Retargeting needs an off button.

I recently became a customer of Clear the 4G mobile wireless internet provider. Before I signed my contract I visited the Clear website to check out plan options and look at reviews and probably did a few Google searches with the terms “Clear 4G” in them. My search and cookie history “Clearly” (groan) had potential Clear customer written all over it.

Smart ad networks picked up on this activity and began serving me Clear banner ads every where I went online. I don’t mind the intrusion, it’s targeted, relevant and at least they’re not those floating flash banners you have to chase around a site like an errant toddler. But what I do mind is that there is no way to make them stop. I’m a Clear customer now. I’m acquired. It’s been two months and I’m still getting served Clear banners.

Which is remarkably interesting and ironic. Because these banner ads are so well targeted they’re actually – in my case – completely, utterly and uncompromisingly irrelevant. And they would be so for every person who converted off of the Clear web site or Google search or whatever criteria they’re using to target me. Maybe in a hyper targeted world the old basic demographics such as males 21 to 35 aren’t as dead as we think they are?

Suggestion: a “next offer” button on retargeted ads to keep things fresh and the inventory more relevant.

Social media worth it? Pt. 2

A recent study of 2010 holiday purchasers gave us some really impressive numbers about the power of social media.

Of those that left a negative post on social media about a product or retail experience 62% were contacted by the company responsible. Of those contacted 33% deleted their original negative post and 32% turned around and left a positive review.

A few weeks back I posted about whether social media was worth it. Well, I’d say these numbers bear it out. With a simple tweet or facebook post you can change the minds of 65 out of 100 angry customers. Talk about cheap and effective customer service.

TV has a lot to worry about, or does it?

I recently read that three quarters of all TV viewers are multitasking in front of the glowing box. Some are texting, some are on the web and some are actually TALKING on the phone. How quaint.

Much has been made of this recent behavioral development in media chatter. TV is dying some say.  But I say different. This past Super Bowl I watched the game in a bar with a few close friends. But I also watched the game with a few dozen friends on my iPhone. Through Facebook status updates or Twitter posts I was getting my friends’ reactions in real time.

And this is not just for huge events like the Super Bowl. Living in New York I have friends who are theater people: actors, singers, etc. From them I learned about the show Glee. I may not watch Glee, but I am certainly aware of it even if musicals are not my thing. According to a recent Harris poll 43% of online adults in the US have posted something online about a TV show. That’s good buzz.

So this multitasking is actually helping to spread the word about TV content. In a market with hundreds of channels word of mouth can be critical to building an audience. I know word of mouth got me to watch Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is now one of my “can’t miss” shows even if I do watch them on hulu.com and not in real time, because I don’t own a proper TV and have no cable subscription.

Which segues nicely to the danger for the future of TV – the rise of viewing TV online. Or not as the case may be.

I was a casual viewer of the ABC show “V”. I used to watch episodes on ABC’s web site but for some reason they removed them. And now I’m no longer a watcher of “V”. See how easy it is to lose me? Conversely, I found out recently that every episode of every season of South Park is on Comedy Central’s web site and while I was a fan of the show I never had cable so I didn’t get to see many episodes. Well, now my eyeballs are getting fully monetized because I’m slowly going through all 14 seasons episode by episode.

Why would ABC shun one new distribution channel popular with the youthful demographic that marketers crave in favor of the old distribution channel popular with geriatric fans of Matlock and Murder She Wrote? I’m sure some misguided executive decided that the revenue from ads on the website weren’t sufficient and they’re cannibalizing eyeballs that would normally watch at 9pm on whatever day V airs. Except they’re not. If I really, really, really liked V maybe, just maybe, I’d put a reminder in my video enabled mobile device to sit on the couch for an hour at the appointed time and watch 45 minutes of show and 15 minutes of ads. But I don’t really, really, really like V. I kind of like V. I’m in like with liking V. So, for me, if I can’t get to it quickly, easily and when I have time – you lose me, my eyeballs and my purchasing power entirely.

Now what if V were made into a video podcast? Well, now I’m a little less “meh” about those alien hotties from the crab nebula. I could watch on my laptop at home or my phone on the way to work. While the numbers may not be there to charge advertisers as much as you would TV, some eyeballs are better than no eyeballs. Plus, you have the advantages of sharing. With the click of a button I could tell my 200 Facebook friends or my 500 twitter followers about V.

The medium is the message. Did you get the message? Medium well done.

An open letter to Groupon:

$6 BILLION dollars wasn’t enough? $6 billion, with a “b”. The YouTube guys got $1.6 billion back in 2006 and they seem perfectly content padding around the mansion in gold plated bunny ear slippers. $6 billion buys a lot of Skittles and beer.

