Posted: March 7th, 2013 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
“Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast.” I love this quote.
Culture sounds so touchy-feely. Strategy is a man’s man’s man’s world – it’s blueprints and white boarding and financial projections – so it seems unlikely that culture should ever devour strategy. But here’s the thing, I didn’t get this quote from the guru of the month or a recent address to the United Nations.
This is a quote from Richard Plepler, CEO. Plepler recently took over the reigns at HBO and I heard him say this at an event called “In Search of the Unexpected Future of Media” which was hosted by The New Republic just prior to the much-covered, scarcely-viewed relaunch of tnr.com. I attended the event because I had interviewed at The New Republic for a Marketing Director position a few months back. I didn’t get it but I was still interested to see what was percolating at the new The New Republic.
As expected, I was very impressed by TNR’s access to topflight media people. On an unexpected note, I was completely underwhelmed by their ability to produce an event. It looked like an event and it smelled like an event but something was obviously missing from the plate. That’s not sour grapes over the job interview: The audio quality from the stage was terrible, the video quality was worse. They had one camera in the back of the room to film a conversation between two of the most influential people in media – Richard Plepler and Jill Abramson, the executive editor of a little rag called The New York Times.
I am very familiar with the current trend of “underproduction” whereby a highly capable production crew intentionally obscures the quality of a recording because people more readily believe video that looks bad over something that looks polished. This was not a case of intentional underproduction, it was simply a lack of attention to detail and a lack of experience.
The conversation took 50+ minutes to heat up and never quite reached a simmer. I don’t mean to knock TNR unnecessarily but if you are going to stand for quality journalism and talk about new media and you go ahead and name your event “In Search of the Unexpected Future of Media” and you attempt to produce video content of high caliber people that winds up sounding bad and looking worse, that’s on you and I simply don’t understand such an operational failure. I waited to write this post because I wanted to reserve judgment until the audience had spoken. The event was back in January.
Video by the numbers
My own opinions and experiences aside, the numbers on the event video in question are not reassuring. The video currently has 18 views on YouTube. While I was hoping to dig into the stats a bit and provide some analysis of the media value netted from the event, there is not a lot to analyze on this one. The video was also posted to fora.tv, a site that focuses on “Conference and Event Video.” That video feed boasts 1,480 views. If you believe that counter, that’s a total of 1,498 views. According to my own search, the video never made it to tnr.com. I don’t get it.
Here is a screen grab that shows all of the Twitter coverage that Topsy finds:
Now I really don’t get it.
So I will tell you what I did gain from the event. Nothing on the future of media, which was unexpected because The New Republic, while never viewed as a commercial success, has always been viewed as an influential purveyor of topflight political journalism, at least for the last 99 years. I also took away from the event that Jill Abramson is highly intelligent, experienced and funny. That was reassuring, I guess.
Finally, what I took from the event was that Richard Plepler is impressive. And Plepler’s most interesting contribution to the unexpected future of media was that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He touched on it twice. It was unexpected advice from a CEO. Maybe that is precisely why HBO has been able to rise above its competition so consistently for the last decade and a half and transform itself into what is now, essentially, the most successful entertainment studio in the business. People subscribe because HBO has the best content on the dial, and they are able to create the best content because they have all the money (think: best writers, best production people, et cetera). Such a virtuous cycle not only represents a fortunate position in the marketplace but a culture that is committed to quality, that values originality and vision and that measures its success by more than the obvious metrics. That’s a culture that eats strategy for breakfast.
The second most interesting insight from Plepler was that the average age of an HBO viewer is 39. The third, which is mostly exciting on a personal level was that Vice is currently developing a show for HBO, which will be righteous if it’s anything like their web video journalism.
The breakfast quote was so fantastic because of its source, I only wish more people could have heard it, and I know that TNR could use the revenue.
I have no doubt that former Facebook founder and current TNR CEO/Editor-in-Chief, Chris Hughes, has the ability to build a profitable and culturally important media brand that is bolstered by quality journalism but… he needs to develop a culture that will eat his strategy for breakfast. His strategy so far has been to modernize the format across all significant platforms and to expand the content. Decent first steps though reviews of that implementation have been mixed. Put simply, it’s not working yet.
Culture takes time, Mr. Hughes, keep at it. And call me maybe… because I’d love to dig into the analytics of the new site, if only for my own curiosity and to help you increase conversions, improve UX and ramp monetization. At the very least, let me introduce you to some experienced audio and video production people.
Posted: January 8th, 2013 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
For all the tactical knowledge in the world, content marketing really boils down to two obvious questions: What do you want to say? And who do you want to say it to? But obvious and easy are two very different propositions when it comes to content marketing. At first glance, the what and the who will seem obvious. But making good content is difficult. That is why good content is so hard to find – Google has built a $50Billion advertising empire by sifting the quality web pages from the deluge of mediocre and subpar content.
