A Question for Marketers: Is It Social or Is It Media?

Sasha Baron Cohen took Facebook to task last week with his speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” Published in full by The Guardian, the speech was shared on the social media platform, to mixed reviews.

Facebook has 2.45 billion monthly users. Given that reach, it’s hard to classify Facebook as anything other than a mass media outlet. Compare Facebook’s reach to some of the most-viewed television broadcasts:

  • 600-650 million people worldwide watched the Apollo 11 moon landing live on TV (about 20% of the world’s population in 1969)
  • 750 million watched Prince Charles and Lady Diana marry in 1981
  • 2 billion-plus people watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing (about one-third of the world’s population in 2008)

In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told the first Facebook Community Summit, “Our full mission statement is: Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. That reflects that we can’t do this ourselves, but only by empowering people to build communities and bring people together.”

How’s that working out for us?

Sasha Baron Cohen took Facebook to task last week with his speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calling Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”  Published in full by The Guardian, the speech was shared on the social media platform, to mixed reviews.

Cohen states:
“Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others — they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged — stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear … On the Internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.”

My Facebook comment about the speech: “Why shouldn’t social media platforms be held to the same standards as other content publishers?”

Someone replied,

“But they’re not content publishers … they’re conduits for publishers. On FB, you and I and Joe and all kinds of media are the publishers. Think of the phone companies. They can’t be held responsible for what people say over their systems.”

My response:

“I guess that depends on whether you put the emphasis on social or media.”

And of course, most phone conversations are private (at least for now) while most Facebook posts are not.

I sent The Guardian’s publication of Cohen’s speech to my children, two of whom have given up their Facebook accounts. My daughter replied,

“Did you learn about this on Facebook? If so, irony is dead.”

Actually, I did. RIP Irony.

Where Do You Start? Teaching Direct Marketing to College Students

What’s the best approach to engage college kids in understanding direct marketing? Principles first; metrics second? Or Metrics first; principles second?

What’s the best approach to engage college kids in understanding direct marketing? Principles first; metrics second? Or Metrics first; principles second?

I remember sitting in the parlor of a Catholic parish rectory in North Jersey while my wife was participating in a wedding rehearsal. The Mets game was on TV. The brother of a parish priest who was visiting from Ireland asked me to explain baseball. Explain baseball?!?! Where do you start?

Despite all of the professional speaking and training I’ve done in direct response marketing, the first time I taught a college course devoted entirely to it was last spring. I started with the fundamental concepts of media, offer, and creative. I had them write about each of these concepts from their own experience. We went over the various targeting opportunities marketers have online and offline. And at the end, we covered measurement and metrics.

At the end of the course, I asked the students to tell me what worked, what didn’t, and what should be changed. The most insightful comment was from a student who said:

“I wish you had covered all that measurement content at the beginning of the course. It made me realize why all that other stuff was important, and how it fit into the big picture.”

HELP!

Now, as I embark on teaching a course dedicated to Direct Response Marketing at Rutgers School of Business Camden, I’m looking for advice about how to sequence things.

Last year, when I bemoaned the lack of an appropriate up-to-date textbook for this discipline in this column, Dave Marold and Harvey  Markowitz stepped up and recommended the Fourth Edition of “Direct, Digital, and Data-Driven Marketing,” by Lisa Spiller. (Thanks for that Dave and Harvey; I’m using that book in the Fall).

What Do You Think?

Now I see the benefit of stressing measurement early. Even though I told the students every class that the coolest thing about direct marketing is that you can measure it, apparently the mechanical reality of measuring something like search engine keywords was not real for them. So:

  • Do I incorporate some form of measurement into every lesson?
  • Do I introduce a comprehensive measurement unit early in the course? (Spiller’s book does that early on, in Chapter 4).
  • Or, do I go full-on “math course” at the beginning, and thin a 40-student class down to 20 students after two weeks? (Just kidding).

Opinions welcome. (Actually, encouraged.)

