Digital Advertising

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Retargeting the Issue of...Retargeting

Attention is being retargeted to…retargeting. Last week, Facebook announced Facebook Exchange, a new real-time bidding platform that will replace the marketplace ads on the site with inventory that will be both more profitable for Facebook and presumably more targeted to the interests of its users. Facebook will be able to target ads to users based not only on their social graphs, but also on their recent browsing history.

Over recent years, we’ve witnessed the rapid growth of demand-side platforms (DSPs) in digital advertising, and as a result a sharp increase in the amount of tracking that’s going on out there on the web. A Krux Digital survey released this week claims the average visit to a web page (not a website, a single web page) triggers a staggering 56 instances of data collection.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Krux estimated that real-time bidding exchanges contribute to 40 percent of online data collection. Moreover, this type of real-time bidding has shot from virtually zero three years ago to an estimated 18 percent of online advertising marketing, according to a Forrester analyst quoted in the story.

There are plenty of reasons why advertisers and publishers alike have embraced the trend. RTB makes media spend more efficient while eliminating waste. It enables rapid optimization and creative testing, quickly provides deeper analytics and insights, and makes retargeting more effective and scalable. All this results — in theory at least — in better-performing ad campaigns.

Otherwise put, DSPs are closer by a mile than standard CPM-based display units to the “digital nirvana” so many advertisers aspire to: the right message to the right person at the right time. A consumer browses hotels in Baltimore for an upcoming trip and is retargeted with deals and offers that pertain to her trip while she’s still got the planning of it in mind.

That’s the promise, anyway. The reality often differs considerably. Everyone knows someone who is still being retargeted with ads for that sofa they bought six months ago. Or that time I visited a local bakery’s site to check the address so I could nip downtown and buy a cake for a party. Months later, I was still being retargeted with “order online and we’ll ship it to you” ads from one of the very few businesses I’d never buy from on the internet, because it’s a bakery, and because it’s local.

Beyond privacy concerns

When forms of digital advertising involving increased cookie collection, personal data, and targeting are in the news as they have been this week, the phrase “privacy concerns” appears frequently in headlines. Yes, privacy is always a concern, and it pays to be vigilant (and all that).

I’d argue that much of what’s raised as a “privacy” problem are the obvious Big Brother aspects of retargeting that are so apparent to users when they become obtrusive and inappropriate — when this type of targeting is used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of near surgical precision. Getting retargeted with ads for swim fins because you once accidently clicked on a pair in 2009, is far from a best practice and is not how this type of advertising is intended to work, yet it too often does. The results: irritated consumers who dump cookies and tune out or ridicule online advertising.

Turnkey, self-serve solutions come with a measure of responsibility on the part of both the advertiser and the DSP, otherwise the process becomes akin to driving without a license. It’s not helping anyone — not the consumer, the publisher, the advertiser, nor the industry in general — when hyper-targeted ads return to haunt the user again and again. Media buying agencies understand things like frequency caps. Too many small advertisers — the bakeries and the mom ‘n’ pop ecommerce sites — mean well but alarm rather than entice their audiences.

This begs the question: Should buying online advertising be so frictionless and easy when targeted and quasi-personalized ads have the potential to do as much harm as good? And if it’s to remain as turnkey as it has become (which is most likely the case), whose responsibility is it to ensure that the advertisers are educated enough to use their tools wisely.

A version of this post appeared in iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook Advertisers 'Like' Their ROI

What’s the ROI of a ‘like’ on Facebook?

For too many marketers, getting fans or ‘likes’ on Facebook is a goal unto itself. It’s about as legitimate a goal as measuring how many ‘hits’ a website got circa 1998. Just as those ‘hits weren’t translating into revenue in the early days of the commercial internet, so too are many Facebook advertisers and marketers having difficulty determining if their efforts are bearing fruit, and how to leverage fans and likes into actual revenue.

Others are being more methodical about it. Research published today by Facebook in conjunction with comScore reveals that of 60+ campaigns measured, 70 percent of major brands have seen 3X to 5X ROI – in many cases offline, in-store sales, as a result of combining paid media buys on Facebook with the earned media from fans and friends of those fans.

On a call yesterday, Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of measurement and insights, told me, “These are very healthy numbers. The vast majority of these campaigns had really, really positive ROI.”

The question now, of course, is dissecting, mapping and documenting why these campaigns worked. “Paid [media] for us is actually an amplification of earned,” Smallwood told me, a trend Jeremiah Owyang and I are learning in the process of our in-progress research on the confluence of paid, earned and owned media.

