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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Salute to the Gladwellian Decade (And Many More)

I. Huh! The decade is drawing to a close, isn't it? No Y2K stuff to worry about this time around. But for some reason, reflecting on this decade reminds me that Malcolm Gladwell wrote not one, not two, but three outstanding books during this period: The Tipping Point (2000); Blink (2005); and Outliers (2008).

If you're still trying to procrastinate your way through the remaining days of the year, I highly recommend Gladwell's What the Dog Saw (And Other Adventures). I picked this up in a bookstore in Montreal, and upon boarding my flight, I was a bit let down when I realized that it's just a compilation of Gladwell's best New Yorker columns over the years. The concern was unwarranted. The collection is an awesome glimpse into the Gladwellian mind, covering interesting people and hard-to-crack policy issues, often with the aid of new mental models or metrics.

Nuances of book marketing aside (he's a genius), Gladwell's success as an author is closely tied to the importance of the subject matter he covers, and his habit for prescient choices. In my opinion, The Tipping Point is far from the best thing Gladwell ever wrote, but it's definitely the most popular. The phrase has, of course, entered the popular lexicon on the strength of Gladwell's work. One of the keys to that book was the case study on New York City policing, and the major turnaround in crime rates there. Gladwell covered the "broken window" theory of policing, and numerous other issues. What amazed Gladwell (and the rest of us) is that the crime rate there continued to fall after much of the work had seemingly been done. It's as if the New York crime rate drop went from "problem solved, thought we never would see the day" to pushing even past that, to a remarkable low level of violent crime that many never thought possible. This year, the NYC murder rate has reached record lows: the lowest number since "Mad Men roamed the streets" in the early 1960's. Perhaps just more proof that although The Tipping Point wasn't Gladwell's very best work, writing about tipping points like NYC crime rates falling was his best bet.

II. (Which brings me to...) Next point. A "real" journalist really can release a compilation of his best research and sell a million copies in hardcover. The work is so good because it's so thorough. It's real journalism: investigative, pop science, and inquisitive. Just the opposite of what we see here in the much-self-vaunted blogosphere.

Outside of Seth Godin (Small is the New Big) you won't see people snapping up tons of copies of bloggers' compilations of their best posts between two glossy covers. Reason: most of the blogosphere is just not up to the standard of research you find in the amazing work of reporters like Gladwell.

So it's become popular to deride the efforts of journalists and newspapers, to portray them as unsupportable, unmonetizable, and obsolete.

But the decline of traditional newspapers and journalism really only comes down to one issue: the subsidy problem, and its close cousin the monetization problem.

There's never been a single, static model for taking the funds from more popular forms of information, and the means of having advertisers pay for one type of exposure that helps media companies operate.

Internet companies are supposed to be so different from old media companies, but they aren't. Both share this much: the revenue model is more or less disconnected with the products and services the companies offer, and from the pricing of the content.

Digital or not, media will not ultimately go belly up.

And in the meantime, a lot of the chitchat produced by amateurs will prove to be either worthless to everyone because it's junk, or valuable to a select audience (nichey). Against either form, true popular journalism will loom relatively large, and will be borne out by the ability of figures like Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis to repurpose previously published material and actually charge for it.

It's no secret that foreign correspondents, investigative journalism, and serious research don't always pay for themselves, but they never have. Responsible members of the business community have always seen to it that money was found to keep "the press" going, even though many elements of "the press" were loss leaders.

Money gets made somewhere, and it funds the arts, quality research, and much much more.

Analogously, Google makes a bunch of ad revenue from, say, a new ad format in its DoubleClick division, and over there in another part of the company, engineering resources are found to work on a new programming language, or at making browsing more efficient, or making free mapping available to developers and end users alike.

So again - are old and new media all that different?

There is nothing wrong with admitting that there will be a disconnect between monetization and content, and that subsidies happen within large media organizations, with the ultimate aim (in some cases) of creating a respectful work environment, and a better society.

And as the smartest minds in digital media go to work on the problem of helping all manner of publishers do a better job of monetizing, the "monetization problem" will get solved for many, as sure as it did in the pre-revenue Google, pre-revenue Facebook, pre-revenue Twitter, etc.

