Category Archives: Integrated Marketing

SEO creates more problems than it fixes

Just before I left on vacation I had an executive make that comment to me after explaining some of the issues that we found on the site.   This is actually more common of a response than you think.

SEO, unlike many other forms of marketing requires you to look at many facets of the web site and ask what can turn out to be hard questions and choices for many companies.
The reality is most web sites suck and are not built with consumers in mind but to showcase business units, egos or products.  Many of the people who create them have no idea of how to sell anything.  We can’t blame the developers since they are only laying the code that enables the features and functions identified by the information architects, web strategists and marketing teams.  These are the people who believe they need to boast about how good they are while not bothering to think about how a consumer might actually want to interact with their content.
Here are some other issues I have recently faced:

Hierarchical Navigation

Most sites are built around the assumption that a visitor would only come to the home page.  We commonly have this conversation with large brands.  We are told If someone wants a “big red widget” they know we are the leader so they will come to www.bigcompanysite.com and start interacting with us.
When we look at their analytics we can often see a significant decrease in traffic t the home page but overall site visitors are the same or increasing.  When we look at most common point of entries it is often a popular product or category of product with anywhere from 10 to 60% of the entire site traffic going to a set of internal pages from search engines.
When this is explained to the client they get frustrated and simply state they don’t have the time or resources to fix the content and navigation at the lower levers and put not on the wish list for the next update.

Template Changes

I have been preaching for years about the economies of scale that can be realized if we can make some of the most fundamental changes to we page templates. I have publicly presented examples from IBM where a single template update in the US which was implemented in 100 countries resulted in the local market page for that keyword phrase ranking in the top three position in over 50 countries with a month resulting in a exponential increase in traffic.
When we present these and the supporting content as well as the business case we are presented with anger and a myriad of excuses that you would not believe.   The most common after “our standards won’t allow that change” is “our developers are too busy adding new bells and whistles that they can’t make the template changes” and on goes the battle.
So why are we plagued by this lack of support for change in both thinking like a consumer as well as developing sites that will generate exponential traffic at a cost significantly lower than any other form of marketing?

The most common reasons I have identified are:

Lack of Understanding:
This lack of understanding ranges from fundamentals of consumer behavior, ecommerce best practices to the basics of search optimization.  Developers often build segments of the site independent of each other to specifications and requirements  – more of this is happening with rapid prototyping and agile computing techniques.
Organizations must start integrating the development process with key QA check points to ensure that the site is developed with the original goals in mind.

Lack of Concept Police:

Another example, a few years back I was brought in as a web marketing consultant on an information hub site.  The primary revenue streams were to be banners followed by selling and up selling publications and additional information along 40+ topical interest areas.  As the large agency was presenting the first set of pages for the site everyone was oohing and ahhing over how beautiful the site looked and how fast it was loading.  Since it was the first meeting I was in and they were not ready for me I was quietly squirming in my char.  The CEO of the company noticed my obvious displeasure and asked me if something was wrong.   I simply asked “where will the banners go?” and the room was dead silent –  the creative director quickly responded “Well there is obviously no room on the page” and I, somewhat stunned, responded “but that is how they plan to make money”.  More silence followed by frustration by the developers.

We moved on to the database team which showed the schema.  Once they presented I guess I winced a few times during the presentation prompting the CEO to ask me, sort of sarcastically, if I also had problem with the database structure.  I asked the database agency where were the 40 fields to capture topical interest as well as the dynamic triggers to map to new content to interests which could generate a list of names to ping to tell them there was new content in their area if interest.  I explained to the database developers that upselling known interested prospects was the second form of revenue.
The moral of the story, where was no one on any of the teams who was ensuring the site matched the original objectives for making money.  In the end, they lost months working with people who only wanted to create something pretty rather than functional that helped achieve the business goals.

Organizations must be brutal in their enforcement of the business of objectives of the site.  If you do not you will end up with millions of pages which don’t work hard to achieve the goals set forth to justify its existence.

Lack of Integration:

Quite often all of the representative teams and disciplines are separate and none of them work together making it impossible to ensure a synchronized message.  Often the search team comes in at the end to “fix” the site to rank well rather than in the beginning to ensure what is developed will be friendly with search engines. This is the true money savings and force multiplier companies need.  Integrating search into the workflow as well as analytics will increase the effectiveness of sites exponentially.