Earned media – how to get it at scale and how to leverage it effectively – is a brand new skill. Facebook’s new research (the report is entitled “The Power of Like 2″) demonstrates that there’s not just synergy in combining paid, earned and owned media, but there’s profit in it as well for brands such as Starbucks, Target, Applebee’s, Nutella and Best Western.

Yet doing so requires new alignments in vendors, creative, media, agency relationships and even the internal org chart. Stay tuned for lots more work on this important topic.

 

Rebecca Lieb's picture

How Will DoubleClick Stack Up?

It almost had to happen. Ad stacks are proliferating across the digital media landscape, and corporate behemoths such as IBM and Adobe are refining and growing their suites of digital marketing and advertising software offerings. All the while, Google’s been very quiet on the display advertising front.

No longer. Today at DoubleClick Insights, Google announced its commitment to going full-bore into the stack wars with what Vice President, Display Advertising Neal Mohan described to me in an advance briefing is “the biggest upgrade in DoubleClick history.”

Everything digital advertising at Google: search, the Google Display Network, AdSense, text ads, rich media, YouTube, and mobile advertising (AdMob) will be integrated. A new brand encompassing all of DoubleClick’s platform technology has been created. The components include:

  • DoubleClick Digital Marketing Manager – an upgraded version of the DoubleClick ad server, the control panel for ad scheduling, delivery, reporting and more across premium media.
  • DoubleClick Bid Manager – a revamp of media buying platform Invite Media. Google promises faster processing and better reporting to manage audience buying across ad exchanges.
  • DoubleClick Search (launched last year) enables buying across multiple search engines.
  • DoubleClick Studio – a rich media solution that now incorporates Teracent.
  • Google Analytics integration.

“It’s a rolling thunder kind of rollout,” Mohan explained. Workflow, reporting and portfolio management components won’t be released for several weeks. “We invested very heavily in building out a unified stack instead of kluging together existing products.”

Mohan identifies three core benefits of turning all Google’s ad products into a unified stack (and DoubleClick is the platform used by most top agencies and advertisers). The first is “giving time back to our advertisers and agencies.”  In a typical week, Mohan estimates, up to two full days are spent in various digital platforms that don’t talk to each other. “By bringing all these pieces together we can save up to  six working weeks per person per year,” he claims.

Unified reporting and attribution is the second benefit. DoubleClick promises its suite will provide perspective and insights across campaigns and channels. How did display influence search, or vice versa?

Finally, Google says it’s offering cross-channel campaign optimization that will encompass bidding and campaign management.

How will Google’s stack differ from the other major players, notably Adobe and IBM? Most notably, DoubleClick includes an ad server – those two players don’t serve ads (AppNexus, however, does). Critically, the stack will maintain an open API to enable integrations of other software packages.

An open API is a desirable feature in any ad technology stack, but here it’s critical as (Google+ excepted), social support is something earmarked for an unspecified future date, not the present. Moreover, it’s hardly a secret that Google’s relationship with Twitter is tenuous, and with Facebook openly competitive. Both can be viewed as significant shortcomings in a truly integrated stack – though clearly no stack out there is all things to all advertisers.

Social isn’t Google’s only long-term goal. “Digital, whether on the search or display side, has been a result of performance marketing,” notes Mohan, “The brand opportunity still remains untapped.”

Smashing silos and making digital processes easier, more streamlined and unified is a good thing.  What remains to be seen is if the digital brand opportunity lies in display advertising, or in social channels including earned and owned media.

Image: DumboNYC.com

A version of this post also appears on iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook Advertising Can’t Succeed (without Marketing)

Perhaps GM’s ad unit needs more of a social life.

It’s hard to believe there wasn’t some sort of agenda in telling the Wall Street Journal, three days in advance of what’s slated to be the biggest IPO in U.S. history, that advertising on Facebook isn’t working for GM, but that’s what the automaker did. If the company was looking for attention, they certainly got it – the media were scrambling for new angles on the week’s biggest story.

Sure, it’s a big deal when one of the world’s largest advertiser pulls back $10M in spend (or makes such a public proclamation). Perspective is also warranted in this situation.

Facebook’s success as an advertising medium, or a public company for that matter, is far from guaranteed. Blazes of glory in this industry are often nasty, brutish and short (AOL, Yahoo, MySpace). But herewith, seven reasons to temper GM’s very public proclamation against Facebook’s advertising:

Facebook advertising isn’t even 1.0. It’s still beta Facebook is developing new advertising products, refining them, killing others, and tweaking some more.  The company’s IPO is a $100B bet that eventually, they’re going to get the model right, just as the search ad model was (and remains) very much in evolution when Google went public. For many advertisers advances can’t come fast enough, but the old term “new media” is very much in play in this contest.