Here’s why you’re going to look back on this in a few years and wonder how you could have been so short sighted.

1-      Your business model has a very low barrier to entry. I currently subscribe to your emails and Living Social’s emails. The other day a 3rd email newsletter normally not geared to coupons had a social deal in it. Anyone can get in on this game. Expect a dozen competitors in your space by the end of 2011 including….

2-      Google. You teased and poked the bear, he’s awake, he’s pissed and he’s hungry. Scorned, Google is building out their own coupon / social platform. I’m sure you heard. Combining their 70% search market share with a decent user interface and you’ll never compete with the variety and specifically targeted deals they could come up with. They know that I search for Mexican restaurants in zip code 10003 on Wednesdays – BOOM! A perfectly tailored deal for half off a pitcher of margaritas is sent to me. Do you know what kind of deals I would like to increase my take rate? Clearly not, because your deals are 93% girly stuff I would never buy. I remember even telling you I was a dude when I signed up and yet you keep serving me coupons for spa treatments and stretch mark removal services and pole dancing classes. Dude, I’m A DUDE!

But Google is not infallible. Let’s say that they screw it up and their proprietary platform goes nowhere like Google Video or Buzz or Wave. They have so much cash they’ll just buy up all the coupon sites that did get it right and infuse them with enough cash to crush you. What do you think $6 billion smells like? Imagine what it smells like because that’s as close as you’re going to get to that kind of money again.

3-      The internet has a short memory and a hugely inflated sense of worth. This past summer Lycos was sold for the 3rd time. Remember Lycos? No? It was a search engine. A search engine that sold for $12.5 billion in 2000, $95 million in 2004 and recently sold again for $36 million.  I suspect in 3 years time Groupon will be spoken in the same breath as Alta Vista, Friendster, MySpace and pets.com.

You’ve got moxie, Groupon. I have to give you that. But I think you watched The Karate Kid a few too many times, because often in life the little guy doesn’t win.

Good luck,

Chris.

Careful of complexity

I worked on a site for a major web portal – I’m not going to say which one but it may or may not have a name like a certain creature in a little book called Gulliver’s Travels – and we had our Omniture analytics code on this site. It got traffic, lots of traffic, page views in the millions per day and then one day it started getting 20 times the normal amount! Because the company has dozens of sites and a handful of site managers nobody noticed this enormous spike in traffic for a week. The fixed number of server calls we had purchased from Omniture in a month was eaten up in under a week. Costs were being incurred. Senior managers were freaking out.

As the analytics guy I put a debugger on the site and frantically identified the problem to the correct products and areas of the site that were madly sending a fire hose of image requests to Omniture. I sent that off to the programmers so they could quickly identify the problem in the code.

You know what it wound up being? A single extraneous space at the end of a certain javascript call. Just one space cost the company thousands of dollars.

Another time an agency built a flash application for a particular customer acquisition campaign. This piece of flash had dozens of buttons and screens, video that played inside it, links to downloadable content….it was complicated. But not as complicated as their measurement plan. They wanted to measure everything – and I mean everything – to come up with some hooey “engagement” metric that was supposed to justify the agency’s enormous fees. But the measurement plan and resulting javascript was so complicated that nearly nothing was measured at the end of the day. The campaign cost tens of thousands of dollars and we couldn’t tell how many leads were generated.

What’s the moral here? Complexity breeds costs.

Whenever an analytics package or measurement plan is being designed I like to follow the KISS rule: keep it simple, stupid. On most projects I can limit my plan to three basic questions:

1-      What are our “KPIs plus”? KPIs plus meaning what do we use to judge the project a success or failure and what additional learnings can we take away from this for future projects?

2-      What is actionable? What can the data tell us so we can tweak, test and improve ROI?

3-      What is affordable? The more metrics, the more server calls. Watch out, they can come back and bite cha.

Omniture, WebTrends and Google Analytics = Ford, Chevy and Chrysler.

What kind of car did you learn to drive with? For me, growing up in the country, I learned to drive on a Ford F-350 flatbed truck with 4 wheel drive and a manual transmission with 6 forward gears and two reverse. It was big, loud, powerful and dirtier in the cab than it was on the fenders. You might have learned on the family sedan, a Chevy perhaps. But once you learn to drive a Chevy does that mean you can only drive Chevys? Of course not. If you can drive a Chevy you can drive a Ford, a Toyota or even a Bentley.

It’s the same with web analytics packages. But short sighted managers and HR departments don’t see it that way.

