Warning: This column contains forward-looking statements and scientific guesses that involve risks and uncertainties in the search-marketing universe.
Here’s something new, consolidation in search. Only a few short months after Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo! rediscovered itself as a portal, it announced a plan to acquire paid listing giant Overture Services for 1.63 billion in stock and cash, Monday. The announcement caused the biggest landslide of hype and conjecturing as to the future of search marketing as we know it since at least, last week when a few other search sites merged. By show of hands, who didn’t see this one coming?
Online marketing is still a whining toddler and, according to the recent “Mount Rushmore of Search” Ad:Tech panel, search was rated between 1-3 (on an evolutionary scale of 1-10) by the faces, which would make search a wet-diapered infant.
Strap yourselves in as I once again attempt to slice and dice the hype in order to provide you with useable information should the proposed action come to fruition sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.
What Does It all Mean, Basil?
My apologies for the Austin Powers reference, but it seems quite appropriate when you consider opportunistic tendencies of some firms when announcements like this are made. Before I could draft an announcement for our clients Monday morning, a search firm sent one of them a note proclaiming that Overture was about to lose almost half of its traffic. I missed that in the press releases and conference call with Overture and Yahoo! senior executives.
It is no secret that in our little online advertising industry slump, the revenue generated from Yahoo! carrying Overture’s paid listings was great news for Yahoo! and its stockholders. Placing aside for the moment the possible impact for paid-search listing syndication, this acquisition is great news for the two behemoths.
This leads me to perpetuate the use of the single most over used word in advertising today, integration. Yahoo! offers everything search and so much more on the site: Shopping, Yellow Pages (search, for the rest of us) in addition to creatively placed ad units. Since a big portion of Overture advertisers are small businesses, offering them a one-stop solution in, say a Yellow Pages ad and the wildly successful Yahoo! Store is a winning concept. This must have been what Terry Semel, Yahoo!’s Chief Executive referred to as “combining Overture’s world-class monetization platform… with Yahoo!’s already robust search business”. To that, I can only respond; buzzword, buzzword buzzword, revenue-- buzzword, buzzword value.
But seriously folks, this deal is a smart move on both ends. Yahoo! is a bright search site. In recent years I have been impressed with its innovation, along with its uncanny ability to embrace the concept of working with agencies in the traditional way to help create an effective media plan for the ultimate benefit of clients. Certainly, offering Overture’s small businesses with ancillary site offerings like Web hosting is a great way to go, but plans to speed integration of paid listings into Yahoo!’s vertical areas (contextual paid search) like autos and travel make this plan pure genius. I would also vehemently support the melding of Yahoo!’s world-class professional acumen with Overture’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Onward Little Paid Search Doggies
Some forty-eight hours into the announcement, there are a few Chicken Little-esque prognosticators out there worrying about Overture’s share of the paid-search market beginning a slow donkey ride to disaster. comScore qSearch data to the rescue.
Monday morning, comScore released traffic share numbers for Overture and competitor Google. Google currently represents about 54% of U.S. searches while Overture’s paid search affiliate network shows about 45%. Further, according to qSearch analysis of top five search properties for May, 2003, 32% of Internet users in the United States used Google, 25% used Yahoo! (Overture paid listings), 19% went for AOL (Google AdWords listings), 15% used MSN sites (Overture listings), and 3% found white glove search service on AskJeeves (also, Google AdWords).
Within these figures, we discover the true nature of consolidation in paid search and some Dramamine for the “sky is falling” people. While other listings are served onto these sites with Looksmart providing inclusion services to MSN and “editorial”, or “natural” search results” abound, the factored fear stems from MSN deciding to build its own paid-search model, pink slipping Overture, thereby extinguishing the MSN portion of the traffic. Newsflash; MSN already has its own performance-based listings offering. In May, MSN accounted for 33% of searches conducted on the Overture affiliate network, according to comScore qSearch.
The only missing links for MSN are a lower cost of entry, and a tuned-down, large-scale (for small business) user-driven interface. MSN has some big plans in the works and a variation of this may be part of it. If this occurs, would Overture’s 88,000 largely small-, to medium-sized advertisers simply migrate to MSN? Not likely, since businesses of this size care about (among other important things) sales from click traffic or otherwise. They didn’t point the wagons at AOL and Netscape when Overture lost those partners and the valuable suite of offerings like Yahoo! Store, Shopping and Yellow Pages vertical combo package may just compensate for that if it happens.
