3 Tips to Market the Sprint/T-Mobile, Other Brand Mergers

When brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.

Change is constant, and something we deal with daily in a rapidly changing world of business developments, technology breakthroughs and, of course, mobile apps that change how we do just about everything. In most cases, we embrace change. We like having a faster, smarter, better way to do routine business tasks, to connect with people, to manage our resources, play games, find information and much more. We like change that impacts our every day, like gas stations that offer 24/7 diners instead of just stale, often expired sandwiches mummified in plastic cartons.

Yet, when brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.

For example, just this week we learn that T-Mobile and Sprint, both of whom had less than half the number of customers as industry-leader Verizon at the end of Q4 2017, are merging. And even though their combined size is still smaller than Verizon and AT&T, they will be a stronger third-place competitor with less than 30 million fewer customers than No. 1, Verizon vs. the nearly 100 million Sprint has as a standalone brand.

While this is good news for shareholders of each company, is it really change for the better for consumers? As quickly as the merger plan was announced, speculation consumed news and social media headlines worldwide as to what this merger really means for consumers: higher prices, the end of unlimited data, more control for the carriers and less competitive offers and perks for the consumers who rely on wireless plans 24/7 for every aspect of daily survival — not just phone calls home to Mom.

As reported in MarketWatch yesterday, the morning after, “It would be devastating for consumers in the long run,” said Chris Mills, news editor at BGR, a news website focused on mobile technology and consumer electronics.

True or not, Mills’ reaction is how many consumers react to change when brands they’ve known for years, and have established a comfortable and trusting relationship with, change. Even so slightly. Mergers, acquisitions, discontinuation or sell-offs of products lines or services, can be unsettling for consumers if not managed properly by brands.

The following are some tips for how to manage consumers’ reactions before they can change your bottom line.

  1. Put a Stake in the Ground That Matters: Define what this change means for your customers’ well-being, not just yours, and what market position this new change will allow you to own, develop and build upon. Does this prepare you for greater sustainability, future breakthroughs and developments through merged R&D efforts by leading minds? Does this improve shopping and service convenience for customers with more access to resources? What is the No. 1 promise and deliverable associated with this change?
  2. Speak Fast: Don’t wait to tell you story. If you are slow to explain how even a small change benefits customers and not just your bottom line, you open the door for competitors and analysts to explain why this could be a bad thing. As the first story heard is often the story that sticks, time is of the essence. Prepare a statement about the “why” and “what” it means, and get it out quickly.
  3. Speak Loudly: With today’s digital channels, loud is not about volume, but about relevance and reach. Send your story to analysts, news writers, influencers, consumers, shareholders, existing customers and more before they can read it elsewhere. Include statements from outsiders explaining why this change is good, and send your story across all channels. Train all your employees how to tell this story credibly at every customer touchpoint.

No matter how big or small your brand is, or the impact of the changes you make, managing change is critical, as our consumer minds will run amuck with all sorts of reasons to lose faith in trusted partners and even jump ship if left to speculate as to how change changes everything they know and trust. Yet change can be a beautiful thing for all involved when done right.

Wikipedia:

3 Wild Marketing Predictions for 2018

All year I’ve felt like marketing was a roller coaster clicking to the top of very high hill, about to plunge down into unknown loops and curves at freefall speed. It’s just a matter of what changes and when. Here are three marketing predictions for the channels I think will change the most in 2018.

All year, this industry has felt like a roller coaster clicking to the top of very high hill, about to plunge down into unknown loops and curves at freefall speed. I see technology cycles turning, and with them change is going to come to the channels marketers rely on the most. It’s just a matter of what changes and when. Here are three marketing predictions for the channels I think will change the most in 2018.

1. Email Starts to Slip

Email is one of the most important marketing channels. Just about all Target Marketing readers rely on it for their marketing, and most said they were increasing spending on it in 2017. It’s the cornerstone of marketing automation, lead nurturing, and pretty much all loyalty marketing.

What would marketers do if a significant number of consumers stopped checking their email?

It’s a scary thought … But look at your own email habits and tell me you’re not at least a little bit worried about it.

I get more email than ever before, and honestly read less. I bet you feel the same. Talking to marketers, I’ve heard a few times now that email, although still totally viable for marketing, is starting to get a little bit weaker. I’ve heard marketers say open rates are slipping, along with clickthroughs and conversions.