We have worked with large companies like Samsung to integrate content, analytics and visitor flow into the development process which not only yields benefits in the main market like the US but to any market where the end result is deployed regardless of language.

Unwillingness to Change Process or Precedent:

This is a wide segment ranging from a simple unwillingness to change  – lets just keep Frankensteining the site until it looks like Jed Clampet’s old shack in the woods without any thought to how the precedent or process is negatively impacting the site.  Too few people will speak of about things they know are wrong especially in today’s climate.
At least a dozen times a week I am told about some rule or regulation that prevents a change on the site yet no one can produce the documentation or who make the rule.  In the majority of the cases when the reason there is an issue is articulated to the approving authority the change gets made.   At IBM about four years ago the Web Effectiveness team and I reviewed the Style Guide and identified well over 100 changes to the styles and writing rules to make them more search friendly. In the end, of the 100 recommended changes, only a handful needed more justification and for those we could not give enough justification for they were granting exceptions to those BU’s who believe it was the right thing to do.  Once we had definitive proof from the test we make the case and got even the most rigid rules changed.

Arrogance

A few years back I had a heated debate about the most logical pathway of visitors to the site and what their intentions were.  The lead Information Architect actually told me to shut up and leave the meeting.  As I looked rather stunned he went on to explain to me that he had a PhD in consumer behaviors and Usability and knew what was best for the site.  About six months later the site was updated to take out those lab proven best practices and replaced with good ole common sense and pathway analysis proven navigation and content.

The net is that we need to all stop and take a deep breath.  All web owners should adopt one of David Ogilvy’s mandated in his agency “We sell or else” – and I believe much of the crap and stupidly that goes into web sites an optimization programs will be eliminated since job one will be moving product and how to do that the most effective way possible.

Forrester Expects Significant Growth in Digital Tactics

This weekend I have received a number of email and seen many tweets about the growth in social media predicted by Forrester and covered by Andy Beal from Marketing Pilgrim http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2009/04/forrester-social-media-growth.html

In the Forrester chart there are some interesting predictions.

Tactic CAGR Growth
Social Media 34%
Mobile Advertising 27%
Display Advertising 17%
Search Marketing 15%
Email Marketing 11%

While it is great to see all of these marketing techniques are predicted t go up I think there is a fundamental problem we need to address:

Marketing Mix Allocation – what part of the mix will be cannibalized by this increase in spend in these digital tactics? The biggest barriers to increased shifts in precious marketing dollars to digital marketing is the media mix. Many marketers are terrified of making this shift without any guarantee that the exact numbers of leads or eyeballs will be made up in the new tactic.

Tactic Integration and how we might get them to work collaboratively. These all have the ability to be ran with a moderate degree of success as independent tactics but the real value will be achieved when they are all integrated and treated as a relay race by linking of the hand offs to one another.

Resources with the exception of Display Advertising, all of these other tactics require more labor than traditional online and offline advertising tactics. Where will these people come from? How much of this will be eaten up by agency fees? This will be the challenge to marketing organizations moving forward.

What can we do to help achieve these numbers?
Education we need to start now educating everyone in the marketing chain on the value of these tactics. We need to education them that they cant and should not be measured under traditional metrics of sales and awareness but within their own set of metrics based on the desired actions.

Metrics we need to establish precise metrics for each activity. If we are going to leverage Facebook then we need to establish specific goal for that activity how many followers or a specific number of comments or uploaded should be the metrics.

Integration start thinking of the logical hand offs and start making then integration and connects necessary in the organization. For social media start to understand how we can reach the influencers now via our press outreach. Leverage search rankings to understand the authority of those sites in the top listings. Document the hand offs between the tactics and use that as another proxy for success how we can integrate them.

Leveraging Searcher Stimuli

I recently had the experience with a client where they had enough infighting with various marketing and advertising tactical silos as well as the functional units of the agency all playing one tactic off the other to gain a sliver of the ever decreasing marketing budget.  They told everyone they are tired of the fighting and did not want any more inter-competitive studies but how it can all work together.  Finally –  the client takes charge and understands that it all works together.
One of the ways we have used to get everyone to place nice is to emphasize the interaction between the tactics.  In the end, all forms of marketing are potential influencers that may prompt someone to go and search  – this reaction we call Searcher Stimuli.

