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More Proof That Online Drives Sales

Rebecca Weeks
More Proof That Online Drives Sales Rebecca Weeks

CHICAGO -- AD:TECH opened here Monday with "Online Marketing Drives Offline Sales," a panel asking whether online activities effectively drive retail sales.

Moderator Dave Smith, Mediasmith's CEO and an iMediaConnection contributor, told the crowd that with more than 1,500 studies proving the correlation, the macro issue of whether it works seems to be resolved. Advertisers are finally taking action to influence their own brands, and the surge in local search is certainly helping the cause.

Unresolved, however, are the micro issues, such as how to determine a site’s visitor consumption value and how to get traditional media spenders on board. He cited one startling piece of data that demonstrates there is still room for improvement. Consumer package goods and related companies make up almost 40 percent of the top 100 advertisers and spend more than $31 billion annually on advertising. Yet less than two percent of these dollars is earmarked for Internet advertising initiatives.

Panelist Steve Warshaw, VP business development at ACNielsen, said brands are wary of spending more online if their goal is to increase offline sales for two reasons: they either don’t know how to reach the brand’s target online or they don’t know how to track the investment.

There are tools to measure retail sales, however, including coupons, gathering personal information and virtual exchanges such as vendor follow-up -- as well as "on-pack" promotions, such as the iTunes and Pepsi partnership.

Sky-rocketing sales impact

Warshaw has been leading Consumer Direct Online, a collaboration between Yahoo! and ACNielsen that measures media by tracking surfing behaviors across Yahoo! Web sites in 23,000 households. ACNielsen then compares this particular group’s behavior to the surfing behavior of all other visitors to the Yahoo! Web sites.

The results show that there are ways to make online marketing dollars work harder: targeting based on all-channel purchase behavior, yielding measurable results (changes in awareness, sales, etc.) and bringing accountability to the medium.

He told the crowd that sales impact analysis has shown retail sales increases as high as 36 percent, and reach in excess of 10 million target households. Across its client base, Consumer Direct Online says return on investment (ROI) has ranged from 100 percent to 400 percent.

These findings have also proved that behavior-based targeting is highly effective in reaching a brand’s most valuable consumer base, especially when coupled with the use of new ad formats to draw attention and engage the online audience.

Though Consumer Direct Online has primarily worked with CPG brands, there are plans to dive deeper into other verticals as well. And although it is limited to tracking sales from the larger portals, next year the program could take on smaller content sites, if the demand is large enough.

The cost of conducting research with Consumer Direct Online depends on the goals but for CPG companies it has been estimated at less than a million dollars for a six week campaign. Alternatively, for those brands that don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend, the Advertising Research Federation (ARF) has embraced this methodology and will subsidize programs to make the costs lower in other verticals.

Microsoft on the micro issues

"There have been enormous advances in ways to measure offline sales since I began studying it in 1987. Even in the last year the program advances have been significant. Now the question is how to run it more effectively in the real world," Stephen Kim, Microsoft’s director of ad sales research, told the audience.

Kim is involved in the experimental design of campaigns with Microsoft’s partners, reviewing whether a test group buys more of a partner’s product offline than a control group does. Many will recall the company’s Ford F-150 truck campaign last September -- considered one of the most compelling integrated campaigns yet, which concretely tied sales impact to the roadblock. Recent studies of Kraft’s Jell-O and Nestle’s Coffee Mate campaigns showed retail sales increases of 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

"Comparing online’s cost efficiency to other marketing elements is crucial (i.e. online vs. print vs. TV). This is the goal of the program, not just simply to prove that it works. Having this comparative insight allows marketers to adjust media allocation," Kim said. He also recommended that the program’s ROI measurement include branding, not just sales.

He added that questions still remain about which components of these programs really drove the most significant results. What type of formats work best? What types of creative drives sales? What is the impact of different sizes in rich media? Those questions need to be answered to determine where the industry is headed.

The AD:TECH audience asked about which specific online ad formats performed best, considering the negative light surrounding pop-ups. Kim told them that rich media drove large offline sales increases for Microsoft’s campaigns, and that he believes it will probably grow in importance as broadband penetration increases.

