Email Newsletters: Get them Right

July 24, 2009

E-mailIf you own or operate a brand, whether it is a big company, a small business, or just your name, email newsletters have become a popular way of adding value for your clients, customers, or friends.

Some popular email newsletters that I receive are the Yoast WordPress News, which gives tips and tricks for using wordpress as a blogging platform; Media Bistro’s daily news feed, which offers journalism news and updates; Daniel Scocco’s daily blog tips newsletter, which does exactly what the name advertises; and the Change.org weekly newsletter, which keeps tabs on key political issues under the Obama administration.

All of these newsletters add value to my day to day life because they keep me informed on things that I am interested in.  When a person or a website tries to cram a newsletter down my throat, I don’t even give it a chance.  I choose no when given the option, or unsubscribe as soon as I get the first email.  The ones that I am subscribed to right now were all recommended to me by friends and people I trust.

Whether or not a newsletter is designed to make money, either through a paid subscription or advertising, it has to add real value.  Put information in there that people would not find any other way.  Add personal tips that you do not share on a blog or on social networks.  For an email to be worth reading, it has to be unique.  I have to feel like I am getting privileged information.

An example of a terrible newsletter is Motley Fool’s “investor newsletter”.  I get it almost every single day, by now it goes to my spam folder.  It usually carries a headline such as “This Stock Will Make You a Millionaire by 2011”.  Then it follows that up with a large amount of copy explaining how they did their research and advertising the paid version of their website, which I am not signed up for.  In the end, it gives you no information about the stock unless you sign up for their monthly payment plan, which I would never do.  This is not helpful, you are trying to trick your readers.

That is the wrong way to do it.  If you operate a website, and would like to explore the idea of an email newsletter, please plan it out beforehand.  Launching it in the wrong way can really get under people’s skin.  Add value that we could not get off of the website already.  Because, if done the right way, it is a great way to expand the brand, explore new revenue opportunities, and create a loyalty among your readers and customers that can not be achieved in many other ways.


Marketing in an Age of Endless Needs

June 24, 2009

518SD2MD3VL._SL500The following is a small piece of dialogue from the movie, Roger Dodger, a favorite of mine.

Roger: You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad.

Nick: Why not?

Roger: Because it’s a substitution game. You have to remind them that they’re missing something from their lives. Everyone’s missing something, right?

Nick: I guess.

Roger: Trust me. And when they’re feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them your product is the only thing that can fill the void. So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they go out and buy a stupid looking pair of cargo pants.

The movie is about a young man learning how to attract women from his womanizing uncle.  Check it out if you haven’t seen it.

In the movie, Roger works for an ad agency.  His belief about advertising is captured in the short back and forth featured above.

What this post is about is the dilemma that this theory creates.  As marketers, are we creating the need that our product fills, or fulfilling an actual need?  This is a question that you need to answer before any type of marketing campaign, because it will change your entire strategy.

If you are advertising something completely new, something we may not even know that we need yet, you are going to have to work a little harder at educating us.  Make us realize the need before you tell us how your product or service fills it.

If you are advertising a new version of an existing product, or some type of upgrade that fulfills an existing need, then don’t bother educating us.  Just sell us straight up.

It makes a huge difference, and could affect the success of any product launch.  So one of the first steps you should take when drafting any new marketing plan is to identify which category that you fall into.  Are you creating a need, or just filling one we already have?

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Direct Comparison Ads: Do They Work Best?

June 16, 2009

49d620c72962eAdvertising works when it is done right. There is no question in that.  Companies spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns trying to target the right market and convince them of something.

I have always been somewhat of a self-appointed critic of advertising.  Partially because of my fascination with the industry and partially because I have very strong opinions.  I love investigating what the ad is saying, where the message is coming from, and whether or not it is successful.

Sometimes you see an ad on TV and you think to yourself, how did this make it out of the original brainstorming discussion?  Other times you see something that blows you away and you wonder how someone could dream it up.

