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Tips for Marketing with RSS

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Whether you're just getting started with RSS marketing or have been in the game for a while, you probably know that RSS is unlike the other online marketing fish in the sea. Out here, the consumer runs the show.


And this consumer control, while a bit scary, also happens to present some interesting advantages and, if given the appropriate consideration, can help lead to more than respectable results for your RSS campaign. In the Pheedo network, RSS feeds have garnered about an eight percent clickthrough rate, outperforming most other online advertising mediums. But reaching this number takes some strategic planning and effective execution due to the fact that the consumer is in control.


Getting started in RSS marketing is nothing to be afraid of, but you need to know what you're getting into. Following are five tips that will help you leverage the control of the consumer in RSS and ensure smooth sailing for your RSS marketing campaigns.


1. Identify feed characteristics
All feeds are not created equal. There are many variables when it comes to content delivery with RSS feeds. For example, My Yahoo! only displays the headlines of feeds while Bloglines can show as much as the entire feed item with its full content. And while some publishers offer the full text of their content in feeds, others only offer partial feeds, forcing readers to click through to their website to read the full contents of a news item.


What does this mean for marketers? Before being able to effectively market to a consumer, you need to know how content is being presented. What will the marketing message look like? Without first knowing the characteristics of the feed, RSS marketing is too much of a shot in the dark. Only by understanding the distribution method, and how consumers receive the feed, can you make the most informed marketing decisions, and ultimately optimize the advertising creative and strategies in RSS.


One important example worth examining is the full versus partial text feed issue. Let's say an online publication has 20,000 people subscribed to its RSS feed. The publisher offers the first two paragraphs of each article in the feed and the reader must click through to the website to view the rest of the content. Many readers will quickly skim the content provided in their feed, using the feed as jumping point to click through to the website for the rest of the article. Any ads in the feed may go unnoticed and will not receive clicks as the consumer is spending more time on the website. Although the readership is high, this publisher may not be a good option for advertisers. A content provider with lower readership but offering full text feeds could prove to garner more clicks on an ad.


Evaluate the feeds in which you are advertising carefully. See what the consumer sees and determine whether or not the feed lends itself well to advertising.


2. Tell a story. Don't sell a product.
RSS consumers want engaging content. Readers want to learn about the specific topics discussed in their chosen RSS feeds, and this experience should not stop at the publisher's content, but should extend into your advertising as well.


Let's say you're running a campaign for a new hybrid car. You target environmental publications and blogs for your RSS advertising campaign, and you know that readers are interested in environmental issues and helping the environment. With such a targeted audience, it's key that your advertising fulfills their desire for relevant, rich content and keeps them engaged.


The ad needs to tell a story. Present interesting facts or quotes from recent news about the benefits of hybrids, or, end the copy in your ad with an intriguing environmental question that you answer on your website. RSS advertising is much different than search advertising, and the same creative will have a much different effect.


3. Keep the creative fresh and new
Once you have established a strategy to communicate a story in your campaign, this format must be maintained and built upon. Consumers and content providers continually update their RSS feeds, and the enclosed advertising is most effective when it is updated at a similar rate as well. A simple rule of thumb is to change your creative for every six new posts in the feed.


In an update-oriented medium like RSS, having the same ads in feeds will hurt clickthrough rates. Take our hybrid car example. No matter how interesting the content of the ad is, if it is not periodically refreshed with new copy, the ad will lose its effectiveness and will often be overlooked. Update your creative, and keep it fresh.


4. Build a relationship with the potential customer
RSS advertising provides advertisers with a compelling platform to build a relationship with the RSS readers they are targeting. An RSS feed is a pure opt-in medium that consumers return to on a regular basis and this gives advertisers the ability to communicate with them on a deep, consistent level and eliminates the problems posed by spam filters in customer email communications.


With the content-heavy creative I mentioned before, companies and advertisers can really speak to the interests of the reader and know that many in their target audience will attentively read their content. Serial story-telling works well. Selling is a turn-off.


