It wasn't all that long ago that Myspace was where the cool kids hung out. The site exploded seemingly overnight into the first social network to surpass 100 million users.
Really. It wasn't.
Today, Myspace is a sad story reminiscent of King Kong falling from the top of the Empire State Building. Despite its fancy new redesign, hot new ad agency, and cool new logo animations (which bizarrely feature its agency's deer head mascot), Myspace's traffic continues to plummet -- dipping below 35 million uniques in December 2010.
Graphic: Myspace traffic from Quantcast.com
Myspace is an ominous reminder of the fickleness of the collective "it factor" and the precarious nature of success (and multi-billion dollar valuations) in the digital age.
But, we don't want it to fail.
What made Myspace special was that it was the first social network that connected bands (and DJs and comedy troupes) to their fans. They made it easy for bands to upload their music and for people to discover it and connect with musicians. Sure, there are other ways to discover music (Pandora, Ping, last.fm) and tools that break down walls between celebrities and their fans (Twitter), but none that do it all.
Word on the street is that San Francisco DJs are still putting their tracks on Myspace, despite its neo-urban decline. Why? Because they've got no 'space else to go.
Until there is, let's hope Myspace does not fail.
There's no denying that online privacy is a big issue these days.
Consumer advocates rage over advertisers' sinister "tracking" of unsuspecting users. Marketers claim they're just they are just using anonymous data to serve relevant "content" to audiences. Consumers themselves cry foul when they read scary articles about being followed. And the members of Congress they vote for salivate when they see an issue they can demonize to gain popular support that just sounds evil.
Is behavioral targeting evil?
I don't know. That's not the topic of this article. What I do know is that if this industry doesn't regulate itself, the government is going to regulate it for us. That same government with leaders that call the internet a "series of tubes."
In other words, they don't know or care what really is evil. They just see an easy issue to gain popularity points on. If the government regulates our industry, they are not going to delve into the nuance of what is really malevolent and what is not. They'll just throw a blanket over the whole thing.
That's why industry advocacy groups like AAAA, IAB, DMA, AAF, BBB, and NAI have all put aside their initials to come together under new initials: DAA, otherwise known as the Digital Advertising Alliance. The DAA has come up with a self-regulatory program for online behavioral advertising that basically entails putting this little blue triangle graphic in the corner of banner ads that are served through behavioral targeting.
When users click on that icon, they'll be able to access an opt-out screen that shows them what companies are customizing ads for their browser (Google, Yahoo, Dedicated Media, and Vibrant Media are all tracking me) and opt-out of them.
Are these companies being opportunistic? Absolutely.
Is one's solution better than the other's? I have no idea.
Will this attempt to self-regulate save the digital ad biz from severe restrictions being imposed by Washington? Only time will tell.
But in the meantime, let's all wish them well and hope that our industry can de-creepify itself before it's too late.
Complacency is the enemy of innovation. It allows companies to get fat and lazy. Consumer experience suffers. And we deserve better, dammit.
That's why we don't want RockMelt to fail.
Browsers are our windows into the internet. They hold the power to connect us to the world's information. And to one another.
They could also easily become irrelevant if they don't continue to evolve. Yet amazingly, the basic browsing experience has hardly changed at all since Netscape 1.0.
Sure, there have been massive improvements in design and performance. Better ways to organize your bookmarks, perhaps. But no one asked the fundamental questions, "How can we re-imagine this experience? How can we make it better?"
Until now. RockMelt is a social media browser backed by Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape. It's simply a more complete browsing experience based on how people use the web today.
According to some reports, the average user now spends 55 minutes per day on Facebook. So Facebook is integrated right into the browsing experience. So is Twitter. And chat. And any RSS feed you want to follow.
But this article is not a review of features. You can discover those for yourself. This is about companies we don't want to fail. More than any other company, RockMelt is pushing the entire browser category toward dramatic improvement of the online user experience, and for that reason, they are one of them.