I think this is the year we’ll begin to see significant weakness in email as a marketing channel, and marketers will get serious about looking at other options that might replace it. (for example, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatApp.)

2. Non-text Search Becomes a Force

The only marketing channel that challenges the ubiquity of email is search. SEO and paid search ads are both absolutely essential to online marketing today … and they are both completely based in the current world of text search as we know it.

Amazon’s three best sellers in electronics this holiday season are the Echo smart speaker based on the Alexa voice assistant, the Echo Dot based on that same Alexa voice assistant, and the Fire TV Stick with Alexa voice remote. And there are a bunch of other smart speakers and voice assistants waiting to be unwrapped Christmas morning.

These devices are used extensively for search, interpreting the user’s speech with AI to go find the right answer. Those answers are far more limited than a page full of search results, though. Generally you just hear AI’s pick for your top result.

As this kind of voice-based interaction becomes more mainstream, it is going to have a huge impact on the search ecosystem.Image-based search is also coming online, and could have an even bigger impact.

I don’t know exactly what those changes will look like, but it’s certainly going to constrict search results, and perhaps dramatically alter how paid search ads are delivered. And the AI behind those results could be even more important than we’re expecting.

3. We’ll Begin Writing to Convince AI Gatekeepers

We keep thinking of artificial intelligence as something marketers are going to use to optimize marketing. But, when you look at applications like voice assistants, it becomes clear that AI is going to play a huge role in “optimizing” the information audiences consume.

This role may not be too different to the role Google plays today, but there’s an entire SEO industry dedicated to convincing Google that your content belongs fairly high up the search engine results page. The fight to “convince” this kind of gate keeper is only going to get more intense when the algorithm is a natural-language learning machine that’s only going to output the one result it thinks works best.

Right now, many writers feel challenged to write for their readers and optimize for search at the same time. We may soon find ourselves optimizing language to make that text AI friendly as well.

 

Google Gives 10-15 More Characters to Organic Results

Google actually increased the space available for your title and description. This change should make it just a bit easier to obtain good results for relevant pages.

Girl WatcherOldies music fans may remember the 1968 top hit entitled “Girl Watcher.” This beach music classic’s chorus often spins through my head. The chorus — “I’m a girl watcher, I’m a girl watcher, watchin’ girls go by, my, my, my” — is for me: “I’m a Google watcher … watchin’ changes come by, my, my, my.”

Most organic SEO practitioners are Google watchers and we are seldom disappointed, as more changes just keep coming by — my, my, my. The changes often make our job of obtaining solid search results for sites more difficult.

For example, a recent change to the space allocated to advertising on the desktop search results page (SERP) had a significant impact on organic visibility. In a recent post, I noted a major change — the removal of ads from the right rail of the page — and outlined how this would make organic marketing more difficult.

Google watchers have not had to wait long for another change to come by. Google has changed the display of the organic search results, the coveted lines that determine what searchers see about your pages. The company actually increased the space available for your title and description. This change should make it just a bit easier to obtain good results for relevant pages.

What’s the Change?

Google has increased the width of its main search results column. This will provide more real estate for search marketers to make their cases through compelling titles and descriptions.

Google has increased the space available from 500 to 600 pixels. This is a significant increase, and here is why it is important:

  • Titles Get 10 to 15 More Characters in SERPs. When a title or description is too long, Google simply truncates it and places ellipses at the end. Google uses proportional spacing, and SEOs think in terms of characters, which means that SEOs must develop carefully constructed recommended character lengths that take into consideration the composition of the keywords and phrases used predominantly in their target content. The change from 500 to 600 pixels translates into approximately 10 to 15 more characters available for titles. This will allow SEOs to include more phrases, more branding and enable us to make the title more compelling.
  • Descriptions Get 16 to 20 More Characters in SERPs. The length of the description has been impacted, too. Descriptions increase by about 16 to 20 characters per line. That makes the new length per line approximately 100 characters. But do note that Google still is truncating descriptions longer than 150 to 160 characters. Google watchers expect this to adjust, because descriptions are for the most part two lines. If your descriptions are less than 100 characters, yours will be only one line — resulting in a loss of real estate on the page.
  • Mobile Results Get More Love. These changes do not just apply to desktop searches. Google has increased title tag lengths for mobile search results even more than in desktop results. Google has now increased the maximum length of the mobile title tag to approximately 78 characters. This is an extra eight characters beyond the desktop display. This will speed users to the most relevant result faster. In my own experience using mobile search, nothing is worse than having to search multiple times to get a desired result on my mobile. A more detailed result will shorten the process.