5. Choose and define your audience wisely
This tip may seem obvious, as it applies to many forms of marketing, but with RSS, where the audience is small but extremely targeted, executing well in this step of the marketing process is imperative. With email marketing, it's about reaching a mass audience while competing with spam filters and trust issues. From a targeting perspective, RSS could not be more different.


Going back to the hybrid car example, there are several types of online publications we could target for the best results, such as automotive, environmental and renewable energy. When advertising across multiple categories, the creative must change based on the audience you are trying to reach. For example, readers of the automotive publication might want to know about the performance comparisons of a hybrid engine vs. a traditional engine; while the environmental publication readers might prefer to hear more specifically about environmental issues.


RSS is still in its growth stage, and thus RSS audiences are generally small, well-informed early adopters. In RSS, hitting the mark with targeting by specifically defining your audience is of the utmost importance, and should yield high clickthrough rates and conversion rates required to deliver a great return on your RSS investment.


These tips for a successful RSS advertising campaign come back to two key ideas: First, RSS is about rich content, and second, the user is in complete control. Whether you are thinking about launching your first RSS ad campaign or want to optimize existing ones, following these five steps will help you get the most results per dollar you've spent and will leave a lasting impression of your company and products on your audience.


Bill Flitter  is founder and chief marketing officer of Pheedo. Prior to Pheedo, Flitter founded Email Shopping Network and directed its sales and marketing activities until its acquisition by eUniverse in 2002. In addition to Pheedo and Email Shopping Network, Flitter has started and helped build numerous early stage companies, developing hundreds of innovative products and services. He is also cofounder of Fastlane Ventures, a boutique management consulting firm focused on early-stage investments. Flitter is the chairperson for the Blogging and RSS special interest group of the East Bay IT Group (eBIG.org).

The Forrester report makes the assertion that two-way communication with consumers and the translation of the resulting data into brand positioning for clients is the new role of the connected agency. Well, yeah! Isn't that supposed to be the real power of what we call this "interactive" media? 


Unfortunately, many brands and agencies believe they can engage consumers in a dialogue purely by producing campaigns alongside and within user-generated content (UGC) and exploiting the YouTube phenomenon. In the last year, you have probably read about the success of Doritos, Dove and other UGC contest campaigns and the controversy around the Subway/Quiznos UGC contest lawsuit. But which of these campaigns really "gets" it? How about none of them?


The details surrounding the Subway/Quiznos lawsuit again demonstrate that not all "UGC" campaigns engage consumers or are even consumer-generated. One of the Quiznos contest's finalists quoted in The New York Times makes ads in Lexington, Ky., and has participated in several national ad contests.


Having advertising professionals compete seems to defeat the purpose of engaging and creating a consumer community around your brand. When agency UGC campaigns turn into RFP responses for one-person ad shops, the consumer engagement shark has been jumped.


How lasting is an engagement predicated on winning a contest? Are consumers really engaging with your brand or simply seeking attention for their own?


I think the best example of a brand using UGC to make a connection with consumers is the Toyota World of Warcraft commercial, which was obviously predicated on the earlier YouTube hit Leroy Jenkins.


The creators of the Toyota ad did not need to hold a contest to create their UGC World of Warcraft segment. Instead, the ad creators demonstrate a strong understanding of the online gaming community and its culture by parodying the Leroy Jenkins piece. The resulting ad is an engaging, hilarious unit, and it generated enough buzz on its own to at least quadruple its media buy in terms of value. The spot was so well regarded that it was used on "Monday Night Football" and other premium showcases. The lesson here is that only by understanding the community and audience does brand-supported UGC advertising become really effective.


Lesson No. 1 -- Understand the community as a whole and the individual audience of a given campaign first before you try talking to them. Use our medium to listen first.

With interactive media firing on all cylinders, the 2008 presidential campaign has become a digital communication machine representing the future of the connected agency. From developing online community groups and issue-oriented websites to Facebook and MySpace efforts to conducting virtual town hall meetings and attending blogger conventions, the campaigns are acting like the new agency model, exemplifying integrated cross-media marketing.