Start with the Who
I prefer to start with the who because I find it is much easier to create the what after the who has been properly established. Whether you’re creating article content, advertising content or video content, define your primary and secondary audiences by any common attributes. This is what separates marketing content from journalism. Age range, sex, level of education, income level and political lean all matter. Does your target audience live in a city or the countryside? What do they want? What do they fear? How will they arrive at your content? From a search engine? Links from somebody else’s content? Again, this all sounds obvious and it behooves you to think this through in detail.
Whenever possible, I try to match my target audience to a friend or acquaintance. When I feel like I’m speaking to somebody I know, I have a much easier time generating content. Identifying one single person who represents your audience makes generating content as easy as speaking to your most loyal customer –somebody you speak to regularly, or your coolest uncle, or your boss’ secretary. Either way, I have a much easier time finding the optimal voice when I’m speaking to a specific person because we speak differently to different people that we know. I speak in one voice to my contemporaries, a very different voice to my nieces and nephews, and I speak in a different voice altogether when addressing my only living grandmother.
Of course you will likely have more than one type of person to speak to when generating content. But there is (almost) always a primary group with enough definable, shared characteristics to speak to directly.
Choose One What
There is a common tendency among content marketers to try to accomplish too much at a time. Whether that tendency is spurred on by directives from management or a lack of experience, it does not change the fact that the who described above will only retain so much of your message in a given sitting. Therefore, limiting the number of messages in your content is highly recommended.
The best exception to limiting the number of messages in your marketing content is an interview format. Interviews allow you to cover a number of disparate topics while also allowing your audience to retain the information that is most relevant to them. The interview format works well for articles, audio and video. Interviews also insure that the content will be properly targeted to the audience of a given publication because it allows the personalities who know their audience best to tailor the content accordingly. Interviews are even effective for promoting a number of different marketing messages via the press wire services for exactly the same reasons. Still, I think it is best to have one central theme for your reader to grab on to.
Remember, above all else, that you are not funny. I do not understand why anybody who spends the bulk of their time behind a desk – as opposed to standing on a stage – wants to believe that they are funny. Save it for your family and friends. Your customers and your target audience are not interested – just the relevant facts, please. A little levity is alright but leave the comedy to the pros. Unless you’re selling comedic content, of course, in which case the content should stand up on its own.
Another reason to limit your messaging is to make an overwhelming argument, one that is supported by an avalanche of data and reasoning. Making a clear argument that is relevant and compelling is difficult enough. Your best bet is to repeat your point utilizing more than one argument and multiple pieces of evidence.
Video content continues to skyrocket in popularity, and for good reason. As with any good content strategy, it’s always wise to test your content fast and cheap with pay per click ads or blog posts before diving head first into a video. Test with intent: to see what resonates. Advertising will also force you to do the requisite keyword research. Although the cost of producing decent web quality video has come way down, video still costs. On the upside, a well-produced video will not only pull rank with the search engines but it is also likely to impress your prospective customers and clients. Just keep it short and sweet and supplement with text on the page that continues to drive home your central point and encourage click-through toward some kind of call-to-action, an offer or a data opt-in. It can sound formal “Sign up for our free monthly newsletter…” or casual, “Click here to find out what women can do to avoid…”
Posted: May 16th, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
Marketing analytics refers to the daily and monthly minutae of a never-ending and ever-changing flow of human behavioral data. We can now measure everything. In spite of this ability to collect data, marketing analytics is not an exact science, just like neuroscience is not yet exact. Of course, we now know a lot more about the brain but it is still a bit of a guessing game when it comes time for treatment. And treatment is the goal – the whole point of analytics is to improve performance, whether that means email opt-ins, leads or sales.
A brief nondigital marketing analytics example: If we move a line of cans from the grocer’s first shelf to the third shelf in the canned foods aisle – the third shelf being the average elbow height for an American woman – and we sell 350 more cans that week, it does not take a degree in statistics to conclude that is where we want our cans to be stocked.
The same basic premise applies in the digital marketplace. Marketing analytics helps us do it better by testing and tracking performance. It is the new big-deal position in marketing departments. Lots of new hires, consulting services, and scrambling for knowledge is taking place. There is a lot of money being spent on marketing analytics right now and for good reason: Marketing analytics has become a make-or-break skill set in every competitive market.
Marketing Analytics data is easily tracked (and free in most cases) but not so easily interpreted. Interpretation depends more on the end goal of the client than fancy mathematics. This is one common disconnect in the analytics roadmap: Clients often do not know what the optimal end goal should be, what their margins will bare on a per lead basis, and what best qualifies a worthwhile lead. This is not a slight on clients but the frustrating nature of a measured approach. For our purposes here, we will assume our end goal is always either data capture or sales growth.
