Imagine what the world would be like without interactive driving directions and access to online information systems about local businesses. Most of us can remember a central telephone system in the pre-regulation days that allowed us to access points for finding local information, dial up information and telephone directories.
Today's digital generation has no such boundaries, and the developing local world has everyone guessing about the future of the connected, geographically relevant local experience. There are a multitude of choices in how we access the local commerce information. Some are more familiar than others. New applications of the old yellow pages still hold a great deal of promise, but a few bizarre twists in accessing local information should have advertisers sitting up and taking notice.
Yesterday, Google announced acquisition plans for dMarc Broadcasting a radio advertising firm with technology that helps connects advertisers to radio stations. Meanwhile, last week sponsored listings began appearing on Google's maps. Blogs were buzzing recently with the rumors of Verizon and Microsoft expanding their existing relationship with new advertising options, and Yahoo! recently announced plans to expand its relationship with YellowPages.Com.
Is it yellow pages or local search? What's the difference? How will live audience testing affect the relationship consumers have with their trusted information resources? Let's take a look at recent developments in the local world and try to make sense of it all.
The Google way
Google's planned acquisition of dMarc Broadcasting signals an entirely new direction for reaching out to audiences, shifting the directional local model from customer retention to new customer acquisition. The essence of local search lies in the nature of users seeking information about services in which they already have a need.
While Google did not release information about how ad implementations were to take place, a Google representative suggested the vast network of advertisers in the Google network would benefit from the acquisition. dMarc's technology has applied a new level of connectivity and accountability for advertisers, and it is only natural that contextual relevancy would make radio a smarter play for advertisers.
The race for local advertising intelligence saw the limited geographic test placements of sponsored listings in the context of map viewing last week with a short list of advertisers making an appearance. Also in the works and possibly coinciding with map placements is the advancement of pay per call advertising in the Google network.
One has to wonder about the impact of the untested human guinea pig model of introducing new services, but we'll get to that in a minute.
MSN and Verizon
Verizon and MSN have a large scale partnership in place for local advertising in the mobile environment. Web-enabled Verizon mobile devices have access to MSN Messenger and other MSN services such as Hotmail, news and weather. While the mobile device playground is decidedly chaotic, a bigger development on the local search front is worth a closer look.
MSN and Verizon have had a long standing partnership in the Yellow Pages arena with Verizon advertising populating MSN Yellow Pages. Last week, local business advertisements from Verizon's Superpages.com began appearing on Microsoft's local search pages.
A delicate mish-mash of pay per call, pay per click and flat rate advertisements are now appearing in local search results with an apparent priority given to ad units with performance-based potential. Since the pay per call format has yet to see mass adoption, it is yet unknown how consumers will react to a multitude of choices in response action. The real test of targeting capabilities would be integration into MSN's AdCenter platform, which allows for targeting by more traditional audience segmentation like demographic and psychographic information.
Yellow Pages and Yahoo! -- oh my!
Last year, the dominant directory domain was acquired by telephone company giants SBC and BellSouth. Tried and true methods of directional advertising met a popular domain and the collected resources of these big firms came together. The biggest benefit of a yellow pages advertisement lies in the inherent trust consumers have in the Yellow Pages as an information resource, as opposed to an advertising medium.
Recently, Yahoo! and YellowPages.com announced a plan in which Yellowpages.com advertisers will receive placements in Yahoo! Local. Once again, partnerships have been in place since before the new millennium with the Telco's and Yahoo! both sharing advertiser revenue, as well as the highly coveted business listing data.
Listing accuracy has been a problem for local business information providers since the industry was deregulated, and the ownership of business addresses and telephone numbers were lost in the shuffle en masse. Though we can expect the pattern of telephone service providers and internet portal partnerships to continue, the much larger issue of re-establishing the trust consumers have with the big yellow print directories must be addressed.
The human test
In the old days, we would test new products and technologies with developers, reach out to specific audiences with potential changes in very small controlled doses to uncover flaws, potential legal complications and other unforeseen disasters long before mass-consuming audiences were allowed to digest our new offerings. In short, we had a very good idea what we might encounter long before a new concept was introduced.