Lately there is an intriguing trend that I thought was worth analyzing.  Direct comparison ads are becoming quite popular, and companies are sticking with them for an extended period of time.  So one has to think that they see better results.

Direct comparison ads, for the sake of this post, are any advertisement that calls out the competition blatantly and says why one product is better than the other.  Some companies that are currently running these type of ads are Microsoft (vs Apple), Apple (vs PCs), 5 Hour Energy (vs Energy Drinks), Time Warner (vs Verizon Fios), Dominoes (vs Subway/Quiznos), and Total Cereal (vs Go Lean).  There are many others as well but that is enough to prove my point.

This has long been a popular style of advertising, going right after the competition and trying to lure away customers because of a claim that you are better.  That are rules and guidelines surrounding it, and you have to be careful about what you do and do not say about the competition.  But, if executed well, these companies have seen that the effects can be strong.

For a long time Apple ate away at the market for personal computers with their “Mac/PC” ads showcasing how easy Macs were to use.  Now, Microsoft has countered with ads featuring “real people” looking for new computers and choosing the more affordable, just as useful, Dell or HPs with Windows.  And those ads have resulted in a spike in purchased of those PCs over Apple Computers.

My only issue with this type of ad campaign is that you run the risk of sounding bad.  Personal attacks against other brands can come back to bite you if A) They are found to be incorrect or B) The competition changes something to top you.  Personally, I have found that Time Warner makes some useless claims in their direct comparison ads (such as comparing the ease of reading the bill with that of Fios).  I have Time Warner, and the bill is confusing.

What do you think?  Do you find direct comparison to be effective?  Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

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Are You Trying to Sell us a Search Engine?

June 11, 2009

comparisonI read an interesting post by a good friend of mine, Kevin Pruett over at techsoomer.com.  He poses the question, are we more inclined to use a product or service based on word of mouth or consumer advertising?  Using the recent launch of Bing.com and subsequent mass marketing effort by Microsoft as a basis for argument, Kevin asks if we are supposed to be persuaded by ads to use a new search engine.

This is an interesting question.  Up until the release of Bing, close to 70% of US searches were done on Google.  And Google, even at its inception, never advertised their search engine to consumers.  In fact, a majority of the services that we have come to grow familiar with online never advertised to us.  We either read a good review and decided to give it a try, or we found out about it from a friend of ours.

It was much more popular to advertise online services during the dotcom boom.  Yahoo and Ask both spent millions on commercial advertising campaigns to try to dominate the search market, and a lot of good that has done them in the long run.  So why now, does Microsoft think we will be that much more responsive to a $100 million campaign?  Do they believe their product is that much better and that if I use it just once I will be hooked?

You’ve heard of first mover advantage, but what about last mover?  Because although they market Bing as a decision engine (the “evolution” of the search engine), in many ways it is just another Google.  They are so late to the traditional search game that its hard to imagine they can make much noise in the space.

So lets turn our attention to the nature of the ad campaign.

Using the tagline, “Bing and decide”, Microsoft is trying to sell us on the fact that traditional search is too difficult, too time consuming, extremely confusing, and in need of a makeover.  We have “search overload”, and need a “decision engine” to help us find exactly what we are looking for.

Not a bad idea.  Except that the content of their ads, though creative, does not hit on those points very strongly.  They use generic search terms, terms that Google users will most likely say are not confusing, and they exxagerate the type of responses you would get from a traditional search engine.  Instead of highlighting the major differences between Bing and Google, such as the travel and health category searches that seem to be very strong, they basically accuse everyday searches of being broken.  And in fact, if you go to Bing and Google and search the same term, the results are going to be 70-80% the same.

Then, in addition to the television ads, they are advertising on major content sites across the web such as the New York Times homepage.  In my opinion, this is a waste because if people are on these content-type pages, they are not looking to search.