One vertical down, many more to go

Kim told the audience that the gap between online consumption and online investment is still significant -- marketers have not invested up to the medium’s potential. The ARF and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) still have a great deal to do to educate people about the offline sales impact of online advertising.

Kim said, "There is no doubt that people are spending more online, and recently companies who see their direct competitors getting results from this type of program are looking to increase their interactive budgets. CPG has been penetrated, now it’s time to tackle retail."

Return to Part 1

Harris: It's been a year since the launch of the official American Idol fan community site, MyIdol.com, which you described in your last interview with us as the place for avid fans of the show to discuss, debate and submerge themselves into everything American Idol. How was the decision made for Fox to host this MyIdol community itself, rather than tapping into Fox's sister company, MySpace, or other social networks and directing fans to the show's presence there?

King: By every measurable statistic, MyIdol has been a tremendous success for us. And not coincidentally, the platform for the blogs, boards, and personal photo galleries are all built on the same platform as Fox Interactive Media's hugely popular site, MySpace. In fact, MySpace, as well as most Fox Interactive properties, are huge traffic drivers for us. We owe a lot of the success of our digital downloads trial last year -- 177k downloads in eight days -- to the enormous amount of cross-company marketing.

Harris: Are there portions of the promotional campaign specifically designed to bring in new fans of the show, or is the main priority to continue to engage loyal fans of the show and give them a place to connect with other fans?

King: We absolutely strive to bring in new visitors to the site. You'll see that more this season in particular. One way we're doing that is more integration with the telecast this year. Our partners on the television side are keen to find online tie-ins that are relevant and meaningful to the show and the contestants. Of course having Ryan Seacrest say "Go to Americanidol.com" on air is great-- a specific call to action to do something that has an ultimate outcome on the television show is much stronger. Any way that we can interact with the actual show is a win for us and reaches both new users and engages our core fans. 

Harris: What would you say has changed about the way your team has marketed American Idol in the last few years? Has the overall task become harder or easier?

King: I think it's become harder to distinguish yourself in the marketplace in general as the internet has grown. But to a large extent, we are lucky to have a brand that is such a phenomenon that it markets itself and a constant feedback loop with them. We reach out to our visitors and fans and adapt our strategy based on their input.
Also, the shift we made last year from running a more marketing-driven site to operating a business unit within Fox Interactive has changed how we position the site. These two changes work together. Visitors wanted more content, fresh daily video, new sections to explore and a rich community. Doing these things, not only meets their needs, it gives us more inventory for advertising, which in turn allows us to create more content. We send out marketing messages about new features constantly to keep up with the changing technology and drive awareness for the site.

Harris: Can you tell us anything about the fans who access MyIdol.com, demographically or behaviorally?

King: Demographically, MyIdol pretty much matches the show.  We attract a wide age range with a small edge of females over males. Our members are avid board users, bloggers and definitely love uploading personal photos of everything from their pets to pictures of their friends. They're also gamers and we're looking to expand the gaming experience on the site soon to offer up more choices. 

Harris: What big brands will have prominent presences on the site this year? What brands do you think really speak to the American Idol fan base? 

King: As you'd expect, you'll see the familiar big brands that are associated with the show again this year. This is a show that appeals to the largest television audience and a growing online audience. I can't really speak to specific advertisers' goals, but I can say that the show and Americanidol.com attracts top caliber brands. We have the luxury of working with the world's leading brands and agencies that really understand the marketplace and do some of the most innovative, creative work out there. It's not a bad place to be!

Jodi Harris is managing editor of iMedia Connection's Entertainment Spot. Read full bio.

Mobile experts

Mobile is a growing field that requires a variety of unique skill sets. Candidates need to be steeped in technology while having serious chops in strategy, creative, and the basics of marketing. And, while all these skills are important, technology especially tends to be the common thread through key roles within a mobile business unit. Talent in this specialty needs to be on the cutting edge of technology, not only knowing what is current and real but knowing what is coming next.

In addition, star talent stands out by having the ability to effectively articulate the brand journey for the client. Yes, so much in mobile is new and technology-driven, but mobile employees benefit from a skill that is timeless: the ability to communicate in a way that inspires and persuades the client. Creatives in this space need to think post-PC digital; mobile strategists need to understand a consumer's path to purchase and be able to speak within this new and continually changing cultural landscape.