The difference between diagnostics and improved performance is not unique to marketing. My friend Chris Finlayson, a former Cornell Professor and Ocean Scientist (“and Mainer” he would add) has the same obsession in his motorcycle shop – Chris owns the best vintage japanese motorcycle repair shop near Asheville, NC. About working on vintage motorcycles, Chris points out that “questions arise every day – they are hard, sharp, unambiguous, and unavoidable.” The motorcycle either starts or it doesn’t. The engine runs smoothly or it makes a worrisome sound. Once we have taken the proper diagnostic tools out of the tool box, it’s mostly a question of intuition, trial and error (we call it “testing” or “split-testing” in marketing analytics), and maintaining focus on the desired result. I caution any organization looking to employ analytics not to get caught up in the tools of the trade because the benefit is derived from a deft hand, methodical thinking, and the creative content on the page. Focus on the goal, not the tools.
Before we get to the fun stuff, here are the main reasons most companies want to hire a marketing analytics professional:
- They have read the article in The New York Times
- They believe they could be doing better, “ya know, sales-wise”
- They want to maximize their marketing dollars, improve ROI
We are all hoping to be the proud owner of a well-oiled, fast-moving marketing machine that costs the minimal amount of money to maintain while driving up the top line (sales). First things first, of course, you have to get started with an expert or team of experts in the following fields: PPC, User Experience, Copywriting, Marketing Strategy (not the hypothetical MBA version but the entrepreneurial “sales funnel” variety), Split-Testing, SEO, Keyword Research and basic programming knowledge, and then finally comes the marketing analytics stuff.
I see many marketing analytics job listings looking for statisticians but I am still not convinced this requires a doctorate. Impressive as they are, most mathematical experts that I have crossed paths with are not exactly wired for this type of work. It is the direct marketing set that tends to be the most apt here, at least that’s where many of the field’s best practices were developed. Nothing against PhDs or MBAs but I would also rather have Chris adjusting my 30 year old brake caliper than a tenacious young person fresh out of the local motorcycle mechanics training course. I do, however, believe there is a place for PhDs and MBAs in the more predictive end of the field.
The predictive end of the field is all about Modeling. If you are trying to use modeling to predict P&L, set performance expectations, et cetera then you do want to hire for an academic approach. This type of need crosses beyond the realm of marketing analytics and into the realm of business analytics. The need for such deep understanding is uncommon in most marketing departments. More often than not, marketers should focus on driving demand, gaining consumer insight, and applying deeper localization and segmentation to their campaigns and offers. Conversion optimization is more of a consumer-focused discipline than a data-driven one.
The marketing analytics stuff
The marketing analytics stuff tracks traffic patterns (clicks) through to conversions (the goal: social media engagement, email opt-in rates, sales). The tools track the behavior of your visitors and those who’ve seen your ads. With the tools in place, we then get down to improving the performance of our ad campaigns, landing pages, and sales funnels. It is a very different skill to read a traffic flow chart than to plan or refine one. Some designers can be trusted to get it right and some cannot. Some web developers/programmers get it and some don’t. You want somebody that can do both – read data and initiate improvements.
Most companies would not trust a newly-minted mid-level hire, nevermind a consultant, to redesign their company’s homepage but that’s what we’re talking about here much of the time. My newest client and I are well into an initial split test of their homepage, now three months into the client engagement, and we are seeing conclusive results (a large, multiple-of-ten percentage points, increase in data capture conversions).
I hear you, “Nevermind the homepage, Aron. What else do you have in the way of marketing analytics? I want leads and sales, Aron.”
Traffic Flow, Lead Conversion and Acquisition
Where is the traffic being funneled? Where is it coming from? Is it paid traffic from advertising or free traffic that comes in through search engines and other referrals? It matters because different messages will likely appeal to different traffic sources. When considering paid traffic, we must consider our keyword research which tells us what people are looking for. Enter content production and the art of building landing pages that convert, which gives us a means of engaging visitors with copy, audio, and video. Enter email marketing and social media, two methods for keeping up with our prospects between the point of conversion and the point of sale.
Remember when I said that neuroscience is still a bit of a guessing game? Remember when I claimed that an entrepreneurial background is more valuable than a PhD in statistics? This is why: All of the statistical analysis in the world won’t help us if we can’t apply that knowledge to creating better content and improving our offer.
Marketing analytics is a lot to learn and a lot to put your trust in but there is only so much to test and analyze from a mathematical perspective. There is way more to test from a creative standpoint but you do have to have the technical side in place first. And you have to know what measurements apply. There are only so many functions to test, track, and improve: click-through, goal conversions, and sales. More general metrics like time-on-site and average page views are helpful too but in the interest of growing sales, we want to focus on the former over the latter. It is a process of continuous improvement and we must keep in mind that what works best today is often different than what will work best tomorrow.
Marketing analytics seems to always keep going and going and evolving and changing but if you are not focusing a portion of your marketing budget on analyzing the return on your marketing investments (expenditures and performance), consider yourself antiquated in most markets. Without the proper digital marketing tools you are at a serious disadvantage but the tools alone don’t buy results. The tools merely give us a sporting chance, beyond that we must develop all of the skills mentioned above.