The digital efforts are working well with voters, as evinced by the Obama Girl and Hillary Clinton fan videos on YouTube. These UGC "campaigns" are truly user-generated -- not the result of contests -- and have helped move these political races from campaigns to conversations. But the campaigns have done much more than inspire a few hundred UGC videos.


Interactive banner ads have made a very big impact, with millions of impressions raising millions of dollars. Although the Romney campaign was the first to use interactive streaming video format, Obama's display ads received 65 million ad impressions both in October and November, according to Nielsen Online AdRelevance. The interactive video-enabled homepage takeover display ads the Obama campaign ran in March through local media giant Centro caused such a stir that industry analysts wondered whether the ads caused endorsement confusion on the part of website users.



The campaigns have moved their marketing message to the next stage -- engaging and communicating with voters at every level. In case you are thinking national brands cannot afford integrated online campaigns on this scale, less than one percent of the estimated $1.5 billion advertising dollars spent by all presidential candidates this year will go to online advertising -- something to consider next year when your brand is considering buying one 30-second spot during the Super Bowl.

By any measure, Apple's iPod commercials and advertising ventures have become hits and star-makers by giving traditional rock legends like U2 a Web 2.0 makeover. With its multifaceted deal, Apple retained exclusive rights to sell all songs from U2's album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" on the iTunes Music Store and to market a special U2 iPod. For acts like Feist, Apple's iPod commercial featuring Feist's "1234" catapulted the Canadian chanteuse to the top of U.S. charts and garnered her a Grammy nomination. 


No matter what Matt Creamer of Advertising Age suggested in the March 17 "Digital Issue," the fact that Apple makes this kind of effort -- while making its broadcast creative look like Flash -- implies that the creative "lives" in digital and ventures out into broadcast, not vice-versa.


Consistently, Apple's iPod campaigns use new music to pull consumers to its technology and its iTunes store. Apple's slick television spots, which focus on music and not their product, give added credibility to its brand while pulling viewers online to purchase the music they heard at iTunes. The key to Apple's multi-channel success is marketing the music first, the iPod brand second, with the added benefit of promoting iTunes.


Verizon, a Questus client, also has used music to create "pull marketing" to its brand and FiOS services. Working with major acts such as Fergie and Gwen Stefani, Verizon created successful online communities around each act's tours. Each interactive community featured online fan chat rooms, tour weblogs from the stars, UGC video elements, as well as phone and texting features that allowed concert goers to post live pictures from the concert event on the community site. By promoting the music, Verizon also introduced thousands of new consumers to its FiOS technology and broadband media offerings.


Both Apple and Verizon understand that great pull advertising means giving to your consumer community first, whether it is access to new music or greater access to their favorite acts -- getting consumers excited by understanding that their interests are really what the new agency model is all about.

Perhaps the best and most subversive example of where new advertising is going comes from Radiohead. Last year, the band distributed its latest album "In Rainbows" online -- without backing from a major record company -- allowing fans to pay whatever they wanted to download the album. Then last week, the band offered fans and aspiring producers the chance to remix one of the songs, "Nude", from their latest album. The band also launched its own social networking site, W.A.S.T.E. Central. On the site, fans can communicate with each other, see videos and photos and follow the Radiohead tour.


Those of us who work at digital agencies need to remind one another that our world is called "interactive."  As such, we can provide opportunities for consumers to interact with their favorite brands within every campaign we design. Enticing and not just inviting that interactivity has to be an essential part of everything we do.

True connection -- via a consumer-centric development process -- will yield unparalleled results. Two fundamentally different projects highlight this power. We generated groundbreaking results for one traditional publisher's website by integrating both quantitative and qualitative research into its redesign. The result was a 95 percent increase in ad revenue within 12 months of the re-launch. Would there be significant improvements to revenue without the research components? Yes. But would the results be as dramatic without including the consumer-centric approach? Not a chance. How did we get there?
 