My advice for candidates: In addition to staying on top of the best trends in mobile technology, work on core communication and persuasion skills in order to have the best opportunities for impact within an agency.

UX designers

There is no doubt that user experience (UX) has become extremely important for any agency that does digital work. Like other specialist roles within advertising, there is a scarcity of talent available in this emerging discipline, which has very few standards and many overlapping skill sets. For recruiters, it's particularly challenging to determine the quality of candidates who list agency experience since each agency defines UX in its own way. And, it's hard to assess potential success based on a portfolio alone.

On top of that, senior talent in this space often struggles with the leadership aspects of their role because their careers have mostly involved working independently with little management responsibility. Put simply, finding a UX specialist who can manage is like finding gold. Meanwhile, the new folks who are entering the job market have often been ill-prepared by their schools for agency life and business-centered roles. This can make it challenging to onboard recent graduates.

My advice for candidates: If you are a recent graduate, work at translating your experience and knowledge to an agency context. It might be wise to have an internship at an agency to learn what it's like culturally. If you are senior talent, in addition to staying on top of your UX portfolio, invest the time to develop your leadership and communication skills.

Account planning

When it comes to small talent pools, account planning provides many a headache for recruiters. There are simply not enough planners to go around within the U.S. in general -- and it can be even trickier for digital agencies to find them. The problem is this: Planners want to build brands. They want to be involved in brand positioning and consumer research, and they want to work with creative on big umbrella ideas. But there is a general assumption that digital agencies are only about technical and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, while that's true for some agencies, I can tell you that it's definitely not true for us and many others. At Digitas, we're pulling connections planning, user experience strategy, and account planning together into a brand strategy group. We're looking for a new kind of planner -- someone with both traditional skills and a deep understanding of consumer interface, social, and media planning. It can be challenging because this requires hybrid talent who are too few and far between. Thus many agencies, like our own, are growing these hybrid planners organically and cultivating a new type of planner for a new time.

My advice to candidates: Keep an open mind. Digital agencies aren't just doing technical work -- they're changing the brand conversation. There are a lot of great opportunities out there for planners who want to be attached to the agency of the future. Don't limit yourself.

Technology experts

In this day and age, it's essential to find technology experts who can map their first-rate ability in their craft to a larger, more holistic project. Too many technologists are unable to see the big picture, and that limits their effectiveness within an agency context.

Good technologists must also have the ability to successfully navigate the structure of an agency by shepherding projects through their complete lifecycles. They must be able to provide specialized guidance through project design, implementation, launch, and maintenance -- all while ensuring that end-to-end solutions are met on a constant basis. And they're responsible for defining and promulgating technical best practices, standards, and technical strategies across multiple channels.

It's often challenging for recruiters to find individuals who can flex between these technical and functional capabilities. Recruiters want individuals who can show that they're up-to-date on emerging technologies and the digital landscape; have managed technical design and the implementation of project solutions; and have overseen effective programming, installation, configuration, documentation, operation, monitoring, and maintenance of web hardware and software environments supporting web solutions delivered to multiple clients. All of these requirements combined set up recruiters with a limited talent pool.

My advice to candidates: Work at your big-picture skills in order to present yourself as a technologist who is able to map your unique skills to a bigger and bolder project. It might be a good time to advance your own knowledge of business strategy as it relates to your field.

Search marketing experts

Search marketing professionals are a hot commodity if they can lead the strategy, management, and performance optimization for a campaign. This is especially the case when an agency is recruiting for search marketers who have operated on a larger scale with big-budget client campaigns.

This pool of candidates is limited because search marketing and performance specialists often don't have significant experience incorporating search into much larger, multi-channel media campaigns. Most candidates available today have only operated on a smaller scale. It's also important to find search experts who have a clear understanding of both performance and display media and how they work together.

Agencies often expand the pool of candidates by considering individuals from the client side or from search engine companies -- but the challenge still exists. Ultimately, we're all competing for search marketing experts who can operate on a larger scale and consistently demonstrate a strong passion for numbers, analysis, and digital media strategy.

My advice to candidates: Similar to technological experts, search professionals should consider developing strategic capability within their work and presenting this to recruiters. Be able to demonstrate that you can go deep in your function while staying broad in your thinking.

