With the business of the day aside in part one, we turn to more, shall we say important aspects of the capacity Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose Ca. Search seemed larger than life and while multitudes of industry experts doled out their knowledge to attendees, many feel the real deals are done on the exhibit floor -- or during the consumption of fermented entertainment while doing funnels of industry gossip near the press booth.
Let’s take a look at the information flow along the exhibits and the happenings at happening places. In this stream, mergers are more common than search spam or third-party funding, Google gets sucked dry, and one industry organization takes some flaming coals to the bunions --only to come out unscathed.
Buzz on the exhibit hall floor
The usual players in search engine marketing (SEM) were on the floor -- search engine marketing firms peddling their wares and profiling the latest in program management, along with key search sites in the biz. Among those making news in the space were Bruce Clay announcing his SEOToolSetTM Certification Program which is designed to bring some much needed sanity and regulation to natural search optimization. And LookSmart, which, in addition to releasing a whiz-bang fraud detection tool, is now keyword-capable, a departure from the old category listing options.
Proof positive that all of the good names have been taken in search, instantposition.com, Blow Search, and REVShare (actually a 15-year-old firm with a sound pay-per-call methodology) rounded out the floor spectacles, and the European Union was well represented with firms like Mirago, MakeMeTop and Referencement.
The big surprises for me were non-traditional or search symbiots on the floor. The Irish Government’s economic development agency was on hand, which shouldn’t be a surprise being that both Google and Overture have selected Ireland as base of operations in Europe. Analytics provider Urchin Software held its own on the floor, and last but certainly not least, dare I say, Web site design firms that provide SEM AND build search friendly sites? How about The Karcher Group and the content control people at Hot Banana Software? Is that a Hot Banana in your pocket, or… never mind, too easy.
Mergers and money for everyone
SEM consolidation and subsequent confusion is absolutely nothing new for us, but there were a few big announcements in and around SES. Every time I turned around, this one was purchased or that one got handed a wad of cash.
Fathom online got a cool five million in funding thereby epitomizing continued interest in search from venture capitol firms. Digital Impact acquired the SEM firm MarketLeap as well. I just hope they keep what I consider to be the best search engine marketing firm “destination” Web site. Not to be outdone by anyone, Marchex, Inc. (parent of the paid search provider Enhance) acquired goClick.com.
I caught myself wandering the exhibit hall floor and thinking aloud, “When the VC money is a flowin’ it might just indicate SEM has arrived at its heyday.” I must have been thinking a bit too loudly because OnUpWeb’s CEO, Lisa Wehr heard me and brought me back down to earth.
“There is still too much chaos out there,” she said. “We are not there yet.”
Party on search, party on marketing, party on Google?
Despite my contention that online marketers -- and most specifically search marketers -- get the old shaft-a-rooney when it comes to perks (no one is sending me tickets to Europe to do the Discovery Channel tour), SES had some kick-butt social and networking gatherings.
Monday’s activities were led by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and a nice follow up arrived with some smooth company and music from LookSmart.
Tuesday, on the other hand saw a gala event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. The affair began at 7 p.m. and was scheduled to continue until 11 p.m. This one, you had to see to believe. Dance floors, a band, video games and food galore -- all of which reminded us lesser humans how wonderful it must be to work at Google while we wander helplessly through our meager professional existences. Google provided buses for conference attendees so no one had to worry about getting behind the wheel after open bar boozing (beer and wine), but there was one small problem. They ran out of beer before 9 p.m. Hello? Sorry folks, but I have to call bullspit here. If I am a Google million or billionaire and I am throwing a bash, I gotta say I would get on the phone and helicopter a few kegs in before I ran out. But that’s just me.
By Wednesday, I was suffering from my now ubiquitous “food poisoning at every trade show” illness, so I missed the Yahoo! SES conference cocktail party at The Tech Museum of Innovation, but I heard it was splendid. Probably my favorite event of the week was Thursday night’s “Palestinian Nights” themed dinner party, but I later found out it had absolutely no affiliation with SES.
Fermented hops and barley shortages aside, I heard a big complaint from one brand marketer attending the week’s festivities. My anonymous marketing honcho companion pointed out a big shortcoming in each night’s events that should serve as a wake-up call for the party people.