To experienced Search Marketers team it is a no brainer that these should be synchronized not only paid and
organic but with social media and any digital.  We are working on a model around “searcher stimuli” which are all the elements that trigger the “need” to search – by aligning them with the intent of the searcher and the right landing page we create a perfect opportunity to move them along the buy cycle.  We have identified the three key elements as:

Mass Media:

This is the form of stimuli that based on seeing a TV commercial, hearing a radio spot or reading the newspaper are prompted to search.  This is a hard one for may traditional marketers to accept. They get frustrated when they put in a perfectly good 800 number in the ad and people search in Google for information rather than calling the number.

At the same time, we have found search connected to a mass media spot to be a great proxy for how well a tag line; offer or specific phrase resonated with the market.  In reality what happens is they don’t have a pen to write the number or they later recall the ad and don’t remember the advertiser.  I have done this a few times with my children.   They laugh at a commercial and think that it was cool, funny or interesting and a few hours later I ask them who the ad was for and they can’t recall and will typically search for it in YouTube or Google to get the company.

Word of Mouth and Social Media:

With this form of stimuli the searcher searches after having contact with a friend or associate who has the product or spoke highly or poorly of it.  This new interest can prompt someone to go and search for more information.

Social media is starting to play more of a role in this area. People are reading blogs or looking at pictures in Flickr and get the idea that they want or need a product, service or want to go to a destination and will often search for more information.  Interestingly enough we are often finding that the WOM stimuli may be as a result of some form of mass media advertising that prompted the interest and reaction from the person passing on the information.

Searcher Need:
This form of stimuli comes typically from self-awareness or need.  If your old TV dies and you suddenly need a new one many will go to the web and search for information about new models.  As with WOM, they may have seen a TV commercial recently for a specific brand and then go and search for that brand and the type of TV they want.  The same is true for auto insurance.  One of the largest drivers for searching for auto insurance quotes is triggered by receiving the quarterly or semi-annual bill.  When they get the bill they will often look for a cheaper alternative.

We will be writing more about this in the future.  Are there other stimuli?

Current Marketing Threats & Opportunities

I have been asked by a number of people about the current state of the market and the key competitive threats and opportunities. There have been many different context put on that question but I wanted to share some of my answers and see if there are any differing thought. While many of these may seem like big vs. small agency that is not the case. The opportunities are real for either agency to win this this current economy.

Threat Fear

CMOs and other senior marketers are paralyzed with fear and most likely wont be trying anything new, deploying big ideas or switching to new agencies or unproven marketing tactics. This is normal they want to save their jobs and the precious resources they have. However, doing nothing will lead to stagnation and the more aggressive marketer to gain market and mindshare.

Opportunity – Offering smaller success/results driven activities will allow agencies to be active in these companies. While these projects wont drive the revenue levels that big idea projects does they do allow you to have a favorable view from the clients and as the economy turns they will remember and reward your loyalty and desire to help them in times of need.
Threat Consumer entrenchment
Times are tough and the purse strings are knotted shut. Consumers are only buying things they must have and are making harder decisions on what to buy and which to choose. They are asking “trusted strangers” their opinions and doing more detailed searches for reviews and experiences and not just buying on brand loyalty.

Opportunity this is the perfect opportunity to leverage tactics that actually sell and connect with people during the buy cycle. Integrating search and social media and searcher interest modeling we can find them during various phases of the buy cycle. This helps us catch anyone who wants the products but more focused on those actually ready to buy.

Threat Demand for Performance Improvement & Instant Wins
Every client and prospect I have met with tells me that they must sell things now. It is scary how many agencies hear this and try to offer a big idea instead of helping them sell product now. We see a lot of inefficiency in work that is being done by large agencies and there must be a refocus to sales while running the parallel big idea and branding programs.

Opportunity – If we can do an assessment and find the low hanging fruit for companies we can identify these quick wins where we can move the needle. Similar to the fear opportunity we can get in do something quick and then show how smart and nimble we are to gain more access.

Threat Google
Google is aggressively working to disintermediate the agency and key relationships. With the recent layoff of 200 sales and marketing staff this will only increase. They are showing the inefficiencies of agencies and doing it at higher levels of the organization where the greatest loyalty lives. Google is leveraging Avinash and interesting presentations to get access to senior managers who can still green light projects or shift ad budgets. I have seen the power of these very persuasive presentations that has opened doors and opportunities at many companies.