It Is Not Enough to Win Just the Relevancy Battle

Organic search success requires that your pages not only win the relevancy battle — that is to say, the pages are deemed relevant by Google for the searcher’s query — but the search result also must resonate with the searcher enough to make the searcher want to click on the listing.

This oversimplification of a very complex process points out how important it is to be mindful of what the searcher sees as your pages are delivered. It is not enough to create compelling relevant content, if you fail to create a title and description that draws that next click.

The most recent changes provide an opportunity to revisit how well your current schematic for titles and descriptions is working. It also begs for a review of the role of mobile search traffic. You may find that you need to reconsider how you are crafting these elements. This is what I am doing for my clients.

This change is an opportunity for better results for good pages.

#Mobilegeddon Is 2015’s Y2K for SEOs

Missed in all of the hysteria around Mobilegeddon was the arrival of another algorithmic change, one with a very serious effect. On April 29, Google-watchers and site owners detected another “big” change creating huge drops in traffic for sites impacted. Because this change sneaked in without warning, it has been dubbed “Phantom 2.” The change seems to attack the same problems addressed by Panda — the ever-pervasive and deadly — thin content. There is also speculation that another Penguin is hatching in Mountain View, readying an attack on over-optimization and other violations of Google’s rules of the road.

As the calendar reached April 21, site owners, unable to ensure that their sites were “mobile-friendly,” were anticipating Mobilegeddon — huge ranking drops and dramatic traffic drops as Google implemented its new mobile-friendly algorithmic change. So what happened? On the April 22, there were no huge drops in traffic, penalties galore and havoc wrought. Instead, the results have been reminiscent of the Y2K phenomena where much was made of a potential disaster, but nothing of major consequence occurred. Was Mobilegeddon a fizzle or does it just have slow-burning fuse?

The fact that big changes did not occur in no way signals that sites, not yet designated mobile-friendly, are in the clear, so to speak. It is not atypical for a Google algorithmic change to take a period of time to roll out across the system. I like to think of it in sailing terms. They take the change out for a shakedown cruise and, depending on how it performs, set it off to sail around the globe. The data suggests that Google was already in shakedown mode prior to April 21.

Why did Mobilegeddon pass over us? Was it like an asteroid narrowly missing Earth? Not hardly! The answer is simple. Just as with Y2K, site owners, given advanced warning, were ready. It seems that many site owners, particularly those with top rankings to protect, heeded Google’s warnings and took the steps to ensure that they meet the criteria to be mobile-friendly prior to April 21. With fewer sites eligible (perhaps, a less than desirable state) for demotion for failing to meet the criteria, there is a smaller potential zone of impact. Many top-ranking sites hopped right to it and made sure that they were ready for the “big change;” hence, the big change was a big nothing. It still remains to be seen what the long-term impacts will be.

Missed in all of the hysteria around Mobilegeddon was the arrival of another algorithmic change, one with a very serious effect. On April 29, Google-watchers and site owners detected another “big” change creating huge drops in traffic for sites impacted. Because this change sneaked in without warning, it has been dubbed “Phantom 2.” The change seems to attack the same problems addressed by Panda — the ever-pervasive and deadly — thin content. There is also speculation that another Penguin is hatching in Mountain View, readying an attack on over-optimization and other violations of Google’s rules of the road.

There is a lesson to be learned from this recent set of shocks to the SEO system. Not all of Google’s major changes will be announced. Prompt response to announced changes is insurance against predictable/announced penalties. This is just one element of preparedness. Panda and Penguin updates are part of the landscape and will not always be announced. This makes it important to be ever-vigilant for thin content. I am an avid gardener and regularly prune my plants. It seems that for a site to stay healthy in today’s search ecosystem (that is, achieve and maintain solid rankings), the site managers need to evaluate, prune and enhance their pages to ensure continued growth. Because Panda-type algorithmic changes are going to be an ongoing part of the search ecosystem, site owners and their SEOs need to set a schedule to perform a regular Panda review — a critical look for content that is weak, does not engage the user or has been overwhelmed by boilerplate language to the extent that it offers little real value. I would also like to suggest a similar regular review of overall SEO practices to forestall any raging Penguins hatched in Mountain View. And, remember that the only predictable thing in search is that change is coming.

