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10 posts from December 2008

12/23/2008 Another YouTube Video Contest

Excedrin just announced the winner of its $15K Speed Challenge on YouTube. The pain relief company dipped its toe into the user generated content world by asking people to create videos about speed. I’m not sure if you got bonus points by adding something about Excedrin, but they did get 200 video entries.

The company said the campaign was a success, based on traffic to the site, according to MediaPost. The winning prize went to Hang Glider. Honestly, though, after looking through some of the videos, I think I’m in need some of that Excedrin myself. Was that the aim of the campaign? Inducing headaches?

It reminded me of a very funny spot I saw on the Onion a few weeks ago. The did a spoof on the same YouTube video contests.  Take a look and enjoy.


I wonder if I’m feeling this negative simply due to the fact that I missed this contest. I mean I HAD a speed video all ready. That $15K is nothing to sneeze at either. So here’s my belated entry: an alpine slide run with my young son down Spruce Peak at Stowe. Just have your Excedrin ready.

12/22/2008 Mobile in Banners

A while ago I wrote about Adgregate, a company that allows you to do transactions in an online ad. Another competitor Tailgate Technologies just announced a service that lets you do mobile commerce through banners.

It’s a pretty interesting idea. No clicking away, you’re just interacting through another device. It feels very non-intrusive in some way. I love the fact that we’re arriving at the point where the device isn’t important as long as it’s interactive and two-way.


I’m surprised we’re not seeing more of this. I’m reading how digital signage is the “big thing” in 2009. That might be cool, but only if you’re creating a mobile component so you can talk back and forth. Otherwise, who needs another mini billboard.

One thing I do like about the banners with mobile is that it forces marketers to think small, to think micro-engagements. No one will ever buy a car from over an ad on a cell phone. Well, almost no one. If we can think of small steps to build relationships, then mobile in banner ads could be a great lead generator and brand engagement tool.

12/19/2008 Don’t give what they want

I read something the other day that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been obsessing about it all week. It falls into the “what business are we in?” category compared with “what business should we be in?”

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times wrote about the Detroit bailout earlier this week. Here’s what he wrote:

“Over the years, Detroit bosses kept repeating: “We have to make the cars people want.” That’s why they’re in trouble. Their job is to make the cars people don’t know they want but will buy like crazy when they see them. I would have been happy with my Sony Walkman had Apple not invented the iPod. Now I can’t live without my iPod. I didn’t know I wanted it, but Apple did. Same with my Toyota hybrid.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times, December 13, 2008

I’ve been in variations of this discussion forever, it seems, and have played both the heavy and the good guy. Nowadays, I’m trying to mostly play the good guy.

Clients come to marketers with a problem. They usually have a solution or product in mind to solve the problem. Is our job to keep delivering products they want, or to deliver solutions they don’t know they want? I think the latter.

Especially as we keep moving into new territory in the digital space, we have to imagine possibilities even if our clients don’t directly ask for them. Because if we keep giving them what they want, sooner or later a competitor will come along and give them something they never knew they wanted, but go crazy for.

12/18/2008 Marketers Should Write Better

Reading through proposals, RFPs and other documents got me thinking lately about writing. Why, I asked myself, do so many marketing people, professional communicators, write so poorly? You’d think that they would be good at articulating thoughts or ideas.

The gamut of poor prose runs from brand directors to account people to designers and on down the line. You see it inside companies and inside agencies. I’ve worked with brand stewards who could barely write a sentence and continually misspelled key brand words despite repeated reminders.

It made me think of a blog post by Steve Johnson. The post talked about writing stats. The stats gave each writer their own “fingerprint.” It brought back words from my old teachers, Mrs. C in high school, Jeff Hart in college and Gerry Powers in grad school. We had to count and calculate words from Huck Finn to show how simply Mark Twain wrote. We had to apply those lessons to our own essays. We had to avoid passive sentences like the plague.

They were good lessons. Lessons that I need to push myself with in my own writing. Luckily, people like Seth Godin and Steve Johnson are there to remind us. We also have tools in Word to help us. I use this all the time. It makes me go back to reread and hone my text.

Use the Spelling and Grammar tool next time you have to write something. It works.

Then we get some fun reminders, like Susan Gunelius post about ten words to avoid in 2009. Words like really, a lot and that. Yikes, I really use that a lot in most of my blogs. Whether you remove all of those words, or just use posts like this as a cue to make your text more interesting and varied is up to you.

There are some people who write very well. Who knows whether it’s through hard work or natural ability? For the rest of us, it is work. But since we make our living in communications, the least we can do is to try harder to write better. It will make you better at selling your ideas. And that, after all, is the name of the game

12/16/2008 What Story Are You Telling Online?

I’m in the middle of a couple of projects where we’re running into the same issue: How do we tell our story effectively and emotionally on a Web site? It sounds like it should be an easy question to answer, if we do our jobs correctly, but because the Web is such a mix of disparate elements our challenge is that much greater.