Long live media, digital, traditional, or otherwise. There are healthy trends in the works; flux and change don't necessarily equate to the "death" of anything important. Profitability will re-enter the lexicon soon -- if indeed it ever truly left.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Traffick Infinite Regression Awards 2009

"We love ourselves, don't we?" So said The Church Lady. And yes, lady, we do. We, the Internauti, the digeridoochebags who endlessly refer to ourselves in our posts/tweets/dead-trees-missives, etc. Even when our subject matter is that this or that form of media is a sinking ship.

The Reggies roll on.

Last year, Traffick revived the somewhat-annual Internet Internet Infinite Infinite (Keyword Stuffing) Regression Awards with the help of Matt Larkin, a fine budding writer who will someday fully get the hang of boasting about himself. But to cap off this pivotal Year to Forget, it's back to yours truly, the creator of the Reggies.

Without any further ado:

Best Tweet About an Article that Criticizes Tweeting: By the guy who tweeted about the New York Post article "Tweeting is so shilly". Note, among other things, an encrypted critique of The Huffington Post, found in the sessionid of the destination URL.

Best Blog Post About the "Death" of Blogging: This one that really hammers the scare quotes in there. It's from 2008, but we had to wait and see whether blogging actually died before we went ahead with this. Nyaaah nyaaaah, didn't die!

Best SERP for [search engine]: It's still Dogpile.com. Google has a sense of humor. Don't ever deny it. And no, my vintage Dogpile shirt is still not for sale.









Best, er, I mean lamest, Paid Search Ad that Gives Money to Google to Try to Salvage a Competing Search Engine's Market Share:
An AdWords ad for Bing. "Visit the Bing(TM) Official Site to Make Key Decisions Quick & Easy." WTF? I can see Obama's whole cabinet heading there right now, on the strength of that ad. Too bad George W. didn't have Bing to work with when he was The Decider. But it's not too late to take some endorsement cash. Move fast, sir. If you don't take the money, Shatner will.

Best SERP for [techmeme]: This cool Google result that shows popular recently-tweeted articles that are highlighted on Techmeme, giving credit to all of Twitter, Techmeme, and the New York Times for an article about the Blackberry's tenth anniversary. So in other words, it takes four media companies to give free PR to Research in Motion.













Fifth Most Controversial Post on Sphinn, About Sphinn (Chosen as Example Here Based on Prediction that Fewest Number of Commenters on the Thread Are Likely to Punch Me for Citing It): "Sphinn.com No Longer Belongs to the People":

Reason for Everyone's Unshakeable Childishness: Well, Sesame Street just turned 40.

Best Free Audiobook About Things Costing Nothing: Free, by Chris Anderson, on Audible.com. He charges $20,000 and up for keynote speeches.

Most Lifelike-Looking "Official Retweet Widget" that Is Not the Actual Quasi-Official Retweet Widget: The one at Retweet.com. The most-used one appears to be Tweetmeme.

Most Appropriately-Misunderstood Self-Referential Publication Name-in-Waiting: Memememe, or memememe.com, is generally rendered as "me-me-me-me!" Not surprising.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, December 28, 2009

They Mean Well, But...

Microsoft, touting some functionality related to Exchange Server 2010 and the like, notes that "an employee in Nigeria will instantly know if a co-worker in Siberia is available."

Raise your hand if you have employees in your company working in Nigeria, trying to ping the Siberia office. Is this a common scenario in corporate IT?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, December 26, 2009

Meatless, Meaty, Starchy, Fruity Holiday Treat

The world as seen through the eyes of the AdWords targeting in GMail accounts can be a quirky place indeed.

Based on an email thread about a holiday potluck, advertisers are inviting me to enjoy:

  • A tasty bowl of packaged stuffing (courtesy Stouffer's);
  • Followed by a delightful canned pineapple salad (thanks Dole);
  • With a recommendation that not all meals need to have meat (so far, so good, and thanks, Mayo Clinic);
  • But contradicting them, an introduction to just head out for a meal at the Lone Star Steakhouse (courtesy Lone Star Steakhouse)
I'm not going to say which of these is winning the race for my heart and mind, but I can say it isn't the canned fruit salad people.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, December 18, 2009

Yelp Deal?

