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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why is it we Buy TV Ads?

Not sure why we do but this new data from BIGresearch shows that very little engagement exists with TV advertising. Here is a great summary of the results from Marc Andreessen's (the founder of Ning) blog:

Regular activities engaged in by viewers during TV commercials:

  • 41.2% channel-surf
  • 33.5% talk with others in the room or by phone
  • 30.2% mentally tune out [I've met them]
  • 5.5% regularly fully attend to commercials [I haven't met them]

Rank ordering of activities engaged in by people while "using media", in order of declining popularity:

  • Eating
  • Doing housework
  • Doing laundry
  • Cooking
  • Talking on phone

Top simultaneous media used when reading a newspaper are:

  • TV
  • Radio
  • Internet

Top simultaneous media used when listening to radio are:

  • "Engage in other activities"
  • Internet
  • Newspaper
So the question to ask yourself and your media department: are you spending the max amount you can in advertising mediums that are permission and engagement based - especially search? Search consumers are asking for information on the search they are doing at the time they are doing it. They are calling for you to provide them with the information they need to compete their purchase decision. If they are looking for your products isn't it better to be there than interrupting them during TV viewing?

Google Street View's Next Step

An interesting future look at Google Map Street View.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Youtube Launches Mobile Site

Youtube now has a mobile app at m.youtube.com. It doesn't work on all phones yet (for instance my blackberry 8700) but the layout looks pretty cool and they message that they are working to add more device compatibility.

One caution, as this will be a bandwidth eater, if you are trapped with one of the Canadian carriers that gouge us with incredibly high data charges it might be something you try and then wait for some competition to enter the marketplace and bring our rates inline with the rest of the word. Check this chart out from ThomasPurves.com and yes it should make you mad.

Canadians Take Shop.org Innovation Forum by Storm

I just got back from Shop.org's first Strategy and Innovation Forum and I am happy to report that Canadians stole the show. As an aside if you haven't been to one of the shop.org events you need to put one on your schedule for 2008.

Mitch Joel did a great talk on Social Shopping pulling off an amazing 50 slides in 15 minutes that took the crowd by storm and provided the audience with an honest look of where we all need to be to embrace the changes on how we market and do business.

On the second day Andy Nulman closed off the keynotes by providing us all with a look at how we can leverage mobile marketing not as a "Look I do Mobile Marketing" strategy but a very tactical ready to use piece of your marketing war chest.

The best part was that Mitch and Andy really challenged the audience and the mindset of where everyone was. People were a little uncomfortable with what was being presented as both Mitch and Andy showed that we are only at the start of a really evolving marketplace but that the best was yet to come for those that embraced it.

Great job Mitch and Andy it was nice to see two Canadians stealing the show and proving that not all of the thought leadership is south of the border.

What's Your Video Strategy

I find it funny that if you ask anyone in advertising about their TV strategy they can go on and on about GRPs, demographic and regional targeting but if you ask them about online video they always have a blank look on their face which is usually followed with a comment that online video is really just for kids.

eMarketing just did a great summary on some new studies of online video called: US Internet Users are Glued to Video and, after reading this, if you don't understand the need to have an online video strategy you will be in for a rough ride in the years to come.

First off consumers are watching video. 7 out of 10 Americans are watching videos online with over 65% of males over the age 25 watching a video at least once a week and over 25% watching videos daily.

Now couple this with the growth of the use of digital video recorders and you can see that TV is becoming less of a tool to reach your customers and let's leave out the whole interruption vs. permission based marketing argument against the effectiveness of television for now.

We now know that people are watching videos and from the below you can see it is a very attractive audience but the question is how do you best target them?


The tricky part, and here comes the argument, is that the traditional form of interruption based marketing doesn't work. Here is the summary from the report:
"The good news for advertisers is that more than half of online video viewers recalled seeing in-stream advertisements in content they had watched. But more than three-quarters of respondents said in-stream advertisements in online video were intrusive, and about one-half said advertisements in video content disrupted their Web surfing experience. Women were more likely than men to say advertisements in video content disrupted their surfing."
So how can you avoid using the interruption based tactics and ensure your consumers are engaging with your brand story and value proposition? It becomes a focus on content development and providing consumers with the information that supports your brand and furthers your value proposition. If you sell food it would be better to provide consumers with access to videos on how to make that perfect dish than interrupt their viewing of the sports highlights from last night with an advertisement. It becomes a model of engagement and not mass interruption.