The ways in which consumers interacted with the traditional publisher's assets pointed the way. Our research made it clear how consumers access their news, and we made it easier for consumers to see those sections first when they accessed the site. Simple, yes, but it required learning the data first. We weren't left to guess at this, we knew before we did any development.
                                                                             
One of the sections that the publisher thought should be their lead turned out to be something else after our research results came in, revealing that only one percent of users started with that section. By understanding this one simple data point, we were able to ensure that we focused the site on its core content. This had a profound impact on the information architecture and visual hierarchy -- focusing on other sections that enabled the site to engage users from the homepage and provide them with a direct and enticing path to more page views.

Deeper understanding of consumers' community affiliations will lead to effective brand positioning for your clients. It is not enough to have your consumers participate at some level in discrete campaigns or focus groups -- the connected agency reaches out and participates at the onset of the work engagement.
 
But let's face it, helping brands become more connected can be expensive. In fact, over a 12 month period, a sincere investment in customer-centricity can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. We know the finance department doesn't like to make investments of that magnitude without reaping a return on the investment. So, it's important to have that roadmap concretized before any engagement. The template that we work with predicts hard results every time, with improvement in key metrics such as ad revenue or e-commerce conversions within 12 months or we don't take the engagement. If you can't predict results like these with some certainty, I recommend trying another medium that isn't as accountable as interactive. Remember -- what you'll learn from listening to users is what will inform the performance of everything you do. You can either listen, learn and perform, or maybe go back to print.


Joseph Dumont is a partner at Questus.

Show shoppers you know them


More than half (56 percent) of consumers say they expect retailers to use what they know from their past interactions and purchases to personalize gift-giving ideas this year. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened, and marketers have found a 760 percent increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns. Personalized product recommendations can also have a huge impact on your results: 77 percent of customers make additional purchases when presented with product recommendations that match their needs.


Here are product recommendation ideas to consider:


Check your automated email lists (more than) twice


Use email automation to boost purchases and save time. Set a trigger and when that action occurs, a specific email or set of emails will be sent to your subscriber. Some examples of automated emails you can send during the holidays include:


Thanks for purchasing
Once a shopper has purchased, you can use an automated email campaign to compel them to buy again. Suggest items on wish lists, recommend other products that relate to the one they just purchased, or offer special deals if they purchase again within a certain amount of time.


Abandoned cart
Send emails to re-engage shoppers who abandon their online shopping carts. Approximately $4 trillion worth of merchandise will be abandoned in online shopping carts this year, and about 63 percent of it is recoverable by savvy online retailers.


Transactional emails
From purchase receipts to shipping notifications, transactional emails are opened four to eight times more often than traditional emails. Adding cross-sell recommendations to shipping confirmation emails can also increase transaction rates by 20 percent.

Go mobile or get coal


One in four retail purchases was made on a mobile device during the holidays last year. Further, 45 percent of online retail traffic came from smartphones and tablets during the 2014 holiday season, up more than 25 percent from 2013. Here are tips for adopting a "mobile-first" mentality to make sure your emails are effective on any device shoppers are using this holiday season: 


Use a mobile-friendly email template
Preview how your emails appear on different mobile email clients so you know your email looks fantastic in every inbox.


Keep it brief
On a small screen, five or six sentences can look like a novel. Keep your messages short and consumable, linking to more detailed content on your website or blog.


Use buttons instead of text links
If your readers' finger takes up a significant amount of space on the screen, the worst thing you can do is make them try to click a tiny link. Use call-to-action buttons to make it easy for subscribers to click-through.


Entice readers with a short summary of your email
Use the preheader -- the short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox -- to pull your reader in. They'll use this to decide whether or not they should open the email, so use it strategically to maximize the selling power of your email content.


You know that the holidays are high-stakes and that email works to reach consumers. Now it's time to make those things work together. Make sure you're using email marketing effectively during the time of year when shoppers are thinking about compiling their holiday wish lists, making purchases and interacting with their favorite brands.



Kim Stiglitz is director of demand generation and content at Campaign Monitor


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"Christmas E-Mail" image via iStock.

Bill Flitter is serial entrepreneur with years of experience in online advertising. Bill pioneered advertising to RSS along with other content routing technologies that has generated revenue for The New York Times, CNET, Inc. and other large...

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