More Reasons to Hone Your SEM Skills

Take a good, long look at David Carr’s article in New York Times about the continued decline of traditional media companies.

Companies from the Christian Science Monitor to the Los Angeles Times to the Tribune Company are hemmorrhaging people, dollars and advertisers. Of course, the reason is the shift of both consumers and ad dollars online.

The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.
Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.

This article, from an old media bastion like New York Times (itself losing staff due to declines), should be the only cue you need to hone up on whatever traditional online tactics, Web 2.0 technologies, mobile targeting capabilities, new Google products, and social media strategies you aren’t comfortable with right now. The shift is only growing stronger, as you know, yet when these slow-movers really focus on the online space the pace of consumer shift will pickup rapidly.

Will you be ahead of the game? Then now is the time to move.

A Friendly Reminder

I pass it along to you because I just got it myself.  The reminder is to never, ever forget to talk to your customers.

And by “talk to” I mean ask questions and then listen.  Actually little talking involved on your part.

As marketers we spend alot of time talking to our customers.  Sending out materials, calling them, and interupting their day with emails, ads and other communications.  Sure, sure…we may ask them their opinions and needs along the way.  Yet kudos to you if you spend time getting real qualitative feedback from your customers, and use that knowledge to change things for the better.

And by “change things for the better” I mean taking a good, long look at (and listening to) their communication preferences, creating products or services that fill unmet needs, and changing products or services you offer now that don’t meet needs very well (or could meet them better).

Some customers have different communication preferences — you need to find a way to respect those preferences and build your strategy around their preferences.  Stop expecting your customers to build their preferences around your strategy, budget-based decisions or skillsets.  And if your products or services aren’t fitting needs just right, grab a whiteboard and sketch out a better way to make them fit.  If they’re too expensive, find a way to add more value.  If they’re missing something, find a way to add it.  If they’re one-size-fits-all, find a way to segment — maybe there’s a brand extension in there somewhere.

Anyway, I just held one of the bigger events in my portfolio, and had a lot of quality face time with customers.  That feedback was a greater source of rich ideas than any quantitative survey has been (at least this year).  And honestly, that’s the way it’s going to be in the future.  In the middle of a busy day, week or life, quantitative surveys are proving hard to sell to customers.   So when you have face time with customers, use it wisely.  I held a focus group with 12 customers (in return for a great lunch), and separately I had meaningful conversations with at least two dozen others.  I am so ready to charge ahead with great ideas, and feel confident and energized that they will serve my customers’ needs.

If you’re a marketer, feel free to siphon off some of that energy and go spend time talking (i.e., listening) to customers right now.  If you’re at an agency, do the same thing even faster — it provides the kind of insight that is hard for clients to argue with.

The Need for Green

No, I’m not talking about money. Of course we all need that.

I’m talking about “going green” with your marketing message. And it’s not just a fad. Many marketers are doing meaningful things not just by greening their messaging, but with actual green actions that provide a meaningful impact to business and the environment. On one end of the spectrum you have Nike, which is actually making sneakers from recylcled trash. Ok, not all of us have the resources to do that grand of an effort. Yet there are plenty of marketers doing small things that make difference internally as well as with customers.

In my own company, and throughout the CME business in general, we print less paper for our events, and put information online or on CDs or on USB drives that attendees can download whenever. For our staff we use metal name tags instead of paper, so they can be reused. There are also a bunch of other little things we do to make a tangible difference in our practices.

Here’s two ideas that can provide a small start for you. Greening isn’t just something you want to do for purely business reasons — it’s something to promote to your customers. Get them involved in it, make them partners in your intiative. It makes a difference in how they perceive your business. What kind of customer wouldn’t love a company that helps take care of the environment? Not one that’s the future of your business, that’s for sure. Anyway, back to the tips:

  • Help your customers learn how to be greener travelers
  • Get smarter about green marketing by taking a good, long look at this green marketing blog
  • Again, that’s a small start — we’ll come back to this topic soon. In the meantime, charge ahead with green. And tell your customers, and get them involved.

    Forge Partnerships

    As marketers, we focus most of our time on building relationships with our customers, since they of course are the lifeblood of our business (and our jobs).