I’ve used Omniture, WebTrends and fooled around with Google Analytics on this site. If I know how to track and analyze an email campaign in Omniture I can do it in WebTrends even if I’ve never seen the package before. It’s the concepts that matter, not the interface.

But I’ve spoken with recruiters, managers and HR reps that absolutely insist you have X years working in analytics package Y. That’s dumb and limiting the pool of candidates. So, this is a plea to those who are the hiring decision makers (almost used ‘deciders’, couldn’t do it): open your minds. A good analyst is someone who finds insights, pulls learnings from obscure data and deeply understands KPIs. It’s not someone who is familiar with a particular software’s interface.

Start hiring smart.

Monkey in the middle, money on the outside.

To efficiently utilize email marketing you need to use templates. Sure, it would be great to have a glossy customized email for every campaign, but for many companies that’s simply not feasible.

I recently worked with an email marketer on a test of her template. We wondered if the principle of KISS (keep it simple stupid) was more effective than the product smorgasbjord. In other words, was an email with a few products guaranteed to be above the fold more effective than having an email with many products displayed some of which would require the end user to scroll.

The results were suprising.

In the control email the products were aligned in a single row. 5 products in all. In the test email the products were in 3 rows each row having 5 products greating a grid of 15 products. Not only was the email with 15 products more successful in terms of conversion events but we found that the products at the ends of rows and at the bottom of the email got more clicks.

Our users (results may vary) scanned the entire email and clicked more on the fringes of the product grid and the bottom of the grid than the middle. Even more suprising was that the products in the middle (the ones clicked less) were big sellers. The products on the fringes were unknown duds.

The resulting conclusion was that in future uses of this template it’s important to put higher margin products on the outside edge and bottom right of this particular template. That maximized clicks and profits and that’s why we do what we do.

Is social media worth it?

Those of us in online marketing have been wondering for years whether social media is worth it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that social media is a fad. No, my friends, the era of sharing is certainly here to stay. But for businesses is it worth it? Is there a return on spending X amount of man hours on keeping a twitter account lively or a Facebook page engaging?

I’ve read studies that put the value of a Facebook fan at $12 dollars and others at $0.12 cents. We’ve all heard about using Twitter as an alternative customer support tool and keeping customers happy. But I can tell you from personal experience that Twitter can also be used as a megaphone for an unhappy customer. And bad or scandalous content is going to be shared far more than good content. Which of the following do you think would be more likely to be retweeted?

A: The new Purina Oatmeal flavor Mango Madness tastes great!
B: The new Purina Oatmeal flavor Mango Madness tastes like flakes of card board  floating in dumpster juice!

Sharing can be daring.

But, there’s one reason why a social media presence must be actively maintained: they give good SERP.

Google me. Do it. Google “Chris Hedick” right now. Where is Twitter and Facebook in the results? Right at the top. Because of Google’s smothering love of social media sites a good social media strategy is essential.

But Chris? What’s a ‘good’ social media strategy? Don’t I just put up a Facebook fan page and let people rave about my company or product? No.

A good social media strategy has structure. A good social media strategy has a content strategy. Here’s one that I recommend:

1- Do your keyword research. An earlier post on end user vernacular got into this a little bit, but it’s worth repeating. Find out how your users are searching. This is more art than science but by combining Google Adwords, internal search analytics and even Twitter itself you can quickly find out how people talk about your product. I consulted for a friend who was helping to clean up some of this housing crisis debacle. Two terms were being used all the time in the media to explain the situation of the people he was trying to help: “underwater mortgage” and “upside down mortgage”. Which to concentrate upon? Plug ‘em into Twitter and see how frequently there was a tweet on each. The more frequently used term is the winner.
2- Now that you know how your users speak, talk to them in that language via social media. Use those terms in posts, YouTube videos and tweets in a subtle and natural way.
3- Have a blog or landing site specifically devoted to receiving people interested in those terms. Then make sure that the social media content links to that blog or other content that is relevant to the terms. And make sure that the blog has a content strategy that emphasizes those terms.
4- Link out as well. Let’s say you make marsh mellows. Doing some research revealed that the number one reason people buy marsh mellows is to make Rice Krispie treats. Linking your blog post about Rice Krispie treats to a Rice Krispie recipe site isn’t going to hurt you, it’s only going to up your SERP rank for the term “rice Krispie treats”.

So to answer the question “is social media worth it?” I’d have to give a qualified and yet emphatic yes.

Social Media is a powerful weapon that can carefully and powerfully target like a sniper rifle. But just throwing stuff up on Twitter without a well thought out strategy is like trying to hit your customer at 500 paces with a Nerf gun.