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Will the Real Publisher Please Stand?

Will the Real Publisher Please Stand? Greg Morey

Like the rest of our industry, I was at ad:tech New York last month and was pleasantly surprised to see the floor swamped with new additions and a growing need for differentiation amongst our online media providers. 

For example, the first day, I walked the floor with a client that currently has an active CPA (cost per action) and CPL (cost per lead) program. We took our time and identified familiar media providers. As I stood there and listened to industry reps talk about their media, keywords kept creeping into the pitch time and time again. 

"We can take your CPL and place it within our Network and make sure it meets with your target CPA," said one rep. "We want it to work for you and for us so we all make money."

The only thing missing was the wink-wink and the "please mock-me" gun made with a thumb and forefinger gesture pointing at me. On the escalator ride to level two, my client turned and asked me, "They all say the same thing in their materials and their pitch. How do you know how to differentiate who does what, and who can really help you?" 

Great question. 

Before I tell you my reply, think about the term "network" for a second. Part of my evaluation process before I consider taking on a new client opportunity is to always ask if they have a current offer live, and if so, who currently controls the offer. Typically what happens in the world of cost per action, or cost per lead, is that a company will develop an affiliate network of online media content owners (a.k.a. publishers) who can help them generate results. Typically a publisher within an affiliate network will be paid anywhere from 10 to 80 percent of the actual bounty a company pays on the action or lead generated. Some of our more reputable networks will reveal their mark-up to the client while others will simply make up a generic answer to a client's query regarding the true cost of media. 

The reason I ask my prospective clients who controls the offer, is that in many instances, the affiliate network may indeed have another affiliate network as a part of their network, which means that we have multiple layers between the publisher and the client. Layers or middlemen always create opportunity for the publisher to earn more, or the client to pay less, and therefore are always at risk. 

I find it particularly interesting when one affiliate network identifies or meets the owner of the offer, then makes an attempt to take the offer directly around the network providing them the offer in the first place. 

For example, an affiliate rep might say, "You know we already have your offer through 'Sensational Affiliate X,' however in order to provide you with better quality we would enjoy developing a more direct relationship with you."

Some of the more assertive individuals who understand the middleman elimination game will get right to the point. They might say, "What can you pay us directly?"

Many of you may be familiar with the popular music club offer famous for its offline direct response marketing. This in-house club thought it best to have several agents controlling a different creative with the same CPA offer. In theory this makes sense to try and drive additional volume through new Networks using a different creative approach. However, the CPA marketplace is a very small environment, and instead, this very experienced marketer ended up cannibalizing its own customer volume. 

In the above examples, each middleman ended up running the offer with their "affiliate network" which contained some of the same publishers as the others. This means that the publisher can pit the agents against each other to trade existing volume to the highest bidder. This in turn creates a price war in the CPA marketplace, which drives the agents back to the client to say, "If you want more volume, we'll need a higher bounty." 

I can recall during an initial investigation into this offer where the offer was being traded off so many times -- to the same traffic -- that it filled up a hand to count the "affiliate networks" down line to the publisher. 

If an agency says they can bring "incremental volume" in CPA without owning any media, hang up the phone. Publishers that have the volume will eventually be approached to provide it through someone else at a cost to the customer who actually isn't really seeing new volume, just a different middleman.

While it may make sense to some to have multiple agents of the offer, please remember that ultimately there are only so many players in our industry that can drive volume. The 90-10 rule applies to CPA media providers in terms of volume and it is up to you to control the offers at all times through a single source. 

Back to the client's question, "How do you know how to differentiate who does what and who can help you?"

My reply was very simple. At the very beginning of your conversation, instead of asking the rep what they do, ask them if the company owns its own media. Only forge media relationships with those that can show you where your advertising is going to be placed, can identify the owner of the email list in question, or identify in advance which keywords they'll be bidding on in your behalf.  If they do not want to reveal their media, then it is likely that they are a middleman and you might want to think twice.

Greg Morey is the executive vice president of G.R. Wyse & Company, a customer acquisition strategies firm that creates lead and customer acquisition programs for advertising agencies and companies using the internet. 

Morey has spent the last 18 years in advertising, media and technology developing promotions and marketing programs for consumer-focused companies. During the last eight years, Morey has focused his career in the online space including online concert promotions, cross media traffic promotions, and customer acquisition promotions. 

Some of the company's Morey has implemented online marketing and sales strategies for include Dell Direct, Pedigree, AOL, Columbia House -- Canada, Cosmetique, American Home Shield and Global Travel International.

As a direct marketer coming from the media side, Morey has been able to create a blend of consumer-focused strategies that create win-win partnerships between publishers and advertisers. His media motto carries resonance in his chosen field of Direct Response: "Charge for success, or charge nothing at all."

