Friday, October 09, 2009

Point of View on the New FTC Guidlines Regarding Blogging / Social Media

The recently published Federal Trade Commissions "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (16 CFR Part 255)" addressing blogging and social media has received a good deal of attention lately. These rules largely codify marketing best practices of ethical marketers, PR professionals and bloggers. That said, there are a good deal of companies, even at the Fortune 500 level, where PR and marketing departments give, for instance, bloggers free products, travel, cash and gifts in return for influence or to outright ensure certain messaging occurs. It is due to these practices that I believe the FTC guidelines are necessary and beneficial for both consumers and ethical marketers who compete against marketers who choose to take the low road.

The reality of social media today is that it is still largely the wild West. Unlike traditional journalists, bloggers are not brought up in a profession where a code of ethics is critical to one's professional reputation and livelihood. All too often, marketers and PR professionals emerge who are eager to buy the influence of a blogger or social media user, even in small markets. I have witnessed it with both large and small companies and markets. Social media has changed the way companies market and it is clear that new, uniform rules must be put into place to ensure fair play.

The guidelines really will not have much impact on the way the ethical practitioners operate, except for their requiring monitoring postings to ensure compliance. While I think the monitoring posts will be difficult to police, I do think it is a sound idea that should be a component for managing this area for any marketing department.

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Study Finds the Majority of Managers Unhappy with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Results

A newly published study by X+1 found that more than half (57%) of corporate marketers surveyed were dissatisfied with their search engine marketing (SEM) results. Surprising? Not really.

From managing online marketing, including search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), for nearly 15 years and running best practice global SEM programs at the Fortune 500 that have received praise from Google and Yahoo execs as best practices, my experience is that the problem isn't search engine marketing as a vehicle. The problem lies in the poor management of search engine marketing -- as well as many other areas of interactive marketing, an area I consider to be the most complex area of marketing today.

The specific underlying problem to this dissatisfaction, I believe, is rooted in marketing executives hiring inexperienced marketers to manage search engine marketing (SEM). Companies often stress technical skills over marketing skills. The result is companies commonly hire managers who are poorly equipped to handle this complex area, which requires not only significant direct marketing discipline but other marketing skills as well. I've witnessed it first hand when running global online marketing and SEM and SEO programs at the Fortune 500 level.

It is only through direct marketing and branding discipline that I have been able to led the turnaround of these areas, such as a more than 50% improvement in conversion rate on a nearly $10 million USD annual spend or achieving nearly triple the previous best conversion rate at a Fortune 50. It requires a mixture of direct marketing, branding principles, research and analytical skills blended with online marketing and behavioral principles. It demands a constant test and refine mindset and a control over all elements in the user flow -- not just the text ad at the search engine. It certainly requires hard work, discipline and a talented team, not just management by gut feeling, which is the fatal flaw of many campaigns. There really aren't any shortcuts to great results.

Even if you are not selling online, managing a successful SEM program or SEM campaign very much draws on direct marketing and branding principles. It is a lot like direct mail on steroids. The text ad listing at the search engine is only a part of the story, however, the reality is that the keywords and bidding are the areas SEM managers often focus most of their time on, neglecting other citical areas -- such as the user flow, testing and landing pages.

A short analogy with direct mail marketing and search engine marketing (SEM). The keywords list, in many ways, is like your mailing list. The actual text ad is a lot like the teaser copy on the outside of the envelope. The landing page is a lot like the first insert in the envelope. SEM potentially enables the marketer to understand how many people saw the envelope and how many opened it and how many inserts they went through before converting or leaving.

I developed a balance scorecard based methodology that I presented at AD-Tech a few years ago (with a campaign example from Motorola, where I managed online marketing, including, global SEM, SEO and blogging in addition to numerous online campaigns) that enabled targeting based on the user's point in the purchase funnel. Basically, the score permitted us to understand and focus on how far down the purchse funnel the user went and target according to where the user would commonly end. While most SEM campaigns insight is only as deep as whether users did or did not convert, we tried to understand how far down the funnel those who did not convert went and used that information to target them differently. We also targeted differently based on what we knew about groups most likely to use certain keywords and based on whether the user was likely to be an early adopter, etc. The result on the pilot was an 82% conversion rate, around three times the company's prior best campaigns. All of this flows out of the application of direct marketing principles into SEM campaigns and programs.

Instead of blaming SEM as a vehicle, let's start improving the hiring criteria for managing SEM and start managing this area with the kind of discipline it demands.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Presenting on Managing Search Engine Marketing at a Best Practice Level Tomorrow

I'm presenting on Managing Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at a best practice level tomorrow, Tuesday at 10 AM CST.

It's a free webinar via BrightTalk: The presentation will be relevant for companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500s with large budgets to small business.

Sorry to all for the short notice. The event will be archived if you want to attend, but can't make it. If you're interested in my consulting to your company, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm in the midst of creating a cost-effective diagnostic and recommendation service for companies of all sizes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is There an Upside to This Economy for the Marketing Profession?

I just got back from judging this year's CADM (Chicago Association of Direct Marketing) entries for their 2009 Tempo Awards.

I have to say, after looking through a good deal of entries, I really appreciate strong creative, but in the end, it's all about results, no matter how pretty the pictures are, how clever the copy is or how many seconds the very creative, Flash-centric design takes to download at the microsite.

Now that's an incredibly simple statement, but still one that many marketers and agencies don't live by. One of the few positive by-products of this bad economy for the marketing profession is that it is forced to become more accountable.

There's been at least a decade of lip service to ROI in the marketing department, but few real results. I don't think there is much of a choice these days, as marketing is being forced to evolve. In my opinion, this situation is actually good for our profession and will help ensure its future, which I believe, should include a more stable seat at the executive table.

For those who think we are there, I beg to differ. When an executive recruiter who works with CMOs calls me, ecstatic over the news that CMOs are now averaging a little more than two years before they are out, things are less than what I would consider stable.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gmail's Undo Feature

Have a habit of doing things like accidentally including the boss in that last group email about what a doufis the boss is? Gmail has a solution for you.

Kind of a low tech solution. But since this is Google, maybe they'll serve up a relevant ad from a writing service right after you press undo? Or perhaps, if the email was really late at night on a weekend, an ad from a company that sells a tonic to cure hangovers?