Paid media can’t succeed without earned and owned integration Shortly after the GM story broke, rival Ford tweeted: “It’s all about the execution. Our Facebook ads are effective when strategically combined with engaging content & innovation.” Sounds simple, but integrating paid, owned and earned media into a viable, sustainable strategy in which each informs the other is hard. It requires silo-busting, new metrics, and an entirely new approach to media. Yet it’s a task marketers and advertisers must master – first in social media channels like Facebook, then across the rest of digital as well as traditional media.

Advertisers are only now testing the waters. “We believe that most advertisers are still learning and experimenting with the best ways to leverage Facebook to create more social and valuable ads,” Facebook says in its IPO filing. Best practices for advertising on social networks, or integrating that advertising with owned and earned media? Barely even embryonic. Like Facebook’s evolving ad platform, how to effectively advertise in social channels is still in the earliest stages of evolution

Facebook advertising is not about direct response Those ads on Facebook about tooth whitening and belly fat? Going, going gone says the company. Yet GM’s complaint was that its Facebook ads weren’t moving enough car sales, a pretty disingenuous argument.  GM is certainly sophisticated enough to know that advertising has many purposed other than direct sales: branding, consideration, and purchase intent for starters. It’s very hard to believe the company expected to sell X number of vehicles per Y Facebook ads.

Display is down across the board Why integrate paid, owned and earned media? Because fewer and fewer consumers engage with display advertising. It would be a lot simpler if that weren’t the case. Advertisers could plop creative into ad units and meet goals. But banner blindness and declining click trough rates call for more creative and integrated solutions – again, particularly in social environments.

Content Counts Even GM cedes to Facebook on this account. “We remain committed to an aggressive content strategy,” is one of several quotes GM made in the wake of its ‘no-advertising’ bombshell.

Facebook is biggest media company in history Ever. Of all time. Why doesn’t anyone ever state the obvious? No print or broadcast medium has ever even remotely approached a one billion user base. That old adage about advertising going where the eyeballs are? There are more eyeballs in the world focused on Facebook than anything else man-made. That’s a pretty compelling argument to get this advertising thing right – both internally at Facebook, as well as for advertisers and marketers.

Addendum: I’ve done quite a bit of talking to the media about this issue. Here’s a particularly insightful article from Venture Beat’s Jolie O’Dell: Why Facebook’s GM ad drama won’t impact this IPO.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Beyond the IPO: 9 Implications of a Public Facebook

Susan Etlinger & Charlene Li are not only co-authors, they contributed more to this post than I did.

The run-up to Facebook’s IPO reminds me a bit of a wedding: everyone’s attention is on the big day (expected to be Friday May 18), without much regard for the weeks, months and years afterward. Charlene, Susan and I sat down to discuss some of the implications of a newly public Facebook: on shareholders, business and Facebook itself. — RL

Whether or not Facebook’s IPO ends up being one of the world’s largest (this Washington Post article places it sixth, between AT&T Wireless and Kraft Foods), it will certainly earn a respectable position in the history of the public markets, a lofty spot for an eight-year-old company in a relatively unproven business.

We identified ten areas where we are watching Facebook closely, as an indication of its success in the future. We picked these topics because they intrigue us, because they provoke discussion and, ultimately, because we believe they are the issues most central to Facebook’s future.

#1. Leadership
In a media frenzy in which anything (such as, for example, wearing a hoodie on a road show) can spark a news cycle, it’s to be expected that Mark Zuckerberg would have kept the lowest possible profile during Facebook’s quiet period. But now during the roadshow, on the first day of trading, and afterwards, he’ll need to step out, step up and set the tone for how he will lead this company into its next major phase. Can he pull it off?

The decision Zuckerberg must make, as a CEO who’s famous for his a “go away; we’re working on it” attitude, is whether he will use this milestone as an opportunity to cultivate his newest constituency: investors. As CEO, Zuckerberg needs to be accountable to his shareholders–not to a stock price per se, but to their faith in him. We will start to see clues to this decision during the first earnings call (a trial by fire for the CEO of any newly public company).

Of course, it’s all fun and games until there is a major hit to the stock price. We know, generally speaking, what the triggers will be: a new, poorly received product, a privacy issue, slowing user growth–the registration statement is full of examples. When this happens, Zuckerberg will have to demonstrate a completely new level of leadership. He’s chosen his executive team wisely in that both COO Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Ebersman are strong, respected executives who have been through this process before. And, despite his youth, Zuckerberg has learned from previous missteps like member revolts, privacy, and Beacon. If you still wonder if Zuckerberg is ready for prime time, imagine how you’d react if a major, highly unflattering motion picture had been made about you while you were still in your twenties. The issue isn’t whether he can avoid controversy, but how well he can quell the concerns of skittish investors.