The learning curve here is steep at best. An individual employee cannot learn this all in a year or two, but with the right help any company can set up a properly-tracked marketing funnel in a matter of months. So it’s not easy getting started but it is worth the effort. It takes patience to build a marketing funnel with a reliable monthly ROI. Also keep in mind that marketing analytics is a custom build scenario but it needn’t be overly complicated or high tech to be effective. Sure, we can track how people scan a page and we can count cans on shelves and we can even take live video of our visitors browsing our sites and generate heat maps but that will only get us so far down the path to dollars and cents by itself. Success is still dependent on positioning, content, the offer, and the follow-up. Testing helps us determine what works and what doesn’t along the way.
Related Article: No Marketing Technology on the Planet Will Make Your Business Profitable (By Itself)
Posted: April 18th, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
If you’ve ever been responsible for defining and tracking the success of a digital marketing campaign, then you are clearly familiar with terms like average time on site, email capture rate, ad click-through rate, and so on.
Some people refer to these as your KPIs (key performance indicators). That kind of acronym makes me giggle a little like, ok Joe marketing consultant… But if you’re doing your job as a marketer, these are your metrics. And they all point to one thing: relate-ability. If you’re struggling to understand why specific KPIs are weak, you’re probably struggling to relate to your audience. The two questions that we must ask here, “What are we saying? And who are we saying it to?” It might seem simple but it’s not, like writing a good pop song or cooking a good pizza.
Of course, the alternative is that you are struggling with the tools. I did that for a while too, that’s actually a symptom of learning. You want to pass through this stage as quickly as possible. But I will assume for the sake of argument that this is not the case.
Nobody wants to be a type but we all are. Do you consider yourself short, tall, or in between? Old, young, or in between? A child of the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s? Simplistic examples but you get the point. For a good methodology to understand and relate to your target market, I recommend my PPC mentor Howie Jacobson’s Who? What? Why? and How? Method. While PPC is a great testing ground, the real value comes in applying that PPC knowledge in other digital mediums like email, viral video, PR, social media, blogging, et cetera.
If you already understand Who? What? Why? and How? about your target market (not as concepts but you’ve actually tested these questions to conclusive sales conversion results) then you need not read any farther because you’re already running a successful (read profitable) campaign. Start asking some new questions now. It might be easier said than done but that’s the job.
If you or your company are still failing to relate, meaning that you are still failing to find your audience or gain traction with your target market, maybe you’re in need of some help. Nobody can know everything about this digital marketing business after all. If you’re not the marketing director, manager, VP, et cetera but the President or CEO of a small-to-midsize business, maybe you still need to restructure a bit for the digital age. Better late than never. If you’re struggling with relate-ability (I know, I know, easy marketing consulting guy), do not hesitate to reach out for help.
Posted: March 26th, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
I am a marketing consultant. I have worked in some form of ecommerce since 2003. I have been deeply entrenched in the digital marketing world since 2007. I have sold everything from bicycles to wind turbines, books to television shows – I have a good handle on what works online, offline and in between. My digital marketing philosophy is very simple with regard to PPC:
- Go where your customers already are.
- Test all marketing to an ROI. (Start small and grow what works, disregard what doesn’t, learn from it and move on.)
- Measure everything that can be measured but go beyond the data. (There are an endless array of tools that help quantify marketing these days. Using the right tool toward the right goal can save you money and months of struggle.)
- Limit human error in the measuring and analysis phases. (Your IT person should not be in charge of your digital marketing because it’s a “computer thing.” While we’re at it, a YellowPages.com listing does not constitute a digital marketing campaign any more than a Facebook page constitutes a social media campaign.)
- Maximize relate-ability in the messaging, copy, images, et cetera. (Your goal is not to be crowned “most creative”; your goal is to grow revenue. Relate-ability and creativity will get you there faster.)
- Leverage your PPC findings in other marketing channels. (This is where the magic happens.)
More than anything, marketing has become an exercise in empathy. Empathy in marketing means: Do I understand my target audience to the point that I can deliver the right message at the right time to a carefully targeted prospect? If yes, I win. If not, I lose. The most fertile testing ground is Pay Per Click advertising (PPC).
The New Role of PPC
PPC is an invaluable tool but it is still just one tool in the digital marketing toolbox. There are many other tools in that box: SEO, PR, UI/UX, copy and design to name some of the others. They are all important in different ways. PPC is the best testing platform because you can control your costs down to the penny and you get real market data (unlike a focus group – personal note: focus groups can be good for product development, not so much for predicting the success of a marketing campaign).
The trick is to start by casting a wide net and then start digging deeper in the spots that show promise. Dig carefully and dig often. Hint: Digging means testing in this inelegant metaphor. Digging is the means by which the PPC tool earns its keep in the toolbox. Do customers respond better to “Free Shipping” or “$10 off your first order”? Do they want “Free 24hr customer service” or “Exciting New Feature!”? Maybe “Free Shipping” gets me a higher click-thru rate but a lower sales conversion rate, meaning I would be paying more for advertising but converting less sales – we test and measure to eradicate such flaws.