Today, the beta concept has shattered or removed the old practice of preparing the product for mainstream before large scale distribution.
The problem? The public lacks the time to adopt technologies and adapt their own behavior to new resources. Exacerbating the predicament is the constant ebb and flow of mergers, acquisitions and shaky partnerships that last only a short while.
The success of each new development is contingent upon its ability to scale up and secure advertising dollars. With the possible exception of early adopters, few advertisers are willing to place their brand equity on the line with an untested form of advertising. A better plan for hopefuls in the space might be taking a break from the local rat race and spending some time getting it right before introducing it to the world.
Consumers and advertisers will thank you.
iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results.
For years, marketers have played the role of the golfer, taking out a separate club for each target, and driving their message home as forcefully as possible. Marketers were more concerned with what they said than what the target heard, creating an endless series of monologues that fell on deaf ears.
Marketers who continually support their customers through the course of life, providing value in each communication, will find themselves scoring big in 2008. This value exchange can come in many forms, but only if the marketer truly understands the needs and aspirations of its target and commits to engaging in a genuine dialogue at every point of contact. Now is the time for marketers to be the caddie and to treat marketing as a service, to deliver real value to customers and prospects alike.
Marketers, like most duffers, tend to take a different swing with each club, resulting in inconsistent messages that fly all over the place. The need for an integrated approach to marketing is not news today, nor will it be in 2008. What will be news is the increased reliance on idea shops like Naked, Anomaly and Renegade.
J&J made headlines by hiring Naked to guide communications planning for as many as 10 of its largest brands, including baby products. These shops will be tapped to provide the big idea -- the perfect swing to reach the target regardless of the marketing discipline.
Finding the integrated idea that works across various media is more important than ever, even in a search-dominated world. A recent study by JupiterResearch shows that 39 percent of online searchers are significantly influenced by offline messaging, a fresh reminder that while it usually takes more than one club to win a match, without a consistent swing, the game is lost.
Being on the fairway consistently puts any golfer in a good mood. Marketers will hit their "fairway" in 2008, adding behavioral targeting to their contextual search efforts. For the uninitiated, behavioral targeting is the ability to deliver online ads to consumers based on their recent viewing behavior. Contextual targeting is the fancy term for search buys on Google, MSN and Yahoo.
AOL certainly believes in the future of behavioral targeting, having spent $275 million this year to buy Tacoda, the category leader. Tacoda claims to reach 120 million people in 31 discrete audience segments every month. eMarketer predicted this year that behavioral targeting will increase 10-fold over the next five years, growing from $350 million to $3.8 billion in ad spending. Other behavioral targeting firms, including Revenue Science, WhenU and newcomer Collective Media are expected to share in this growth.
A test we ran for Panasonic yielded 50 percent more imminent buyers of a particular consumer electronics product, making it a fair ways better than a simple search buy. If you haven't yet taken a swing with Tacoda and friends, put it on your short list for 2008.
Playing golf without a putter is a fool's errand. With 70 percent (some say 80 percent) broadband penetration in the U.S., streaming video is no longer optional, it is a must-have club in your marketing bag. According to eMarketer, 123 million Americans watch a video at least once a month and three-quarters of those people tell a friend about a video they have seen.
Whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, video represents an enormous opportunity to engage, educate and entertain your target. Ninety-two percent of newspapers now have video content on their websites, up from 61 percent in 2006. Lots of brands are creating informative instructional videos to help their customers understand how to install or use their particular product or service. Others are creating pure entertainment with the hope that it will build brand affinity or drive web traffic, but the ubiquity of video is not without its challenges.
With more than 7 million hours of video content on the web, cutting through will require quality storytelling and judicious editing. One 2007 study notes that video viewing drops off dramatically after just 30 seconds. Short and sweet videos will be the "up and down" of 2008, getting your web traffic up and your complaint calls down.