Let’s say the ads are effective enough to draw me in, now the real marketing starts.  Because you are not spending millions of dollars for me to search once or twice, you are spending that money to convert me from a Google user to a Bing user.  But if the product does not live up to the hype, you’ve lost me.  And all the money in the world will not bring me back.

bingad

I just don’t think that you can basically force a new search engine on the masses, which is what this feels like to me.  Especially when most of us don’t think our search engine is broken to begin with.  Why not spend more money in development, create something even more unique and effective, and let the word of mouth start to spread.  That’s how to gain a long term rate of converted users and build a new brand loyalty.

The method they decided to go with will lead to sudden jumps in traffic but I don’t see how they will have any long term effect on the search market.  They have built what I consider to be the 2nd best search engine available today, nothing more and nothing less.  Overall, I give the strategy a low rating, C-.

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Madness? A New Spin on Sports Betting

March 20, 2009

centsportsA longstanding controversy, the art of sports betting has been around as long as people have been playing sports.  And as the internet made gambling from anywhere in the world at any time an effortless, habit forming task, the controversy spread.  What is legal?

The sheer legality of gambling makes it appealing.  As I have said in the past, even negative publicity gets people’s attention.  And if you get their attention, you’re winning the battle.

Now, imagine you can take the concept of sports betting, and make it legal in some way.  Then, say you manage to do that and offer it online, where anyone with a computer and internet access can get to it, anytime.  Sounds like a pretty innovative way to start a business.

Well there are two websites of mention that are doing this, and seem to be doing it well.

First, there’s ESPN.com.  Their website has undergone a massive transformation over the past couple of months, with a clear focus on driving advertising dollars and boosting web traffic.  One very interesting way they have done this is by creating a “Streak for the Cash” contest.

Basically, Streak for the Cash offers up various sporting events that users can “bet” on by selecting the winners.  The first person to collect 25 wins in a row, wins $1 Million.  And it’s free to play.  What this does is brings people to the site over and over again throughout the course of the day/week/month that this contest is active.  The more hits they get, the more ads they can serve, the more money they’ll bring in.

Second, there’s a site most people are not as familiar with, CentSports.com.  I was introduced to CentSports through a friend who had gotten involved and was enjoying the experience.  Immediately I was intrigued.

CentSports operates like a traditional sports betting site, except that you cannot gamble with your own money, making it completely legal.  You open an account, and you get $0.10.  That 10 cents is yours to bet with on whatever you want.  You can build up a large bankroll over time, and whenever you go broke, they’ll put 10 cents back into your account.

Here’s the catch, even though the money you are using is completely free, you can cash out for real money once you get to a certain value.  They have tricky cash out rules, and you have to play for awhile to build up enough money to cash out, but its all very real.

How do they do this? Ads.  Companies have been quick to buy ads on the site, which get displayed with the user’s permission, and often.  The money from these ads supports the weekly payouts to “betters”, and keep the site going.  As the site gets more popular, the ads will definitely continue to get more valuable.

Both of these are examples of websites that are looking to capitalize on the popularity of gambling in a new way.  Make it free (which also means legal) and support yourself with ads.  We’ve seen this model work in many industries, and it looks to be a winning formula here as well.

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What “Minority Report” Taught the Advertising Industry

March 18, 2009

minority-reportMovies can teach us a thing or two about ourselves, our world, our past, and our dreams.  And sometimes, a movie can even teach us a thing or two about our future.

Truthfully, most movies that portray the future try to show the unimaginable, and make us think that its a possibility.  Sometimes they will get it right, other times they will get it wrong, but most times the creator just wants it to look like “the future”.

In the movie, Minority Report, with Tom Cruise, we saw the future of advertising; a future that is approaching very quickly.  Throughout the movie we see that all citizens of this futuristic world are tracked and followed by eye scanners.  In essence, we know where everyone is at all times as long as they have eyes.  Using this technology, ads are served to each person individually as they walk by a “billboard” like computer screen (which are everywhere).