#2. Innovation
Facebook has a hacker culture; its development mantra, “done is better than perfect,” is at the root of both its growth and its biggest failures. Given the massive number of monthly active users (901 million according to the latest released figures) the strategy has been to release product to the market and learn as it goes.

But as a public company, Facebook will need to choose whether it will continue to release products the way it has in the past or take a more cautious approach. How will it behave when it’s not just the pundits on Twitter, but the shareholders who react?

Although they’d hate the comparison, there’s a strong role model in Google, which, even as a public company, has managed to maintain its agile development strategy. Granted, there’s always the risk of a Buzz (Google) or Beacon (Facebook), but Facebook has demonstrated considerably more focus from the start than Google. Furthermore, the company sent a strong signal in its last quarterly statement that it will continue to make investments for long-term growth, even at the cost of short-term profits. It’s setting expectations that it’s investing for the future, not just for the quarter.

#3. Brands
Will brands buy what Facebook’s selling? Facebook is, after all, a media company, and while it has other sources of income through partnerships, brand dollars are what will ultimately make not only the IPO, but the company itself, succeed or fail. With close to a billion users, Facebook is the biggest media company that’s ever existed, in any medium, ever. Advertisers go where the eyeballs are, which is Facebook’s undisputed advantage. After that, it gets a bit trickier.

Facebook is at the vanguard of developing products that merge and conflate advertising and marketing, that blend content, conversation, paid, earned and owned media with media buys. Advertising is media buying, but those other aspects: owned media (premium brand pages) and earned media (the conversations and comments and interactions brands have with their fans, users and yes, detractors) are part and parcel of what Facebook is working to monetize. It’s still experimental. Brands are still testing the waters and are far from establishing best practices or firm models in a “brand” new environment.

#4. Data

Facebook is also in a position, thanks to its staggering user base, to possess and be able to leverage data on a scale we’ve never before seen. Likes, affinities, social graphs, recent behaviors – it’s all there, together with the basic demographic information. Again, the ability to package, parse, productize, make understandable and actionable this vast quantity of data is as formidable a challenge for Facebook as it will be for the media agencies who buy against these very new models. Facebook’s potential as a marketing data juggernaut is very real, and can potentially take advertising to new levels, if the company succeeds in making that data useful.

#5. Mobile
Most of the coverage around mobile has been focused on Facebook’s “lousy” mobile applications. But we believe this is a red herring – the core issue revolves around the slow development of mobile advertising and marketing. The S-1 says it best in the section on risks related to advertising:

  • “…increased user access to and engagement with Facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently directly generate meaningful revenue, particularly to the extent that mobile engagement is substituted for engagement with Facebook on personal computers where we monetize usage by displaying ads and other commercial content…”

But with 85% of revenue coming from advertising as of the end of 2011, the more effective Facebook is at appealing to its mobile users, the more it risks shifting revenues from the Web platform where it can monetize users, to the mobile one where it can’t — at least not immediately. So the real question becomes how Facebook will balance creating mobile user value against driving shareholder value.

Facebook can’t risk waiting too long before moving aggressively into the mobile space, but also needs to buy time to help mobile advertising develop. Given this significant risk, the purchase of Instagram represents $1B of earnest money that Facebook is focused on the long term. With the war chest Facebook will have accumulated post-IPO, building a great iPad app and upgrading the smartphone experience is a foregone conclusion. The bigger issue to watch is how well Facebook can develop the mobile advertising market with that experience, in a similar way that it created social media marketing.

#6. Investors
The first earning call is always rough for a first time CEO, and Facebook will likely be no exception. But what we are watching closely is if Facebook will develop a different kind of relationship with its shareholders. The company is, at its essence, about sharing: will a newly public Facebook use its own platform to share more information with investors? Facebook has an unprecedented opportunity to change the way that it handles investor relations. Will it take this opportunity, or will it stick with the tried and true? We’d love to see Facebook use its own platform as a way to engage with and provide greater transparency to its newest stakeholders: the public markets.

#7. Mergers & Acquisitions
Thanks to Instagram, every venture-backed start-up has dreams of meeting with Facebook’s M&A team. Will Facebook focus on smaller acquisitions to acquire talent or smart ideas, or will it make major deals to really move the ball forward?