Social marketing specialists

The evolution of social media and real-time marketing has been transformational for advertisers. At Digitas, we operate social with the mindset of a newsroom, constantly looking for opportunities to create brand awareness for our clients that breaks through all the noise. This approach to social requires highly adaptable and curious social experts who are able to quickly respond and adjust to changing conditions and contexts. And while social requires in-the-moment marketing, we also want our social experts to focus on developing and executing social marketing strategies that are more long term in their orientation.

The challenge sometimes with sourcing talent for social is that everyone with a Twitter account thinks they're a social media expert. For us, social goes far deeper than just posting on Facebook. Our social leaders anticipate and monitor the evolution of social media. They set the tone, philosophy, and strategy for today's web. Thus we look for candidates who have experience in all facets of social, including social listening, social platforms, community development, social gaming and entertainment, content, and public relations.

Since social media is still a relatively recent phenomenon, it's challenging to find candidates who check off these boxes, along with also being strong client managers and internal collaborators with the ability to identify and win new business opportunities. Because of that, when we look for candidates, we often think outside the box and pursue talent from non-traditional resources like publishing and politics.

My advice to candidates: With social, there's so much in the way of free resources available online. For entry-level strategists in particular, if you don't have experience in one of the areas we've listed above, there are countless free tools, platforms, and case studies that you can experiment with or learn from to try to fill the knowledge gap.

Data analytics specialists

More than ever, agencies are challenged to produce analytics and measurable results from their campaigns. A lot of that is in response to the pressure being placed on CMOs to deliver success. But in general, proving ROI is also core to any service business. This context demands a beefed-up focus on advanced analytics. With that in mind, we search for talent who understand how to conduct and evaluate sophisticated analyses and can turn those data into high-performing marketing campaigns that enable clients to maximize their marketing investment.

These type of analysts need to understand more than just data. They need to be heavily involved in how data statistics work and interpret those data into effective marketing campaigns across channels. We want specialists in this field who are obsessed with the bottom line for our clients.

Qualified candidates need to have a strong understanding and passion for marketing and an even stronger passion for data. They need to have a background in economics or statistics but also be consultants with a comprehension of general marketing strategies. What's great about this field is that the growing study of marketing analytics in schools is producing young talent who are hungry for agency experience. For more senior talent, we consider individuals from consulting and market research firms.

My advice to candidates: Show recruiters that you understand how to tie data back to relevant marketing and business goals. Instead of just thinking about big data, think smart data.

At Digitas, understanding how important it is to find top talent in these growing areas, we also put an intense focus on building a positive employee experience. While recruiting new superstars is crucial to future success, retention of uniquely talented specialists is a key part of our overall talent management strategy. That means encouraging an open and collaborative culture, providing constant learning and development opportunities for professional growth, and rewarding and appreciating our people for all that they do.

Paul Gorrell, Ph.D., is chief talent officer at Digitas.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Needle and hay" image via Shutterstock.

- Todd Wheatland, author & speaker

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

- Donald Trump

- Jay Baer, best-selling author

-  Beth Comstock, CMO of GE

- Eleanor Roosevelt

- Jonah Sachs, author

- Tony Robbins, motivational speaker

- Maya Angelou

- Christopher Penn, actor

- Mark Cuban

- Seth Godin, author, entrepreneur & marketer

- Larry Weber, American entrepreneur

And finally...

- Yoda, Jedi master

"Hot pizza,""Businessman standing in the dramatic ocean before storm,""The light trails on the modern building background in shanghai china,""Perpetual motion concept,""Cheering crowd at the rock concert in a concert hall,""Pencil lying on a calendar,""Big boss,""Pencils and graduation hat,""Human resources, corporate hierarchy and multilevel marketing concept,""Money making idea. Dollar symbol glow among other light bulb on a blue background,""Creative concept pages of book Beautiful landscape image,""Happy cup on wood table,""Women having a conversation,""Climbers on the summit of a challenging cliff,""A boy jumping of an old train trestle bridge into a river done,""Assassin at starry night,""Newspapers folded and stacked,""Crowd in front of a stage,""Lifting barbell above head. Strength and power,""White dove flying in the sky. Background with a text field,""Illustration, bird tattoos come to life" images via Shutterstock.