5 Data-Driven Strategies to Feed Your Customer Obsession

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

This Forrester Research recently claimed that companies obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth. Consider Amazon, Nike or Mercedes Benz, where innovation is part of the culture. Consider how an obsession with innovation at Apple and Google translates to customer delight in their products. For the rest of us, it may be harder without that kind of a culture behind us, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: Each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction. Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value. The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high-value customers?” If not, change it or dump it.

Like any change, in life or business, it starts with attitude. If you don’t work for a customer-obsessed company, can you successfully meet the demands of your market and rise above the competition? At a minimum, companies must embrace that digital and customer experience is everyone’s business—great ideas and the seeds of change can come from anywhere, regardless of title, but do need to be cross-functional and valued to blossom.

It’s time to make this transformation personal. Consider how you can use the technology you have to adapt the customer experiences that you do control, and demonstrate success to the rest of the organization. This proof of concept approach is a great way to get more budget, too. Incremental change is great—improvements to a campaign for next time or an adjustment to the timing for a triggered message are good starting points. However, more is needed.

We must re-think the customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with owned media or branded touchpoints. Collaborate with other suppliers and influencers to focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.” Right time is an alternate to “real time” that recognizes that immediacy is not the most effective reaction in all situations. This is especially true since the customer journey is non-linear.

Thinking differently can be difficult inside an organization—especially if you are successful. Often, good ideas are limited because of the way we ask questions about our customers or our marketing programs. A research experiment with third graders provides some proof of why creativity goes beyond tactical application of cleverness or humor. (The video is about two minutes long.)

The project gave two groups of third graders the same assignment—to make a picture out of a triangle. When the assignment was narrowly defined, the pictures came out nicely, but not that different from each other. When the assignment was not defined, the pictures came out wildly different—and much more creative!

Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry—learn to disrupt your own business. Truly aim to understand whatever is blocking your path to innovation and customer connection. Consider some of these strategic elements that can help you break free of legacy patterns and test new ideas.

1. Use the Data You Have to Zero-in on Key Segments. Use microtargeting to really get to know your customers. Dig deep into customization and personalization opportunities to find the small, yet potentially profitable subsets of your market and niche offerings.

2. Separate the Signal From the Noise. Being able to do so is a powerful intoxicant: If I can just repeatedly do that one perfect thing that will really drive our business forward, I’d dominate our market and be a hero. Problem is, identifying that one perfect thing is very hard. Marketing analytic models may be more accessible than you think—and perhaps are no longer a luxury, but an imperative for understanding the customer needs—and predicting future behavior. Bring these practices closer to the campaign management and segmentation strategy—and give your analytics teams a seat at the table. Consider some of these key questions that analytics models can answer:

a. What dynamic forces are affecting my customer and how effectively am I changing to meet these changes?
b. Are there new market opportunities developing that I can take advantage of and become the industry leader?
c. Would this new product be interesting to our current customers? What must be true for customers to feel pain? Who are our most valuable customers, and over time? What outside factors impact customer loyalty and retention?
d. What are the characteristics of our best prospects?
e. Which marketing messages and campaigns are contributing, and when do they contribute during the lifecycle?

3. Marketing Automation Tools Are Slowly Evolving to Help You Manage These Changes, but you may need to bolt together point solutions in the meantime (especially if a big upgrade is not in your budget this year). Look to consolidate applications into a platform with data and process level integration to improve efficiency and effectiveness; work to integrate marketing technology with the enterprise infrastructure to reveal deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities. Here is a good reason to establish inter-disciplinary teams with IT and sales and customer service and legal to improve marketing contribution, vendor management, due diligence and governance practices.

4. Paid Placements (Native Advertising) Are Here to Stay. Spend your money on the right content and platform and understand which digital properties are performing best. Build budgets and relationships around content placement, sponsorship opportunities, syndication services and content recommendation platforms. Content marketing can’t be limited to owned and earned media if you need to reach larger and broader audiences.

5. Focus on Quality Content; we are all publishers now. Mobile will continue to dominate, so master its impact on your content and targeting. All our writing has to be compelling and adaptable across platforms, and written to the tastes of narrowly targeted personas. Automation tools help to make sure your content is repurposed with panache and context.

