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If the product is free, you’re the product

November 28, 2017

Google is free. Google maps are free, YouTube is free. Gmail is free. Facebook is free. Instagram is free.

The genius of this business model is that people create content, for free. Facebook posts, Instagram images, map locations.

The more the community tells Facebook and Google, the better the products work. This isn’t meant to be nefarious: when I told Facebook my high school, it  reconnected me with friends. These products work. That is their brand. Type something into Google and you’ll find an answer. Log onto Facebook, and you’ll see your friends. 

This is the internet, now. Where brands like Target and JC Penny, and even an older brand like Sears sell products directly on websites.

Before the internet, if someone needed to buy thing from either Sears, Target, or Walmart, it was the brand perception that usually won out. I remember working on a pitch for Tops Grocery Stores. They were competing with Wegmans in the area. We ran focus groups to young people asking about the peceptions of each brand. Almost to a person, people said that Wegmans was more expensive but the shopping experice was better so it wa worth the money. Interestingly, Tops was about 11% more expensive across the board, and used BOGO’s and shopper club cards to create the impression that it was cheaper. Branding works.

Now though, sites like Amazon win because of data. Amazon offers me movies and TV shows via Amazon Prime, so I signed up.

That means, unlike Sears and Target, Amazon offered me a reason to be logged in all the time, and thus knows me and my purchasing habits. It can place impulse buy items at the checkout. Target and Sears can’t do that – all they can do is transact with me on the last purchase. That’s why if a consumer visits Sears there are all sorts of somewhat desperate pleas to sign up for their rewards card. If they really valued the data, they would offer me $100 to sign up. If they really wanted to compete with Amazon, they would go all in on data.

Because online, the money is in the data. The proof is that the two companies with the most data on consumers are Facebook and Google. They also happen to get 85% of all online dollars spent on the Internet. The two are somewhat releated, but not fully. Getting traffic doesn’t mean getting money.

The website Reddit, branded “The front page of the Internet” is #8 on the top ten most-trafficked websites, can’t seem to monetize the traffic. Reddit users are famously not the product.

Twitter gets all kinds of traffic and is barely on track to make money for the first time ever. Traffic doesn’t result in $$. It can, however, result in data. And data is money. 

The more we give data to a company, the more the service works. And the more the company makes. That is the reason Facebook and Google are the winners online.

Next week, Facebook.

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The history of Advertising

November 11, 2017

For millennia, people have yelled to passersby why they should buy their product. One can image the creative ways in which salespeople tried, at the point of purchase, to get people to purchase their wares.

There is evidence of rock painting and posters for elected officials.

In the middle ages, when people couldn’t read, images were used to represent stores. A blacksmith had an anvil, a cobbler a simple shoe.

These were the first logos. Like the man yelling at his cart, most of advertising were at the point of purchase.

Starting with the printing press, advertising turned from point of purchase to advertising away from the purchase.

Advertising in print was, and still is, salesmanship in print. It is no different from the salesman yelling to buy at the market, and probably no less clever.

The idea behind any piece of advertising, be in a print ad, television spot, and radio spot, is to create awareness of the eventual purchase decision.

The most valuable piece of real estate in marketing is the corner of the consumer’s brain. The repeated ad, jingle, or clever print piece is designed to generate awareness. Later, at the point of purchase, said awareness can influence a purchase decision.

Advertising  is salesmanship in print, designed to ‘influence” people into buying.

People see ads, hear jingles, read billboards all so that they might be nudged into a purchasing decision.

For most of the last century, advertising was exactly that – a nudge.

I’d like to buy the world a coke.
You’re soaking in it.
Just do it.
You’re in good hands.
Be all that you can be.
Bet you can’t just eat one.
Good to the last drop.

These are tag lines, designed to nudge a behavior. You should buy a coke, use Palmolive, wear Nike’s, get All State, join the Army, eat a lot of Lays, and drink Nescafe.

