Google's Gmail has received quite a bit of attention lately, but nearly all the focus has been on controversies surrounding privacy issues and what it means for Hotmail and Yahoo!.
There's been little discussion of what marketers should be doing in preparation for what will likely be a significant market presence. Undoubtedly, integrating contextual advertising of some form is being strongly considered by Yahoo! and Hotmail, the two clear leaders in the free email space. As a result, much of what's listed below will become concerns for your Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail subscribers.
Gmail is likely to be popular initially with your most Internet-savvy customers and expand from there. For email marketers, you should begin educating and preparing yourself now. After you read this article, you can be the judge of whether Gmail will be good or bad for you as a marketer.
Let the hype begin
While there are some interesting new features that Gmail is offering, much of the hype is simply due to Google being one of the world's hottest properties entering a relatively stable space -- free email. A "gmail.com" email address has already become a hot property, with people trying to snatch up their preferred email addresses (e.g., [email protected] rather than [email protected]). There have been thousands of auctions for Gmail addresses on EBay.
To stay competitive, Yahoo! has already added several new Gmail-like features to Yahoo! Mail. MSN's Hotmail has announced dramatically increased storage limits.
If Gmail releases with its current feature set and customers rush to sign up as expected, Gmail will have strong repercussions for marketers. Image suppression is just one example -- it will reduce open reporting and could lower response rates. This will be particularly true unless marketers respond by sending text or mixed text/HTML messages.
The following Gmail feature areas are worth studying to determine your response as a marketer:
Suppressed images and tracking challenges
Gmail doesn't display images in an email unless users click on a link requesting to "display external images," so it's highly likely that email marketers will have substantially lower response rates and that clicks won't track as they have in the past. This is something that you should be testing now in preparation for Gmail's release. Already, image suppression and contextual advertising are fully functional in the beta version and affect emails. In Gmail's beta images don't render when a user opens their email unless they open the email and then click a link that says "Display external images."
What's worse for marketers is the fact that there is no global setting to cause images to display for all emails. Furthermore, clicking the link for an email does not cause the images to display in that same email if it's reopened later -- the link must be re-clicked. Images display in email templates as empty boxes with small image icons in the upper left corner of each -- Hotmail does the same thing for mails that go into the junk mail folder but not your inbox.
Since opens are measured by the HTML image rendering, image suppression creates tracking issues. Fortunately, images that are also links still function whether or not a user chooses to display external images. These issues may well be "fit and finish" items not yet released by Google. If not, they may get enough feedback on usability issues to change their approach (e.g., having no global setting is unacceptable in a commercial offering in this marketer's opinion). Gmail's ad features will drive smart marketers to evaluate how they want to deliver their messages as it's not simply a matter of primarily choosing text emails. Gmail's ad serving methods will make the choice more challenging.
Search extended to email with massive storage
Google's search function is extended to Gmail. Theoretically, this will change user behavior allowing your customers to do away with folders and sorting. Instead, users can quickly search the text of their entire inbox to find the email or email section they need. Not surprisingly, the search feature is very powerful and works as you would expect from Google.
Gmail also provides massive free storage, encouraging people to never delete another email since you shouldn't run up against storage limits anytime soon. In addition, Gmail automatically links email messages: when a new message comes, related messages in the thread go to the top of the inbox along with the new messages not unlike Outlook's "conversation" view, which can be very helpful in managing your inbox.
With the massive storage available, Google is encouraging people to not delete messages. As a marketer, this brings two items you should be aware of :
- Link-rot -- will a link work 6 months from now if your customer saves a message they later go back and read?
- Short-term offers that you'd rather people didn't see later -- e.g., a bargain shopper could track discounting patterns based on seasonality by looking through several months of email from a marketer.
Ads surround email you send
Google touts that rather than getting irrelevant banner ads, Gmail users will see relevant text ads ("sponsored links") and related web pages ("related pages") listed to the right of their emails. These ads will be determined by a scan of the content in each individual email. Gmail ads that sit next to emails will combine organic (i.e., results determined by Google algorithms) and sponsored results. This will have a dramatic effect on the number of ads sold via its AdWords program, which is the source of the lion's share of Google's revenue. In the beta, the sponsored links are at the top of the list.
Tomorrow: Examples from my inbox and what you must do now. Read part two.
Dave Chase is a partner with Altus Alliance which specializes in driving revenue traction for emerging businesses. Before joining Altus Alliance, Chase spent nearly 20 years in the industry with the last twelve years at Microsoft in various senior marketing and general management roles, including his role as MSN’s managing director for industry marketing and relations. In that capacity, he was responsible for MSN taking a leadership role within the interactive marketing industry to grow Online’s share of the overall ad market in concert with AOL, CNET, Yahoo!, Google and other market leaders.
Chase played leadership roles in launching several new businesses within Microsoft including Microsoft’s entry into the enterprise software and server business which is now an $8 billion business. This included co-leading Microsoft’s first vertical marketing efforts where he grew the Healthcare vertical market from virtually no presence to a market leading position. The healthcare business now represents over $400 million in revenue for Microsoft.