Shai Agassi used to be the heir apparent to the CEO seat at SAP, the world's largest enterprise software company. Not a bad career path, most would say. But Agassi had a vision for a new company that could make the world a better place, so he left SAP to begin an ambitious startup that just might change the world as we know it.
Better Place is an electric car company with a unique insight. Agassi looked at the market for electric cars and saw a fundamental customer experience problem. The notion of just plugging in your car at night to recharge the batteries sounds great on the surface. But anyone who has ever had a cordless drill run out of juice in the middle of a project knows recharging takes time and waiting is a pain in the ass. Clearly, drill manufacturers have heard this in their focus groups because when my wife got me a new one for my birthday last year, it had an extra battery.
If it takes an hour to recharge my drill, how long will it take to recharge my car?
From this realization was born an ambitious plan for Better Place, an electric car and infrastructure company. Rather than just selling cars, Better Place would create a network of "switch stations" where drivers can pull in and get their car battery switched with a fresh and fully charged one. In less than two minutes flat.
Pilots are under way in Denmark, Israel, Hawaii, and Japan, but this huge vision has a long way to go. We do not want it to fail, however, for many reasons. Of course, we humans are destroying our environment and running out of oil, so a solution that chips away at those problems is clearly a welcome one.
But I also see Better Place as a beacon to marketers, so mired in the daily grind of getting more efficient and predictable returns on their investments that they forget to look up. Better Place is a reminder that there are new ways to look at problems. There are new innovations that can solve them. There can be new solutions that can create new markets.
And for those reasons, I hope Better Place does not fail.
History between Apple and Adobe runs deep. As a designer, I've long viewed the two companies as the yin and yang of my professional toolkit. I've perceived Adobe software and Apple hardware as independent, yet inextricably linked forces whose very existence makes the other possible.
Now, I feel like a kid whose parents are still technically married, but are in the midst of a trial separation that seems doomed to end in divorce.
Just like that kid who sat at the breakfast table listening to his parents argue, we have been quite privy to the reasons for their estranged relationship. Our breakfast table is the blogosphere, and Steve Jobs has made it very clear why Apple has no use for Adobe's Flash technology. According to Jobs, Flash is not "open," does not allow for access to the "full web," is not reliable, drains batteries, doesn't support touch, and inhibits innovation by creating a roadblock between developers and the underlying platform they are developing for.
Adobe's founders have responded in kind, stating that:
When markets are open, anyone with a great idea has a chance to drive innovation and find new customers. Adobe's business philosophy is based on a premise that, in an open market, the best products will win in the end -- and the best way to compete is to create the best technology and innovate faster than your competitors...
We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the web -- the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time.
Is it ironic that two companies with inherently closed systems to protect are relying on the argument that the other guy is less open? Yes, it is.
Does any of that matter? I still love mom and dad. Apple makes the best computers in the world. Adobe makes the best professional tools for creating amazing digital experiences in the world.
The world has changed dramatically in the decade and a half since I first opened Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe's tools have changed with it. I'm sure it will continue to change. It's important to note that there is a difference between Adobe Flash, the development tool, and SWF (or small web format, originally called Shockwave/Flash), the file format it primarily exports to. While the SWF might be closed to certain devices like the iPhone, the Flash development tool remains the most powerful and intuitive tool out there for creating rich digital experiences.
I hope that in some dark basement corner, Adobe has a team of developers making a version of Flash that can export to HTML5. Or souping up Dreamweaver so it doesn't have to. At the end of the day, I like having amazing tools. I can't imagine running a creative agency without them. For that, Adobe is one more company we do not want to see fail.
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iMedia: What Visa campaign or marketing initiative would you say best embodies the "Audience First" approach? Briefly describe the campaign or initiative.
Lucio: We have been applying principles of "Audience First" since last year. Through research, we found significant multiple screen behavior during live sports events.