Take some time and challenge your teams to figure out how you can do this and begin developing your strategy on how you can engage your consumers online with video. All of those TV dollars are going to need a place in the coming years and having a strategy in place or already in action will only make the transition easier.

Zamzar - A Great Web Tool for Your Web Tool Chest

I have always had problems with videos in my presentations, they would be the wrong format to embed or they just wouldn't work. I hate this as I really like using the odd video in my presentation to demonstrate a point. So after being at shop.org this week and seeing many of the presentations that were loaded with videos I spent some time trying to figure it out.

I am glad I did. I stumbled across Zamzar a great new site that allows for file and video conversions from other websites. The video below gives a great overview of the service but it is pretty much that provide them with the URL and what you want the end conversion to be and they email you the results. Even better they have a tool that integrates with your browser so you are only ever a click a way. Best of all the service is free and if you like it you can sign up for different levels of services that give you a bunch of great extras.

A great tool for all of us that live on the web, thank-you Zamzar!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

7 Steps to Take During the Next Week to Listen to Your Customers

Back in Oct I wrote a post on some ideas on how you can listen to your customer. A couple of months have passed and this is becoming an even more critical part of your business, your brand and your success.

Let's face it we never really controlled our brand, as advertisers we were able to out shout the conversations. Social shopping has changed that, we are now just part of the conversation and to be a great conversationalist firm you have to listen. It is simple. If you don't know what people are saying how you can even be part of the conversation and help guide your brand.

Understand what bloggers are saying (and participate in the discussion), see what people are doing with your brand on the social sites and ensure you are trying to talk to your customers on a daily basis. Best of all, look for feedback using your site, have product reviews, surveys and polls then flow this information through your organization and use it to drive change.

It is hard to change, we are used to shouting our message out loud but a conversation between interested parties, be it positive or negative interest, is still a one to one conversation that will do more for your brand than any mass media campaign will do over the long term. To get started do one of these each day for the next week:

1. Search your brand on Google and go deep into the results looking to see who is linking to you and why
2. Run a search on Technorati and find 10 blogs that have posted about your brand
3. Listen in on your call centre for 30 min
4. Email your top purchaser from this Christmas season and ask them how you did
5. Call a customer that used to be a regular purchaser that is no longer active and ask what you can do to be better
6. Thank a blogger for commenting on your firm - do this by commenting on their blog
7. Search Facebook, Squidoo and Yahoo Answers to see what people are saying about you and your brand

If you do this, and it will take no more than 30 min each day, you will begin to get a picture of the conversations that are taking place and how you can start to participate.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Two Questions You Need to Ask....and Ask a Lot.

To your customers: What do they expect when they come to your site?

You will be surprised with the answers.

Then to yourself: What are you doing to exceed these expectations?

If you are not, at a minimum, aligning with your customer expectations you are making it impossible for people to get excited about your online brand and choose long term enagement with your business.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

typeroom - Making Content Management Easy

typeroom, which is currently in a closed beta, seems to be an interesting take on the CMS by bringing the whole process online. You can use this tool to edit any existing page on the Internet and then make the required changes / updates and the tool preps it to load to your server.

Looks like a great tool for those who don't want to go through the effort of installing a CMS in their site. I can't wait for the open beta to try it out.

Watch the video if you want a full overview.

GrandCentral - A Google Company You Didn't Know About

Back in July Google quietly purchased GrandCentral Communications. It is a pretty interesting play in the space and again shows Google's interest with telephony.

Basically it is a service that allows you to subscribe to a phone number and have the system manage all of your inbound calls and voice mail services. For example when someone calls your assigned number it can be routed to any of your phones - home, cell, business etc (one to many at once) or directly to a voice mail system. The power is that you can control all of this depending on who is calling and when the call comes it. This is pretty convenient in the long term as well as this can be the number that follows you regardless of where you end up. It also has a bunch of cool options that you can play with to personalize the service. The concept behind GrandCentral is not exactly new as variations of it have existed for some time but, this is the first time I have seen it for free and as easy to sign-up and use as it is on their site.

The numbers available are not currently Canadian area codes but all of the wireless carriers are options. So sign up and if we can get enough people I am sure they will open up Canadian numbers. Try it out, worse case it gives you a US calling point for when you travel to avoid long distance charges back home and to the office.