Good organization, says the information architect. We need logical flows, personas and smart conversion paths. Great design, says the creative director, with killer photography. No clutter, says the print art director. Flash interactivity, says the interactive designer. Results, says the account manager. Business growth, says the client.

Well, yes, and, it depends. For an e-commerce site you want to make it as easy and logical as possible to find goods and buy them. Chalk one up for IA. But is that it? I think all e-commerce architects should read Paco Underhill’s classic “Why We Buy.” In classic retail, it’s not only about speed; it’s about slowing people down as well. There are some great lessons that we Web folk can learn from offline.

Flash is great, just look at the engagement on TheFWA sites. But what happens when clients can’t afford one of those sites? Face it, HTML is pretty square and more standardized by the minute, despite all the things we can do with CSS.

And what happens when you’re not really “selling” anything online except your business? Sites tend to resemble the brochures they replace, relying on long copy, good design and some pictures. I don’t think those are always effective tools for telling a story.

If you’re not reading David Armano’s blog “Logic + Emotion” you should start. I think he’s one of the digital thought leaders that understand the dynamic tension in digital. Our work needs to have a logical structure. And it needs to touch us emotionally. We have to strike that balance to tell stories, and we need to keep pushing on the medium.

One question is whether storytelling, usually consisting of a beginning, middle and end, works with non-linear interactivity. My answer is: look at video or computer games. It becomes a short beginning and end with, sometimes, a never-ending middle. It morphs and changes as you engage with it.

And then there are some who use classic storytelling online, like the Girl Effect. That was so simple and so well done that it was striking. Yes, it was like a long commercial, but it was more than that. It did a great job at telling a story. And provided tools for people to extend the story.

Whew, this was a long post. But we have a big challenge. We digital folk need to become better storytellers. The good thing is, we have a lot of tools to work with.

12/12/2008 A Web of Value Transactions

I was having a conversation yesterday with a woman who’s been in the interactive industry for a long time. She talked a lot about conversions and the break down of traditional sales transactions and such. She reminded me of conversations I used to have a long time ago about interactivity.

Digital and interactivity are really a series of value propositions, or value transactions. The Web says, “If you click here, I’ll give you something you want.” We build entire Web sites, display ads and search based on this promise. If you give me something I value (a click or whatever), I’ll give you something valuable in return.

And it’s the one thing that breaks down first. That's because, usually, there’s not much value once you click. Too much work, not enough reward. It’s true with Web navigation and content, and it’s especially true with display advertising. One of the places where we see the value transaction out of whack is on registration pages to download something form, or the contact form. Companies ask us to give a lot of information about ourselves for a pretty vague promise of something good.

David Armano hits the nail on the head in his blog entry about Micro Interactions + Direct Engagement. The value transaction is much easier and much less risky when it’s smaller and provides more control to the customer. Its smart thinking: A lot of little steps are easier to build value upon rather than one big transaction. It’s also easier to correct if you make a mistake.

It’s also why things like Rich Media banners work better than regular display banners: a rollover has a low transaction value compared with a click to take you away. It’s why Twitter is working better than company discussion boards: it’s easier.

Video and computer games have always been wildly popular because they are one long stream of great value transactions. I do something and I get something. Immediately. Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose. But I know that all of those small steps lead up to what I want. Both game and player are clear about the value propositions.

Bigger Web sites, on the other hand, will always seem challenging when navigating to value. Maybe its because site owners and site users are not in agreement about the value proposition. The biggest question to ask is whether all that content really is that valuable. If it costs me a click and provides me with nothing I want, I’m not going to be clicking on your site for long.

Let’s start looking at all of our desired actions as micro transactions and make sure there’s real value for everyone. And if we can make it more enjoyable and game-like, well okay by me.

12/10/2008 Those Untrustworthy Blogs!

The blogosphere and marketing pubs are abuzz about a Forrester Research report this week, penned by Josh Bernoff and Co., showing that Company Blogs rank last on the ol’ consumer trust-o-meter.

It’s actually pretty funny to read the blog posts recommending killing off this untrustworthy fiend since just right above it, just saved from the bottom of the list, is the personal blog.

Whoa! And we all thought we were soooo much better than the corporate blogs. I mean we try to advise corporate bloggers. But it seems that no one, in general, trusts blogs. Except, of course, other bloggers. I’ll bet that will throw a monkey-wrench into the gears of some 2.0 PR firms.


Unfortunately, there’s not much buzz from this report about what people actually do trust. E-Mails from people you know, and reviews from people you don’t know top the trust list. That’s pretty interesting. I get the e-Mail piece but it’s pretty amazing that people trusts review from people they will never see, meet or hear from. But reviews are very personal and that is probably why they garner such trust.