No comment? How unlike me.

Yelp is nothing short of the gold standard in online word of mouth, and it doesn't surprise me a whole lot that someone like Google wants to buy them.

So in fact I think it means a lot. But how can I say much more than that when this blog is officially shutting down until after Christmas? And besides, the deal isn't official yet. 80% likely to happen, according to a source? Let's hope Techcrunch isn't stirring up trouble for nothing.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Landing Page Quality Update: Christmas Comes Early for Doc

My friend Doc (not his real name) ran into a bit of a snag two weeks ago. His high-performing, money-making, perfectly above-board AdWords campaign ran up against a Landing Page and Website Quality sweep. All his Quality Scores got whacked down to 1. The campaign went into hibernation.

Advertisers in his niche have two potential reactions:

1. Ramp up the crying and complaining, rant superstitiously about Google Slaps and evildoing, and vow never to do business with Google again.

2. Don't panic. Determine the source of the problem. Contact Google reps (who may not be able to share very much, but if you are a conscientious business, may sympathize) to ask for a manual review.

I recommended the latter to Doc. Many advertisers aren't aware that they can get reasonably good service even as an "ordinary" advertiser, simply by contacting the Google AdWords 800 number and punching in the Client ID#. You may even find you get a de facto "dedicated" rep if you follow this course of action. Even if your spend is relatively small. Avoid calling anyone names in the process.

In Doc's case, we isolated three potential sources of the violation.

1. His new landing page tilted too far over to the "email squeeze page" side of things. I recommended he put back some global navigation and the business information at the bottom of the page, as he had been using with past offers.

2. Related to that, visually the squeezing was a bit too aggressive for my tastes. I recommended putting the email signup box farther down the page, use anchor link for users who want to get down there faster, and just making things look a bit friendlier.

3. The real killer seems to have been a site hack. Someone had hacked his website and placed sneaky code pointing to a link farm dealing in Seychelles timeshares, weight loss potions, etc. Uh oh! The Adsbot might have seen that.

All in all, restoring his website to respectability merited a second look by Google. And that's exactly what happened. They promise nothing and never provide turnaround times for "updating" landing page quality scores, as these updates tend to be infrequent compared with the real-time calculation of keyword quality scores for each auction.

In this case, following the procedural advice I provided and dealing respectfully with the process, Google's turnaround to updating his quality scores (they returned to normal) was 7 days. Particularly impressive around holiday time.

Happy holidays everyone! May you control the things you can, and not stress over the things you cannot.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, December 10, 2009

AdWords Reform: Low-Hanging Fruit

At SES Chicago, a member of Google's product management team routinely asked me if there were particular aspects of the AdWords interface that we ("power users") would like to see improved.

Sometimes I'm at a loss when it comes to questions like that. There is so much going on in an interface like that, specific suggestions can slip my mind... and in any case, in the beta process for the new interface Google must have had to weigh thousands of pieces of input anyway (so it's really the weighing that is the issue as opposed to any lack of cool feature ideas).

To be a smartass, I certainly might have pointed to the campaign setup phase that hides the need for us to enter separate (or no) bids for the content network or to more clearly offer advertisers the ad "rotation" (as opposed to "optimize") option. Google makes more money when advertisers forget to address these settings, so I basically don't expect them to change the state of affairs that amounts to "usability in reverse" on the campaign setup. It's not unlike hard-to-read credit card statements. The less people know, the more the company makes.

Asking for a small feature change misses the point, if there are significant areas that affect campaign economics negatively, that haven't budged.

So then it hit me -- we still haven't seen any movement on the issue of differential bidding for the "search network." George Michie recently reiterated what is basically a unanimous feeling among advertisers: that we need "syndication controls."

To refresh your memory, there are essentially three big channels available to AdWords advertisers, with many controls underlying two of them. (1) Google Search; (2) The Search Network; (3) Content Targeting.

Google Search is self-explanatory. Content targeting is a network of online publishers, from the biggest to the smallest, who participate in the "AdSense" advertising program. For advertisers, there are two flavors of this program: automatic placements and managed placements. Both offer stupendous levels of control for the advertiser, including the ability to set specific bids.