One of the more interesting areas of speculation lately is what would happen if Facebook were to buy Bing from Microsoft. With Google arguably its most formidable competitor, the addition of search would give Facebook advertisers a direct response medium they could not get before on Facebook. Google is, at its essence, a search company that has struggled with social. Facebook is a social company that needs search. A Bing acquisition would up the ante in a significant way between Facebook and Google.

Looks good on paper, but acquiring Bing would also be a huge distraction and a departure from Facebook and Zuckerberg’s legendary ability to focus on social sharing. A more likely scenario is that Facebook and Microsoft continue their long-term strategic partnership, integrating Bing deeply into the Facebook search experience.

Regardless of whether it buys Bing or another organization, few companies do the “merger” part of M&A well. We expect that Facebook will focus on smaller acquisitions that it can absorb and leverage quickly, while any large acquisitions like Instagram will be kept running separately, in much the way that Google ran YouTube as a separate entity for years. Again, a focus on the long term gives Facebook the ability to look at M&A in a very different way than traditional companies who much justify every single penny spent on a company.

#8. Culture
Facebook is a private company in many respects (one of which is about to change dramatically), but the internal culture has always been very open. It has invested heavily to create this open culture, and it has slowly but surely been reducing the amount of information shared internally in the run-up to the IPO.

This will only increase, as the company will now be beholden to even more securities industry regulations intended to protect investors from selective disclosure. So again the balancing act, this time between employees (and openness) and shareholders (and fiduciary responsibility). Which leads us to…

#9. Talent
Once it goes public, how will Facebook retain talent, especially top talent? Expect to see the usual exodus as people wait to vest, then cash out (the Bay Area housing market is already bracing for impact). But, again like Google, Facebook will retain its cachet for some time to come, and some will be motivated by the opportunity to change the world from within Facebook rather than from without. Where else can you find a platform of 900M people to try out your next great idea?

#10. Privacy
Zuckerberg has said that increased sharing is core to Facebook’s growth. But with greater sharing also come increased pressures on and threats to user privacy.

Over the past eight years, Facebook has mastered the art of trial and error when it comes to privacy. There have been huge missteps (Beacon), significant improvements (to privacy settings) and escalating tensions as the company has continually pushed its users to share more, and more often, frequently beyond their comfort zones. The company has accumulated a great deal of resilience along the way, and has tried to balance giving people a granular degree of control (at the risk of confusing them) with offering a simplified experience (at the risk of alienating them).

Charlene: The addition of Timeline, and the emergence of “passive sharing,” raise the bar yet again. A few months ago I installed the Washington Post Social Reader on my Timeline. Now I know that it involves social sharing, but one day when I was in need of a little “mental floss,” I clicked on a story about Snooki’s recent weight loss. I didn’t think anything of it until a bunch of friends and work colleagues started teasing me. There it was, on my timeline with comments: “Susan Etlinger read an article: “Snooki Finally Reaches Goal Weight of 98 Pounds – But Has She Gone Too Far?” I was, frankly, mortified. I’d forgotten I was “in public,” and I am someone who is supposed to know better.

Wherever your stance on Facebook’s privacy record, privacy will continue to be a litmus test issue for Facebook. User outrage is one thing; shareholder outrage is quite another. We will watch to see how Facebook balances continued innovation against privacy. Where will Facebook stand when and if privacy issues affect the stock price — will they pull back or forge ahead?

As always, we’d love your thoughts on these issues. What are you watching as Facebook heads into its IPO?

Rebecca Lieb's picture

The Dynamic Customer Journey

How many devices do you have within reach right this second?

How many screens? How many apps and tabs are open on each screen? Is one of them TV? An ebook? A smartphone or a tablet? Which one(s) are you paying the most attention to? How long does that attention last, and what causes you to switch channels – or devices?

As consumers flit like hummingbirds between a plethora of devices, screens and messages simultaneously, even private space is invaded with as many messages as a virtual Times Square. How can marketers and publishers harness attention when it’s so fleeting? What causes distractions? How do customers determine which channel they’ll use for what information – a search engine? A social network? SoLoMo?

What influences the dynamic customer journey, and how do experiences across channels and devices shift – or remain consistent?

These are the questions the bulk of my research will attempt to answer in the coming months, so it was interesting to see a report publish this week that also examines the dynamic customer journey. The survey, published by PulsePoint terms the phenomenon the Digital Divide. That term traditionally refers to digital technology haves and have-nots, generally divided by socio-economic lines. The survey reframes “digital divide” to refer to the rift “between consumers engaging in real-time across channels, versus the digital marketing industry that is still largely siloed and not executing in real-time.”