Designing a website via internal stakeholder committee
Take a look at any random corporate homepage, and you will notice they all have something in common: poor design. Too few corporate websites are actually designed with the end user in mind (prospect, customer, partner, shareholder, Google, etc.). As such, the sites lack intuitive navigation, appropriate architecture hierarchy, relevant keywords, or clear calls to action.

The primary reason for the lack of user-centered design is that most websites are built by a host of departmental managers, who have ultimate say on colors, fonts, images, and copy. The problem with committee-based design is that each representative makes decisions on their personal tastes and preferences versus those of the site's intended user.
The frustrating part is that larger companies have available resources and budget to "do it right" with focus groups, surveys, and other forms of user testing, yet rarely bother to ask or even listen when valuable feedback is provided. The most common mistake in corporate website design is failing to ensure every page of the website has a clear call to action relevant to the content, user, and your own business objectives.

Managing digital marketing campaigns to impressions, clicks, or budget forecasts
In the "Mad Men" days of yore, marketing (particularly advertising) budgets were set based on limited historic and forecasting data. More recently, budgets during the dotcom heyday were based on generating "eyeballs." Today, any marketer worth his or her salt will be managing all marketing (digital and otherwise) based on conversions and ROI.

The days of managing paid search campaigns to achieve a No. 1 position in Google, spending $50,000 a month on Yellow Page ads, or buying a 30-second Super Bowl spot, and not measuring the impact on revenue, are dead. Instead, companies should be managing paid search, print, and broadcast advertising based on conversion rates, whether it be a target cost-per-action/acquisition or relative ratio.

Paying third-party vendors to represent your brand in social media
We all know social media is the shiny new penny with marketers these days. Unfortunately, vendors have been able to exploit the opportunity by selling their "expertise" and becoming "brand advocates" out on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites. In this scenario, social media "experts" lurk on Twitter, forums, and blogs and look for opportunities to "spread the word" about clients' products or services, not fully disclosing their relationships with the companies.

The most common excuses for outsourcing social media management include a lack of internal resources and overall proficiency with social platforms. My response: Every employee, partner, and shareholder is a potential social media evangelist. In regards to the lack of proficiency issue: Hire experienced consultants or agencies to help develop the overall strategy and provide necessary training and support. There is a big difference between getting help with strategy and having someone represent your brand when they've never purchased or used your services or even visited your offices.

Let us not forget that that social media is an inherently transparent community, and stakeholders will lash out against companies that are quick to outsource its brand. The issue is not unlike outsourcing customer support call centers, which can also damage your brand by providing a poor customer experience. Unfortunately, these experiences are then shared on social media for all to read, thereby compounding the issue.

Beyond the potential dangers of brand erosion from customer backlash, legal liability is also tremendous when outsourcing. A third party might not understand industry regulations on what can and cannot be disclosed via social media. The bottom line is that nobody knows your brand better than your employees, partners, and other advocates. Let them spread the good word, not a low-paid college graduate working from home.

Doing black hat SEO
In 10th grade, I learned the hard way that cutting corners doesn't pay off when my Spanish teacher caught me cheating on a test. Google, like my Spanish teacher, penalizes websites that fail to follow its rules. Unfortunately, large corporations are just as capable as small businesses of "cutting corners" in the world of search (and paying the price).

So how do you know if you've cut corners in Google's eyes? The first rule of thumb is to put your "end user" cap on and judge whether or not the website experience is positive. Is the content in search results relevant to the page once I click through? If not, Google might feel you are pulling a bait-and-switch.

Google has developed a detailed set of guidelines for search-friendly website design. If you follow its rules, you will be much more likely to rank for desired search terms. Bing and Yahoo operate on very similar terms: no IP-spoofing, redirects, hidden or duplicate text, etc. To boil it down, do good marketing, and Google will reward you with higher rankings.

Renting email lists
In the fall of 2001, I joined forces with two friends to form an email marketing agency, emailROI. We realized there was a tremendous demand for a reliable, yet affordable email marketing platform for small and mid-sized businesses. Those same companies also benefitted from our strategic consulting and creative design services. Unfortunately, we quickly ran into a problem: list rentals.

Some of our bigger brand clients (think world's largest retailer and one of America's largest emergency relief organizations) felt the only way they could effectively reach new audiences was through renting email lists from brokers. Even early on, we realized renting email lists was not a sound strategy, as few brokers and list owners properly groomed their lists.

Against our best wishes, these companies pushed forward with significant list buys, resulting in a large number of spam complaints. Our clients then threatened to sue the list brokers and owners for selling names of people who did not expect or want to hear messages from third parties. At that point, we adopted a company policy not to advise or provide our clients with email lists for rent or purchase.

With the understanding that building an email database in-house is still a highly effective sales and marketing strategy, how then can a company grow its list? Some of the more effective methods of building a house email list include: direct (mail) marketing, co-registration (email) with partners, contests (via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook), and most importantly, search marketing.