“The get-togethers were nice, the venues were great, but where were the senior executives?” she asked. “It’s kind of uncouth to not be there, don’t you think?”
Note to the search giants, you are never too big or too good to show up at your own party. Like Eric Hoffer said, “Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.”
Truth, justice and SEMPO gossip for all
Now synonymous with Search Engine Strategies conferences are meetings with SEMPO. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several weeks, you’ve probably heard about the new .org coming under fire for, among other things, spending too much money on their fearless leader’s fees.
Yes, that’s right, in the just shy of 367 days since its formation SEMPO leaders have taken membership funds and indulged in such opulence as to make a GE senior executive blush. Pricey trips on the SEMPO Boeing 737, Central Park apartment use, Wimbledon, Red Sox and Yankee tickets, and of course, country club memberships. Wait, those perks were part of the retirement package that General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch altruistically forfeited…my mistake.
The truth is SEMPO has experienced unparalleled growth since its inception, a problem that might leave any group of professionals on a mission a bit lost for a brief moment. Going from zero to 250 members in a year might cause communication problems, directional issues, and, possibly call into question executive compensation, all of which were pointed out in a search marketing site posting recently. After Search Engine Strategies New York, I asked SEMPO what they planned to do with all their new found power and influence. I got my answer at Search Engine Strategies, San Jose.
Since SEMPO was formed to educate, inform, and build awareness, a critical component of their initial outlay will be bringing search to the forefront of key marketers' thought processes. “Top of Mind = Top of Search” is the new huntline and you can expect to hear a great deal more on this in key media outlets soon. Beyond that, SEMPO members and industry professionals will see primary research on SEM, committees for specialized search sectors like B2B, and, you (well, I) asked for it, honest to gosh board elections when the current leadership roles expire next year.
Speaking candidly, with the depth and breadth of bureaucratic process I have come to know and love in other areas of the ad industry, I am pretty impressed they were able to do anything at all in a year. However, that’s not to say the organization should be left to roam free without the watchful eye of its constituency.
Now, let’s talk about that COLON effort. If you need me, I’ll be sitting in the dark, listening to Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, sipping Macallan 30 while contemplating the Golden Parachute I am going to design for my next chief executive role.
iMedia 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. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations. Meet Ryan at the iMedia Brand Summit, Sept. 12-15 in Park City, Ut.
Making quality content requires risk taking and investment, because good storytelling is like lightning in a bottle. It's not easy to find, duplicate, or mass produce. Studios, networks, and publishers pay a lot for good storytelling and they minimize their risk by aggregating -- that is, paying high salaries to a large number of good storytellers in the hopes that one or more of these stories will hit it big with the audience. And even with all that quantity and quality, they often make mistakes -- big, expensive mistakes.
So advertisers who want a story to connect with their audience cannot reasonably expect to do that by hiring a single storyteller and expecting viral results with the first story. The upside is today's technology provides ever increasing analytic feedback: more precise feedback earlier in development can quickly determine which campaigns will resonate and which should be killed.
During this year's 2009 NBA Playoffs, a series of shorts emerged on broadcast networks and the internet parodying the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Lebron James, who were projected to go head to head in the finals. Each weekly "episode" satirized a different feud between the two basketball stars, played by puppets. The rabid NBA, Lakers, and Cavaliers fans understood this and found the serial strikingly entertaining -- Kobe and Lebron fans alike were able to laugh and enjoy the poke-fun-at-Kobe antics while the same applied for the Lebron jokes.
Furthermore, the nature of the content reached non-NBA fans as well, meaning that the viewer didn't have to be an NBA or team-specific fanatic to get the jokes and enjoy the content. Rather than TiVo through the episodes, viewers would stop to engage and be entertained by the well-written, well-produced content. Subtleties of Nike branding were discreetly strewn throughout each episode, whether it be the Nike logo on a t-shirt or a simple Nikebasketball.com link at the end.
This campaign, created by Wieden + Kennedy, brilliantly produced high quality content that resonated with the audience while promoting engagement and return viewership. This gave the client, Nike Basketball, a good reason to continue episode development through the end of the season.