Why Direct Mail Is the Rodney Dangerfield of Media

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot.

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. Easy to dismiss, for its role as a dinosaur — direct mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of media. I’ll admit that’s an almost extinct reference — but the comedian’s famous “I don’t get respect” act truly fits here. Great direct mail campaigns lead to big time sales — which — ultimately yield respect. Years ago, after starting a career in advertising, I fell in love with direct mail for the oh-so gratifying value of measurement. Now with so many options for measurable media, that tangible benefit is no longer limited to the mail.

Somewhere along the line though, gradually people began to doubt the power of the direct mail channel. Smart people. For well over a decade we have had doubters question and condescend about the dinosaur that is mail.

It’s easy to see why. After all, do people really read their mail anymore? And the cost per impression is high.

Get ready to be surprised.

And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot. In all of our Medicare Marketing work, the direct mail reliably drives more members and responses than any other channel. The list goes on.

There was a time that no one thought using offline media to drive online results made sense. Think again.

In fact I’d say, the best way to think about direct mail is as a sales channel. You can identify your target universe and work back from the point of sale to determine the metrics. A true cohesion among sales and marketing teams.

It’s not old news. And it’s not the only news. The really exciting part is that your mail performance can and will be enhanced by other channels

Here are some rules for determining how and when to use direct mail as part of your marketing mix:

  1. Do the math — Whether it be on the back-of-a-napkin, or via a comprehensive pro-forma spreadsheet, finding out in advance whether you can afford the cost of a direct mail lead is the best first step. At our agency, our teams are trained in direct mail math – those basics are “job one”!
  2. Start with a test — If you walk around the office showing people your mail, I can already tell you how that will go. Pretty much no one will like what could turn out to be the best performing direct mail package. Nothing beats the value of “in-market” testing.
  3. Feature an offer — An offer is something that goes above and beyond the product features. While an offer is not mandatory, it really helps.
  4. Hire an agency — This is a deceivingly detailed business. Any agency that has been in business for a number of years (with a specialty of direct mail) has faced problems. Lots of obstacles big and small that you’d rather avoid. But, beyond the value of smooth-sailing, you’ll likely get a better performing piece from a group that lives and breathes direct mail best practices. I promise it will be more than worth it.
  5. Hire a proofer — See No. 4. This is an area where you’d rather not make a mistake. It’s expensive.

Experienced direct response (and also sales) professionals honor the channel that is direct, because it’s proven itself as a valued part of the plan.

Once it works for you, you too will find yourself committed to the mail. Even if, like me, you never check your own mailbox!

‘Who Cares?’ Online May Overtake Offline Spending in 2018

I found it quaint when my server at a hotel restaurant came up to me and said this morning, “Would you like to see today’s paper with your breakfast?”

server
“waiter,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by faungg’s photos

I found it quaint when my server at a hotel restaurant came up to me and said this morning, “Would you like to see today’s paper with your breakfast?”

“No, thank you,” I said. I actually had had this week’s print issue of The Economist with me, and opened that to read, instead. As I looked around the room however, most everyone who was reading anything was doing so on their smartphones.

While my youthful eyes (that’s a joke) still prefer print for reading, and I still prefer print for pictures, the truth is that even my own preferences for print in many instances have fallen away to smartphone, tablet, and PC demands and consumption habits. It’s as if print media has emerged as a quiet luxury — a respite from digital content and its potential many distractions.

Two weeks ago, Bruce Biegel of The Winterberry Group provided his annual “Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing for 2018,” along with a recap for 2017, at the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Two excellent summaries of the presentation are here and here, and the presentation is available for a download at the Winterberry Group site, currently. Scroll down on the home page.

During the presentation, I tweeted out the fact that online ad spend (display, search, email, mobile, affiliate, lead gen and social) he predicts will overtake offline ad spend (direct mail, teleservices, shopper and event marketing) for the first time in 2018 — with measured media, traditional media (broadcast TV, radio, outdoor, magazine, newspapers and cinema), still holding onto the largest slice. One of my industry colleagues tweeted back, “Who cares?”