PulsePoint’s survey places a great deal of emphasis on the need for improved real-time marketing capabilities to address the dynamic customer journey: real-time data and analytics; dynamic content delivery systems, the ability to make faster decisions and take immediate action. Always-on has never felt so ‘always,’ or so ‘on.’

But real-time, while critical to addressing the dynamic customer journey, is far from the only element that must be mastered in terms of technology, ability and best practices.

The growing complexity of digital advertising, marketing and publishing has led to increased vertical silo-ization and channel specialization. Customers expect integration and consistency as they pursue content across multiple channels and devices, but cross- and multichannel integration is not yet one of those areas boasting its own specialists. These specialists will doubtless soon be required, and they will have to be vested with considerable power to bring disparate players to the table and encourage them to cooperate.

A changing media landscape is a major factor in the dynamic customer journey. I’m currently looking, together with my research partner Jeremiah Owyang, at how paid, earned and owned media are conflating. Customer reviews and community posts are incorporated into ad units – both examples of earned media becoming paid media. Ads become content in online channels, particularly campaigns with high viral or entertainment value. Facebook wall posts (owned media) morph into paid ad units.

As fluidly as consumers switch screens, so does content flit between paid, earned and owned channels. Do consumers differentiate between these channels? We believe less and less, if at all. In the end, content is what matters because content is, after all, what these dynamic, fast-moving consumers are pursuing.

How can marketers influence these journeys? Through users’ social graphs, via experts, commercial media or through their own owned channels?

That’s what we’re trying to uncover and we want to hear from you. Tell us on your blog or website how the dynamic customer journey is impacting your business, and we’ll cross-link to the conversation here and on the Altimeter Group blog.

Image Credit: PulsePoint Digital Divide

A version of this post also appeared on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Digital Advertising: One-Stop Shopping or á la Carte Services?

Sometimes, timing can be really fortuitous. Almost immediately upon returning from Adobe’s annual marketing summit, where I spent a week immersed in the world of advertising technology stacks, Advertising Age called and asked me to contribute a column on precisely that topic. Here’s the piece they published today on the advantages, and disadvantages, of all-in-one ad technology solutions:

Your Marketing Machine: What You Need to Know About Ad Tech ‘Stacks’

When you go shopping for groceries, do you prefer an array of local specialty stores (the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer and the fishmonger)? Or would you rather visit a full-service market for one-stop shopping? If so, are we talking a megastore such as Costco or Walmart, or something more focused, like your basic A&P?

Advertisers shopping for digital-marketing solutions face the same kind of choice. They can shop literally hundreds of individual specialty vendors, or they can go big — to companies that offer a variety of marketing services. Whatever you call these latter players — some use “stacks,” others refer to them as an operating system or a “digital-marketing provider.” Regardless of the name, more and more of these large, software-based providers are emerging.

Who are the players in this space? Some you know: IBM, Adobe, Google, AppNexus. Others are newer on the scene: Operative, IgnitionOne and MediaOcean. None of them do exactly the same thing, but in the broadest possible terms, stacks aim to consolidate the many steps of ad buying, selling, optimization, reporting, measurement, inventory management and billing into one big, integrated software suite. Depending on the package you choose, retargeting, social media, search, even offline media can become part of the service offering.

Read the rest of the column here.

Image credit: James Steinberg for Advertising Age

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content Marketing. Content Strategy. What's the Difference?

So content is the new black (and some 270,000 exact-match results for that phrase on Google suggest it's at least a deep, deep indigo). Inevitably, that's meant an escalated level of chatter, talk, and pontificating about content's role in the digital mix.

As more and more marketers consider how content can work for them in the digital mix, a certain degree of confusion is beginning to obfuscate discussions and debates. Two very distinct disciplines, content strategy and content marketing, are beginning to blur. And if they're not blurring, too many people are too carelessly using the terms interchangeably.

As with many marketing-related terms, it's tough to nail down precise, etched-in-stone definitions for either term. But it's nonetheless clear that content marketing and content strategy are not interchangeable concepts, nor do they refer to the same thing. There is, as we'll soon see, a huge degree of interdependence.

Let's throw some existing definitions out there for considerations, shall we?

Content strategy

  • Content strategy has been described as "the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance" and "a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project." And also "achieving business goals by maximizing the impact of content." (Wikipedia)
  • "Using 'words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.'" (Rachel Lovinger, "Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data")
  • "Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content... The content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we're publishing it in the first place. Otherwise, content strategy isn't strategy at all: it's just a glorified production line for content nobody really needs or wants. Content strategy is also -- surprise -- a key deliverable for which the content strategist is responsible. Its development is necessarily preceded by a detailed audit and analysis of existing content." -- Kristina Halvorson

Content marketing

  • "Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant, and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty." (Wikipedia)
  • "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action." -- Joe Pulizzi

Content strategy is what makes content marketing effective. I like Ahava Leibtag's take on the issue. She says content strategies are about repeatable frameworks, and content marketing is about building relationships. Marketers, she says, don't necessarily create content strategies, but rather implement them.