From there, he was integral in Microsoft’s entry into consumer Internet businesses that achieved both critical and financial success. These included Sidewalk, Encarta, and HomeAdvisor, which were among the first profitable consumer Internet businesses for Microsoft and heavily used email marketing to enable their growth.
Evaluating prospecting (non-retargeting) partners against a bottom-line CPA goal
Why this is a mistake: If prospecting partners are judged on a CPA basis but aren't allowed to retarget, then the only actions for which they get credit are first-time landers that purchase then and there. If the prospect doesn't convert the very first time on the site, the retargeting partner then takes over. How often do you go to a brand-new site and purchase the very first time you visit? Probably rarely. In fact, more formal research reveals that less than one-third of all site visitors transact on the first time. The consequence is that a CPA goal encourages prospecting partners to drive a different kind of traffic than what you actually need for your marketing funnel. What you want to reward is the driving of quality traffic at the top and middle of the funnel, not first-time landers that convert.
What to do instead: Judge prospecting partners on a cost-per-qualified-lander (CPQL) basis. The key term is that they are qualified. Otherwise, you waste your retargeting budget on people who won't ever convert.
How to do it right: Identify actions that mark an eventual customer (or lead) as being a qualified lander on your site. A simple example would be site visitors that reach a product details or a search results page. Once they've started browsing products or searching for deals, you've got them interested. Use web analytics to analyze paths to conversion -- identify key actions that precede eventual desired outcomes. The most important actions are highly correlated with those outcomes. However, you want actions that are present in a customer's initial visits to your site and may not be present during the same session as the conversion. Like product details or search results pages, other examples of predecessors of eventual conversions might be visiting the FAQ or clicking on a "learn more" button.
Establishing and sticking with one mid-funnel CPQL metric for prospecting partners
Why it is a mistake: Not all prospects are created equal. Prospecting partners can bring in varied customer segments. How much should you pay for your very best prospects? If one partner brings in prospects that are twice as valuable as another partner, it doesn't make sense to hold them both to the same standard. In addition, certain prospecting partners may be very efficient but can only handle low volume. As a marketer, you want the right balance between efficiency and scale without having to manage 20 prospecting partners.
What to do instead: Test and iterate the CPQL value for each partner. Establishing a mid-funnel metric like CPQL is just the first step. Lifetime value is the next key metric to consider.
How to do it right: Calculate the customer lifetime value originating for each partner and account for the multiple from the quality of traffic that each partner drives. (You can see how this can become significantly more complex once you factor in fractional attribution per partner for each customer. One step at a time, though! Start by ascribing just one partner per customer originally driven to your site as a "qualified lander.") Evaluate your whole marketing program based on total desired outcomes over an extended period. You may find that you are able to get many more prospects from partners with a more flexible CPQL goal, whereas you can tighten up the CPA goal for your retargeting partner. In the long run, that may be the right mix for your budget. It's like search marketing -- it's easy to harvest demand once it has been generated, but let's put the right amount of effort to generate that demand in the first place.
Short of deploying a formal attribution solution, these are the concrete steps to lay the groundwork of a basic attribution framework with your digital marketing partners, including specific prospecting and retargeting partners. Gather data, test, iterate, communicate with partners, and constantly re-evaluate. In doing so, you'll market smarter with your partners and be an attribution hero for your organization!
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One of the larger announcements from the conference was the expansion of Messenger as a third-party development platform. This is an important move for Facebook, especially since WhatsApp confirmed during the conference that they will not be providing APIs any time soon on their product roadmap.
Third parties can now reach and engage over 600 million active users. With the Messenger Platform it is possible to drive discovery, engagement, and attribution through images, videos, GIFs, and sound clips.
Applications can either be stand-alone apps designed to enhance conversations, or it is possible for a brand application to create a workflow to share content through messenger and deep link into the messenger-optimized experience in its native application.
Facebook also announced the beta launch of businesses on Messenger, which is how Facebook envisions brands and consumers engaging directly through enhanced customer service. It hopes that this will add value to the consumer through templates that can showcase product details and enhanced order details.
Facebook users are viewing more than 3 billion videos per day, and Facebook took another step towards challenging Google-owned YouTube for market share by launching a new embedded video capability.
The new feature supports view-count synchronization, full-bleed video, and includes social actions in video such as "like" and "share." Also important to note is that the desktop version is Flash-based and mobile is HTML5.
In recent Facebook briefings, there have been discussions about Q3 introducing sequential storytelling into the fold. This is one area where the current embedded video option is lacking compared to YouTube. YouTube currently has the ability to create annotations, and now has "cards" to create connections between assets.
Importance of advocacy
With all of the talk about Facebook and their other brands' lack of organic reach, it was confirmed that for users, the news feed is still what determines the content that is served. This confirmed that peer-to-peer sharing remains the most viable option for content-centric brands.