Such is the power of a good branded entertainment property. If brands and advertisers want to survive in this evolutionary climate, they are going to have to embrace quality content creation and good storytelling techniques. Wieden + Kennedy is an agency that is paying attention to the current climate and adapting accordingly.
To summarize, if you are a brand or an agency looking to evolve with the times and create storyline-rich content that resonates with an audience, I'd suggest the following tips when producing content:
- Consider technology. The influx of new media platforms is dramatically affecting who is and, more importantly, who is not watching your content. Because of social networks, mobile phones, TiVo, etc., consumer viewing patterns are drastically changing. This is obvious, but so easily forgotten by a brand manager or account director trying to "check the box".
- Promote quality storytelling. Anyone can write a story, but not everyone can write a good story. Make sure your writers know what they're doing. In the 20th century, good writers went to Madison Avenue, but great writers went to Hollywood; the market pays for quality. Start producing assets that consumers will want to consume and interlace brands that make sense from there. Again, the above Nike case study demonstrates an example of good story interwoven with a brand message; better yet, as we learned from the Nike case study, brands, themselves, should create storyline-rich, entertaining content that speaks to their specific demographic.
- Take risks. Don't expect every branded content campaign to be a break away viral hit. How many stinkers does Universal produce to get one break-out hit? Why do film studios spend tens of millions of dollars in promoting each film? Invest in numerous campaigns, see which work, and then promote the hell out of those with further development and media support.
- Avoid banner ads. Like filming a billboard and broadcasting it on TV. Banner ads are not a viable option in today's market because they do not promote interactivity nor engagement -- so don't use them. Now is the time to streamline advertising efforts to maximize ROI. Think of banner ads as the equivalent of radio static. Advertisers continue to throw money into this abyss, but my advice is to avoid banner ads, and re-allocate the saved ad dollars towards developing engaging and interactive content that will resonate with the audience.
- Track and maximize engagement. Focus on building and developing a rabid fanbase centered on good content, rather than on "good advertising." Good content can become the "good advertising," but that equation is rarely reciprocal. Note for the CFO: Whoever finances content development and subsequently owns the IP -- client or agency -- opens up the business model for a whole other discussion.
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Customer reviews and social media are cutting through your marketing
When commercials were on the top of the marketing food chain, the public only got their information through the company. Now, with social media and customer reviews, the consumer's main source of information comes from their friends, family, and peers.
You're not being socially conscious
Socially conscious brands not only gain public support, but also make more money. Adding environmentally friendly initiatives can help your company, products, and advertising become more popular all while helping the bottom line.
Brands aren't honest about their problems
If you simply explain to the public your company's problems (be they past or present), you will gain a deeper trust with your audience. This case study explores a company that gave its customers an intimate look into its eco-harmful business practices and ended up with more loyal customers.
Your online content is not original
If you keep repurposing your television creative for digital purposes, you're not communicating your brand very effectively. Here's why original digital content is vital to believable and effective online advertising.
Your company culture is weak, and it’s affecting brand perception
A great company culture will create happy employees. Happy employees work harder for their company. If your advertising is not connecting with consumers, you might need to look within your organization for the true problem.
Brands put too much emphasis on display ads
When marketing went from the billboard to the banner ad, some marketers declared victory and stopped innovating. Here's why you need to gradually move from display to innovative digital marketing tactics.
The moments between the moments are being ignored
How does Virgin Airlines spend 95 percent less on advertising compared to their competitors, but receive the highest customer satisfaction? If you focus on your customer's entire experience, you won't need positive advertising. The customer will do it for you.
If your product is bad, the customer feels lied to
You will never survive if you keep trying to sell a bad product. Fixing your brand's core issues first will make your advertising efforts incredibly easier in the long run.
You're marketing the "how" and the "what," not the "why"
To advertise well, you need to step back and ask yourself why you are selling a product or brand. Marketing what your product stands for is an incredibly powerful way to communicate your message.
Customer service is being undervalued
Don't abandon your customers after they buy your product. Marketing isn't just a process that takes place before a purchase; it's an ongoing communication of the company's values. Treating your customer just as well after a purchase is something that should be at the top of your company's list, not last.
Special thanks to Joseph Dumont and Questus.
"World poverty and natural disaster relief and refugee crisis" image via Shutterstock.