To The Defense of Crowdsourcing

I am always interested with how different applications of crowdsourcing are being used today. Crowdsourcing is leading to many innovative and leading edge applications – from sports teams to political parties and we really are only in the infant stages of understanding the power it provides and how it can be leveraged in business.

Crowdsourcing 101 part 2 by Monica Hamburg outlines many of the potential drawbacks with crowdsourcing but doesn't take the time to outline the power and benefits that can be generated by the power of the crowd, but take heed it really isn’t that bad.

In a basic sense crowdsourcing is the concept of drawing ideas from a crowd. This can be as advanced as solving complex scientific problems and predictive markets to as simple as creating a collection of stock photos. (As an aside Getty paid $50 million for iStockPhoto)

Crowdsourcing can be a great way to access new ideas, find solutions to problems or quickly build out that impossible task. Of interest to note is that a grey area is beginning to form with respect to community interactions – comments, posts etc. which are really more social media and consumer generated content than crowdsourcing but as Monica lumped it in I will as well. A case can be made that many of these forms of social media are in fact variations of crowdsourcing around the conversation of brands and brand perceptions online.

First things first, we new never really controlled our brands, we influenced the discussion by spending millions of dollars to out shout what people were saying about us so our message would always be the one that was heard. This has all changed with the Internet, blogging and social communities. Consumers and communities openly discus and contribute to your brand’s image at a level that cannot be matched through traditional marketing methods. We can now guide and participate in the discussion but controlling it is no longer possible. What we all need to learn as marketers is that the discussion is going to happen, and we need to embrace it. Yes people make stupid comments on Youtube and others enjoy adding their comedic flair to Yahoo Answers but you have to understand the culture of the community and, as they did with the dog question, the community will often police itself.

Secondly, you need to understand how you can leverage the concept of crowdsourcing as it can be a source of incredible innovation, insight and knowledge. Wikipedia is probably one of the greatest collections of knowledge of our time, is much more accurate and up to date than professional encyclopedias and is 100% crowdsourced. A great way to see the power of Wikipedia is to wait for the next big newsworthy event to take place and watch how the story evolves in the pages of Wikipedia. It will be faster to update, provide more information, and often give a more even perspective that anything we see in the news.

Next, to strengthen the idea of the knowledge of crowds, think of the last time you purchased a product online. I am willing to bet that the comments and reviews from the greater online community helped you define what the product was you were going to purchase and probably had more of an impact on the purchase decision than anything else did. Again, in a true sense, this isn’t crowdsourcing but it does point to the wisdom and power of crowds to get it right.

Crowdsourcing is new, like many of the medias we deal with on a regular basis, it can be dangerous but it can show incredible returns. It is also not very well understood which can lead to the perception of it being ineffective and nonproductive. Again, do not think this is the answer to your problems, a free resource or a quick way to play with new media. It should be a tool that is used in the correct situation for your business by leveraging the power of the crowd or your community. If you understand the risks you will be much better prepared for success, don’t be afraid and try to understand how it can be used.

Trust me – the crowd is much smarter than us.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Will a Do Not Mail List be Next? It Should Be!

Thank you CRTC, they gave me one of the best presents a government agency could possible give - A Do Not Call List for telemarketers. But the end of the annoying calls is not the purpose of this post.

Over the holidays I took a holiday, for a couple of weeks, and went back home to Ottawa. I was shocked when I came back to see the volumes of catalogs and direct mail awaiting my return. None of it was wanted, needed, requested, desired nor targeted very well at all. In the end it was a bunch of paper that I really didn't need. Today I was reading a post on the Church of the Customer Blog that really outlined the impact of this unwanted direct mail. It is pretty crazy to think that people are getting close to 10kgs of unrequested mail over the period of a month, which when extrapolated across the US accounts for over 130,000 trees (not to mention all of the environmental costs of production and distribution).

So we now have a Do Not Call List, why don't we go to the next step and create a Do Not Mail list. The impact to the environment would be substantial and although it would be an incredible shift for direct marketers it would only cause the industry as a whole to embrace a key element in New Media - Permission. Market to those that want you to have a conversation with them. Develop brands, programs and products that cause consumers to embrace you and invite your communications into their lives. If you do it correctly not only will your marketing be much more effective but some of your customers will become your champions and advocates in the marketplace.