Winterberry Gorup report
Credit: “Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing – 2018″ by The Winterberry Group

I suppose meeting a milestone such as this truly is inevitable, and matters only inasmuch as a historical marker of changing patterns of media consumption — and a growing comfort level for data-driven marketing. Advertisers are only chasing consumers where they are, after all. Bruce even remarked how Winterberry Group even underestimated the rapidity of the offline-to-online shift in 2017, with direct mail spend falling faster than anticipated. (It is not without note that Bruce characterized direct mail as perhaps the most “measurable, accountable” of all media.)

The next “Who cares?” moment may be if and when traditional media spend is overtaken by either offline or online media spend (or both of them), as advertisers seek out such “measurable, accountable” ad spend over the straightforward brand spend that tends to dominate traditional media categories. As chief marketing officers become more data-conversant, will they seek out more direct customer engagement over impressions? Will cost-per-thousand be supplanted by cost-per-action, even within traditional media categories? With spending on data set to grow in 2018 by 5.7 percent, offline ad spend by 3.8 percent, and digital ad spend including mobile by 15.2 percent — while traditional media is projected to decline by 0.8 percent (quite remarkable for a year with the Winter Olympics and mid-term Elections) — one might expect the “Who cares?” moment for traditional media may be coming soon.

But who cares? There will always be a role for branding — even as consumer interaction as an objective rises. Omnichannel marketing, single data views of the customer, and “right place, right offer, right moment” are largely directional and aspirational, and are well-worth pursuing. But 100 percent efficient ad spending will always be elusive.

I’m not even certain the consumer wants to be all that much engaged. Consumers don’t always consume — they sometimes sleep, eat, relax and recharge, too. And it’s time for me to finish my breakfast.

Political Polarization? The Medium Is the Message

I was upset to learn that a good friend of mine is no longer speaking with his sister because of an argument over President Trump. He could no longer abide that she, like many members of the president’s “base,” continued to defend the President. How did we get to the place where families are being torn apart over politics? Look no further than where people get their news.

Facebook unfriending
Source: Clay Jones, ClayToonz.com
Facebook unfriending – the struggle is real

[Editor’s note: While this opinion piece is not explicitly about marketing this time, it’s important for marketers to note what’s happening with consumers and the context in which they’re seeing ads. Content marketers have had to keep an eye on this; most recently in April, concerning hate speech sites housing YouTube ads. Chuck McLeester doesn’t mention hate speech sites below.]

I was upset to learn that a good friend of mine is no longer speaking with his sister because of an argument over President Trump. He could no longer abide that she, like many members of the president’s “base,” continued to defend the President. How did we get to the place where families are being torn apart over politics? Look no further than where people get their news.

In the Washington Post column, The Fix, Aaron Blake writes on Aug. 22, “We increasingly live in two Americas. And those two Americas have very separate sources of news.”

Blake cites an extensive study by Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society that examined 4.5 million tweets and looked at those who retweeted either Trump or Clinton. It then looked at the URLs that the users shared.

Not surprisingly, Trump and Clinton supporters relied on very different sources for their news. The tables below show the top 50 media sources shared by Trump and Clinton supporters. It’s interesting to note that Trump supporters sometimes cited “left of center” media, while Clinton supporters never cited “right of center” media. Eleven of the sources cited by Trump supporters were from “Left” or “Center Left” sources, perhaps refuting left-leaning mainstream media outlets like the The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.

This polarization of people by the media they consume makes me think of the work of Marshall McLuhan from the mid-1960s. McLuhan contended that the content in a medium was less important than the change that was brought about by that medium.

As noted in the Wikipedia page on McLuhan, “… the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are, in effect, being brought into the home to watch over dinner. Hence in “Understanding Media,” McLuhan describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.”

Anyone who has Facebook friends on opposite sides of the political spectrum is bound to witness this phenomenon. In fact, Facebook itself is the complicit medium, creating structural changes in the civility of political discourse among friends and family members.