    Yet be sure that you take a good, long look at potential partnerships that ultimately could bring you closer to those customer relationships you need. We sometimes get so consumed with the day-to-day requirements of finding and keeping customers thorugh traditional marketing, that we lose sight of the fact that in today’s media-cluttered marketing environment, a different (and/or subtle) approach may work better in some cases.

    A great example of a recent high-profile partnership that illustrates this approach is New York Times and LinkedIn forming a content partnership (also highlighted on Mashable). Both entities have a common interest in a specific target, and are leveraging each other’s customer networks to promote awareness and ultimately cross-over.

    Clearly this brilliant partnership came to fruition after strategic discussion about how it would be successful for both parties. And both parties had to be knowledgeable about the other one’s services and value proposition. So the moral is: are you making time to do this? Are you making the time to think creatively about how to find customers, investigate the market landscape, and consider possible partnerships? Do you know of any places where people who fit your customer profile congregate and why they do it there? In this age of social media and media fragmentation, many times word more effectively spreads through marketing tactics outside of the norm. Let’s call it marketing through relevance instead of marketing through interuption (interrupting a TV program with an ad, interupting a person’s day with direct mail or email, etc.).

    Make sure you budget some time to do think about partnerships, because it may take time to find potential partners, create a scenario that works for all involved, and it may take even more time to put the pieces in place before you charge ahead.

    Techno Babble

    This post is related to marketing in the sense that there are alot of technology options brewing right now that focus on the mobile space. So this post from Mashable highlights a technology start-up that focuses on mobile delivery of rich media content.

    Translation = savvy, shiny new content delivery means relevant, targeted new advertising options

    If you’re considering moving your brand message into the mobile space, stay aware of the latest options and technology coming down the pike (or here now) so you can package your message with the right companies, content, widgets, (don’t forget iPhone and, coming soon, Android apps) and other gadgets.

    Does Your Message Make Anyone Take Notice, Part 4

    This post is less SEM-focused than the last few posts on this topic, yet in the interest of making people take notice of your message, if you’re targeting customers in big cities (or your a transit entity looking for additional revenue) take a good, long look at this huge opportunity from NYC Transit.

    It’ll be interesting to hear from the big media brands, like History Channel, how this mass transit takeover works. Yes, advertising is a intrusion-based tactic, dropping right into the middle of TV and radio and magazines and alot of other things. And now it drops right into your communte in a big way — it was already there, of course, yet just grew from a taxi-cab-sized presence to a double-decker-bus-sized presence. You can’t help but notice messaging that is so obvious, all-over, and (in alot of cases, but not all) impactful — hell, there are even LED ads in dark stretches of tunnel! It will surely help the recall studies, but how much will it help the sales figures?

    Kudos to NYC Transit for charging ahead with a creative way to generate revenue. Let’s see which brands get creative turning the medium into tangible results.

    Does Your Message Make Anyone Take Notice, Part 3

    If you think these ongoing posts favor SEM over other channels, it’s hard to argue its value and utility. Hell, it’s hard to argue the growing budget I’m dedicating to it. It’s such a challenge not just to find the right message to get people to take notice, but to find the right channel also. Only when you marry right channel with right message does the equation work best.

    And this latest post from Search Insider elaborates more on SEM’s role in the pursuit of a goal, and its difference in tactical nature from other channels like TV.

    Don’t You Hate Those Pop-Up Ads?

    Well, of course you do. We all do. Even if we use them. Sick them on other people, but stay away from us.

    According to a recent study though, there are less people sick of over-content ads. Do you think that means you should go rushing back to dropping them on every site page, like the good ol’ days? Hardly. However, if you take a good, long look at all the rich media ad units nowadays that are, at best, very engaging, and at least, very interesting, then maybe that helps explain the growing acceptence (or should I say declining dislike).

    Food for thought when considering how to charge ahead with engaging online ad unit.

    Does Your Message Make Anybody Take Notice, Part 2

    Just to expand slightly on the last post, here’s an interesting post from Search Insider on how we process all the different messages and information we’re bombarded with each day. And it’s just getting worse…now even YouTube is dipping into posting ads at the end of video clips. Granted it’s only on vids from select content partners, yet these things tend to expand if users don’t rebel. Good opportunity for marketers…yet maybe it’s only making our problem of customer overload even worse?