Opportunity Work more closely with Google as a partner rather then pushing them away. Leverage the summits that you can do with them to gain more interest and the value of integrating search with other forms of marketing. Take advantage of the new thinking that comes from executives curiosity about bounce rates and the missed opportunities you can capture by increasing search and analytics programs.

Threat Social Media Evangelists & Popularity

Most of these people are hacks but they are getting attention. They are getting access now that Digital Strategists should be getting. They wield a powerful message of change and voice of the consumer in a time of desperation that is getting the attention of senior marketers. Like every red hot tactic that came before; marketers will run amok and spend a lot of wasted dollars without really understanding the true business value of these tactics.

I would caution any marketer that hears a presentation o social media with only examples of How Obama did it or How Zappos is doing it. Unless they are the owner of those programs ask them what they have done. Both of these are very powerful success stories but the reality of both cases is they are backed by a solid foundation of service and value. Would Zappos social media be as successful if they did not have a killer product and even better customer service?

Money is shifting from other forms of marketing into social media activities. The fractured nature of the social media offering of most agencies is a problem. They are hiring the evangelists who really dont understand corporate dynamics of marketing integration for the business applications of social media.

The other key issues is because of the access and attention they are getting with senior marketers they are starting to gain some power over marketing budgets while the big agency still has the big relationship they need to be wary of the nimble insurgents who are getting time with the CMO and making a case for more integration and tactical services which runs counter to the ideas of most agencies.

Opportunity All agencies need to be out there evangelizing on the whole ecosystem. Agencies need bloggers talking about these prates and examples within the agencies. This will get more attention and really help push us into the evangelist phases. By getting more discussion time via blogs, conferences and whitepapers we can drive the changes and showcase how smart we really are in integrated digital marketing.
The biggest advantage the large agency has is access. They have the CMO and marketing team on speed dial and if they can get in with a credible offer they can debunk the ideals of the average Social Media guru. With social media, like with search, we can get into the organization. Deploying both of these requires access to both people and teams where we can understand other needs. We have positioned search as a wedge play where it opens the door for more opportunity.

Threat Global Sales & Execution

Many companies are looking for sales outside of the US. A recent interview with HP CMO in B2B Magazine indicated that 69% of their growth is coming from outside the US. This has been the case for many companies from Amazon to Zurich Financial much of the revenue is coming from outside the US and significantly more now from emerging markets.
One big problem with traditional and digital agencies is they have significant global footprints they just dont leverage it well. Many of the local offices come from acquisitions which have their owner agendas and P&Ls to content with and view integration is a potential drain on their individual performance. Most agencies dont have a central advocate for global business within their multinational clients. This really needs to change. Clients are starting to ask for a more coordinated global approach to strategy but local coordination. I have seen a number of recent cases where local assignments were lost due to the perceived dysfunction of the parent agency or a simple lack of communication about the opportunity.

Opportunity If agencies can harness their networks globally and have a seamless hand off I believe they can generate a lot of money not only in the US but also around the world. Companies want market assessments and want to test opportunities in these markets which the local markets typically dont have budget to fund this discovery. We are seeing these projects go to smaller agencies to conduct which opens fore opportunity for the nimble shop to take business from the bigger agencies.
With search marketing we can estimate market opportunity via search demand. We have done this for various multinational and it has helped them understand the the untapped opportunities. If the agency can do this simple activity for them it could open the door for other local assignments in various forum of digital services that could be passed on to the local offices increasing the overall agency revenue.

Threat Digital Migration
This is the elephant in the room. That most large corporations and agencies dont want to admit. There are a significant the number of people moving to digital and the companies are not moving as quickly. According to a recent study 63% of CMOs are moving significant shares of their budgets to digital marketing.
Corporate marketing programs and their antiquated Websites are not mirroring how people consume information in the digital age. Yes, TV commercials are still very important especially for new products but they must be complimented by search and social/word of mouth activities.

Opportunity - The opportunity for large agencies is to understand this migration and start aligning a significant digital collaboration to each of these programs. If it is integrated at the beginning using agency digital resources you have effectively blocked new players from entering the company. The insurgent agencies are using thee as tactics to enter the company pointing out that the big agencies dont understand the synergies.
It is critical that the big agency must mandate a coordinated paid search program to align with the TV commercial fighting. To not capture that uplift in searcher volume is negligence on both the agency and corporate marketer and will guarantee a loss of that additional revenue to a smaller shop or the engine directly.

Other threats?