"Audience First" was instrumental in enabling us to deliver innovative, fresh, and nimble thinking that led to breakthrough ideas during our 2010 Olympic Winter games program -- the kind of ideas that could deliver consumer engagement and brand equity and drive transactions on Visa-branded products. For example, we developed a global campaign framework that each of our regions could customize for their local markets, utilized digital channels like YouTube and Facebook to engage with fans, created relevant merchant tie-ins in physical and virtual environments to connect with consumers at the point of transactions, and we brought our campaign to life by showing our ads in 3-D within Grand Central Station in New York City leading up to the Games.
This campaign was recognized for its ability to help cut through the noise and solidify Visa's standing as a leading sponsor of the Olympic Games. According to a Turnkey Intelligence study in February 2010, Visa was one of the "big winners in the contest for recognition among U.S. fans of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics."
iMedia: Encouraging consumer engagement means taking the good with the bad, as complaints are bound to surface along with compliments. What processes does Visa have in place for dealing with customer criticisms in the social space?
Lucio: As with any marketer engaging consumers in the social space, the responsibility to listen and respond to consumers in real-time is inherent to participation. Built into each of our social media campaigns is constant monitoring of consumer dialogue and direct inquiries. Moderation guides are developed for each line of business, specific to the social channel, where response from Visa is determined and delivered on a case-by-case basis. If the complaint directly relates to one of our products, we point them to the proper customer service destination and follow up until the issue is resolved.
iMedia: A key part of Visa's marketing strategy revolves around delivering share-worthy content. What are some keys to success you've found for creating such content?
Lucio: Consumers expect to share valuable, entertaining, and authentic experiences, and a marketer's job is to deliver content that meets these expectations. We've found success over the past year creating share-worthy content, particularly utilizing assets and relationships from our sports sponsorship portfolio. For example, we worked with two-time NBA MVP and die-hard soccer fan Steve Nash to create a video for our "Go Fans" YouTube channel displaying his passion for the FIFA World Cup. It was on Ad Age's Viral Video Chart for three consecutive weeks; our program had 8 million views.
Our Olympics-themed "Go World" YouTube channel debuted a series of commercials for our fans before they even appeared on TV, and, over the course of the campaign, the channel attracted more than 1 million views. When we look to create content, we work to ensure that it's entertaining, relevant to the viewer, and, most importantly, provides consumers with an outlet to display their passion and become part of the conversation.
iMedia: When it comes to social engagement, what platform has Visa found to be most valuable in seeking to connect with its target audience, and how do you make the most of the opportunities that platform offers?
Lucio: Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter play an increasingly valuable and powerful role in fostering conversations and connecting with consumers directly. Most recently, we've worked with all three platforms to extend awareness of our sports sponsorships and to engage with consumers. We evaluate each platform to determine how they'll allow us to achieve our goals and connect with fans in ways that are meaningful to them.
iMedia: The "Audience First" approach disrupts the traditional creative process. That said, in these "Mad Men" nostalgia days, that's a process a lot of people seem to mourn the loss of. What words of comfort (or correction) would you offer those people?
Lucio: The new and rapidly evolving world of consumer engagement is extremely challenging, but entirely worthwhile. The rewards of getting it right can mean the difference between surviving and transcending. "Audience First" is a strong starting point to ensuring long-term brand cadence, successfully engaging consumers and building your brand.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.
iMedia: The check-in location services field is becoming increasingly cluttered, and the biggest online players are now getting in on the action. What does this mean for smaller independent services like Foursquare? Is there a future for them in the market, and if so, how will they differentiate themselves?
Goodman: Companies large and small are all trying to capitalize on the small-medium business (SMB) market, as well as localized retail. According to Kelsey, $133 billion was spent in 2010 on all forms of localized media -- so that's a big prize. Google putting Marissa Mayer into a new role focused on local and location is the biggest of many indicators of the importance of location, and Facebook is also now focusing on it, not to mention the yellow pages companies. When companies of this size come into a space, they bring with them a large customer base and deep pockets.