Clearly there’s lots of opportunity for growth in many areas of marketing success, particularly as we align our investments in areas where vendors have incentives to innovate. Scouring your budget for “past success” might be a good place to start: Given the advances in technology, will what worked in 2010 or even in 2014 work now in 2015? Please share your own tips and challenges for creating a customer-obsessed culture in your organization in the comments section below.

Google: The Elephant for Search Marketers

Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian Prime Minister, once remarked about the United States: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Search marketers can say the same about Google. Every move that the search giant makes has some impact on the search marketplace. Google announces major algorithm changes as “weather reports” and indicates how Google expects the change to impact sites. These changes are usually couched in terms of what type of Web spam the search giant is attempting to reduce. Although designed to weed out poor quality sites or those that are gaming the system, these changes frequently catch many unwary sites in their net. In some instances, site owners may believe that they are following the rules.

Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian Prime Minister, once remarked about the United States: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Search marketers can say the same about Google. Every move that the search giant makes has some impact on the search marketplace. Google announces major algorithm changes as “weather reports” and indicates how Google expects the change to impact sites. These changes are usually couched in terms of what type of Web spam the search giant is attempting to reduce. Although designed to weed out poor quality sites or those that are gaming the system, these changes frequently catch many unwary sites in their net. In some instances, site owners may believe that they are following the rules.

Few online marketers have developed disaster plans for what to do in the event that their site takes a serious tumble in the search rankings. Many marketers focus huge efforts on improving their search positions, but few plan for sudden, precipitous drops in search traffic. It is incumbent upon all online marketers to build their own disaster plans so that they do not have to react in haste.

  • Do you have a plan for what you might do if you were to lose 30 percent to 50 percent of your search traffic?
  • Do you know the impact this might have on your bottom line?
  • How would you backfill the loss?
  • What other marketing channels could you use to drive sales?
  • Would a huge drop in search traffic cripple your business?

For a pure-play e-commerce business, a serious fall-off in search traffic might spell doom.

Sites do recover, but there is no set time frame for recovery, and the recovery is usually gradual. Troubleshooting and fixing the problems is a time-consuming and costly effort, so it is important to have in place an alternative traffic plan—a search disaster plan. You may never need it, but given that you live next to an elephant with the capability of crushing you inadvertently, it is an excellent idea to have just such a plan in your back pocket.

5 Things to Do Now to Prepare for the Next Stage of Email Marketing

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program. But the email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program.

And, they do. This is one of the reasons that spam continues to grow. Someone with access to thousands of addresses can fill his or her coffers by blanketing the list with promotional messages or scams. Those emails keep coming because they work. If people didn’t respond to them, the spammers would find a new source of income.

The minimal requirements for success also contribute to the cookie cutter emails sent by established brands. Subject lines, images and content change, but the layout and offers are strikingly similar. When asked why they do this, marketers claim that testing has proven that their subscribers respond best to this presentation and offers.

The problem is that they decided to stop testing once a solution was found. Any halfway decent direct marketer will tell you that testing shows what works best AT THAT TIME. The winner becomes the control that is used to gauge the effectiveness of future tests. Email marketing lulls marketers into complacency because it works so well at consistently generating revenue. Following the “don’t fix it if it’s not broke” theory keeps them from finding strategies that work better.

In fairness, the demands on marketing teams are continuously increasing. Participation in high maintenance, continuously changing channels requires time and effort that might have been dedicated to improving email campaigns if the world were different. Resources have to be allocated by need and email campaigns do not require much to be successful.

The email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king. That adaptation has to start now because it takes time to establish the relationships required for continued success. Waiting until campaigns start losing their effectiveness will be too late.

There are two shifts creating the need for change. The first is increased competition. According to the Radicati Group’s email statistics report for 2012 – 2016, 144.8 billion emails were sent in 2012. By 2016, that number is expected to increase to 192.2 billion. Business emails account for 61 percent of the emails today, increasing to 75 percent in 2016. Consumer emails are decreasing. In 2012, 55.8 billion emails were sent. By 2016, consumer emails will drop to 48.4 billion. More marketing messages mean that company emails have to fight harder for recipients’ attention.