Essentially, the advertisement know not only who is looking at an ad, but who is close enough and could see it if attracted in that direction.  It can use this information to “call out” your name and change or customize the ad to you.  Sounds like a winner to me.

Back to reality. There are a few trends in advertising that suggest we may be headed in the “Minority Report” direction.

First, late last week Google announced their new interest based advertising model for their Adsense programs.  The gist of this new idea is to monitor a person’s online behavior to discover the types of things they are interested in, then serve them ads for those things when visiting a site that uses Adsense.  In addition, anyone with a Google account can customize their interests in order to filter the ads that they will inevitably see.  This is where online advertising was always headed.

But what about “offline” or “traditional” advertising.  Well that is the second thing.  A company by the name of Tru-Media Solutions is just one of a few technology companies that have started putting small cameras in billboard advertisements.  These cameras are used to “monitor” and “recognize” who is looking at the ad.  This technology, combined with billboard screens that can change from one ad to another, could be used exactly the same way that we see the ads in the movie.

The technology in the cameras is still a long way from perfect, but it can monitor things like gender, height, and weight already.  Soon, we will see these cameras with even more capabilities, and ads that are ever more customizable.

This is the future of advertising, an industry that needs to become personalized to become sustainable. There are no more mass markets, where a basic commercial can make you profitable, or where a market analyst can tell you which three magazines to advertise in to reach your “target”.  Now, a successful advertiser needs to reach the potential customer on a personal level to get their attention.  And these are just a few ways that technology is crossing over into the advertising sector and leading us to the future that Minority Report so brilliantly laid out for us.

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hank you.


Ad Market Down, Innovate to Increase Value

January 23, 2009

logoseamlesswebboxIn a down economy, many things take a hit.  One market that is hurting right now is the advertising market.  Advertisers are spending less money, pulling ads that they don’t necessarily feel good about, and eliminating all ads that do not convert.  This means that websites that rely on advertising revenue to survive must respond in any way possible.

The two most important things that you have to consider when selling ads are website traffic and advertiser relevance.  Since advertisers are going to need to see real results to continue to advertise in this economy, websites need to be able to produce those results right away.

  1. Increase the value of the site. Increasing the value of a website will help drive more traffic.  The more traffic you get, the more ads you can serve.  This will help you reach more advertisers, and charge more for each ad.
  2. Increase the quality of your ads. Increasing the value of your ads means analyzing what it is that your users are looking for while they are on your site.  If it is a free service, most likely there is information that your users are looking for.  Nailing down the right ads to fit with the user experience can increase your click through and conversion rate a great deal.

For a quick example, take a look at two very similar websites, Seamless Web and Menu Pages.  Both sites are designed as online directories of restaurants in New York City.  Both serve the same purpose: I want to order food but I don’t know where or what.  On both, I can narrow down my search by location, value, type of food, etc.

The major difference is quite simple, Seamless Web allows you to order directly off of the website, while Menu Pages does not.  What does this mean?  Seamless Web has created an enormous amount of value to their site by making it more useful to its users.  And while Menu Pages is a great service, and possibly more popular, they fail to meet all the needs of their users.  For that reason, Seamless Web is set up to get more traffic, and more traffic can lead to greater ad sales.

One final example is Plenty-of-Fish, a free online dating site.  Plenty-of-Fish creator Markus Frind created the site with a simple concept, find an industry in which all competitors are charging, offer the same thing for free, and sell ads.  The idea has flourished.  By adding value to the site (making it free), he has made it one of the most popular online dating services in the world.  With all the traffic he gets from members and potential members, he can serve more ads than similar websites.  And if the average click through rate of an ad is constant, more ads means more $$$.

These are a couple of things to consider as you begin to create or redesign a service.  Websites that show real value to advertisers are going to get the advertising money.  And in this type of economy, it’s something that you need to do to survive.

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