(Advertising also had other nudges: toothpaste ads always show a full toothbrush. Shampoo directions say “repeat” – doubling consumption.)

These taglines, or nudges, were a contract with the consumer. The contract was simple: advertising was the underwriter of content.

The 30-second TV spots that told consumers to Just Do it, or Be all that you could be, were the cost of heavily discounted content.

TV and radio were over the air, and somewhat free. Newspapers were very inexpensive, magazines were cheaper because of the full page ads.

The world tolerated advertising because it underwrote content. In cases where it didn’t, the world didn’t tolerate advertising. Direct mail didn’t underwrite mail, so it was called Junk Mail. Telemarketing didn’t underwrite the phone, so it was hated. Billboards didn’t really add value to the world, so they were never loved.

The world didn’t love any marketing that didn’t underwrite content.

To some extent, that is why the first internet failed. The first internet was just websites. When people went to coke.com, they just saw an ad. They didn’t see content underwritten by the ad. They just saw the ad.

That sucked.

Though, people didn’t have the language to explain why it sucked. In the euphoria if the early internet, people didn’t realize that visiting palmolive.com was different from “you’re soaking in it” underwriting good content.

That’s why people are not really fans of websites. Yes, brands still create them. And yes, consumers still use them, but there’s a sense that consumers don’t really like them.

Internally, people often don’t like their websites, and every 3-5 years it needs to “updated.”

Unlike a 30 second TV spot, people are not really sure of the point of the website.

Take, for example, the website for Coca Cola.

Unlike the 30-second spot, which underwrites content on TV, radio and print, this website is 100% an ad for Coke. I’m not suggesting that Coke having an online brochure for their brand is a bad thing. A quick look at the Internet archive shows it had the last major update in 2013, so they are probably in the midst of an update. The site seems to be for investors, and perhaps hiring.

The websites that were built in the second phase of the internet are different.

Sites like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, these were not brands making online brochures. They were brands offering value in return for data. Use our products and service for free, they promised, and in return, we’ll sell your data.

They changed marketing. In the next blog post, we’ll get into how.

The higher ed manifesto

March 6, 2014

Marketing in in the talk to business. From a 30-second TV spot, to a viewbook, brochure, website or a tour – marketing was about talking to people. For a brand, especially a university brand, we told people about our selling proposition, often next to a photo of a chapel. Small class sizes, world-renowned faculty, students going on to be CEO’s. Students publishing papers. These are all outcomes of the brand. Which is good, because it is arguably one of the most important purchase decisions people will make in their lives.

The things we tell people are carefully thought out to be the things the people want to hear. Historically though, the messages aren’t designed to get them to talk back. Marketing has always told, instructed. At their best, marketing messages with eye-catching visuals generate emotion and involvement. Marketing can compel behavioral change.

And then, along came digital media, and we’re still working through the change.

A subset of digital media, social media platforms surprised people by not just creating behavioral change, but also helping to create revolution. We marveled at the power of network to organize, and brands decided they wanted in. They wanted engagement.

The problem is: digital and social media operate on a fundamentally different level than marketing has operated for the last 50 or so years.

All of a sudden, so-called “social media marketing” is about conversations and engagement. but that doesn’t feel right. The terms “conversation” and “engagement” are loaded words: all marketing is designed to engage and generate some kind of behavior. Conversations? What are those, and why are they valuable?

So even though all the above is true, it is still new to send a prospective student an e-mail and have them go on Twitter and make a toothpaste joke @ the seal.

Change we still don’t fully understand.

The system has changed. Now the recipients of our a well thought out messages are getting their data from platforms we don’t control, and tinkling about the brand in a way that we don’t own. (As each department joins Twitter and Facebook, it further convolutes the perceived brand. Each new feed is a chink in the brand’s armor. One can reasonably argue this is a good or a bad thing, but it is a thing we don’t understand.)