Alexander Wang and H&M

A high end designer partnering up with a budget retail outlet is nothing new, and H&M is known for snagging some seriously hot designers (as is Target). However, the Alexander Wang partnership is especially worth noting. Just like every other H&M designer, the Wang marriage is planned to be short-lived, but offers Wang a chance to make a connection with a brand new generation. Obviously, the benefits are H&M scores yet another killer designer while Wang will likely develop a few customers willing to pay couture prices in a few months or years.

The Art of Shaving and Gillette

Well, this is an obvious hookup everyone saw coming! The Art of Shaving is a luxury chain known for offering the best accoutrements for shaving around, including gold plated razors. Of course, Gillette is known for offering close shaves on a budget, and is arguably the best-known shaving brand in the US. However, when these two sidled up to one another, the result was the Fusion Chrome Collection: An Art of Shaving razor that only worked with Gillette blades. It costs $150 and gave both brands a corner on the market.

Benjamin Moore and Pottery Barn

What does one of the world's premium paint brands and one of the globe's most renowned home goods store have in common? A gorgeous interior, of course! While Pottery Barn was doing everything possible to provide furnishing and bedding to make interior décor dreams come true, customers kept asking about paint colors -- especially the ones in the Pottery Barn catalogue. The obvious answer was to work with Benjamin Moore to design a unique palette for every season.

Betty Crocker and Hershey

Talk about a sweet coupling! Everyone knows both Betty Crocker and Hershey, and both are connected with comfort foods, desserts, baking, and goodies. Betty Crocker has been the go-to brand for baking since 1921, and teaming up with Hershey to create easy to make treats was a no-brainer. After all, if you're going to call for chocolate chips in your recipe, you may as well specify America's most beloved brand.

One Direction and Nabisco

Yes, really! A "brand" doesn't necessarily have to be a company providing goods or services -- it can be a band, too. Nabisco has a penchant for partnering up with the most popular bands and musicians in the world, so it only makes sense to "brand band" with this boy band. Nabisco is sponsoring the group's tour including brand mentions in 20,000 retail locations via store displays and on 8,000 end-caps around the country. A bit of a brand hopper, One Direction has also worked with Nokia, Pepsi, and Target to name just a few.

Lexus and Coach

Remember when Lexus was the ultimate luxury car, especially in the hip hop sector of the 1990s? You may also recall that this is when Coach joined forces with the car giant to offer one of a kind luxury leather interior seating. It was a perfect pairing, especially in a time when Coach was also one of the most in-demand brands and the logo craze was just taking off. Nowadays, Coach is looking to expand but will always be linked to those bags.

New York's Ace Hotel and Stumptown Coffee

Ace Hotel is one of the most well-known hotels in all of Manhattan, and it has a knack for choosing fantastic partnerships including Stumptown Coffee. Arguably the most popular brewer in New York, any traveler (and locals, too) demand the best café in the mornings, and Ace is happy to help serve that up. Forget that mediocre, free coffee in the lobby and enjoy the real New York experience. Coffee and hotels go together like jam and peanut butter, so it was a natural fit.

MAC and Everybody

Celebrity-endorsed MAC products include special lines each year or season that are an homage to the celeb flavor of the day. Some of the most well-known celebrity "designers" include RuPaul, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Gaga, and Nicki Minaj. Obviously, MAC likes celebrities with an edge, which goes in line with its industry-approved makeup, bright colors, and sleek designs. The most recent MAC designer: Miley Cyrus, of course.

Coca-Cola and Jack Spade

What could America's most popular beverage possibly have in common with a designer? Don't underestimate the power of Americana, because Jack Spade has launched a series of clothes, bags, and accessories that feature the icon everyone knows and loves. For the designers, connecting with classic beverage brands tap into the nostalgia and classic adoration that many fashionistas adore. For the beverage brands, they can tap into a different market and up their class/ desirability factor at the same time.

McDonald's and LEGO

McDonald's is another company known for jumping in bed with quite a few brand partners. One of the most successful was LEGO, and together the companies produced a mini restaurant (built with LEGOs of course) as well as Happy Meal Toys. There's nothing kids love more than LEGO, except maybe McDonald's, which is why this partnership was easy to come by and benefited all (except maybe the parents who ended up stepping on those restaurant building pieces).