Message board posts, on the other hand, rank way down the list. Too many rants, maybe? And e-Mail from companies slightly top direct mail. I’m surprised there isn’t a greater difference, since you’ve opted into one, but not the other. You’d think that the Direct Marketers would shift some of their emphasis to e-mail, based on this.

Looking at this list, its fun to realize just how little things have changed since Edward Bernays started this whole modern marketing business. Word-of-Mouth is still king, by a long shot.

Looking at this from a digital strategy perspective, the good news is that three of the top four items are online (I’m assuming most of the reviews are online). We should be doing everything we can to create great word of mouth promotion. Again, look at the post about Obama’s campaign. He created outreach and tools to do just that.

Bernoff and crew do give some good tips on how to improve company blogs. Personal bloggers should take note of them as well.

Trust me!

12/09/2008 Social Media: Obama is King of KAOS

Yesterday one of my Triibe members sent me a link to a study about Obama and his use of online and social media during the 2008 campaign. This e-paper, by Yovia founder Jalali Hartman, is titled “Obamanomics: A Study in Social Velocity.”

One of the more interesting premises is that Obama wasn’t taking his playbook from Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign; he was taking it from Stephen Colbert’s fake run for the presidency in 2007! (I think a better role for Colbert would’ve actually been Maxwell Smart instead of Steve Carell, but I digress). That campaign spawned a slew of social media activism.

Hartman points out that Obama spent less than 2% of his huge campaign war chest online, and that McCain actually outspent Obama on paid search by 22 to 1! So how did Obama do so well online?

The study identifies four key components of what they call Social Velocity:
1.    Content
2.    Connections
3.    Community
4.    Conversation

Ultimately, Obama gave up control to his advocates and let them create something unique. I think the best part in the study is describing how Obama’s camp gave every graphic, speech and video clip to a rock band to make a video and to do whatever they wanted. They carried this “no-rules” content strategy throughout the campaign.

Read the report. It’s a great lesson in social media and creating grassroots movements.

In the end, Obama embraced the KAOS of digital and gave up CONTROL. Most brands lack the cojones to do so.

12/05/2008 Display Ads and Search

Ad network Specific Media just released a study showing the impact display advertising has on search. Over a 12-month period, Specific Media was able to show that display advertising had a positive effect on both paid and organic search, increasing search activity by an average of 155% (with variations in different categories).

Apparently Specific Media had by comScore back the data. Otherwise it might look like the study was too self-serving. After all, Specific Media makes its money selling display advertising.

We’ve been seeing smaller studies like this over the years. As digital marketers we continually bring this up when clients ask us for “industry standards.” But this is the first time the numbers are so clear for both PPC and SEO.

The study doesn’t show, however, how the display ads themselves performed when supported by paid search campaigns. Now that would be great data to have.

While the results seem clear, the message to CMOs is not. In fact the study seems to imply that the best way to measure display advertising is through awareness rather than through its own results. It acts indirectly and not directly. Yet a lot of the criticism about display advertising comes from its lack of direct, measurable impact.

What’s more, we see the same types of arguments made on behalf of Television advertising. It makes sense, then, to push for integrated campaigns that work together to make the sum of marketing greater than its parts. For digital marketers we have to find a way to make this argument to our clients in a way they can understand.

On the other hand, it seems like a total cop out for display ads. I’ve said it before, if agencies can only make crappy banners that can’t work on their own and only increase awareness, then clients need to find someone who can make banners work they way they should.

12/03/2008 Do you Tweet?

I started using Twitter back when it launched in 2007, but it felt like I was talking to myself, and not having that interesting of a conversation. But you know things are hot when Facebook is looking to buy Twitter. Alas, that didn’t come to pass this time, according the New York Times blog.

In case you don’t know, Twitter lets people microblog, sending short messages of up to 140 characters through the Web site or via mobile phone. They have about 6 million registered users but far fewer use it regularly.

And yet…the Motrin example shows how powerful it can be, given the right focus. The terrorist attack in Mumbai and the Obama election gave glimpses into its potential.

The question is why more people aren’t using it. I’ve found that the people I know who use it are primarily urban, younger and joined at the hip with their cell phones. They are more on the go and, most likely, lead more exciting lives than I do, being a parent with young kids in rural Vermont. They have more to squawk about.

I’m finding, though, that I am using it more. It’s not quite IM, it’s more like “random acts of communication.” Some of it is pretty fun. But it’s still frustrating that more people aren’t on it.

I would recommend this strongly to two groups:

1) If you’re in online marketing at all, and that includes all of you Web designers and even account managers at agency, get on, if, for nothing else, the practice of micro-communications.

2) Companies should assign someone in their marketing group to Tweet about what your up to.  As above, you need the practice and you might even connect a group of micro-advocates who are into what you’re saying. It will also give you practice of keeping your ear to the ground in new online places.

So start tweeting, even if you don’t have an iPhone in the city.

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