The search network is other search engines who display Google AdWords ads much the same as they appear on Google Search: AOL, certain Internet Service Providers, Ask, metasearch engines, etc. But in addition to that there are "navigation like" properties. Google publishes no formal exhaustive list of these partners.

This is where it gets weird. You can opt out of the search network. But who would want to, as it is a decent chunk of good traffic that typically far outstrips the buying intent of things like display ads, etc. Unfortunately, on most accounts, it universally performs worse, with CPA's (costs per acquisition) coming in 20-30% higher. And you cannot bid on the inventory separately or opt out of specific partners or segments, something you can do extensively in the other two megachannels within AdWords. So you're either all in, or all out. That's strange, and it hurts advertisers. I join Michie in his "rational plea."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Google and Real-Time Search, Advantage, Disadvantage, or Stalemate?

Google's announcement of an increased emphasis on real-time results streams supported by a host of partners, most notably Facebook and Twitter, launches Google more solidly and credibly into the social media world, but not as a primary source; rather, as a clearinghouse for relevant data; a meta-update engine, if you will.

There are a few potential analyses of Google's role and how it stacks up against these other providers:

1. The increasingly common position that said "Google and 'search' are losing ground to social media and social search, particularly through Facebook and Twitter." This has been a reasonably convincing argument insofar as Google's attempts to launch their own original services have not gained top-of-mind status. Orkut is not Facebook. Etc.

2. Position 1 loses some of its steam with the recognition, spurred on by this announcement and deals with the providers, that Google can act as an arbiter of intent, a layer that keeps a variety of information providers vying for prominence in Google's "arbiter" interface. While there are many data providers, there is only one Google. Google continues to roll on! And doesn't that remind you of how Yahoo built their empire as a "portal"? No need to place all your chips on any one direction in user behavior or content emphasis; shift as needed, swap providers in and out of the mix, as needed.

3. Someone might suggest, though, that "portalization" is death. Yahoo took advantage of their status as "data kingmaker" and "first choice Internet information brand" for a time, but then seemed to fumble it badly. If Google becomes an elder statesman of information, do they lose the focus and vision that allowed them to cut such a dashing figure in the first place? Well no, not really. Google has long been an information aggregator and not directly in the content creation business. The differences between Yahoo's history and Google's are vast. Despite Yahoo and Google actually being in exactly the same businesses much of the time -- search proper and information aggregation and product development around that -- Yahoo's implementations of this core business were often weaker than Google's, almost as if that were not their core business. Yahoo didn't even focus on their core. Google does.

Moves like the present announcement seem to head off any suggestion that particular social media properties will trump Google as the organizing force in our digital lives. As always, the battle is about which company will dominate the space for creating the primary interface or primary logic for organizing our digital lives. Google's working on many fronts to accomplish that end.

Either that, or I am completely wrong, and Tweetdeck is about to take over the world.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, December 05, 2009

Book Recommendation: The Buyersphere Project

If you're in the marketing and sales arena for a B2B company, I strongly recommend you pick up Gord Hotchkiss's The Buyersphere Project, just released. It's packed full of data and insights into how businesses buy from businesses.

It's been a couple of weeks since I went through it - and it triggered quite a few thoughts not only about our B2B clients and their strategies, but some soul-searching about how our consulting clients buy from agencies like ours, as well as what thoughts come into my own head when wearing the buyer hat, as I begin the process of moving forward on a technology or service solution.

There's no cut-and-dried answers here, and anyone who reads something and tries to tell you what it was two weeks later may mangle specifics, so here are my personal epiphanies from being forced to think more closely about this subject: (In other words, I don't endorse my own analysis as being relevant to anyone else's needs, nearly as much as I endorse the book itself; these insights are a combination of Hotchkiss insights and personal pondering):