KFC and Susan G. Komen

Remember the 2010 "Buckets for the Cure" campaign that was touted by KFC in collaboration with the Susan G. Komen Foundation? Of course, chicken can't cure cancer -- or can it? With 50 cents of every purchase being donated to the Foundation, $2 million was raised in week one alone. While some critics mocked the idea of fast food trying to help cure cancer ("eat a breast to save a breast," anyone?), it was ultimately a goodwill effort that did what it was designed to do: Sell more chicken and raise some funds.

Co-branding can range from the strange to the obvious, but usually falls somewhere in between. Where will brand partnerships take us in 2015? Only time will tell.

Anna Johansson is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"partnership concept with gear and businessman" image via Shutterstock.


The first company on my list is Wylei. "Adaptive content" is a phrase email marketers have been hearing more and more frequently, and Wylei is an emerging leader in this category. Its platform provides real-time adaptive content solutions to agencies and brands to increase digital messaging relevance and engagement by automatically adapting emails based on how, where, and when they are viewed, all in real time.

There is more than one player in this area, but what I really like about Wylei is how easy it is to use. Wylei provides marketers with a code snippet that is easily included in the HTML, and it incorporates adaptive content logic, automated real-time and continuous A/B testing to identify and learn patterns in order to provide best fit content. Wylei's continuous identification of behavior patterns and real-time application of its machine learning algorithm is a key distinction of its solution. Wylei brings real-time multivariate testing and behavior recognition to email to optimize content decisions at message open time. And they have established partnerships with all the major ESPs, landed some big brands (most recently Dell, Marriott, and Vistaprint, to name a few) and expanded its solution into the personalized video space.

In the words of Mike Monteiro, Wylei's CEO, "The core of what we do is help marketers connect with their customers individually, and at scale. We all know that genuinely compelling content is what drives engagement, and that personalized, context-specific messaging is compelling. The challenge is how to listen, respond intelligently, and then listen again, across millions of customers all at once. The exciting thing is that technology has now evolved to the point where that's not only a possibility, but an imperative."


Full disclosure: I'm on the Board of Directors at eDatasource. However, that shouldn't disqualify it from making this list -- particularly since I wouldn't be on the Board if I didn't think it were an interesting company! eDatasource isn't a new company. It's been around since 2003. It provides its services both directly to marketers, as well as to most of the leading ESPs. What does it do? Based in New York City, eDataSource collects, analyzes, organizes, and archives millions of marketing messages, providing competitive intelligence and analytics to the email marketing community. G.B. Heidarsson, the CEO, just celebrated his one-year anniversary at the helm, and the first 12 months of his tenure have been a beehive of activity, including the introduction of completely new tool sets and innovative approaches that manage to get actionable competitive true-real-time information into the hands of marketers, thus enabling them to react and outsmart the competition in a way never before experienced. Yesmail was impressed enough to incorporate this data into its own Competitive Intelligence Tool.

In addition to its solid consumer data research, eDatasource also launched an exciting new inbox monitoring tool that makes seed-based monitoring of inboxes seem outdated and ineffective. This tool combines its proprietary email analytics capability with a panel of 1 million active consumer inboxes. Marketers can track the number of emails received by the panel that were opened, opened and deleted, and deleted without opening, giving them an efficient way to track the performance of their own campaigns, as well as their competitors' campaigns. It also gives ESPs early warning of deliverability issues facing their top clients.

In the words of G.B. Heidarsson, "We have had an amazing year, fueled by extremely positive responses to our reengineered toolset both for competitive monitoring and inbox monitoring. Our client list reads like a who-is-who in the retail, travel and email industry, but this is just the beginning. We are using our 2014 success to propel ourselves into investing even more in our product development and our clients are going to continue to see dramatic innovation this year with new products and continued product refinement."


I first ran into Persado at ExactTarget's Connections as it's a partner on the Hub Exchange. Its headquarters are in the U.K., with its U.S. headquarters in New York. In its own words, it programmatically uncovers the language and emotions that make people buy. It accomplishes this using Natural Language Processing and advanced statistical algorithms. 

