Thursday, February 9, 2012

Digital marketing's 4 biggest disappointments

Oh boy, does the digital buzz machine ache for a metaphorical magic pill -- some blockhead simple "cure" for many of the marketing challenges facing brands. When new things come along, the buzz about their potential effects on the marketing body sometimes gets blown out of proportion.
Our industry appears to have its own form of digital bipolar disorder. ("DBD" for the TV campaign every new disease needs -- cue the contemporary sound track and vignettes of deliriously happy people raising their arms to the sky.) People in our industry looooove new things. And then, about six months later, we often despise those same things. In many cases, it's not the platforms and technologies that are at fault -- it is the collective DBD and the unrealistic expectations it creates and then dashes.
What's caused this epidemic of DBD? It seems driven by a desire in some to "take care of" digital -- deploy something simple and understandable to make this wonderfully, horribly dynamic environment more manageable. We want to bring structure to something that feels formless.
Just because the latest digital "thing" is transforming communications doesn't mean it is a panacea for brand challenges. This article looks at four digital "things" that instantly captivated many, only to lose their luster just as quickly when it became evident that they were not magic pills. It also points to a short list of considerations to make the next time everyone is calling something "white hot." I've deliberately picked four fundamentally sound concepts and platforms to demonstrate how it is misplaced marketer expectations that are the problem here -- not the technologies themselves.

Daily deals

Everybody's favorite whipping boyThe hype for daily deals was out of control. I remember reading a pundit's blog in December 2010 that predicted that a majority(!) of marketing dollars would eventually be spent offering these 50 percent (or more) discounts on products and services.
What caused the super hype? I think two issues were at play here:
Digital loves "disruption." We love things that bring down the venerable walls of Jericho. We love the idea of a new company shattering time-honored approaches. The notion fuels the collective sense that we are witnessing marketing solution history. But here's the rub: A promotional tactic can't live up to that sort of expectation.
Radical misunderstanding of marketer needs. Many in the tech culture don't really get marketing. The goal of marketing is to charge full price for something -- not almost give it away at 75 percent off. By contrast, a common model in tech is to give away services, thereby creating different revenue streams driven by scale. There's nothing wrong with either way of thinking, but the second often doesn't jibe well with marketer KPIs. Some marketing investment is focused on trial and demand generation -- things that daily deals are good at encouraging. But more money is spent with the goal of driving margin through differentiation.
If I may ascend the soapbox for a second, let me state emphatically that most marketers are notlooking for 29 new ways to distribute coupons. We'd rather have a digital platform that enables us never to need coupons.
Daily deals are an absolutely valid tactic for a host of other purposes. But when the math of a program requires a 50 percent or greater discount -- and then takes a big cut of the revenue that is collected -- one cannot expect marketers to pour most of their resources in. Daily deals can be a really smart tactic -- or a really dumb one.

Branded widgets

Portable corporate goodness 
In 2007, widgets were all the rage. Thousands of companies wanted either a desktop widget, a Facebook widget, or a MySpace widget.
The conventional wisdom was that these deep and portable brand experiences would incite such excitement in consumers that they'd want to carry our precious messages "wherever they live online." Platform-specific widgets quickly gave way to platform agnostic units that appeared to further shed the shackles that had trapped our brands for lo these many years. Hooray! Plus, the good ones had incredible interactivity -- in an era in which all banners could give us were 1-2-3 animations.
Six months later, if you mentioned a widget, you saw a cascade of faces doing what Joey Tribbiani called "smell the fart" acting.
What went wrong?
Once again, there was nothing wrong with the thing, per se. Widgets were and are useful little things when designed well. But there were a couple problems there:
Our expectations were whackadoodle. A client once asked me if $275,000 was enough to get 20 million installs of its widget.
Generally brands don't make good content. Making so-so games or videos isn't enough. Your beer's virtual bottle cap spinner "game" (with foamy animation Easter eggs!) doesn't make the consumer cut.
We forgot the marketing. Most brands spent the majority of their budget on the widget, and almost nothing on publicizing it. Kevin Costner in a cornfield.
Facebook changed how it handled widgets. It consigned them to the back burner.
Of course, actually useful widgets live on in tens of billions of installs, and lots of companies are making a good living by selling the data they collect. But a DBD-fueled brand panacea they were not.