  • Personal or prior relationships are huge drivers of B2B purchasing. Unseating or trumping these can be difficult to impossible.
  • Hearing repeated mentions of a service such as a common SaaS solution will often lead one to rule out competing alternatives. In business buying, there are standards and "brands" -- but that can be misinterpreted. This doesn't mean that advertising is the way this happens, but it does mean that if colleagues at other firms use something, your staff says why don't you consider it, and it just plain keeps coming up, you'll have a hard time not considering it closely. As in: you're really going to use something other than Salesforce? Not every firm can be Salesforce, but it underscores the value of buzz. Targeting "the decision-makers" directly is over-focusing, when you could be also targeting the people who work at various levels of organizations, who may in turn influence the decision-maker. Repetition and frequency matter: and some of that is happening offline and in the "real world," such as at trade shows or in personal word-of-mouth.
  • When some potential clients or partners have come to us, we've heard things like "and your name kept coming up." Obviously, that's the goal. One recommendation can be held up to tighter scrutiny. If you hear it three or four times, it's starting to be a pattern and suggests less bias.
  • Search and online research are incredibly important in influencing buyer perception. It's not just the issue of getting someone into the pipeline as in direct-marketing, lead-generation (though this is a good idea). It's again about showing up comprehensively and often in search results etc. as a thought leader, solution provider, etc. How to do that? Be more comprehensive with your content, thought leadership, etc.
So if there had to be a couple of B2B takeaways for me, not looking at all at the fine print of the book, they would be, widen your footprint both online and offline. Focus, focus, focus, communicate, communicate, communicate. You can't expect "positioning", branding, and "advertising" to get you there. Don't just differentiate on the back of a napkin. Avoid insider thinking. Activate your differentiation, be social, and post the evidence online - constantly.

Those traditional "advertisingy" things will all fall into place nicely anyway once you've got, to cite a Kawasaki-ism, "better reality."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, December 04, 2009

Destroy a Brand? Become a Marketing Professor

Alan Middleton is quoted as saying that a famous TV campaign accelerated the decline of the Labatt 50 brand in the 1980's. That being the same Alan Middleton who was president of the company that created the campaign. (scroll down to the part about "Me and the boys and our 50.")

Actually, Middleton is an always-quotable source who seems to know his stuff. As a prof, it's really a strength that he's willing to tell the truth. You can bet he wouldn't have said it as head of his agency.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, December 03, 2009

Will Your Head be Handed to You Today?

The thing about AdWords copywriting - like the exercise of performance-based marketing in general - is that it's humbling.

If you're in a job where you can go for a year at a time without the 16-ton anvil of consumer non-response slamming down on you, good for you. Your job is dying, but enjoy it while it lasts.

Eventually, our goal is to get to optimal ads: for argument's sake let's say the main metric we're after is CTR (though this is a very partial truth). Sometimes we get better when we test. Sometimes worse. But we test, test, test.

One of my tests this week had a response rate about 96% worse than the baseline ad. We're talking: the legacy ad got 25X more clicks than my test ad! No shit!

My ad was clearly better when I wrote it, humming a happy tune as I basked in my own intellectual superiority. I capitalized the first letters of the words. Mentioned that the product was trusted on an intergalactic basis, by both corporations, and governments! It was as if Captain Picard himself had endorsed this software.

I don't know if it was that my body copy smacked of a global conspiracy, whether the caps were ugly to readers in Portugal, whether my headline didn't match quite as well. But the old ad, for whatever reason, created a connection with the prospect. Like, a 25X better connection than the new one.

Did I give up? No way. Will the new ad win? I sure hope so.

By contrast, many forms of traditional advertising are to consumer response as Second Life is to dating. There's zero chance of tangible proof of real-world rejection, so -- just a tinge pathetic, wouldn't you say?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not a Misspelling

Yes, I meant it. "Drink's on me."

If I run into you at SES Chicago, I'm buying you one drink. It's not "drinks on me."

What do you think this is, 2007?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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Recent Posts


Salute to the Gladwellian Decade (And Many More)

Traffick Infinite Regression Awards 2009

They Mean Well, But...

Meatless, Meaty, Starchy, Fruity Holiday Treat

Yelp Deal?

Landing Page Quality Update: Christmas Comes Early...

AdWords Reform: Low-Hanging Fruit

Google and Real-Time Search, Advantage, Disadvanta...

Book Recommendation: The Buyersphere Project

Destroy a Brand? Become a Marketing Professor

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