So while it may be easy to blame Donald Trump or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for pitting brother against sister, shouldn’t we be taking a closer look at the media they’re consuming and the media they’re using for political discourse as the culprit?

Here are the tables that the Harvard study derived from the Twitter and URL data, Trump’s first, Clinton’s second.

In the charts below:

“Partisan Scores” are based upon how often a source was shared by Trump and Clinton supporters. Scores range from -1 for sources shared mostly by Clinton supporters to 1 for sources shared mostly by Trump supporters.

 

Trump backers share these media sources on Twitter, Harvard finds
Trump backers cite these sources, according to “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” DASH terms of use. | Credit: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University by Robert Faris, et al
Cinton backers cited these sources on Twitter, Harvard finds
Clinton backers cite these sources on Twitter, according to “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” DASH terms of use. | Credit: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University by Robert Faris, et al

Living With (and Working Against) Fake News

First, let me say this is not a political post. Sometimes, understandably, I garner partisan comments and critiques on my marketing observations about elections and campaigns, or current events and what we can learn from them as marketing and communications practitioners. I welcome all comments — but there is no intended political agenda here.

First, let me say this is not a political post. Sometimes, understandably, I garner partisan comments and critiques on my marketing observations about elections and campaigns, or current events and what we can learn from them as marketing and communications practitioners. I welcome all comments — but there is no intended political agenda here.

Second, there’s been a lot of media attention around “fake news,” “alternative facts” and “bad ads” this past week, and in this digital age, it’s not surprising to see these phenomena come forward. These are not political manifestations — I believe they happen because of human nature, unchanged over time, and in the digital realm, there are new opportunities for bad behavior.

My point here is that we’ve allowed this to happen.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: decades past have had their days of yellow journalism and snake-oil salesman. While I may long for the days of fair and impartial voices in journalism — a la, Walter Cronkite — there’s always been an element in media that’s sponsored by one interest or another, perhaps for entertainment, even if the veneer is authoritative, informative and educational. For years, “feel good” stories are inserted in evening newscasts. And product placements appear in morning television. In cable television news, is there any news at all or is it mostly commentary and entertainment? So, I continue to worry about who pays the freight for U.S. journalism, even as I recognize and welcome the fact that advertising foots the bill.

We need, perhaps desperately, in American democracy the check and balance of a well-financed, vibrant Fourth Estate. The “Media Opposition Party” is hardly monolithic — and that’s why I still care about the practice of journalism that takes time to fact check and to keep its editorial opinions on the Editorial Page. That’s why I also watch public television and listen to public radio — no interest there, except to the public (or at least the members of the public that is its donor base). News versus analysis versus commentary — there needs to be a distinction.

Once again, we’re in a new age where there’s a slush — not a firewall — between church and state (publishing and editorial). The rise of “Native Advertising,” social influencers, “clickbait content,” brand journalism, pay-to-play speaking gigs, even who’s sitting next to you in a bar, muddies the distinction between editorial and paid content — particularly on a digital or mobile device. One from the other is a click away to an untrained eye. It is true that there is value, immense value, in paid content, but it’s also wise to know — as a citizen, as a consumer — when you’re engaged with paid media, from earned media, from editorial opinion, from entertainment.

Sometimes, when a PR practitioner is pitching an editor, reporter or conference organizer for earned media, he or she is presented with a paid media option instead. My client may well opt for the paid media option, but I make sure that my editorial pitch is really about editorial content. I’ll let my client know the availability of a paid media option, should they wish to pursue this.

Now, all that being said, I’m happy accepting earned media assignments (my bread and butter), as well as paid media assignments (content marketing). Let’s simply make sure they are distinct and differentiated when and where they appear. It’s not just the Federal Trade Commission who cares about this, I do, too! Hence, my blog today — and it is not a soap box.