Branded mobile apps

Opportunity calling? Apps can be astounding. Brand apps often aren't. There are some great exceptions -- not the least of which is P&G's eminently useful "Sit or Squat."
Or Volvo's driving game. Or Kraft's "Big Fork Little Fork."
But apps are only going to be successful to the extent that they meet an actual need. A FedEx app that lets me see if my packages have been delivered? Nifty! A shopping app built around a store finder for universally distributed bathroom tissue? Not so much.
Another issue with the early branded apps was the development cost. Apps took significant time and resources to build. Further, in order to get massive scale, apps needed to be ported to several major platforms -- iOS, Android, etc. That cost real money. And every successive generation of those same apps needed to be ported across platforms again. At least in those days, interoperability was a pipedream.
A number of startups are working to simplify the process with toolsets that let you develop once and deploy across all of the major platforms. Further, they enable the assembly of assets in minutes instead of weeks. These advancements won't make your content better, but they will enable you to spend some marketing money on publicizing a good app.
What's great about the app space is that there's sort of a second generation of brand apps in development now -- ones focused on meeting real needs. Because apps will likely be a major component in the delivery of digital content for years to come, it's great to see that the brand community is trying again with better content and more realistic expectations. In this case, it appears that we fought our desire to discard the toddler with the tub water.

First-generation retargeting

An old classicRetargeting has been around for awhile, and it usually delivers highly cost-effective results, especially for direct marketers. For those not familiar, a really basic definition of retargeting is as follows: A third party in your employ cookies your site visitors who don't convert and follows them around the web with targeted banners designed to drive revisit and response. The cost per metrics are usually amazing. Cool stuff.
But for most brands, the traffic to the website is relatively small when compared to the total potential audience for a product or service. Which means that the total amount of money and results one can expect from this sort of retargeting is rather limited. If only a relatively small percentage of the target visit your site, only that limited population can be retargeted.
The industry was abuzz with the miracle of retargeting for a time. Then it got a bad rap -- not worth the bother because of the scale problem.
Over the past couple of years, "retargeting" has evolved into a broader bucket -- the foundation for targeted marketing efforts that reach beyond your site visitors. There are several methodologies by which companies are helping to expand the scale of "retargeting-style" performance metrics:
Prospect targeting: This approach, pioneered by m6d, uses your site visitors as the foundation to identify "behave-alikes" that share their media behaviors. The highly developed set of algorithms used by m6d start with your retargeting pool to identify and map large numbers of "behave-alikes." It then enables you to target this big pool through exchange-based media. These aren't "look-alikes" -- they are "do-alikes." The idea is that such "do-alikes" will exhibit similar brand propensities and drive great metrics at scale.
Search retargeting: Companies like Magnetic and Chango collect data on a consumer's search queries related to a product or category. Since search is a great gauge of purchase intent, brands are getting great results across a much broader audience than site visitors
Look-alike targeting: This model leverages the information we can discern about your site visitors and finds others that reflect those same characteristics. Many media companies offer these services, and they are also available for DIY exchange-based buying through DSPs and trading desks.
Social sharing targeting: A different approach, identified most closely with RadiumOne, uses huge numbers of social sharing data points to develop profiles of likely intenders, and then expands the prospect pool by identifying other people with similar behaviors. It's based upon the concept that social intent and the implicit graph offers the greatest potential audience for a brand's marketing message.
Of course, there's nothing at all wrong with classic retargeting. It's just that most brands need to find ways to deliver greater scale. But the answer to the scale shortfall isn't to poo-poo the concept; it is to build upon it. Brands can achieve scale with a combination of classic retargeting and other efforts that similarly attract high-likelihood-of-intent consumers. The tide is turning, and now retargeting is generally viewed sensibly positively.

The treatment for DBD

So how do we inoculate ourselves against DBD? Through sensible and rational thinking. I think there are five things to remember the next time we hear about the latest and greatest thing.
Start with a strategy
So many of the mistakes brands make into diving into new platforms could be avoided if we first ensured that they were consistent with your brand's digital strategy.
Ask yourself whether its creators seem to "get" marketing
Not to put too fine a point on it, but many tech companies and startups simply don't. Since our goal is to create value, we need to ensure that the tasks the tool seems to address do just that.
Approach new platforms and ideas with sensibility, not the herd mentality
We are in digital because we love new stuff. But let's keep the breathlessness to a minimum.
Ensure that the expectations of a new thing reflect its potential versatility
Marketing and brand needs are highly complex. While it would be great if a few simple solutions could solve our problems, we need to test the hype before we buy in hook, line, and sinker.
Do the math -- and test
The selection of a marketing tactic is a business decision best made with a cool head and open eyes. It needs to meet the same criteria as something long established.
Let's keep the excitement level sensible and avoid DBD. Side effects of this approach are significant and include better decision making and higher ROI.

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