I can sit down with the person who currently manages your PPC campaigns and stealthily determine if that person has a sophisticated understanding of PPC advertising or not. It doesn’t take long. If you’re accurately measuring ROI, you’re off to a good start. If you can tell what traffic is responding to what offers, you’re doing pretty good. If not… there is work to be done.
The new role of PPC as a multi-platform testing ground makes PPC one of the most valuable tools in the box. Failure to utilize this tool means lost sales and less profit earned per ad dollar spent.
Why I Outsource PPC
Outsourcing paid advertising does not have to be expensive. But it does require a dedicated professional. The most common cause of PPC failure that I find at surprisingly high levels of the marketing world: Marketers do not know what they do not know.
Common knowledge gaps: Either the practitioner does not know what’s possible with regard to measuring, testing, and where to find quality traffic, or they do not know how to use the tools to maximum effect. Poking holes in PPC campaigns is not difficult, but patching them up or rebuilding them correctly can be a difficult process. But it can pay dividends.
Rest assured, there is a better way. I can help you and your staff correct most PPC missteps but building a sophisticated marketing funnel with PPC often requires outsourcing, outsourcing with diligence and vigilance of course. Outsourcing PPC is a minefield. Outsourcing PPC correctly is a minefield that warrants the risk. PPC used to be easy, then it was difficult, now it is nearly impossible to win over any competitive market without a full-time, dedicated PPC expert. Here is a quick list of questions to ask your in-house team or outsourced agency:
- Average monthly ad spend? Percentage spent in the content network?
- What are the top performing keywords with regard to sales? What are the top performing keywords with regard to data capture?
- What are the top performing traffic sources?
- CPA? CPC? ROI?
- What emotional “hot buttons” are we testing in our ads? Are we split testing ad content? Text? Images?
- What messages are we testing on our landing pages? Are we split testing landing pages?
The End Game
Done correctly, all of this performance data adds up to some highly targeted and tested marketing knowledge. Hopefully, this is the kernel of a profitable internet marketing funnel.
As hinted at above (see “6. Leverage your PPC findings in other marketing channels.”), the biggest benefit of PPC often comes from leveraging your PPC findings in other marketing channels. Perhaps the best case study to date comes from Vitruvian Way’s The Hidden Power of PPC white paper that explains Joel McDonald’s work with candy giant Mars, Inc:
“In 2009 Vitruvian’s Joel McDonald was hired to manage a $1000/month AdWords account for a division of Mars, Incorporated that sells health supplements. Keep in mind that Mars’ advertising budget for 2009 was estimated by Advertising Age at $1.6 billion dollars. Using AdWords to boost sales was like having Google co-founder Larry Page make a few extra bucks by tutoring math on the side. But the investment paid off handsomely once Joel harvested their AdWords data and had them apply it to their advertising in “unmeasurable” media.
Joel ran keyword tests to discover the most searched-for ingredients in this product line. He also tested various offers they were considering. Among other discoveries, Joel found through simple testing that, for example, the words “free shipping” generated nearly twice the sales of the original “30% off” offer (we’ve changed the specifics to protect the client’s confidentiality, but you get the idea.)
Within about a month of reporting his AdWords tests, Joel saw a virtually identical product description, price, and offer on Mars’ national TV commercials. Now a miniscule AdWords investment was paying huge dividends in other media. Mars no longer had to roll the dice on the creative impulses of expensive Madison Avenue ad writers. They just applied common sense to AdWords data and cloned tiny successes on a massive scale.“
It used to be considered insider knowledge that many entrepreneurs were using PPC advertising to test the viability of new products before those products had been developed, produced, prototyped, or even named. This was done to gauge market demand. Now, the smartest marketers are using PPC to measure aspects of marketing campaigns that were previously unmeasurable. For the price of a few thousand clicks we can gain invaluable insight into pricing, positioning, and identify which emotional levers really move the needle.
PPC is officially the best market research tool known to man, and it’s still a pretty good sales tool too, depending on the market. As with any tool, the benefit comes from knowing how and when to use it. Outsourcing the technical piece of the equation gets you up and running in a matter of days, the right way. Don’t waste months trying to maybe get it right. Directing the creative content that makes up those ads and understanding the data that comes back in the form of traffic figures and conversion rates is where you’ll find the most fertile ground. The magic is in the human element behind the tool.
If you are interested in preparing to leverage PPC in this way, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
Posted: March 18th, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
Attention digital marketing professionals: Ultimately, there is no technological solution for a human process. Good marketing is much more than the sum of a company’s technology solutions. You have to have a good offer, a unique proposition, a product that people want, and a method for finding the right prospective buyers.
Seemingly random anecdote that introduces a headier topic: Chef, author, and television host Anthony Bourdain pointed out in the San Francisco episode of his new show The Layover that the relationship between bartender and patron is not only time-honored and sacred but also a very intimate one.