Forgetting all those fancy words, in essence what Persado does is machine generate the most persuasive communications intended to drive action. These communications are typically in the form of email subject lines and body, web pages, on-site banner ads, SMS messages, and Facebook advertisements. Its technology uses a large database of organized language, coupled with semantic algorithms and natural language generation techniques to accomplish this, ultimately eliminating the guesswork implicit in copywriting. And because it's a SaaS model, it's designed to smoothly integrate into your existing marketing workflow and technology tools.

"Persuasion automation represents a new class of technology that has far-ranging applications," said Alex Vratskides, CEO and co-founder of Persado. "In addition to digital marketing and advertising, the use of optimal language designed to drive action extends to areas like digital health, persuading patients to stick to doctors' recommendations; transactions, persuading people to pay bills; citizen compliance, persuading people not to litter or encouraging them to enroll for healthcare; and elections and social media applications, such as online dating. In all cases, we seek language that persuades, and this is Persado's invention: the application of math and science to the creation of communications designed to motivate action."

So that's my short list as we begin 2015. Of course, I don't intend to have it viewed as the only must-follow companies in the new year. There are many new and interesting companies bringing ideas to the email marketing space and the broader digital marketing universe. And if you happen to be one of them, and you want to make the list next time around, let us know. My team is always on the lookout for cool new stuff.

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Followers" image via Shutterstock.

SoothSayers -- finding the right data

I originally wrote about using scientifically based data to increase event attendance in 2006's mapping personae to outcomes, and the methodology described there is still valid:

  • Determine the event audience's characteristics

  • Create personae based on those characteristics

  • Map those personae to specific, desired outcomes

You can determine the event audience's characteristics by analyzing their social footprints. People will have LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, Twitter handles. They'll be on Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Flickr. They'll use FourSquare, Tumblr, and the list goes on.

Here's where knowing where to look comes in. The majority of people create social identities that are slightly different on each social platform. People post one type of item on Facebook and something completely different on LinkedIn. They'll put something on Twitter that's a bit snippier than they'd publish anywhere else.

These identities are the social network equivalent of our family vs. work vs. PTA vs. student, etc., identities. We don't behave the same with our family as we do with our work peers and we behave differently at a PTA meeting than we do in a house of worship.

But we're still us and here's the important part. The person who spends more time volunteering at their PTA is going to be a little different than the person who spends most of their time in worship or at work or as a student.

Create a simple population plot of where your audience spends its online downtime and you'll have a handle on their characteristics, what they value, and what piques their interest.

Patterns will form in the characteristics. Perhaps "giving" is a recurring theme. Make sure your event incorporates active and passive social giving aspects as part of its offering and people with that slant will come in your door. Perhaps "family" is a recurring theme. Make sure your event allows time for local touring and the family crowd will come in.

Finding characteristics works both ways. Part of what you'll discover is where your audience is spending its time. Do the majority of your attendees visit three platforms routinely and others rarely? What do those platforms offer that keep those people coming back? What can your event do -- regardless of what space your event is in -- that matches or mimics what those platforms offer that keep people coming back?

A mirrored shield -- knowing where to look

People's social footprints are overflowing with useful event planning and organizing information. Much of this information takes the form of "psychological axes." Most people know about the fight-or-flight axis, and there are many others. Some axes that are directly useful to event people are mountain or ocean, city or country, winter or summer, and so on.

Look through your attendees' social footprints and determine if your audience is mostly mountain or ocean, city or country, etc., and you know where to place your event to create maximum draw. Winter or summer, spring or fall, etc., tell you when to schedule your event (if it's one per year) or how many events to schedule per year. There are many of these axes and learning if your audience is desert/fall, city/ocean, summer/mountain provides you with the wheres, whens and attendance numbers for your different scheduled events.

Take a quick look at how your attendees plan events in their lives and you know what presenters and presentations to schedule. Are potential attendees always referencing immediate, in-the-moment activities? Are they tweeting or Pinning that they're standing in a line waiting to get into a theater or that they'll be going to the theater tonight, tomorrow, or over the weekend? Little things like this are psychological clues that your attendees want immediate, tactical style solutions that are process oriented versus long-range, strategic style solutions that are project oriented.

This is where we shift from learning characteristics to creating attendee personae based on those characteristics and where most planners and organizers fail.