The second shift is the ongoing effort to provide a personalized universal search experience. Google is the first search engine to test adding emails to results. It’s only a matter of time before the field trial rolls out and other search providers follow the lead. This changes the rules of engagement for the email marketing game.

Email campaigns will need to work overtime to deliver the best results. In addition to generating immediate cash flow, they need to have a “save for later” appeal that keeps recipients from deleting them. The saved emails will appear when people search the web for similar products or services.

Fortunately, preparing for increased competition and universal search has immediate benefits. The same tactics that position your emails for success in the future also make them work better today. To get started:

  1. Improve your customer relationships: Loyal customers are more likely to ignore increased competition and save your emails. Including emails that make it easier for people to use your products and services solidifies relationships and adds life to your messages.
  2. Optimize emails for search: Adding alternative text to images provides information that can be accessed by search bots. Balancing text and images makes your messages more readable by recipients and bots. It also improves deliverability.
  3. Use personalized trigger emails to improve the shopping and service experience: Trigger emails are a low cost way to keep customers informed about order status and new products or services.
  4. Customize emails by customer behavior: Sending everyone in your database the same marketing message works. Sending customized message to individuals based on their shopping and communication preferences works better.
  5. Keep everything simple and easy: The easier you make it for your customers, the more loyal they tend to be. Work to eliminate as many steps as possible between the marketing message and sale. People keep coming back when the process is simple.

Marketing: It’s the New IT

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

What do I mean? What I mean is we’re on the ground floor of a transformational process in which marketing replaces IT as the stewards of the Marketing Technology Infrastructure. At the end of this process, marketing will own and manage vast majority of IT’s responsibilities, as they relate to marketing functions. This is going to happen—sooner than you might think—as a result of several parallel trends that are already underfoot in the business world.

  • Emergence of robust and easy-to-use SaaS marketing technologies—the proliferation of tools like Constant Contact, Eloqua, SalesForce and Marketo give marketers access to incredibly powerful plug-and-play solutions that can be used with virtually no internal IT support. Because they’re delivered using the SaaS model, all updates and tech support are managed by the vendor. Talk about a marketer’s dream …
  • Development of secure and dependable cloud storage and computing infrastructure—as little as five years ago, companies could never have imagined moving their precious data outside the organization’s firewall. Oh, how times have changed! Numerous security breaches combined with improved cloud technology and falling prices for storage have turned the tables on this argument. Why go through the cost and hassle of maintaining your own databases if you don’t need to? For many companies, this is already a rhetorical question.
  • Standardization of Web-service-based API architecture—Now that API technology has grown up, so to speak, we have a universally agreed-upon language (XML) and set of standards (SOAP/REST) developers can use to tie disparate systems together. Building on point No. 1, APIs are a quick and effective way to pass information back and forth between various platforms. What’s more, a new generation of developers has grown up that’s fluent in this ecosystem, and companies are taking advantage by staffing up big time. Within the next couple years, you’ll never again hear, “We don’t have an API developer on staff.”
  • Validation of the “Platform” model for development—why build a platform when you can use someone else’s? What’s more, why try to build a better mousetrap yourself when you can leverage a network of thousands or tens of thousands of developers who are willing to give it stab? This is the power and promise of the platform model. Over the next few years, the marketing space will be increasingly dominated by large platforms who create ecosystems their clients can tap into for cutting-edge capabilities, and developers can leverage to line their pockets. By 2020, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a developer, you’ll either be working at a platform, developing apps for one, or building tools and methodologies that pass information back and forth between them. So if you like to code, get with the platform program, and quick!

Because the relationship between IT and Marketing could be described as “frosty,” at best, I think it’s safe to say that, overall, this will be a welcome change for most CMOs. In my experience, marketing departments tend to feel that IT is understaffed, distracted and overall not a strong partner for the marketing team to rely on. If anything, the adversarial nature of this relationship will serve to accelerate the overall trend of many IT functions dissolving into marketing department’s purview.

But what’s most interesting about this process is that it will not be limited to the marketing department. Think about it. Other departments consume technology as well, right? That means it’s going to happen in parallel throughout the entire enterprise organization: Finance, Accounting, Purchasing, Procurement … They will all go through the same transformation, as software is procured from SaaS service providers, and data storage and database management is migrated to the cloud. We’re talking comprehensive and organization-wide transformation.