Plus the world will be much better for it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Online Merchandising – The Base of the Business

First things first – we sell things, it could be products, services, ideas or access to a community but we are selling it, and the long term success of our idea, site or business depends on our ability for the consumer to understand what we are selling and believe (trust) our proposition enough that they will participate in a transaction. For many online players this is more of a reality than others, those of us that sell products and services online know that our success and survival depends on selling as many of the proposed offering as possible.

But how many online retailers build a strategy that surrounds the overall product offering? With all of the talk around social media, consumer generated content, viral videos, online advertising and interactive media it becomes difficult to understand that you need to support the process of selling online. I am not suggesting that you don’t do any of the above, in fact I would suggest that you embrace as many of the different tactics as possible that helps you achieve your goals but it requires a measured approach that aligns with the overall merchandising strategy.

So what exactly is a merchandising strategy? It can be broken down to three key components – offering (the products / services that you offer), value (value proposition to the consumer) and content (how are you offering the products / services to the consumer). Depending on your customer demographics and target market the three components will adjust to present the optimal offering to the marketplace. In this post I am going to focus on developing a strategy for a product based business at a very high level by going into a discussion on each of the three before mentioned areas.

Offering

Your product / service offering is your understanding of what you want to be and it can really be defined in two simple strategies that will have many different variations, but are really defined by the breath and depth of the product / service offering.

Specialty: In this strategy you are seen as an expert in a defined space, this could be as wide of a category like automotive or electronics (a Category Killer) or as focused as high performance tires or audio/video networking (Niche Player). With this strategy you are positioning yourself as an expert in the space, the more defined your product offering the more you should be positioning yourself as an expert and provide the user the tools, functionality and content. Most important is the depth of your offering, consumers will expect that you are providing them access to an offering that meets their needs and provides them with the innovation and the hard to find products in the space. A successful Specialty Player will be able to service any consumer request, this may not mean tens of thousands of products but it means that you need to have an understanding of what you are to your consumers and meet these needs. A Category Killer will have a strong breadth and depth in their space but the Niche Player will often have a dominate position in the smaller space they play in.

Mass Market: In this strategy you will have a strong breath and but a smaller depth of offering. If you choose this route you are telling the consumer that you are the single resource for the majority of their purchases but not all of them. Being a Mass Market player does not mean that you can't have a focused strategy but it will be very widely focus. The difference between a focused Mass Market player and a Category Killer is the length the business goes to positions themselves as experts in the space. For example Sears would be considered a Mass Market player focused on the Home but The Home Depot would be considered a Category Killer in the Home space because of the commitment to leadership in the space through know-how, customer service and brand leadership. In this space your strategy is defined by a multitude of products, a strong breadth of products across all categories and typically these business have hundreds of thousands of products available for purchase.

The one variation that is emerging in the offering space is that of the Hybrid Mass Category Killer. Amazon.com is a great example of this as they continue to build great breadth (with over 41 different product categories) and incredible depth within these categories. It is important to understand and watch this evolution as the mass of the business can be a threat to not only the other Mass Market players but the highly targeted Niche business as a business in this Hybrid Mass Category Killer can have millions of products available and incredible depth within their categories.

Value

Defining your value to the consumer is critical to the long term success. This does not mean price but the overall value proposition to the consumer. Price is a key component but value is the overall package you are providing your consumer and it is important to review the different aspects that change this proposition:

What is the return policy, how easy it is for a consumer to return a product that is defective or unsuitable, what risk is being put on the consumer?

How can the consumer purchase the product and what payment options are available to them?

Is it easy for the consumer to purchase the product, are services offered during the purchase process, do they fully understand what they are purchasing?

What warranty options are available for the consumer to protect their purchase, are these included or are they an additional charge?

How is the product delivered, can additional services like next day shipping, installation or white glove services be purchased?

Is the purchase / delivery process considered a positive experience, something that they feel that cannot get anywhere else?

These are some of the key questions and depending on what the products are that are being sold many more can be asked, when defining the value proposition it is key that you spend time in understanding the answers to all of these questions. If you do then you can clearly communicate them to the customer so they understand them. When it comes to defining the pricing piece to the value proposition it is key that these questions are answered first as they will influence the price that the marketplace is willing to accept.