Top 3 Questions I Hear About Direct Marketing

Clients and friends who are traditional marketers often seek my advice on direct response. Here are the answers to the three questions I hear most frequently:

Unknown peopleTraditional marketer clients and friends often seek my advice on direct response. Here are the answers to the three questions I hear most frequently:

Question No. 1: What Kind of Response Rate Should I Expect?

There are response rate benchmark studies published by the DMA and others, usually organized by industry and type of offer (lead generation, free information, cash with order, etc.). These reports can provide you with some guidance in setting your expectations, but they can just as easily lead you astray. How? If you’ve seen one campaign, you’ve seen just that: one. But some marketers fall into the trap of applying previous results to various campaigns.

Your response rate is driven by three factors, listed here in order or importance:

  • Media: If you don’t get your message in front of the right people, your response will suffer. It is the single most important driver of response, so choose wisely.
  • Offer: What’s your value proposition to the prospect? Simply stated, your offer says, “Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s what you’re going to get when you do it.” If your offer is not appealing or relevant to the prospect, the response — or lack thereof — will reflect that. Also, keep in mind that soft offers, which require little commitment on the part of the prospect (e.g., get free information, download a whitepaper, etc.), will generate a higher response than hard offers, which require a greater commitment (request a demo, make an appointment with a sales rep, payment with order, etc.).
  • Creative: It’s hard for traditional advertisers to believe that this element is lower in importance than the first two, but it is. And the biggest driver of response from a creative standpoint is a clearly stated prominent call to action.

Question No. 2: We Have a Strong Campaign Coming Out of Market Research. My Client/Management Wants to Get This Out As Quickly As Possible. Why Do I Have to Test?

Three reasons:

  • You may have a well-researched creative position but it can be executed in a variety of different ways (see the third bullet under Question No. 1, above). Furthermore, your market research couldn’t predict the response rates from different media. But knowing whether email lists, websites or social media fare best for your audience and offer will be crucial to generating the highest response rate.
  • You want to be able to optimize the three factors above to determine which combination gives you the most qualified leads at the lowest cost per lead.
  • Most importantly, you want to avoid a potentially catastrophic result if you’ve gotten one of the three key elements wrong. It’s better to do that with a small quantity rather than a full-scale effort. It’s always disconcerting to hear people say, “We tried direct. It didn’t work.” Keep in mind that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. Previous successes and shortcomings won’t apply when you tweak the context.

Question No. 3. How Big Should My Test Be?

Your test should be large enough to produce statistically significant results. There are two parts to this: the confidence level of your results and the variation you’re willing to accept.

There are statistical formulas for calculating sample size, but a good rule of thumb to follow is that with 250 responses, you can be 90 percent confident that your results will vary no more than plus or minus 10 percent.

For example, if you test 25,000 emails and get a 1 percent response rate, that’s 250 responses. That means you can be 90 percent confident that (all things held equal) you will get between 0.9 percent and 1.1 percent in a rollout.

A smaller number of responses will result in a reduced confidence level or increased variance. For example, with a test size of 10,000 emails and a 1 percent response rate at a 90 percent confidence level, your variance would be 16 percent rather than 10 percent. That means you can be 90 percent confident that you’ll get between 0.84 percent and 1.16 percent response rate, with all things being held equal.

Why an “Hour a Day” Doesn’t Work on Social Media

You’re consistent. Diligent. You spend your hour a day on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. And then you get back to something that might actually generate a lead or sale. Like cold-calling. You know, that “dead” strategy that is difficult these days—yet still gets you paid!

You’re consistent. Diligent. You spend your hour a day on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. And then you get back to something that might actually generate a lead or sale. Like cold-calling. You know, that “dead” strategy that is difficult these days—yet still gets you paid!

Being consistent with social media is not working.

For most of us, there are too few leads coming from being diligent. So why, then, do you continue to post updates, share content, re-tweet?

Maybe you still believe in LinkedIn or Twitter and realize success (at anything) requires diligence. That’s true. Good for you. Or maybe because your boss expects you to—and you continue despite the lack of outcomes.

Despite having a reliable process. This process.