Evolution, on both sides

Back in the day, content strategy was primarily relegated to the user experience and website development processes. Small wonder. In the Web 1.0 era, your own site was pretty much the only thing online you could control or influence, content wise. Content strategy has blown beyond the walled garden and expanded to embrace auditing, analyzing, creating, disseminating, and governing content in a myriad of channels, ranging from more dynamic websites to the entire scope of Web 2.0 options out there in the wild (and often, how those same rules and processes should be applied to offline channels, as well).

Content strategy underpins content marketing. Without examining the competitive landscape, current assets, gaps, resources, the market, and plenty of other aspects, content marketing barely has a leg to stand on. Without a strategy, content marketing turns into one of those classic, eye-rolling imperatives all too familiar to digital marketers: "We need a Facebook page!" or "We ought to be blogging!" or "How come we're not on Twitter?"

The obvious answer, of course, is because we don't have a strategy. Content marketing is all very well and good, but the reason to do it isn't because all the cool kids are doing it. Without a strategic foundation, a structure, an analysis of resources and needs, and a system in place to measure results, all you're doing is Facebooking. Or blogging. Or tweeting.

More of both
Interruption-based marketing will never go away, but it's receding -- quickly. Research I published yesterday, for which we interviewed over 56 marketing leaders, found literally all of them are increasing their investment in content marketing and content strategy alike. Moreover, they're investing in increasing more complex and technologically difficult content channels, which makes a strategic framework all the more essential.

If not today, then soon -- very soon -- your marketing spend will shift away from advertising and direct response campaigns and into content initiatives that strengthen ties and deepen relationships with customers and prospects.

The best way to prepare is to start developing content marketing initiatives. And the only way to do that is to first do the research and the homework by developing a solid content strategy framework around these content marketing efforts.

This post was adapted from a column that originally appeared on iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Rebalancing for Content - The New Marketing Equation

There's been a rash of news stories recently with headlines so misleading it's hard to believe they passed editorial muster. Yet a quick search of Google News reveals no less than five articles with ledes very much like this one: "P&G to cut 1600 staff after CEO discovers digital media is free".

Any serious marketer knows "free" is nonsense. As with SEO, content marketing shakes marketers loose from the expense of the media buy. But budgets, staffing, skill sets, education, agency relationships, investments in technology and shifting strategy to align content with other marketing initiatives (yes, even advertising) all require substantial investment, and require marketers to rebalance both strategies and tactics.

That's what Content: The New Marketing Equation examines. Following on the heels of my book on content marketing, which looks at why content marketing matters, this research report examines how organizations are adapting to the challenges it presents: the need to think like a publisher rather than an advertiser; moving from episodic campaigns to sustained content initiatives; and creating a genuine culture of content throughout the organization because stories don't reside in the marketing department.

The report identifies the five stages of maturity an organization can achieve as it becomes more proficient at content marketing, including a self-assessment tool to score your own level of content proficiency. We also look at the content channels marketers are using now, and those they say they will in the future. As they move away from text-based channels, e.g. articles and blogging, into more technologically sophisticated areas such as video, mobile and image-based information, it's clear "free" does not enter into the equation.

For the report, we conducted 56 interviews with subject matter experts and companies as diverse as Coca-Cola, American Express, GE, IBM, Adobe, Ford Motor Company, Wells Fargo, and Intel. Below, the questions we asked each interview subject.