    Does Your Message Make Anybody Take Notice?

    Besides yourself, that is. We all think our own ads, materials and messages are the best thing ever.

    Yet you need to bury that fondness for the spiffy copy you just wrote, and remain objective about every piece of marketing you put out there. Because it’s real tough to get noticed by customers, and if you’re in love with a message or a design or a strategy that isn’t effective, someone is going to notice when your results are paltry.

    In my current role, my main target audience is physicians. Do you know all the things physicians do during the day (besides save lives and make people better, that is)? Let’s take a good, long look. Well, they have plenty of chances to interact with advertising…they check email, they access mobile devices, they receive mail, they access media. Just like many of your target customers do.

    Yet, also like your customers, physicians do all that stuff in nanosecond spurts. Check 10 emails between patient visits. Visit a few websites during lunch, maybe for news. Maybe do a few Goggle searches. Grab the mail and give it a 5-second sort, then throw what looks good enough to stay in a pile for later. Come back to email for an hour or so, just to sort through and respond to what’s important before the next appointment. Never mind all the external distractions and other messages that they’re bombarded with throughout the day, and how they process those. Sound like that could be your customers too? Think a small business owner or high-level executive has the same kind of day?

    That kind of day just doesn’t make for a target that’s gonna put any time into digesting a marketing message. At the time we decide to send them an email, or when a direct mail piece ends up in a pile. It may be days or weeks before they get to our messages.

    We really need to ask a few questions, constantly, of our work as marketers.

  • Is our message really compelling? Compelling enough to make someone read it in the middle of that busy day described above?
  • Is our message unique? What are we saying to differentiate it from what else shows up in the inbox, mailbox or elsewhere at the same time?
  • Are we using the right channels to deliver the message? Does our target use another place more religiously than the one we’re in?
  • That kind of oversimplifies it…there are dozens other questions to ask. We’ll get to that later. The questions above are where you need to start if you’re not there now. Charge ahead.

    Time to Get Cozy With Online Video, Part 2

    When you take a good, long look at the following data, you may doubt the headline of the article.

    Yet even though people who click on online video ad formats tend to be younger and lower income, accoring to a new iPerceptions study, there still holds promise for marketers.

    One, this measures online video as an advertising tool, not a marketing tool (if you don’t know the difference, call your college and tell them you’re coming back). So you still need to look for ways to incorporate online video into an exciting, buzz-generating strategy that engages, educates and/or stimulates cutomers.

    Two, online video scored higher than “popular” (among marketers, it seems) interactive and interstitial ad units. I know the big brands like to drop flashy interstitials all over the page (and they have their purpose), yet the study results show that video units entice more clicks.

    Lastly, this clearly reflects the acceptance of online video by younger customers. So not only does it validate video if they’re your target now, surely as the younger crowd morphs into the older crowd they take their media preferences with them.

    So learn more about and embrace online video — then charge ahead and start using it.

    Time to Get Cozy With Online Video

    You may think it’s too far-fetched if you have a small budget or your tech-saaviness is towards the low-end of the spectrum, yet online video is worth a good, long look if you need to connect to customers (which of course you do).

    A recent study from eMarketer and subsequent analysis from Mashable highlight the growth of advertising via online video. Certainly our customers’ use of and expectations for online video will also grow along with spending — there may come a time when the lack of online video in an online campaign will be a detriment, especially if your competition has compelling video. Throw in some effective SEO, some paid keywords, some offline marketing to drive online views…and you have a recipe for getting your butt kicked.

    Are you using online video as a marketing tool right now? It’s time to figure out how it fits in your strategy and charge ahead. Can it create launch buzz for a product, walk customers through a process, or paint a picture via testimonials? How often will you refresh it to keep the campaign engaging? How will you carry it through all of your messaging? Are you maximing it with SEM/SEO? Can you use it to solidify a presence on YouTube, Facebook or industry/market vertical sites?

    If it’s not in your mix, or not in your plans, that’s a risky strategy.