I’ve already seen the beginnings of this process within many of my client’s organizations. In a previous post, The Great Marketing Data Revolution, I touched upon the incredible transformation organizations are being forced to make as they deal with and try to make sense out of with the deluge of unstructured marketing data they are collecting every day, which is often referred to as “Big Data.”

For many companies, the ultimate Big Data strategy involves a Master Data Management (MDM) solution for collecting, aggregating, matching and storing this vast pool of information. While supported by IT, MDM initiatives tend to be marketing projects, as most of the data is collected and used by marketing. MDM/Big Data solutions tend to be cloud-based and take advantage some, if not all, of the four points I addressed above.

Now what’s going to happen to IT, you might ask? If you’re working in IT, don’t fret. Your department won’t disappear. But its role will undoubtedly change with the times. Instead of focusing on product development and infrastructure maintenance, IT will instead focus on identifying the right players to engage with, testing, auditing and supporting the process—not to mention providing API technologists to help tie systems together. And, possibly, developing specialized tools to help fill in gaps the marketplace has overlooked.

If you’re a developer, this means that you’re going to need to redefine your skills to align them to the needs of the marketplace. And the good news is you probably have a few years to get it sorted out. Still, things will undoubtedly change and—once the proverbial tipping point is reached—they’ll change awfully fast.

So I hope this all makes sense. I do have a feeling this may be a controversial topic for many readers—especially those in IT. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please let me know in your comments.

Blurring the Lines Between Paid and Natural Search Listings: The Impact on Search Performance

Over the past few months, Google has made some subtle changes to the look of its top position sponsored listings. These changes have, in the aggregate, made top sponsored listings look remarkably like natural search listings.

Over the past few months, Google has made some subtle changes to the look of its top position sponsored listings. These changes have, in the aggregate, made top sponsored listings look remarkably like natural search listings.

In January, for instance, Google lowercased the display URL for all paid search ads (e.g., Example.com became example.com). The new lowercase display URL now matches natural search URLs. A few weeks later, Google began allowing top position paid search advertisers to move the first line of description ad text into the title of the listing. This can be done for any listing by placing punctuation at the end of the first description line. By moving the first description line into the title, the paid search title looks more like a natural search title.

Other recent changes have helped top position paid search ads blend into natural search results. These changes include the lightening of the paid search box’s color and a change to the box’s right-side label from “Sponsored Listings” to the less noticeable “Ad.”

What do these changes mean for paid and natural search performance? Performics’ 2010 Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Insights Study found that two-thirds of searchers know the difference between paid and natural search results. However, in light of Google’s recent changes, fewer searchers may be able to tell the paid and natural listings apart.

Many searchers click on natural search listings because they believe natural search is less biased than paid search. Yet, as the lines between paid and natural search listings blur, searchers may be more likely to click on a top position paid listing. Thus, paid search clickthrough rates (CTRs) may rise while natural search CTRs may fall. Performics’ 2010 SERP Insights Study also found that 20 percent of searchers frequently or always click on paid search ads. This year could be a different story.

In light of these changes, advertisers should pay close attention to both paid and natural search CTRs, especially for brand queries. For example, most advertisers run a top position paid search ad and rank first naturally for their brand name. Google’s changes could divert clicks from the natural listing to the paid listing, which means advertisers will be paying for clicks that they used to get for free.

This is fine if the cost per order/lead from paid search remains at or above goal, but if click costs rise and order sales and leads don’t, advertisers need to refine their paid search campaigns. This includes employing landing page optimization strategies as well as testing paid search site links to better direct searchers to the exact page they’re looking for.

It’s generally easier to use paid search rather than natural search to direct a searcher to a defined landing page that’s optimized to drive conversions. Thus boosting paid search CTRs — even at the expense of natural search CTRs — can drive more conversions. The key is ensuring that paid search landing pages are optimized.

It’s clear that Google’s changes blur the lines between paid and natural search listings. Will Bing and other engines follow suit? That remains to be seen, but in response to this change on the industry’s leading engine, advertisers now have an opportunity to boost paid search CTRs. Advertisers must be strategic about their programs and remember that in order to stay efficient, they must ensure that more clicks ultimately yield more sales/leads.

Have you seen a difference in your search programs as a result of these blurred lines? Have questions about how it might impact your campaigns? Contact me at craig.greenfield@performics.com.