The big fat remaining dilemma rests with the searchers who went to MSN to click on Overture listings. Since Yahoo! has no doubt prepared for this potential loss as well, we are left with large corporate advertisers who need to reach MSN searchers. These advertisers are represented by search marketing firms who will advise clients in the most relevant, appropriate means possible, to consider purchasing the MSN paid listings already on the site, as they do with site-centric paid listings on AskJeeves.
Will Overture lose some of its advertisers if MSN goes solo? Maybe. Will MSN build a better mousetrap and ultimately keep its advertisers and investors happy? Most likely. Will MSN pink slip Overture’s listings because of competitiveness? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: Paid listing clickers worldwide will not go hungry for sponsored links tonight.
About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. He is currently Director Market Development of IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands.
Align with existing audiences
A great way to reach targeted audiences at scale on Twitter is to target paid social ad campaigns to followers of relevant publications, companies (even competitors), topics, or interests that match your key demographics. People who follow these categories or companies already have some easily identifiable characteristics that map to your brand messages, so they will likely be interested in your campaigns and offers. In effect, you piggyback your campaign on existing Twitter interest groups -- reaching the right targets without having to get people to necessarily follow your brand.
For example, Mercedes might want to reach affluent, urban, active men and could target a paid social stream campaign to followers of @Forbes, @CNBC, @GQMagazine, and @CarAndDriver. It might also target followers of @BMW, @Lexus, @TheNorthFace, @CondeNaste, @Aspen, @skiing, and @RitzCarlton to broaden the reach of the campaign.
Political candidates and causes can also use this tactic to great effect. For example, Mitt Romney might be looking to target fiscally conservative voters living in California. His advertising managers might decide to run a paid social stream campaign targeting followers of topics such as @CAPensionReform, @CABudget, and @CAPolitics.
Another example might be that Pampers wants to reach hip, socially conscious, urban moms with news of the launch of a new line of chemical-free baby products. The brand could target followers of @BurtsBees, @ParkSlopeParent, @MomFilter, @CaliforniaBaby, and @MotheringMag.
The key to aligning your paid social stream campaigns to existing Twitter audiences is to identify brands, topics, or themes that your key audience likely already follows, and then target your campaigns to the followers of people who are influential on those topics. This way, instead of reaching only your own followers with a regular tweet, you reach a much wider base of people who might not yet follow your brand, but are squarely in your key demographic.
Activate connected fans
To extend the reach of a paid social stream campaign, make sure it gets in front of connected fans. These Twitter users are active sharers -- spreading ideas, offers, and messages among their own followers and people aligned with their interest graph. If you get your paid campaign in front of influencers, they'll spread your messages for you -- and bring them to many more people than you originally targeted. What's more, connected fans amplify your message -- because when they retweet or share it, your message seems more relevant and personal. Connected fans are seen by their followers as trusted experts and advisors, so when they recommend your brand message, it feels more authentic than when it comes directly from the advertiser.
For example, Microsoft might target a campaign for a new version of its Office suite to all the Twitter users who engaged with a previous Office ad campaign. It might extend the campaign to the fans who most often tweet about Microsoft, and/or target people who follow @Windows, @TechNet, as well as well-known Windows and Microsoft bloggers.
Just as experts tend to speak a little "inside baseball" with their pet topics, so do connected fans respond more than the average person to nuanced content. For a campaign targeting connected fans of Microsoft Office, ad creative can tell more of the Microsoft story, even including quotes from or images of Microsoft notables like Steve Ballmer. Provide content of value -- the kind of content that connected fans would themselves share with their audiences.
To get connected fans to share your campaigns, some incentives that work include offering people who retweet your messages a certain number of times a free product or service, inviting those who spread your campaign the most to a special VIP event, or launching a contest for your brand's "biggest fan" that rewards the most active sharers with prizes.
For Burger King's "King of the Road" campaign, CP+B teamed up with Mindshare to bring the King's epic journey to BK's biggest fans, informally known as "fast food superfans," in the Twitter ecosystem. The King crossed the country, adventuring with fans and awarding Xbox Kinect bundles to the most worthy. BK's ad creative changed daily as the King's location changed, broadcasting clues to his next stop on the tour. Paid social drove an increase of 4,000 followers for The King's Twitter account.
Own an event
Twitter activity explodes around large events -- the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Olympics, big concerts, holidays, and more. During the 2012 Super Bowl, consumers sent over 13 million Super Bowl-related tweets -- compared to fewer than 2 million last year. Millions more tweets about the Super Bowl happened before and after the event. Brands pay millions of dollars for 30-second commercials during the Super Bowl for one main reason -- because millions of people are watching the game. But smart brands now realize that "watching the game" no longer means just staring at a TV screen. Millions of people used Twitter and other social streams on their mobile devices and tablets to engage with fans near and far during the Super Bowl. In fact, most large-scale events today have a real-time social stream component. People don't just watch an event on TV, they read and post tweets during the televised event.
