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No Sneaking Around


Brand affinity is a powerful identifier for kids, and they are selective about who they associate with, even if they don't use the product. In one recent survey, a large telco found that 95 percent of the respondents it queried had a strong affiliation with its brand, but only 5 percent were actually purchasing the product.

Kids are at a point in their lives where they are simultaneously trying to conform to a larger group while establishing their independence. Successful mobile campaigns will give kids the ability to express themselves, where appropriate. For example, teenagers expect highly customizable avatars, such as those found on Yahoo!, and they are turned off if they don't have the option. Similarly, if teens are putting up any profile information about themselves, they will want to be able to say a lot, and control exactly what they say.

Brands that are considering this platform must be careful, however. Given the recent mishaps with predators on MySpace, kids and adults alike are very sensitive to who can access what data.

"Don't talk to strangers" has long been a mantra of child safety, and mobile devices are not an exception. Teenagers understand the implications of having a very public MySpace page and a private Facebook identity. If they are sharing content in a social networking context, they will want to understand who has access to their data and when. Consider this when brainstorming mobile functionality. For example, a mobile phone tool that allowed users to know where friends were by mashing up triangulation and a map was not well received by teenagers.

Kids generally do trust well known corporate brands; however, they skip the terms and conditions content to get right to the goods. When designing a mobile experience, funnel users directly to the good content and minimize the legal mumbo-jumbo.

What makes a mobile application truly useful is the context. Walk around the mall and you'll notice that young women like to shop in pairs. If a girl can't be with her BFF (best friend forever) at the time, she, and another 48 percent of her demographic, will browse with the phone plastered on her ear as she describes the color, size and cost of the garment she is eyeing. If Mom is nearby, listening carefully, the daughter might resort to sending SMS or MMS text messages, or using instant messenger to privately communicate with her friends in real time.

According to Forrester Research, more that one-third of U.S. online teens text friends while in offline stores. Applications like Twitter enable kids to post their whereabouts, as well as the latest sale at The Gap, in real time for mass consumption. Developing tools that promote viral messaging through SMS and MMS channels can successfully incentivize youth to reach out from the store to their friends.

Another innovative use of the tool is to tie online browsing with offline purchasing by letting kids generate a shopping list and then text it to themselves for purchase at a later date.

Another great example of reaching teens through text messaging is found in concert stadiums. Users are being provided with the opportunity to sign up to text messaging networks to win prizes and even play with famous bands. Up to 20 percent of Gwen Stefani's audience paid 99 cents to send text messages to get the chance to have their seats upgraded. For a fee, teens will send text messages to a short code and see them broadcast on a screen behind popular performers like Howie Day. Other artists are trying even more sophisticated interaction through the mobile web, including creating video clips, which were then sent to their phones.

Even when there is no money on the table, marketers employing these texting techniques are getting valuable information: the user's mobile phone number. They have to be very careful with this, however, because the key to a successful relationship with this market is a solid bond of trust, and spamming them with unwanted messages is not the way to build it.

The temptation for retailers and brand marketers might be strong, but must be resisted. Analysts such as Forrester feel that teens are not amenable to push-promotion on their mobile phones. It is invasive and interrupts their interactions with each other, and if it incurs data charges, it will be very negatively received.

Read what a consumer had to say after getting the following SMS from his provider:

In general, charges are a barrier to mobile web and texting usage that must be accounted for. One major brand doing user research found that kids are generally fuzzy about what is free and what isn't, but they are very sensitive to the costs. When an otherwise free promotion or site incurs data costs, kids often associate the charges with the brand providing the service, not the carrier actually imposing the bill. This has very negative ramifications on brand perception and should be avoided.

Even if the company is providing very popular phone accessories such as ringtones, wallpapers or videos, some kids would prefer not to incur the costs. Urban youth pay for their plans, and they don't want to shell out for something. Suburban youth are concerned with upsetting their parents. In both cases, teens are savvy shoppers and will go to lengths to minimize their costs.

Twenty-five percent of one sample audience has two phones: a simple one for a voice plan and then a T-Mobile Sidekick to browse the web and use social networking applications.

With multiple phone models comes differing expectations on how applications should work. A recent study showed that users of the Sidekick and iPhone expected an interface similar to the web, while users of less sophisticated technologies did better with a simplified, text-based interface. As the application is being built, it is important to consider these different platforms and how users are adapting to rapid change. Fortunately, kids are used to rapid technological growth and have mental models of how devices and interfaces work.

While performing usability testing of users on their mobile devices, one prominent soft drink company found that kids intuitively recognized key design patterns on mobile devices. However, there are also critical problems that greatly impact information design. For example, many users did not understand what MMS messaging is and how they can use it to send pictures. Also, some teens were so proficient with texting and using their phones that they would get ahead of themselves while entering data, causing hang ups and impairing their ability to use the platform.