So, I would argue, is the relationship between seller and buyer in many other transactions where money is exchanged for goods and services. No offense to Bourdain of course but I would argue that the relationship between entertainer and viewer should be of similar quality. And I tend to believe that Anthony would agree, he seems ever-conscious of the fact that he is entering our lives and our homes with his books, shows, and Tweets. That might sound idealistic but it might also be true.
No matter how many marketing bells and whistles you have coded into your site or API, you still have to interpret the data and write copy that drives desire. You still have to split test ads, landing pages, and email copy.
Generalization to get you nodding in agreement (or disgust): Most entrepreneurs I meet are selling products of their own design, development, and former need. These are personally important products to the people who sell them. These are often the types of people who have risen to the top of their local and regional marketplaces in order to expand their business nationally, and in many cases internationally – growth that was made possible by the technology solutions of online commerce. These are often people who have successfully transitioned out of corporate America. These are the people who go it alone and reach greater success and satisfaction than they ever would have in most other available career options. Read: These are not dummies, even the quacks.
Yet so many of them think they will find success in the technology, in the tools. Very few will succeed that way. Because the tools alone will rarely ever get you where you want to go. This world is more complex than any litany of marketing technology solutions that measure and quantify consumer behavior. If this is among the most advanced applications of marketing technology, clearly we are walking some fine – if not downright delicate – lines. Those are human lines not technological ones.
So why does everybody obsess over the tools?
Anybody who believes that there is a technological solution that will get you all the traffic and sales you ever wanted is a fool for forsaking the obvious. The same people who walk into brick-and-mortar retail outlets are sitting on the other end of every digital transaction whether you are selling wind turbines, t-shirts, information, or guided tours of Cuba (now legal direct from the US).
A little reverse psychology about technology solutions: Yes, there are tools that help us measure what people want and how many people search for those things daily/monthly online. There are email and survey tools that help us stay in touch with prospective buyers and find out what they want in greater detail. There is a tool to measure nearly every performance indicator online. But without the human element, most marketing professionals are unable to move forward, to find success.
There is no shortage of marketing tools, there is a shortage of skilled practitioners.
It is for this reason that I continually ask my clients if they are profitable or not. If the business unit or product line we are shaping up is not profitable yet, it’s time for a change. Until a business is able to turn $X into [$X + $1] or more, it is not really a business – it is an idea at best and an expensive hobby at worst. All businesses start as ideas – not all ideas become businesses.
The Moral: No amount of technology will turn an idea into a business without some human quality making it so. Similarly, I would argue that in today’s competitive environment, no company can expect to succeed without utilizing the best available technology solutions. You should see how people are using Pay-per-Click advertising now.
The Plea: Please stop looking for a technological solution to a human interaction (marketing has become a social science). To start down the right path, consider this.
Posted: March 7th, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
I was sitting at a hotel lobby bar in Washington, DC last week discussing some business with a colleague. Three weeks earlier I was doing the same thing in Austin, TX. There was a conference going on each time but the real conversations were happening at tables in the lobby, top floor suites, and private sections of nearby lounges.
One friend sitting nearby is a VP at a very successful credit card processing company. Many of his best accounts are direct response marketers. Many of them are in attendace – some sell information products, some sell dietary supplements, subscription services, specialty physical products, et cetera. Needless to say, Kevin knows some very intimate knowledge about the men and women in the room because he knows their numbers. He knows the revenue from their recent launch, their previous year’s worth of business, even their personal credit score in many cases. Read: Kevin looks around the room and he knows who’s selling what and how much.
Particularly amongst online/digital marketers, there is a long-standing grudge match between those who self-identify as direct response marketers and those who fancy themselves branding experts.
I bring up my friend Kevin because he has been successful, an emergent player, in the direct response marketing space for some time now, though he himself is not a pure practitioner in the field. I think of Kevin more as a purveyor of pails, picks and shovels during the gold rush – he’s not a miner but he’s getting rich from the color just the same.
Most of the people at this event would put me in the branding camp. Until a few years ago, they would be correct. Now I do both. After years spent in each, I propose that the direct response vs. branding argument is over. You can no longer survive on one or the other.
Last time I saw Kevin was in Austin, he was mapping out a direct response marketing campaign in the credit card processing space with a mutual friend of ours. I waited until they were done and I added a few branding suggestions, nothing that opposed their plans now in place, but a few tricks of the branding trade that I believe will add a layer of uniqueness, trust, and recall to their promotional efforts. Credit card processing is seen to be a commodity though Kevin and company do provide an exceptional service in my experience. He listened intently as he is a polite guy, then his expression turned to surprise. I think he was genuinely surprised that he liked what I had to say… maybe there was something to this branding stuff after all.
When to Favor One Over the Other
Most young entrepreneurs, especially those emerging from MBA programs, are inclined to focus on their brand when they would be better served focusing on sales – direct response marketing will get you sales much faster than branding ever will. You do not have a business until you know how to spend ninety-nine cents in return for more than a dollar. The quicker you have success with sales, the quicker your branding will begin to matter.