At a general level the more mass your offering the more of a price leadership position you will need to take in the market place, as a Niche Player with a strong answers to the above questions customers will be willing to pay more for the offering as they place a value on the overall product offering not just the best price on the product. Again the Internet does present a challenge as consumers can quickly move from site to site to find the best price once they have determined the product they want to purchase but if you are providing a strong value proposition as a niche player you can overcome the price leadership that some of the Mass Market players offer, as well the depth of your offering will provide access to products that may not be available elsewhere which provide a considerable value advantage over other players. This is where the Hybrid Mass Category Killer can again show dominance as the size of the business combined with the breadth and depth of the offering can provide a power value proposition to consumers.

Content

This is akin to product / visual merchandising in retail stores, the "how is the product / offering presented to the consumer?", but in the online world this consists more of the level of information and other tools that are provided. When looking at the first two components it is critical that you then understand how your consumer will interact with your site and ultimately purchase the offering. Depending on what the product category is you will need to understand what different informational criteria are required, these can range from basic product information and specs, to detail product summaries, multiple images, 3D views, videos, and professional opinions as well as consumer generated content and reviews. This can begin to blur with the site's User Experience strategy which is not necessary a bad thing as it is the products and how consumers shop them that are critical to the overall success of the site and therefore the business. When defining this piece to the puzzle take time to understand how consumers shop your proposed offering, how the competitors are merchandising their sites and what innovations are going on in other product categories. Versus the other two components this is one that can change more often as you learn from your consumers and the overall industry and your site evolves.


Summary

Now that you have a basic understand of the three components, as the full discussion probably requires a book, it is important to note that this strategy is one that can evolve over time but should not be blown apart and rebuilt on an annual basis, it takes time for consumers to understand the strategy you are putting forward to them and changing it on a constant basis will only introduce confusion and even mistrust into the process.

In the end you are looking to clearly define the merchandising strategy so that it is understood by all and not only your internal and external business stakeholders but by that of your customer.





Thursday, January 03, 2008

Time Magazine's Top 10 Viral Videos for 2007

Some fun for today from Time and Youtube

What Have You Done That is New This Week?

A simple question and it should be an easy answer for all of us on the "leading edge" of interactive marketing and eCommerce yet, I'm not sure we could all answer it on a weekly basis.

Just something to think about as we start 2008.

Plaxo Builds Social Graph Export with Facebook - Who Owns the Social Graph Anyways?

It seems that plaxo has built an export feature for use in Plaxo Pulse that is similar to the Linkedin sync but, that works with Facebook. Problem is that the Linkedin export is using OpenSocial where the Plaxo / Facebook is a screen scape / reader that was built without any involvement from Facebook. The reason they couldn't use the Facebook API is that Facebook does not allow for the exporting of email address, but the Plaxo solution will put the user in violation Facebook's TOS which, as found out by Robert Scobie, causes your account to be disabled and the potential of you being banned. As an aside I would be shocked if Facebook reactivates his account after the attention it has received as it would only open the door for everyone (and any company) to do this.

So I see two key issues with this:

1. Who owns the Social Graph? The user has invested countless time in building the network on the platform yet it was the platform that allowed the network to be grown in the first place. It is a difficult issue. From my perspective we really need to embrace the power of community and if at anytime you want to export your work (your social graph) to a new application, platform or site you should be able to do this. It is short sighted for the company to want to hold on and restrict this information, it would be akin to Outlook not letting you export your contact list to another email program. This means that it is the platform that will need to keep their competitive advantage through constant innovation and over deliver value to the user, not an easy task but stopping your users from leaving with the their data is not the correct answer it will only leave a bad taste in users mouthes that will cause more damage in the long run than an easy process to try other things out.

2. Plaxo is building a tool that it putting it's users at risk with Facebook. For those of you that use Plaxo (I do it is a great contact upkeep tool) and have done the Linkedin sync you will realize how easy it would be to miss a message that if you were to do a sync with Facebook you are putting your account at risk. A company should not ever put their users at risk, and it doesn't fly that Facebook needs to be more open as an excuse for building an app that goes against the TOS of the site. Yes, Facebook needs to be more open but Plaxo needs to figure out a way to do this with getting accounts disabled.

So if anything Plaxo has brought to the forefront the issue of ownership of our social graphs and I am sure that this will be debated over 2008 and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It will be an interesting discussion.