) and they missed their shot. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint; you all had your chance and you pretty much blew it. Times are passing you by and other players are in the space faster than you could have imagined.

Due in no small part to wasted opportunities, Apple, Google and Microsoft are creating their own phones with their own standardized platforms and they’re quickly taking over the mobile space. Of course, Apple, Google and Microsoft are potentially going to do the same exact thing; fight each other and ignore the chance to create a standardized model for mobile advertising that integrates directly into the operating system. If they could come to terms and agree on a model that worked, my opinion could change, but I don’t foresee it happening and if I were a TV network or cable carrier, I’d pay close attention to this issue. Co-opetition is a good thing when you make it work.

Based on the lack of standardization and the rapid growth of competing platforms, I am going out on a limb and may be the first person to say that mobile advertising has plateau-d (at least in its current iteration).

Mobile advertising has too many problems facing its growth and the old stand-by of penetration is no longer one of them. More and more people are buying smart-phones, so more and more people have the opportunity to see advertising on a larger, more impactful screen. More people are watching video on their phones. More people are engaging with the web through a browser on their phones. More people are interacting with standard content formats through a mobile platform so the mobile advertising opportunity becomes only an extension of those standard formats from a computer. There’s nothing truly special about these ad formats as they are the same as what you get online (In a browser, you see ad banners. In video, you still get pre-roll). In fact most ad networks are openly enrolling your ads into their mobile placements as well without telling you, thereby blurring the world of mobile and standard Internet even more. The lines are blurry because the usage is not differentiated in the eyes of the consumer. As mobile phones become “mobile computers”, the standard for computers is becoming the de-facto norm.

The only unique thing that mobile has going for it now is the application space (or apps). Apps are the growth area of mobile and that is where Apple and Google are headed with their recent acquisitions of mobile ad networks. These networks place ads inside applications and make it easier to sell them to advertisers by packaging them up for advertisers. These ads are moderately effective; they’re really best as a reminder vehicle for a message that you already engaged with somewhere else. They’re not as targeted as web ads because they don’t have the sophistication of behavioral targeting, so they are primarily contextual. The volume of inventory available on these platforms is low and the growth rate seems steady, but not impressive.

The grandiose ideas that mobile would be a stand-alone medium are starting to fade. Digital is the umbrella term that encompasses mobile among other components. Mobile is a line item that speaks to specific objectives and supports a campaign by being embedded close to the point of contact for many consumers, but it really is not a stand-alone medium and signs point to the fact that it may not ever be.

Of course, mobile can change its path if the industry can begin to look at the operating system itself as a marketing vehicle. This will require some cooperation among the various companies playing in the space, but I’ll reserve hope that they’re able to figure it out. Until then I’ll be on my boat, watching things sail on by (and no, I don’t really own a boat – it’s a metaphor)!

Do you agree with my observation or do you think mobile advertising will grow rapidly over the next few years? Let us know – post your replies in the Spin Board!

Friday, March 12, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Are “Crowds” Still Valuable To Brands?

Whatever happened to crowd-sourcing?

Crowd-sourcing, user-generated content, consumer-generated content; these were huge buzzwords from 2004-2008. Every brand was talking about the impact of the consumer and their ability to help convey appropriate messaging. Viral marketing was all the rage and every marketer was touting their ability to harness the power of the consumer to create cost-effective, impactful solutions. Then along came Twitter and Facebook. Social media became the darling of the moment and crowd-sourcing became a casualty of growth.

Guess what! The UGC space and crowd-sourcing are still very much alive and kicking (to quote Simple Minds), but the focus seems to have shifted from consumers creating the content to becoming a waypoint for the content as it spreads. The perceived value of the consumer has become less of an instigator and more of kinetic energy to pass the messaging along.

The promise of UGC was that it would dramatically reduce the costs associated with creating content for brands, but the agency world has not embraced that fact because it scares them. The creative agencies make a high margin on creating content for marketers and they don’t want to give that up, so why recommend platforms that are going to take away their lunch money, so to speak? The rise of Facebook and Twitter are easy scapegoats because these platforms are another place to create a presence, that needs to be managed by the agency, and used as a launching pad for messaging rather than a sourcing platform. Facebook and Twitter are social NETWORKS, and they provide a networked platform for friend-to-friend referrals rather than sourcing the development of content, but don’t overlook the value of consumers to create content as well.