Finally, interactive mobile sites can be confusing for end users, no matter how streamlined they are. Error messages can come from three places: the application itself, the phone or the carrier. And while teens frequently work through these problems, it can impair conversion. Before you launch the application, test it thoroughly with core demographics, and make sure that the experience is streamlined, simple and smooth.

Once the mobile web application is ready for launch, one large hurdle remains. If the tool is not readily adopted and used, it will languish and fail. Carefully consider how to best introduce the application to the audience by finding key influencers and encouraging them to be the ambassadors. "If losers are doing it, then nobody else will" were the memorable words of one teen.

Teens are social beasts and are driven by what is cool. There are other motivators, too. Young women adopt technologies such as texting and mobile instant messaging in order to communicate with one another. Young men follow them online in order to find romantic trysts. One mobile company put up a tool that allowed kids to express themselves. Very quickly their urban teen audience turned it into an enabler for mobile booty calls and turned out to be unexpectedly popular.

The mobile web is rapidly achieving maturity, and currently the teen audience is a great place to start programs. Many major brands are considering forays into this space, and it's a great opportunity to take a prominent leadership role. Success awaits the intrepid brand manager who does their homework, ensuring that the application is useful, usable and technically sound.

By talking to the intended audience in the correct voice, providing a tool for on-the-go expression and communication, companies stand to benefit greatly from forays into the mobile space.

Rule 3: Develop clear goals and objectives
It's always a good idea to clearly define your objectives for any marketing campaign, and understand if and how this campaign supports your specific business needs. As you consider different marketing channels, you'll typically find that each one can be used to serve a different purpose.

For instance, social media is great for communication, dialogue, and interaction with existing customers, but if it's new customers you're after, you might want to look at other channels such as search engine marketing, mobile, or display advertising. The question to ask is which one best fits what you are looking to accomplish in the long run.

Apply it: Want to be seen as a young and hip brand? Social media is all about buzz, and it's best for building visibility and brand awareness over time. It might also help with increasing purchase frequency with existing customers, by offering unprecedented levels of customer interaction, which can also lead to better customer retention if done right.

But if you're after customer acquisition, or immediate and quantifiable results, be warned: You might find your social media campaign coming up short in this areas.

Rule 4: Optimize daily
What works today won't necessarily work tomorrow. Even the most successful channels should be analyzed, optimized, and updated on a regular, daily basis. Scope out your competition and see what's working for them, as well as what isn't. You might find some things you want to change yourself.

For example, you could be operating in more channels than necessary to acquire the customers that your competitors are getting using fewer channels.

Apply it: When it comes to social media, it's all about what's happening now. Wait five minutes, and you've missed your window to communicate and interact with our customers. Because of this, it's essential to have your pulse on what people are demanding on a daily basis.

Social media is all about engaging with your audience in real time, so be prepared to consistently change the type of content you share with them to keep their attention. And don't stop there; analyze your success in the social media channels to determine where your time is best spent. You might find that your key audience is on Twitter more than Facebook, but you'll never know unless you're checking in on a daily basis.

With a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities that social media presents for your business, it can ultimately be a powerful addition to your marketing mix. Just be sure to have the right plan and approach to make sure you're truly maximizing your success.

Keith Kochberg is CEO of iMarketing LTD

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

That's no keyword; it's your target audience

One of the horrendously bad habits of some of your less experienced search engine marketers is to jump right to keyword research before determining the target audience of the product or service that is being sold. When performing audits of existing paid search accounts or websites for organic search issues, this mistake stands out like the one guy who decides to dress up as Jar Jar at a sci-fi convention.

For instance, it would be really easy to just slap the name of the product, its product category, and some other quick thoughts into a keyword research tool, then run off and start buying those terms simply because "people are searching for them."

The problem is, while people may in fact be searching for and even clicking on those keywords, it doesn't mean they're the kind of terms that bring in people who have a strong chance of actually purchasing the product.

Here's a great example of some additional research that we pulled together for one client:

And this leads to even deeper data like this:

From here, you can start making some smart decisions on your keywords based on the type of activities your target audience is actually interested in. This also allows you to add in some really smart negative keywords based on everything that they are not. These terms usually present themselves during that keyword research phase, but without the proper determination of the target audience, you could waste thousands of dollars of the client's limited budget on terms that never should have been considered in the first place.

Usually, when I hear a client start a conversation about search engine marketing with something like, "We're ranking well for these terms, but we're just not making any money!" the absence of a proper understanding of the target audience is usually the cause.