Having a Process Always Gets You Paid
Can’t find time for social? Don’t want to invest time because of lack of results? Your process is wrong. Stop focusing on being consistent. Instead, get a few small results, then build on them.

Be diligent. Be consistent. Most of all, be sure you have a chance at getting early results that you can build on.

Let’s be honest. Getting early results is all that matters. This isn’t about doing things to feel accomplished or satisfy management. Time investments on social media should pay you in these terms:

  • more appointments in less time
  • moving through your prospecting list faster
  • leaving fewer voicemails
  • less time asking for demos—more time giving demos to pre-vetted leads

How can you get these kinds of early results? Follow a proven, effective system.

  1. Attract Attention by saying something bold, new.
  2. Spark Curiosity in what you have to say by holding back details.
  3. Provoke Response by using words that trigger immediate reactions.

The Process Must Make Sense to You
Don’t just follow a system blindly. Make sure YOU believe in the system. Most of all, make sure the approach you use has a high probability of paying off—producing want you want in the near-term.

“In general I like the approach you are recommending, Jeff, because it really makes sense and its something I can relate to and believe in,” says IBM Digital Sales’s Johan Hoffert.

In fact, in a matter of a few days Hoffert tested this approach on a non-responsive prospect he was struggling to reach. He turned it into a lead. What changed his luck? Process, not diligence.

Beware: If it feels like a waste of time it is. Trust your instincts.

You’re an Idiot, but I Have a Cure for That
“When was the last time you bought something from someone who said, ‘You’re an idiot, but I have a cure for that?” asks Bruce Johnston, a respected provider of outsourced LinkedIn lead generation services.

Johnston is concerned with many social selling experts and trainers—their approach to helping reps who need guidance in this area.

“Underestimating your customers’ intelligence and using a fear based approach rubs me the wrong way,” says Johnston who blogs at www.practicalsmm.com.

In a recent email exchange, Johnston told me the message he tries to get across respects his customers and tones down the revolutionary hyperbole. Specifically, social selling, when combined with what you are doing now, is a sales accelerant.

“What many of these ‘experts’ are doing is pushing an ‘if you are not doing social you are a Luddite’ point of view,” says Bruce Johnston. It’s time to tune them out!

What Sellers Need to Know—Versus What They Want to Hear
The truth is this “hour a day” idea is a lie. It’s an excuse to be lazy. The act of “sharing valuable content” with customers is not effective. These ideas are what we want to hear—not what we need to know.

It’s natural for us to want shortcuts. But when you’re a front line seller you can’t afford to waste time. And if you manage a team of sellers you had better pay attention!

“The experts” all agree: Diligent use of social media is the key. An hour a day.

But they’re wrong. Dead wrong.

Evolution, not Revolution
Can you generate leads by regurgitating information (“sharing valuable content”) and Liking prospects’ posts in an hour a day? Is this a revolutionary idea? No and no.

Success is rooted in sales fundamentals—not digital time-wasters coming from people who have never actually sold a B2B product or service!

Your/your team’s success depends on evolving to use what we already know works with the new tools. It sounds trite, obvious. But most organizations have yet to put the obvious to work for sellers. Now you have the key … the process. Good luck!

Any Time Is Search Time for Consumers

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere.

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere. Go to any sporting event and see for yourself just how much online activity is going on all around you. It would be a fair to say almost everybody is constantly online with a mobile device.

This highly distracted behavior is not confined to sporting events. This behavior is the new norm. It is pervasive. Google has recognized this and has adjusted their algorithm to give a boost to mobile friendly sites. There are several clear signals for ecommerce site owners in this shift to mobile. With limited search real estate available on smaller screens and search rankings increasingly difficult to secure, each organic search click becomes more important. They must not be wasted. It is imperative that a site catch the surfer on their first search and direct their attention directly to the product they want with minimal effort; otherwise that searcher may very well move on to another site or to some other online activity. Are you making it as easy as possible for all your visitors to find just what they want almost instantly? That should be the goal.