Making a consumer check in 20 times a day may be a challenging user experience for mainstream consumers in the long run, regardless of the value delivered. It may be a feature of services in the future, but many in our industry are not convinced it is a business model. Placecast has always believed that mobile programs should enable consumers to opt in and set their preferences, then their phone should just alert consumers automatically with an intelligent offer when they are near something interesting. Increasingly, we can expect Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and app developers to focus on adding functionality in this area.
iMedia: How did the introduction of Facebook Places change the way marketers think about location-based targeting (if at all)?
Goodman: With more than 500 million active users, half of whom log in every day, and millions of businesses building a presence in Facebook, they certainly have the real reach that any advertiser would want. Facebook in the location game confirms that the industry is now focused on real reach and scale for businesses vs. experiments. What we have seen so far with Facebook Places is basic functionality -- and we can expect to see a lot more. They launched Deals last year, and they just turned on mobile "push" notifications a couple weeks ago. They are probably best positioned to become the major distributor of third-party deals for SMBs.
It was also a warning shot to all the little companies out there that are structured as more of a "feature" vs. a fundamentally new business opportunity. When Facebook (or Google) turns on a new feature, it has the power to sideline smaller players in a new market just by virtue of its size.
iMedia: With so many services out there now, how can a brand that hasn't yet dipped its toe in the location-based waters decide where to start?
Goodman: We often hear from marketers that mobile programs are a lot of work. Different platforms require discrete efforts, and marketing people are already overwhelmed with lots of other media channels. One of the key design principles we adopted for our mobile service is to make it easy for a consumer and a brand to activate a program. That means it has to work on any phone (not just a smartphone), with no app to build, no testing across devices, and very little investment in building creative ad units.
The first thing we tell brands is to extend what they are already doing in marketing into mobile, rather than starting by creating something completely new from scratch. If you are a retail chain or CPG company, you already have stores to put geo-fences around and deliver offers. If you are sponsoring or running events, then you have already claimed a place -- put a geo-fence around the event and engage with your best customers. If you already have an app, push location-based alerts to the experience. To recruit consumers, leverage all your existing touch points to bring people into a program -- website, social network, email, SMS, in-store signage -- all are viable and make it easy for consumers to connect with a brand via mobile marketing.
iMedia: Looking to the future, are there any upcoming industry developments (be it legislation, general market trends, or specific company announcements) that you expect will dramatically transform location-based marketing as we currently know it?
Goodman: With the increased focus on privacy across digital media, brands will increasingly see opt-in become the standard for the mobile marketing user experience. I also expect to see the patent space heat up. Not long ago, Google was granted a patent for bidding on users in a location; Apple and others have all been filing in earnest, and we are seeing seminal patents being granted in this space.
iMedia: Beyond what we've discussed above, what is the single most important insight into location-based marketing that you wish all digital marketers were aware of?
Goodman: There is a prevailing view that location-based marketing involves shooting an offer to a consumer walking by a store, and they walk in and immediately make a purchase -- direct response in the physical world. While we are seeing substantial increases in purchase rates, only about 20 percent of consumers who buy do so immediately. The remainder makes purchases from a few hours up to several days later, and may even visit the website to shop. In the end, we see that location often acts as a very powerful reminder: After receiving a ShopAlerts message, for example, consumers make a mental note of the message and where an offer can be fulfilled. With the offer saved on their phone in a text message, they can return later when they have time to make the purchase.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.
Overall site traffic trends
I'm often surprised to see that most companies aren't paying attention to this simple metric, which is offered by pretty much every analytics package out there. Most business owners have a pretty good idea of how their business is doing based on customers walking through their doors, but they don't seem to pay any attention to web traffic.
Site visits can be a great monitor to determine the impact of your marketing efforts. For example, when I was reviewing site traffic over the past year for one of my clients, I saw that there were two significant increases in traffic to the site that directly correlated to when the client was running TV campaigns. (Yes, that's right -- digital can provide insights into your offline efforts as well). When we probed a little deeper, we also saw an increase in web contact page visits, and the client acknowledged that the phone had rung a bit more during those months.