Similarly, if you are a marketer at a well-established brand, you should be studying the most current successful business models and best practices of direct response marketing. Because your success over your competition is contingent upon the efficiency of your marketing funnel: If you spend $1 in marketing to make $2 in revenue while your competitors spend $1.50 in marketing for that same $2 in revenue, it is only a matter of time until you are dominating your competition in that particular market. Believe that.
In either case, that does not relegate branding to the fluff atop the marketing sundae. Branding has hard value in most markets, especially those commodity markets like my friend Kevin’s credit card processing service. Branding can make or break you just as quickly as the sudden glitch in your marketing funnel. Branding is the heart of desirability which far outweighs reason or logic in most purchasing decisions. Silicon Valley is still brand-centric for a reason. So are the VCs of the world.
So… Stop the Insanity!
The debate is over and here’s why:
Consumers are accustomed to good branding now, which means that you can’t succeed without it, not in a market of any size or longevity. Gone are the days when expert copywriting and direct marketing sales tactics were enough to sell a product without a brand behind it because most direct response sales copy that is not supported by a well-considered brand reads formulaic or worse.
Equally so, gone are the days when you could design a brand and grow it into a successful business without doing everything else well. Most markets are far too competitive for mediocre marketing execution and wasted marketing dollars.
So it’s always a mix. That being said, if your marketing department is not steeped in both, you need to remedy that.
Related Article: Marketing Analytics Roadmap: The Art of Interpretation
Posted: February 1st, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
Any medium-sized (or aspiring medium-sized) multi-channel retailer that does not utilize some basic form of live customer service on its website will not be able to compete on any factor besides price in the near future, whether that fits their intended business model or not. Unless your products are so obviously definitively superior to your competition or you are the only player in your niche, you’re still working from the mindset that your online sales will never amount to much and never compete in importance to any one of your individual brick-and-mortar locations.
To be clear, you don’t need to invest full-boar in a comprehensive live customer care package with custom graphical interface and yadda yadda. But if you haven’t tested a basic version of such a service, you ought to.
Start minimal, go into your web analytics and get a sense of how many people exit your website after, say, 3-5 minutes. If that seems like a reasonable amount of time, hire the appropriate number of dedicated sales people to handle that traffic remotely. If those numbers are too big, figure out how many visitors per month leave your site off of a product page – like, they’ve clicked through to a page with a “Buy Now” button on it. Those are the most likely people to become buyers on your site by virtue of live customer service. Imagine your staff being trained to say things like, “Yes, we can rush it to you for the weekend. Would you like me to set that up for you in your shopping cart?”
Or, “Actually, we do make that in another size. Would you like me to check the availability in our stock?” To further simplify the process – minimize risk, cost, etc. – move over some good sales people from the sales floor of one of your brick-and-mortar retail locations. Somebody wants those extra hours and commissions.
Now that you’ve run a basic test you’ll have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And set some estimates for the value of the service which will be used to guide build-out decisions. I recommend testing for a minimum of 90 days to acquire accurate benchmarks for email capture, sales conversion rates, usage rates, average sales, et cetera.
If you got the thing up and running with only the aid of your existing team and the tech team at your service provider, congratulate yourself momentarily, then confirm that you are indeed tracking sales and attempting to collect customer contact information (email would be a worthwhile minimum conversion goal, “Would you like me to notify you if this product goes on sale at the end of the season? I can notify you by email or text.”). You need to figure out if the program is worth it and to what degree you need to carry the buildout beyond the branded level (read it matches the aesthetic) of your website. This is not all necessary for testing but it’s a good idea to build out the best possible solution that reasonably fits your budget and your needs.
If you need director-level marketing assistance on a project basis, I thank you in advance for reading about me and saving my contact information.
Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
More than one prospective client has asked me to write a report. I understand the need to see a summation of the work that’s been done and the progress we’ve made even though I don’t want to believe that I’m in the business of writing reports. I’m in the business of delivering results: enhancing brand positioning and growing revenue.
But I also understand that the person who makes the recommendation to hire me as a consultant will need to justify that decision at some point down the road. So in a sense, I am also in the business of writing reports.
One recent consulting prospect asked me to write a report upfront. I told this person that I will gladly write a report as we progress (I had already proposed weekly reviews and monthly reporting) but this did not satisfy the client’s needs and we quickly found ourselves in a negotiating stalemate. I explained to the client that I had already laid out our goals for the duration of our engagement based on a series of meetings with her and her staff: We all agreed on the course of action and the deliverables. She still wanted a report upfront.
I wasn’t objecting on principle (maybe a little), I simply had no idea what would go into a report that was not already stated in the Goals section of the proposal which included a brief analysis of their current marketing performance metrics.
I waited a week and called her back, reiterated that we had already set up some lofty goals to work towards, designed the framework of a number of initiatives that would serve those goals and clearly defined the metrics that would measure our progress. The client agreed and then said something that I will never forget, “We’ve never hired a consultant before.” Got it.