Crowd-sourcing has been used to create products (i.e. Swiffer) and campaigns (i.e. Doritos) to great, positive effect. It is a fundamentally sound and very efficient tool for finding new sources of ideas and driving innovation, but innovation can be painful and not everyone believes the old idiom of “no pain, no gain”. That being said, the Internet is still very much a user-generated medium. Most content on the web, when you break it down by page views and time spent, is user generated. From blogs to comments to independent websites that aren’t corporately owned… this is user-generated!

The present strength of digital marketing lies in its balance between broadcast and word-of-mouth. Broadcast refers to the standard banners, buttons and rich media units that most publishers employ. The word-of-mouth component encompasses all of the social media efforts like sharing and referring friends, endorsing brands and become fans of your favorite products. Crowd-sourcing fits directly between the two and its day is still likely to come as more marketers are finally grasping how to use both aspects individually. The union of the two aspects in the eyes of marketers is inevitable.

Some of the ways that marketers can use crowd-sourcing include:

· Advertising; Development of campaigns, including video.

· PR; including blogger outreach to develop promotions targeting specific groups.

· R&D: researching new products and requesting immediate input or feedback on the use and effectiveness of these products.

· Testing; use your audience on Facebook and Twitter as copy testing or creative testing. These people love your brand, so why not engage them in the process?

Crowd-sourcing may not be a top ten buzzword anymore, but it’s a slowly building under-current to what online marketers are doing and doing well. It’s a fundamental of the web and something that shouldn’t be overlooked as more marketers are exploring cost-effective ways to create and distribute their messaging to targeted audiences.

How are you using crowd-sourcing to its fullest effect?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Whatever Happened To Rich Media?

For many years the rich media space was a hotbed of activity. All the usual suspects were out in the marketplace duking it out for the top spot. Eyeblaster, Eyewonder, Pointroll, Klipmart, United Virtualities, Doubleclick; all of these companies were investing in new technology and the development of new ideas that would make digital creative units pop and spark and generate impact in the eyes of the consumer. Somewhere along the way, through consolidation and a focus on data and ad networks, they seem to have lost their luster.

You may argue, but let me make my case.

When was the last time to heard of a truly innovative development in rich media? When was the last time a rich media company pitched you on an idea that was groundbreaking and truly unique? The category itself suffers from a sense of pessimism and the selection of a rich media partner these days tends to come down to two things; relationships and price. Media Strategists recommend the companies and people they like doing business with and the partners that can come to the table with the most efficient pricing. There is very little reason to pay a premium for a service that has become commoditized and the category is not doing much to prove this model wrong.

The apparent growth in the category is coming from these companies morphing into traditional ad servers, which is indeed an opportunity because some digital players don’t want to partner with the big dogs (namely Google/Doubleclick and Atlas). While I recognize that ad serving is a huge opportunity and a natural complement for these rich media vendor services, isn’t that a step backwards?

You can’t tell me that we’ve seen all of the innovation we’re going to see in rich media. I can’t live with the thought that what we have now is what we’ll have in the years to come. Is the web page as it stands the way the web page will be in the future? What happened to offering rich media across multiple platforms, including location-based screens, mobile and integrated into video? What about the development of truly socially enabled units that integrate Facebook Connect and other elements so integral to the growth of the web? What about just giving us something different?

The ad network space may have something to do with this as most ad networks have restrictions on the size and capabilities that rich media can have and far too many media plans are reliant on ad network buys, but I have to believe the future involves more creativity than that. The future of digital advertising involves syndication of content and social functionality, and rich media needs to start thinking that way as well.

The immediate response to this article will be postings on the Spin Board and direct emails to my inbox from the rich media sales people wanting to share all of the “innovation” in their models, but before you hit send on that message I would ask you to take an objective eye to your offering. Are you really doing something different or are you splitting hairs on an already established idea? Innovation can be painful, and sometimes you need to hear some painful words in order to take that exciting step forward. Maybe this is that time?

Have you seen anything exciting in rich media as of late? Let us know!