Just as new technology is changing the game of golf, allowing players to drive balls longer and straighter, new mini-software applications called "widgets" are providing marketers unprecedented access to hard-to-reach targets.
If you spend any time on Facebook and MySpace you will have witnessed the explosion of widgets in 2007. According to ComScore, more than 220 million folks used widgets in the month of May alone. iLike, which allows Facebook users to share their iTunes playlists, grew to more than 10 million users in its first 10 months. Slide, which allows users to create slideshows and embed them into their social network homepages, claims to be the largest personal media network in the world, reaching 120 million unique viewers every month. Expect savvy marketers to test the limits of widgets in 2008.
Though membership at Augusta may be out of reach, marketers will be wise to join the right clubs in 2008 by capitalizing on the growing appeal of social networks. Besides the Goliaths like MySpace and Facebook, growing social networks exist in just about every niche of life, from teens (Pizco and Tagged) to seniors (Eons) to photographers (Flickr) to young do-gooders (AllDayBuffet) to B2B (LinkedIn and Plaxo) to gamblers (BetsGoWild, a Renegade client) to just about every interest group (MeetUp).
Renegade is in the process of building a virtual Gilda's Club for cancer patients and their loved ones as a means of extending and enhancing Gilda's Club's 20 physical locations. For Chase, creating a partnership with Facebook has helped make its "+1" credit card become the card of choice among college kids.
Other marketers might be smart to create a social network for their target if one doesn't exist or to take an existing virtual social network and make it physical (Second Life had its first offline convention in 2007). So figure out how you can join the club in 2008 or risk being left out of all the fun.
Most private clubs have banned cell phones from their courses and, frankly, most marketers have treated mobile with equal reticence. 2008 may be the year to give mobile a closer look as technological improvements and new products create fresh opportunities for marketers to engage mobile users. On the technology front, Bluetooth-enabled phones have made it easier for mobile marketers to provide contextually relevant information to their targets. The U.S. Air Force set up Bluetooth transmitters at racetracks as a means of communicating with possible recruits. Apple's iPhone, which seamlessly moves from cell to WiFi coverage, partnered with Google and Yahoo to enable ad-supported programming. A new service, Cellfire, has enlisted a million people to receive coupons for everything from burgers to videos.
The promise of mobile marketing is that it can deliver highly personalized and useful information right when you need it. As long as marketers don't send out annoying SMS-spam, mobile marketing could be the missing link in personalized communications in 2008.
Millions of non-golfers found themselves swinging virtual clubs this year as the Nintendo Wii transformed the notion of video games. Senior citizen centers brought in Wiis to help entertain guests and to provide an easy way for them to connect with their grandkids. This is but one of the many ways that gaming permeates our society, creating fresh ways for marketers to connect with their targets.
Currently, gaming accounts for 13 percent of online time but only 1 percent of online ad dollars. Even B2B marketers will be smart to give gaming a fresh look in 2008 while seeking ways to blend messaging, training and/or recruiting efforts with gaming media.
Though more kids probably played indoor golf on their favorite gaming platform than outside on a real course, the big surprise in 2007 was the growth of the out-of-home advertising industry. Growing faster than every medium except the internet, this old standby reinvented itself as a technology-rich means of engaging, entertaining and educating commuters -- commuters who are spending more and more time stuck in transit. MINI Cooper tested RFID-activated billboards that sent personalized messages to customers when they drove underneath. This highly customized approach linked "old" outdoor with "new" online, transforming an integrated media program into a cult-building private club, much to the delight of MINI drivers.
"Narrowcasting" video networks continue to sprout up, offering marketers a chance to get their messages in front of selective targets like health clubbers, deli shoppers (Captive Audience), moviegoers (IdeaCast), pet owners (SeeSaw Networks) and elevator riders (Captivate Network). A new electroluminescent vinyl called GlowSkin from Safe Lites allows vehicle wraps to literally transform before your eyes.
This and other innovations will drive out-of-home to new heights in 2008.