The image creation industry (advertising) is almost 50 years old, whereas the higher ed institution where I work is going on 200. It didn’t need an image for the first three quarters of operation, but it needs one now because more people can and will talk about it. We aren’t in control, so it is arguably more important to be consistent, more important to put out viewbooks and brochures and e-mails, but make them all sing the same tune.

This is a think different kind of moment in higher ed. One of those transcending convergence marketing moments – like the printing press or TV. As we all get used to high-speed access in our pockets, and the ubiquitous immediacy it brings, it will demand executing in a different manner.

We need to bring more people into the “room” at the beginning regardless of the project.

We need to ask our students to help with the message. We need digital natives on our side. We need to enlist digitally savvy alumni. We need to mobilize the people who were accepted ED to become mavericks of our story.

We need to include people in the creation of more simple stories because that is how we’ll still be tellers of the message. We’ll do this through Mel Gibsonesque “are you with me speeches,” which will be tough, because faculty need to be with us.

I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I know this: the era of telling isn’t over. We still need to tell. But we have to be much more strategic about it, it must align with the mission, and it must be sharable.

In your school or brand, identify, then rally the troops.

Top five reasons why people like to share top ten lists

March 3, 2014

Top ten lists have died off. I think they disappeared because blogs did. Top ten lists don’t work on Twitter.

Interest and intent marketing

The Social Media SudokuImage by Lukadium via Flickr

Take a quick look at Digg. At almost anytime, you will see a list of things on there. The top ten things to see before you die. The top ten airports in the world. (Personal plug for Charlotte Airport: free internet which is a really nice touch).

We did a Top Ten List of the Greatest Sports call of all time for a client to great success. On this blog, the post that got the most traffic by a factor of almost 20 is called “Ten Things to do with a Facebook page“.

Top ten lists work get shared. Here, in my opinion, is why.

5.Headlineis simple: There’s a reason that newspapers have people to write the headlines of the articles. When the headline is about a top ten list, it’s a perfectly relevant headline. If people are…

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The class of 2023 will expect mass customization

March 2, 2014

Picture a phone.

Depending on your age, you might have pictured:

  • A home phone with a cord.
  • A cordless home phone.
  • A mobile phone.
  • An iPod touch (Facetime)
  • A computer (Skype)

To my seven-year old daughter, all of the above are a phone. She can customize her experience with communication depending on how she wants to experience the conversation. If it needs pictures, she’ll adapt. If it is just words, she won’t adapt.

However, her grandparents mostly use the phone. They rarely call on the computer because when they picture a phone, they default to the phone.

We live in a time where audiences are customizing their experience. I listen to podcasts from the UK, watch Netflix and read The Globe and Mail. My daughter is currently watching Charlie and Lola on YouTube.

My daughter lives in a world where mass personalization is the norm. She will organize via playlists – not have playlists dictated to her as prime time lineups. She will organize the internet her way, not a newspaper’s way. She will organize her entertainment in the manner that works best for her, not his it is set up on a dial.

Colgate chapel photo by Andy Daddio

Colgate chapel photo by Andy Daddio

She will look at the world, and interact with brands differently than you and I. And she is coming. To her, customization will be the cost of business not an option we can throw out there to position our products.

So what does that mean for higher ed?

First of all, I think higher ed is already mass customized. By definition, a liberal arts  education isn’t mass produced. One can major in biochemistry and minor in theater.

A place with more options offers a chance to mass customize for students. The school where I work has 53 majors. That’s almost 3000 major/minor options – that is mass customization.

For someone who grows up with a playlist, getting one in college won’t be a change. The change, I think, is how we communicate something we already offer. The coming struggle will be that people who are getting used to mass customization will need to communicate to people who have already lived it.

We’ll need to change. Because the change is coming.

What do you think? Where does customization fit into the message of higher ed? Should it?