If your site were perfectly optimized—an ideal, hypothetical, situation, every searcher would conduct a search and find just the right product on the very first try. It doesn’t work that way even in fairy tales. It took Goldilocks three tries to find the “just right” porridge. Are you effectively supporting the customer’s quest through your navigation, and does Google understand how your navigation supports the user? If you cannot answer this in the affirmative, you need to adjust your proverbial sails to catch the wind.

Ask yourself whether your faceting supports a second more refined search query. For example, someone searching for “batting helmets” might want to refine their search to reflect the user (youth or adult), a brand or price preference, or the whether the helmet is for slow pitch softball or high-velocity hardball. Your navigation and its faceting should support this searcher behavior. Does your site make it easy for the first time visitor to quickly find additional options when they arrive from a search engine, or must they go through numerous clicks to see them?

Your navigation should act as a secondary search tool. Google has recognized the value of the navigation, and through site links allows site owners to communicate key navigational elements. We can expect to see Google continue to make efforts to compress more useful information into less space in the search listing in an effort to satisfy the user more quickly. Give your Google listings a quick sanity check and see if they conform to how users look for your products. One quick tip is to review your two and three word phrases and see if they show up when and where you would expect them. Search and shop your own site the next time you are sitting at a ball game with spare screen time. You’ll be surprised at what you might find out.

The Digital Mystique: All Smoke and Mirrors?

While it may be true that US adults spend 47 percent of their time interacting with digital (online, mobile or otherwise), that doesn’t mean that marketers will be seeing their investment in digital pay off in the long run.

While it may be true that US adults spend 47 percent of their time interacting with digital (online, mobile or otherwise), that doesn’t mean that marketers will be seeing their investment in digital pay off in the long run.

A recent New York Times article quoted Jon Swallen, the chief research officer at Kantar Media North America who stated “the cost efficiencies of digital advertising enable many marketers to buy more for less.” And while that’s probably true, it doesn’t come close to telling the real story.

As many new startups are learning, digital spend may yield lots of clicks, but very few new customers. The web is besieged by advertisers, so much so that I have started to close out of sites that interrupt my reading with pop-ups, sidebars that occupy a more prominent size than the content I’m trying to read, or other distractions including social media sharing tools.

Of course digital ads can reach millions of eyeballs quickly, but God forbid you click on one as you already know what will happen next:

  • Retargeting efforts mean you’ll be repeatedly seeing that product over and over again on every site you visit (I actually tried to email the marketing director of Signature Hardware to tell him to stop stalking me as I already made the purchase!)
  • Every time I conduct a search, the same results keep popping up for the company/product I explored via an ad click through, but rejected (perhaps they think frequency messaging will help me change my mind?)

This week I was researching a client’s industry to find information that would support a whitepaper we were writing and I discovered half a dozen sites I’ve now noted to avoid at all costs. These sites were chock full of ads in all shapes, forms and colors. In between paragraphs of copy, there would be some random headline that was a link to a product landing page. I literally couldn’t absorb the content it was all so distracting.

In the last 2 months, I’ve received calls from several fairly new startups who wanted to discuss their direct mail options. Yep—that old “tried and true” medium is coming back in vogue. Why?

As one CEO put it, “Our board no longer has the patience for our slow pace of growth because we’ve tied our marketing investment to the digital advertising landscape. We get lots of clicks, but very few buyers.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Like many who have been involved in direct marketing since the dark ages, we no longer need to test to know the following statement is true: Mass media vehicles (like digital) tend to drive a high volume of leads, but they’re of low quality (they don’t convert); Targeted media (like direct mail) drives a low volume of leads but they’re of high quality (and therefore more likely to purchase).

If your strategic plan is to create a sales funnel that drives both high volume and requires high conversion to sale, you need a combination of media to accomplish that task cost efficiently. It’s already been proven that no single medium can deliver on that promise.

Because if it were that easy—and digital was the Holy Grail—then wouldn’t everyone be doing it? Oh wait… they already are. They just forgot the annoyance factor.