To get maximum impact for your paid social campaign, consider targeting the mega-audiences following a key event before, during, and after the big day. For example, Chevrolet spent big to buy paid social stream ads targeting all Twitter users following @superbowl and @nfl for 48 hours. And by utilizing video placements in social apps, users had more opportunities to see Chevy's Super Bowl commercials than any other advertiser who paid the $3.5 million price tag for a spot. With this "play big" strategy, Chevrolet emerged as the "Social Media Brand Champion" of the 2012 Super Bowl, attaining the highest mindshare on social media of all the brands that advertised during the game.
These all-out campaigns aim to boost your brand's share of voice during major events, dominating the conversations taking place. If you buy up a large share of ad inventory related to the event, you'll edge out your competitors.
If you want to own an event on Twitter, here are some key tips to make it work. Research the event -- be sure your team knows roughly what's going to happen, in what order, and with whom. Well beforehand, use ads to invite the audience to share plans and thoughts around the event. Your pre-event campaign can include links to "how to get ready" blog posts or color commentary on pre-event tweets by stars. To increase interest in your ads, use graphics that extend the brand's identity to match the event. Flight the campaign with up to a two-week lead, maximizing share of voice during the event broadcast. And for weekend events, time a second burst of impressions for Monday morning to shape "water cooler conversations" in social.
Link to the "second screen" in real-time
TV viewing is rapidly changing. People don't just plunk down on the sofa and watch an entire broadcast from start to finish with rapt attention. The majority of TV watchers today also have a tablet, smartphone, or internet-connected laptop nearby while they're watching TV. These smaller devices are the "second screen" connected to the TV viewing experience -- allowing TV viewers to interact with other viewers in real-time, get up-to-the-minute plot analyses or game scores, and share their opinions of characters, actions, or plays with other fans as the show is happening. People interact on the second screen with apps of all kinds -- downloadable apps, websites, niche fan social sites, and Facebook. But the most widely used tool for second-screen interaction is Twitter.
Twitter transforms "watching TV" into a social experience, allowing viewers to chat with friends and fellow fans during a program. Twitter also adds an exciting dimension to TV, providing viewers with real-time commentary on every dramatic twist or stellar play as it happens.
A great way to stretch your paid social campaign dollars is to target TV fans in real-time, since many viewers keep one eye on their Twitter feed and one eye on the TV screen. For example, Victoria's Secret might launch a paid social campaign targeting @GleeOnFox, @Gleeks, and @GossipGirl to supplement its commercial buy during those programs.
With this type of campaign, real-time optimization is critical. Considering that during the Super Bowl, 12,000 tweets were sent per second, it's critical that any paid advertising effort on Twitter be real-time to take advantage of constantly shifting conversations as events unfold. Did a favorite character just die? A star-crossed couple finally got together? Adapt your paid social campaigns in real-time, changing creative on the fly to match what's happening on the screen.
The messages you use in your paid social campaigns should tie directly into "fan language" and the real-time events happening on screen. "Did Serena really just kiss him? At least you can get her look with Maybelline." "It's a touchdown for New York! Now go grab a Bud!"
Of course, you've got to set up a real-time "war room" to adapt your campaigns on the fly. You'll need up to two writers committed to writing about what's happening now and anticipating what's coming up. Their main goal? Enlighten and entertain the Twitter audience by giving a fresh perspective in the brand's voice. A third person can monitor paid placements, reviewing share and click performance so that the writers can optimize for messages that work.
In the week beforehand, tell your audience that you'll be live-tweeting, and build interest by asking your followers to share their plans around the event. Research the event -- be sure you know roughly what's going to happen, in what order, and with whom. To increase excitement, use a special Twitter icon for the duration of the event, perhaps your brand's logo combined with the event name or using the signature colors of the event. Tweet fairly often as the event begins, increasing in frequency when the event's excitement peaks. Be interesting -- commit to enlightening or entertaining your audience. When the event is over, send a note of thanks.
The paid social campaign supporting Infiniti's sponsorship of the Emmys won Infiniti 1,000 retweets for a simple congratulatory tweet for the Best Actor Emmy, largely because Infiniti's message was seen first by the most people.
Twitter users are some of the most engaged, passionate consumers out there today -- sharing content they love and discovering new information based on their self-defined interest graphs. Brands want to insert themselves authentically into this organic, fast-moving conversation, and with a little ingenuity, and the right social ad platform partner, brands can start reaching the right audiences on Twitter to build high-impact recall and affinity.