This client provides complex, technical solutions within their industry, they have traditionally found new business through referrals. When they take on a new client, there is always a report written upfront along with a proposal. I was being asked to help them expand their business and their brand into new markets, activities that are foreign concepts within the four walls of their offices. I said, “Let me think about that and I’ll call you back tomorrow.” She agreed reluctantly, “I’ll speak to you tomorrow, Aron.” Their intuition about expanding into new markets was well-founded, I could see the kernels of a campaign in my minds’ eye, this was a fit and we all had something to gain from working together. But we couldn’t get past the vetting.
As any good marketer would, I tried to empathize with my prospect, see the situation from her perspective. I called her the next day and proposed the following: Pay me an increased rate for one month instead of the previously proposed six months. Two weeks later (that would bring us to the six week mark) you will receive the report and I’ll come in and present it to the team. Half of the money upfront and half of the money upon delivery of the report.
So began the One Month Intensive
Technically, it’s a six week process but that doesn’t have the same ring to it… I now offer this service as a starting point to new clients. I get to know my clients quicker and they get to know me quickly too. There is minimal risk on both sides. I can suss out most of their issues in a month. I can assess their capabilities and where they are lacking. And I can still get a good sense of what their improved marketing costs will be. It takes a real commitment on behalf of the client to respond to my emails, phone calls, et cetera during that month. I can be very demanding. I sit in on meetings. I call meetings with key staff. We cull data. We review processes and decisions. Everybody needs to know who I am and why I am there. It can be intense. As long as everybody knows upfront that this is going to be a tough month, they should be onboard and it will be over quickly.
So far so good. Clients take comfort in knowing they are getting a lot of my attention upfront and the whole of my analysis at once. This is somewhat flawed in the sense that marketing does not work this way. Marketing is more fluid than observe-and-report. As I hinted above, the analysis is somewhat secondary to the work of improving a company’s marketing performance but getting started is always a little rough and this way we get over the rough stuff quicker.
The report itself is very detailed. We will have a thorough understanding of the company’s marketing performance to date and a very clear understanding of how we should proceed if we decide to continue working together. Depending on the company’s in-house capabilities, we will also have a clearer sense of the cost of moving forward.
Posted: September 27th, 2011 | Author: aronzeke | Filed under: Home | No Comments »
New media is a broad term that describes the breadth of digital platforms which make up today’s best marketing strategies, communications initiatives and advertising campaigns. New media also includes mobile and social media platforms. Marketing via new media is still heavily rooted in direct marketing, including pay-per-click advertising and email marketing; however, new media also includes the production of high quality original content such as blogs and video as well as PR.
What is your new media strategy? Are your new media efforts generating revenue?
You already have a new media presence, whether you’ve planned for it or not.
New Media Monetization works with two types of clients: Content producers with an existing audience who are looking to improve their advertising revenue, data capture, and marketing funnel. And companies who prefer to have a new media specialist design their new media strategy: pulling together all of the elements of customer acquisition, direct marketing, content production, and PR in the interest of monetizing new media channels more effectively.
Attention content producers
If you already have an audience, you already know what content production is about. Your site’s traffic flow, design/layout, or SEO strategy might also need some shaping. But if you already see 10,000+ unique monthly visits to your content pages, you are well on your way to monetization.
Maybe your content presentation needs help. Maybe your audience is failing to understand the depth of your brand. Or maybe you’re just failing to turn a profit. That is the focus of our work.
Effective communication through new media
Companies who try to utilize new media to garner sales for their product or service have very different new media challenges than content producers. Maybe you are failing to communicate effectively through new media? Failing to gain traction with your audience? Or failing to track those efforts through to monetization?
Do you know exactly what you want to say? And who you want to say it to?
Perhaps you are trying to translate your offline successes into new media successes. Are you failing to garner good press? Or failing to capitalize on the press that you have already received? If so, you are missing some essential element of your new media strategy.
New media monetization
If you have a strong brand and an identifiable core audience, you are ready to start thinking about a new media monetization plan. When everything lines up, new media produces results. When new media produces results, everything starts to pick up.
Are you ready to acquire customers more aggressively, build the size and responsiveness of your audience, and refine your marketing funnel?
What does a new media strategist do, exactly?
In short, a new media strategist is put in place to convert your digital presence into revenue. New media often seems overly abstract but taking a focused and comprehensive look at it is often the difference between viewing new media as an expense versus an effective revenue generator with a trackable return on investment.
Your new media strategy will wrap customer acquisition, direct marketing, content production, PR and publishing into one comprehensive monetization plan – every day that you are not capitalizing on these business models is another day that you are increasingly vulnerable to your competition. When you have this all together, running smoothly and profitably, you are leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.
If you are are ready to acquire customers more aggressively, build the size and responsiveness of your audience, and refine your marketing funnel, please continue reading About New Media Monetization.