Another central theme was tied to the sharing of content and, with that, the importance of creating relevant and engaging content that inspires consumers to share. It is also important to create content that is tailored for the specific audience and to utilize the ideal application from the Facebook family delivery and discovery.
While most social brand personification strategies have taken a back seat now on Facebook's primary platform due to the shift towards reach and frequency, leveraging consumer and employee advocates -- as well as groups -- are still viable means to distribute a message outside of paid advertising.
State of plug-ins
Social plug-ins have been a staple of the Facebook ecosystem for years. The Facebook social plug-ins team outlined their intentions to redefine the experience of many of the standard plug-ins in order to create a richer mobile experience.
The first step will be to relaunch Facebook moderation tools to allow greater flexibility and an optimized experience for moderation that includes bulk actions and custom lists -- and is being rewritten from scratch.
The team also outlined that it's testing a new form of comment mirroring that aggregates comments from external news articles to the Facebook page, and vice versa. This is a significant point to consider, as this will align different audiences and shift the potential engagement that happens on-page.
The Instagram team reiterated its focus on being community-first, and maintained that simplicity matters above all else when it comes to its product roadmap and the overall experience of the application.
The team confirmed that the Instagram newsfeed is 100 percent deterministic, meaning that the content posted from your followers will appear in your feed. Based on this feedback, the idea of potentially adding features such as a "regram" button is not currently a part of the plan, as the goal is to keep the experience as uncomplicated as possible.
The team reiterated that Instagram is not a distribution platform for brands. "Likes," "follows," and comments will not necessarily drive additional visibility within the platform due to the deterministic feed and the lack of any type of "regram" functionality.
For brands, the ideal approach is to curate against existing behaviors, and create a relationship with passionate fans that showcases their view of the brand as the core asset in order to fuel your branded experiences.
In recent years, Facebook has increased its focus on shopper and direct response capabilities. It stated that it views omni-channel as the future of commerce, and that it's positioning its cross-channel approach as the ideal for brands.
Facebook highlighted the size of its network, the persistence of logged-in identity, and its cross-platform approach as to why it should be considered as a holistic omni-channel offering.
A key point of discussion was tied to cross-screen attribution without proxies. With its SDK and conversion pixel, it stated that it has the ability to capture accurate measurement tied to its real users.
The most intriguing aspect of F8 was the insight into the future of Facebook strategy as outlined by Mike Schroepfer, CTO, Facebook. In his keynote speech, he discussed the three core areas of focus for the near future: planetary connectivity, natural interfaces, and immersive experiences.
In the near future, services that scale and planetary connectivity are key areas of focus for Facebook. One of the key initiatives is tied to the Aquila, its unmanned solar drone. The drone is designed to stay aloft for three months at a time, in order to deliver connectivity for remote regions.
Information overload was also an area of discussion for the future of Facebook. The goal is to build contextual systems that deal with information overload. One approach is the use of artificial intelligence built around the concept of convolutional neural nets that essentially create deeper associations between content elements at a faster rate than a simple algorithm.
The last of the three core pillars of the future state of Facebook is tied to the importance of creating and enabling the consumption of immersive content such as virtual reality. One of the crucial direct points was the fact that 3D spherical videos will be supported in the Facebook news feed. This is setting up for the immersive virtual reality experiences that are to come.
Parse and IOT
Facebook's Parse was also a primary are of focus. Facebook acquired Parse in 2013. Since then, it's been working to leverage the platform as a service that offers to provide additional rapid development services to mobile app developers such as user management, push notifications, and analytics at scale.
Now with over 400,000 apps built on Parse, the Facebook team is extending Parse to connect Internet of Things experiences. Facebook wants to make it easier for developers to leverage data from connected devices into their applications.
Many other tech heavyweights are investing in IOT data solutions. Apple, Google, and recently IBM have all been vying to unlock the key to leveraging IOT data.
Facebook's approach is to connect devices and software that share common elements in order to increase the probability of systems working together. This could then lead to Facebook becoming the data aggregator between devices, software, and data used to create unique experiences across devices.
Virtual reality played a key role throughout F8 2015. Facebook referenced virtual reality as the next evolution of content experiences.
It showcased different applications from its teleportation stations that highlighted what was happening in Menlo Park, as well as its more immersive Crescent Bay demos that showed off the full capability of the Oculus Rift.
Facebook also spent a portion of its presentation simply showcasing the physiology associated with virtual reality, and why the timing is now right for progression in the field: The cost of technology to create affordable consumer products is feasible, the experience is compelling, and there is broad industry participation as well as a long-term commitment to advancing the technology.
Facebook did a great job of balancing the short term versus the future state, while ensuring that it's bringing its developer partners along the way. By shifting towards the family of apps strategy -- as well as building towards connected devices and immersive experiences, Facebook is in a position to remain relevant well beyond whatever happens with the core Facebook platform.
"Business People Corporate Cityscape" image via Shutterstock.