Your media mix shouldn't be based on what you think is cool

One of my favorite jokes from this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner came from Joel McHale when he said, "Thanks to Obamacare…millions of newly insured young Americans can visit the doctor's office and see what a print magazine actually looks like."

While you can't help but laugh, it also reminds you that print advertising, something that was once a keystone of most media plans, is now a mere shadow of itself. The sadder thing is that this lack of use as an advertising medium has very little to do with readership and everything to do with a rush to use the new, shiny object in the room -- digital media. Although it's hard to argue its reach now, even in its infancy, before it had the reach it does today, digital media started stealing ad dollars from print and other "traditional media" without so much as a hint of research to discover if a product's target audience was even there.

This is a failing of an aspect of media planning called media mix or media usage analysis. This old-school marketing activity basically uses a collection of different data sources to determine, first and foremost, the types of media, including the internet, that your target uses on a regular basis.

For instance, here's some data that was part of a recent pitch that demonstrates this particular client's target audience is a heavy user of not only the internet (woo!), but also magazines, outdoor, and radio.

Without this type of research, the client may have jumped right into doing TV or newspapers, where their media buying activities would be the least cost-efficient.

Once you have this data in hand, media planners would usually work with other data sources to determine specific publications or websites. For instance, you may utilize comScore to determine a list of websites and programmatic ad networks that make for great candidates to become a part of the final media plan. Additionally, you can work with Google to determine other specific media usage habits, such as their propensity for mobile and tablet usage.

After you have all this data in hand, you can finally start the process of determining how much of your budget should be allocated to specific media tactics like paid search, display, mobile, and so on.

Don't have access to MRI, comScore, and a direct line to Google data? Trust me, with enough research, you can find out plenty of information about your target audience via sites like MarketingCharts.com, Compete, and countless others. But let me assure you, having the good data close by makes those arguments that the entire campaign should be TV-based a lot shorter.

So, the next time your boss/client bursts in and says they want to "own mobile," remind them that you're not even sure if you target is using the internet, much less doing so on mobile devices.

Your public relations team makes the best link builders

I have a confession to make: While my agency does a lot of work in the area of search engine optimization (SEO), I really don't believe that SEO as a profession should have ever come into existence. And while this belief doesn't stop me from taking on new SEO clients each year, it has influenced the way that we do business.

To me, SEO is really a collection of marketing and site development best practices that any self-respecting website owner should be doing anyway, even if Google and the other search engines didn't exist. Basically, with a rare exception (that I won't go into here), everything that has been claimed as an SEO activity these days was probably much better off in the hands of an assortment of other functions within an organization.

One of these functions in particular is "link building," the practice of creating links back to a website purely in the name of improving organic search ranking for specific keywords. This is one of those aspects of Google's page ranking algorithm that I really wish they had kept to themselves because, as with every other aspect that has been revealed, the first thought that seems to cross the SEO's mind is, "How can I exploit this newfound knowledge?" -- rather than realizing that a lack of links to a website may be the cause for poor organic search performance.

Over the past few years, Google has made considerable efforts to update its algorithm to catch those that have wielded link building as an unfair weapon in the battle for expanded reach in organic search. With each update, you can hear the cries of some SEOs who somehow felt they were being singled out as some sort of monster for doing what is basically cheating. As a response, Matt Cutts and many other Google representatives have done their best to explain what a more naturally occurring link to a website might look like; however, most SEOs are still at a loss as to how these links could actually come about.

Those of us who have even the most basic knowledge of the old-school marketing activity called public relations recognized this sage advice almost immediately -- it's called "getting coverage," and PR professionals have been doing it for years.

While SEOs have been sliding links into comments on various websites, using deep crawl data to discover old links that lead to bad links, and creating networks of thin content purely for the sake of linking to deep content, public relations professionals have been building relationships, working the phones, and working with members of the press to get the word out about their clients' products and services. And in this day and age of digital media, that coverage usually has a really great link back to the website -- and Google and the other search engines eat it up like digital candy to a digital baby.

We don't need more "tips and tricks"

 If you search the web for advice on how to improve the amount of traffic to your website or how to better promote your business, you will no doubt come across blog post after blog post pushing a myriad number of tips, tricks, hacks, or other tom foolery. You know, stuff that "the big websites don't want you to know." Basically, you're being sold "marketing best practices" the same way that shysters sell snake oil on late night television.

What we need now is more marketing professionals who use digital media as one of their tools instead of button pushers who don't understand how the button works -- or why they're even pushing it in the first place.

So the next time your boss or client asks, "How can we turn things up a notch here?" tell them you want to go old school and actually do some real marketing.

Jeff Ferguson is the CEO of Fang Digital Marketing.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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