Of course I'm biased toward the use of search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) directing toward key pages on your site with an email registration as a call to action. The ideal scenario is to embed an email newsletter registration into your website template (every page), followed by registration for demos, trials, and content like seminars and white papers.

Sending unsegmented or untargeted emails
Perhaps one of the most egregious but all-too-common obsolete marketing strategies still in use is the regular email blast to a house list. Most commonly occurring as monthly newsletters or weekly email promotions, far too many companies send the same email to the entire list.

Sending one email to thousands if not millions of people with varying needs and interests is an efficient way to generate unsubscribes and generally disengage prospects and customers. Although email targeting and segmentation has been available to marketers for more than a decade, too few companies make a serious effort at leveraging the capability to maximize response and conversion rates.

Spend the time to understand your email list by digging deep into the analytics and contact profiles. Consider expanding available data points by surveying your list. From there, create and target content based on the indicated preferences and demographic and psychographic information. Watch the value of each subscriber increase exponentially, with incremental effort.

In order for a business to succeed in this increasingly complicated and noisy digital world, marketers must let go of obsolete ideas and embrace the concept of continually testing evolving techniques and technologies. What worked yesterday won't necessarily work tomorrow.

Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a search engine marketing agency based in Portland, Ore.

On Twitter? Follow Lewis at @kentjlewis. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

P&G "Thank you, Mom"

In this advertisement, Proctor & Gamble celebrate the less-appreciated, behind-the-scenes contributors to the success of Olympians. It touches us in a way that is hyper relatable -- to fall and fail and get back up again. The story told in this advertisement is powerful and makes its viewers want to share.

Tomcat "Dead Mouse Theatre"

Now, these ads are just weird, but strangely effective. Tomcat produces mouse-killing bait and it decided to take a spin off what the bait actually does -- kill mice. It created a sort of "theatre" where these dead mice go to play and act out strange scenarios that most of the time don't make sense. But, you leave after watching these ads, knowing what Tomcat does and very intrigued by its marketing strategy.

Carlton Draught "Big Ad"

This is taking beer to a whole new level. The perfect balance of humor and seriousness, the clip features the most serious of soldiers who are heading into a battle to get drunk. The ad is from 2010 but resurfaced this October. Just a sign that sometimes humor can help with longevity.

Leica "100"

Not every famous photograph was taken with a Leica, but Leica impacted the taking of every photograph. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Leica camera, Leica released a video advertisement that recreates 35 famous photos. It's delightful and beautiful and absolutely memorable.

Adobe "Mean Streets"

I can't write an article about good advertising without mentioning Adobe's mean streets ads. These ads take cultural stereotypes within the marketing industry and add a layer of humor that marketers can relate to. Adobe Marketing Cloud honed in on its specific audience and built an advertisement completely tailored to them. Click, Baby, Click achieves the same level of humor and relatability as well.

Morris the Cat "Cat's Eye View"

The 9Lives cat food ads are all over YouTube, but after 20 years away, the brand launched a new campaign including a cat wearing smart-cam glasses. Sure, it's a play on some of the best memes on the internet, but who doesn't love a cat plus wearable tech all in one video?

Samsung Galaxy Tab S "What you really need"

In this incredibly charming ad, real-time couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are captivated by the Galaxy Tab S. The ad follows them through some of their daily routines, and when they're given the opportunity to actually leave their house and experience real life, the Galaxy Tab S draws them in and keeps them watching. The ad is creative and clever and also leverages the adorable couple to their full potential.

IKEA's "Experience the power of bookbook"

Now, this ad is just funny. For the 2015 print of their IKEA catalog, the brand created a parody video that mocks the predictable Apple advertisements showing just how easy it is to flip through a print catalog. "If you want to share a particularly inspiring item, you literally share it" is one hilarious quote among a sea of well-written Apple spin-offs. "It's not a digital book, or an e-book. It's a bookbook."

Bissell Symphony "Subway"

Ravi Dalchand really believes in his product. And honestly, it's disgusting how he proves it. The senior brand manager at Bissell Canada leads a product demo that is both impressive and vulgar at the same time. Well, at least they succeeded in the shock factor, right?

Audi "Barely Legal Pawn," feat. Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston united outside of Breaking Bad? Yes, please. The duo play colleagues in a sketchy trade -- running a pawn shop together. Julia Louis-Dreyfus tries to pawn her 1996 Emmy so she can pay for a private island she bought in a fit of FOMO on Celine Dion. Now, this is funny and a great way to bring these stars together, but the correlation between the skit and Audi is a bit of a stretch.

Lauren Friedman is the head of global social business enablement at Adobe.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Businessman share the work with a tablet" image via Shutterstock.

Described by co-workers as a thought leader and astute change agent, Morey pairs his creative side with a functional relevancy acquired from years of experience with data analysis and consumer messaging. His practical business acumen and a highly...

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