The industry has pushed a "persona" concept into the market that is wonderfully broad. It's such a broad brush that it either covers too much of the wall or not enough. You cover everything and need to spread out drop cloths and have a turpentine rag handy to clean up where your brush went over the edges. In event marketing, this means you spend lots of time bringing in the wrong people who get de-branded, don't come back, and tell others not to bother.

Broad brush personae can also fail because their ease of use makes misuse easy as well. You can paint the center but not cover the edges. Now people who'd attend and like your event aren't being touched by the initial brushstroke so you lose market share.

For example, most marketers are familiar with the clichéd personaes "truck driver Joe" and "soccer mom." These are wonderfully broad personae that are perfectly acceptable if you're selling soccer balls and fuzzy dice air fresheners.

But event organizers and planners are not. Event planners and organizers are selling a theme and an idea, specifically, themes and ideas that are repeated through the years. But, lots of events turn out to be one-offs and are never repeated and that's because the events fail to brand.

Branding in the event space means giving attendees something now, immediately at the time of the event, and getting into their consciousness so that they come back again and again. Event branding is both prospecting and upselling. People who've never purchased a Dell product may attend DellWorld because they're exploring their hardware options. Those people are prospects and Dell's upsell is product, services, and next year's DellWorld event.

Getting into and staying in consumer consciousness is where traditional concepts of personae fail. Knowing why "truck driver Joe" wants fuzzy dice air fresheners and why "soccer mom" wants soccer shoes tells you the color, scent, feel, size, packaging, placement, material, display, and now we're into marketing writ large. You can produce general fuzzy dice and soccer shoes, maybe get 30 percent of the market and count yourself lucky. You can produce fuzzy dice and soccer shoes segmented along color, scent, feel, size, packaging, placement, etc., and pick up 90 percent of the overall market by picking up 80 percent of each segment along with cross-over markets.

An adamantine sword to segment the audience data

At this point you've created personae based on psychological drivers and motivations. "Truck driver Joe" may be "truck driver Joe" because he's putting himself through school or because he inherited his family's trucking business. "Soccer mom" may be "soccer mom" because she can't get a job and this is how she fills her days or because work keeps her so busy the soccer field is her only chance to be a mom to her kids. They may all come to your conferences and now you know which presentations they'll attend and just as important, what to tell vendors about your attendees.

Now we're getting into knowing what to put on the schedule versus what to make available off schedule, and who'll pay top dollar for the vendor floor entrance placement versus who'll pay for a shared booth because they really want to scour the competition.

The other big benefit to this methodology is that you now know what not to spend your event dollars on. You now know what none of your attendees care about, what presentations will have one or two attendees versus what will presentations will fill the hall and keep attendees and vendors coming back.

Another incorrect marketing belief is that segmenting an audience means getting less of an audience. That's a fallacy that needs to go away and here's an example of just how foolish that idea is: Have you ever gone to an ice cream stand? Did you get the exact same thing as the person standing next to you in line? Did all the people get the exact same thing?

Ridiculous, isn't it? Yet marketers -- and especially event marketers -- fall into that erroneous thinking all the time. Your event is the ice cream stand. People will be coming to the same ice cream stand for lots of different flavors, lots of different tastes, and if they enjoy their flavor (that's the "knowing your segments" part), they'll bring friends who'll enjoy ice cream with different flavors (segmenting again). You'll talk with a stranger about how good the ice cream is and how much you enjoy the mocha-choca-vanilla-swirl-walnut, and how is their peppermint-maple-coconut-pumpkin mash?

The more diverse your attendee audience is in their psychologic drivers and motivations, the more cross selling, cross talk, and cross pollination will occur. People who never thought of a particular flavor will try it the next time out. Even if they don't like it, they'll know someone who does and bring them along the next time.

So use that adamantine sword and segment, segment, segment!


The goal of event planners and organizers is three fold:

  • Attract a large audience.

  • Segment it.

  • Direct each segment to more specific information designed to close or convert the greatest number of individuals in that segment.

Good planning and judicious use of commonly available data -- not necessarily big data, just the right data -- can help you grow your audience up to 600 percent in very short time.

Joseph Carrabis is chief research officer at NextStage Evolution.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Young business man looking through telescope" image via Shutterstock.


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