Overall traffic trends are also greatly affected by online efforts as well. We all know that click-through rates stink; with an industry average response rate under 1 percent, it's amazing we still even talk about them. But when you look a little deeper, you can often see increases in site traffic when banners are running. No, prospects aren't clicking your ad; instead, they are coming to your site directly or searching for you and coming in that way.
Time and time again, I've been able to identify correlations to increased traffic caused by banners -- not from clicks, but from overall traffic to the site from a variety of sources. Digital marketers often tend to down play traditional media because there's no click path, but the reality is there isn't really a click path from most banner campaigns either. They do the same job of other advertising vehicles by increasing awareness and purchase intent, and the way consumers respond today is to do research and learn more online. The data is there, but you have to look for it.
Branded search volume
Search is another great indicator of marketing impact. Most people look at search traffic as a whole (e.g., I get 43 percent of my site traffic from search). But at the top level, overall search traffic can be fairly meaningless.
Search gets interesting when you start looking at it more granularly and segmenting it into branded and non-branded search. Many people are surprised at how much branded search traffic (i.e., people typing a company or product name into a search engine) they receive. This traffic is almost always discounted in a client's mind; after all, these are prospects that are already aware of its brand.
That said, understanding how people become aware is important -- and often overlooked. As I mentioned in the last section, branded search traffic is often affected by advertising. I encourage all of you to take a closer look at your search traffic. Highlight your brand terms and look at the volume the month before, the month during, and the month after your last campaign (be it online, offline, or both). I bet you'll see a difference.
A couple of years ago, I was on a panel at OMMA during which we discussed the commerce impact that Google has and how many sales are directly related to Google searches. I agreed that search does provide that last step to purchase, but it was advertising that made people search for "Snuggie" instead of "blanket with sleeves."
People who take a desired action on your site are usually the key to finding business online. So the first step is to identify the desired action. If you have an e-commerce site, conversions are easy to define. But what if you have a B2B or local retail site?
There are a lot of other metrics that can be considered conversions. Email newsletter sign-ups and contact form submissions are some pretty obvious indicators, but there are a lot more things you can consider. For example, a visit to your contact or directions page is probably a pretty good indicator that a person is down the funnel into purchase intent. You can also look at visits to product information pages and sell-sheet downloads to help identify someone as more than just a casual passer-through.
Most businesses spend a lot of time understanding their sales processes -- what makes a customer a cool prospect vs. a hot prospect? Apply those same rules to your website, and you'll start to see how your online content can help move people through the sales process.
Now that you've got your conversions identified, you've got a great opportunity to understand that audience better. Take a filtered look at your converter web habits, and you'll start to see some interesting trends. For example, take a look at your keyword phrases for all visitors to your website. Then take a look at the same report, but only looking at people who visited your contact page -- you're going to see a different set of phrases.
You might find there's a huge opportunity to grow traffic from prospects searching on terms you're not focused on. Depending on your business, you might also want to take a look at geography reports. Again, you'll likely see different patterns for people who have "converted" compared with your average visitors.
How do people get to your website? Referring site data not only lets you know where your prospects come from, but it can also provide some interesting insights about your audience. Take a deeper look at some of those sites. Many will be exactly what you're expecting, but some of the referring sites might have a different audience than you usually target.
By digging into the referring site list, you'll start to see some indicators of new audiences you might want to pursue. In addition, referring site data can help you understand how your latest online marketing efforts did. Track your referring sites week by week, and it's pretty easy to spot traffic coming in from a social post on Twitter or Facebook, responses to a blog you posted on another site, and even traffic generated by that new site sponsorship you launched.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more ways to look at digital data that not only provide business trends but also provide insights into your prospects and opportunities.
Clicks are a nice easy metric for measuring response -- but they don't tell you the real story. So stop looking at the wrong things. The right data is there. You just need to look a little harder.
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