  • How much of your/your clients' content creation is outsourced vs created in house? (rough % question)
  • Have you run into any problems with outsourcing content creation to agencies?  Have they been able to effectively align the content they create with your brand ?
  • Can – and should - content marketing initiatives be reconciled and integrated with advertising?
  • What are the most effective types of content you've used to promote your brand?
  • How should organizations rebalance? How should internal and external resources be aligned? How do they integrate silos for more effective messaging and spend?
  • Have you needed to hire new employees or create new teams?  How many did you have to bring on?  Which teams did you have to create?  What drove you to the conclusion that this rebalancing was necessary?
  • Where are these new resources coming from? Should they be assigned to the same agency that handles advertising? Outsourced to PR firms, digital consultancies – or staffed in-house? Can they – and should they – be integrated with or otherwise reconciled with “classic” advertising?
  • How are internal staffing needs changing? How much content creation can realistically be outsourced – does this lead to a “clueless handler” situation?
  • How are determinations being made regarding when it’s better to buy vs. create or earn media?  Who ultimately makes that decision?
  • How do you determine the optimal mix between bought vs earned media?
  • What types of agencies (advertising, PR or new breed) can walk the walk and support content marketing initiatives? (Lord knows, everyone and their brother is talking the talk.)
  • What qualities do you look for when evaluating these agencies?
  • What are the most common 'red flags' you look for when deciding to work with an agency?
  • How do you get management buy-in and measure content marketing initiatives?
  • What new types of content do you anticipate adding to your arsenal in the next year?  Three years out?
  • Which types of content do you plan to phase out or found ineffective?
  • How is your organization adapting its structure to accommodate content marketing?
  • Are there any questions that you wish we had asked you/we should have asked? And who else do you think we should speak to for this research report?

Many thanks to the numerous people who tirelessly contributed their time, knowledge and expertise to making this research happen. We'd be delighted to hear your reactions and to provide direction or guidance on your own content marketing or strategy needs.

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

Thanks to the media and bloggers discussing this research:

Rebecca Lieb's picture

What’s Facebook Going to Do with All That Money?

Many of us grew up with Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. For the past few years the refrain has been Google, Google, Google. But this past week, it’s been all Facebook, all the time.

As we wait for the biggest IPO in tech history to shake out, the question I’m being asked most by clients and especially the mainstream media is, by far, “what’s Facebook going to do with all that money?”

I’d love it if “One Buck Zuck” would send me a check. Barring that, some reasonable conjectures can be drawn.

  1. Mobile Facebook’s S-1 filing contained all the usual risk disclaimers: changing market conditions, loss of key executives, that stuff. But there was one zinger in the boilerplate – Facebook’s statement that mobile is growing fast, and that the company can’t yet monetize it. It’s not too much of a leap from there to the conclusion that multiple millions of dollars can be applied to figuring this one out. An article published the day after the filing suggests we’ll see the first Facebook mobile ads in March. Yet mobile means different things to different users, fast as the channel is growing. Smartphones, tablets…when it comes to mobile advertising, Facebook will require more than one solution. And that’s to say nothing of Facebook Credits and other commerce opportunities on mobile platforms. There’s plenty of R&D opportunity for Facebook across the mobile spectrum.
  2. Data Data is Facebook’s core product. Not only do they have more of it every day on their users, that data is getting increasingly complex. In addition to basic demographic data, there’s friends and friends-of-friends. Groups they’re a part of, companies worked at, Likes, and soon, Actions, what they’re reading, listening to, eating and buying are only the beginning. Managing this data, parsing it, and making it useful and actionable to advertisers and marketers in ways that can help increase user engagement, create newer and more premium advertising products, extract deeper meaning and clarity from stores of data so complex it very nearly qualifies as big data is challenging, to say the least. It’s also critical to Facebook’s future. Data is what Facebook sells.
  3. Platform What’s next for Facebook’s platform? It’s currently central to a vital Facebook economy. Without that platform, companies ranging from Zynga to Buddy Media would hardly exist as we know them today. Media companies from the Wall Street Journal to Spotfiy wouldn’t be able to reach and interact with Facebook users. It’s critical to keep that platform open and to continually expand upon its scope. Is social commerce the next comer? Features that link Facebook more deeply into the real world? Without the platform, Facebook doesn’t have the data, so watch for new developments in this arena, too.
  4. Acquisitions Remember when Google was just a search engine? That was years ago, before YouTube, Blogger, Analytics and a host of other features that now seem integral to the company, but once upon a time were acquisitions. Google has largely become a roll-up, and Facebook could begin to follow that path as well (maybe by buying a search engine and finally incorporating real search into its platform?). Sure, Facebook’s made some small acquisitions in the past, but these are broadly viewed as more a bid to acquire talent, not technology. With a mind-boggling bank balance, that may well change.
  5. 5). Talent Silicon Valley engineers are high in demand, and you have to find a way to bring them to your company. In Facebook’s case, it’s not longer possible to do this with the lure of pre-IPO stock options. Facebook will soon be forced to pay a premium for new talent, particularly as some of an estimated 500 to 1,000 newly minted millionaires cash out. Sure, some will buy houses and cars. But others will yearn to get back to start-up culture. They’ll start new ventures, or even finance them. Facebook will pay more for talent in the long run, but their IPO will help to spark Silicon Valley’s economy, and that can only mean good things for innovation.

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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