Why all marketing, including social media marketing needs a goal

February 25, 2014

Goal original

Goal original (Photo credit: Peter Fuchs)

Imagine a soccer game without nets. We would never know when the game ended, the lads would be randomly running around the pitch, bumping into each other. The refs wouldn’t even know when to blow the whistle.

It would be a mess.

To me, that is the state of social media marketing – we’re doing it without nets, without a goal.

Without a goal, one doesn’t even reliably know when to start or end.

“Hey, lets start a Facebook page!!!”

“Why?”

“Because people are doing it, it’s where the kids are, it’s the new thing.”

As digital media grows up and begins to be thought of as proper marketing, one interesting question will be asked.

Why are you doing this?

Over on her blog, a colleague wonders about Doing Social Media ‘Well.’ The finger quotes are hers, and her argument is that this is proper marketing and we should have goals, and not be running around on the ice all willy-nilly hoping for things to happen.

For almost seven years I’ve been spouting on this blog that social media is many things. It is powerful. But then, so is TV. So is a really effective radio spot, or a print ad. Done well, social media can work – but like all other tools in the marketers tool box, it needs to have the term “work” defined.

Caution: that said, a large part of traditional marketing doesn’t really have measurable goals. The stated goal of a TV spot is to generate awareness of the product so that when someone is in a position to buy that product, the brand floats into consciousness.

Try measuring that shit.

So on the fringes, building a community, creating awareness in certain areas – these are perfectly valid. You can measure them by listing out the tactics, and seeing if they made an impact. In soccer, they measure how far a player ran in the game. Not a stat that impacts the score, but one that can inform the overall goal.

So then you’ll need actual proper measurable goals. One of the goals of digital media I work on is to drive traffic to the .edu. I’ve outlined numbers, and at the end of the year, I’ll look at those numbers and see if I achieve my goal. To deliver on that goal, I’ve had to shut down Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. I’ve had to add links to YouTube videos, and Flickr sets. I’ve realized I should think about the various platforms as orbiting the sun in a galaxy. I’ve learned what Freebase is, and how it will manage data. I’ve done all this because to achieve my goal, I need to be on top of these platforms.

I also have so-called vanity metric goals, a certain number of likes and follows. However, those vanity metric goals are for specific people. So I needed to understand how I will measure that.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have a lot of questions. The first one should be “why are you this?”. The answer should be something that is measurable.

That’s doing social media well.

Related: What you can learn from a College student.

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The difference between online and offline

February 24, 2014

The internet offers the ability to order things in just about any conceivable manner.
Real life doesn’t. Take your typical grocery story. The “order” is dictated by physics. Produce is over here. Can food there. Cereal in this aisle. There’s a science in the order of things, and milk is in the back left because people make right turns, so the store wants to pull you to the right, even if you want to just get milk. That said, milk can’t appear in more than one place.

Online however, things aren’t constrained by physics.

July's Tomato Haul

July’s Tomato Haul (Photo credit: statelyenglishmanor)

Online, there isn’t a need for order. We don’t need “files” or “folders”. Those are real world things demanded by the requirement to put things in places. Online, things are merely 0’s and 1’s and computers don’t need an elaborate hierarchy to find them.

That’s why at grocery.com (a made up place), canned tomatoes can be tagged with ‘tomatoes, canned, vegetable, canned food, camping, staples, pasta, crock pot,  etc. In fact, there’s no limitation on how to tag the tomatoes – and since a tag is the offline equivalent of a place (ie, where you go to find it), the more things you tag the tomatoes with, the better chance people will find them in a search.

In the real world, the grocery store guesses and uses shopping carts to strategically placed to get you walking around (and some, like Wegmans, I think purposefully crate alleys that get you lost).

On the internet, things are way more miscellaneous. Don’t think of your content as being one thing for one person in one place (as one would a can of tomatoes). Online, the can be the beginning of a killer crock pot recipe, the start of a great pasta, or just a can of tomatoes.

When putting together a marketing plan, perhaps it’s time to consider ‘how will our target market find this information?”

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