Disintermediation Increases in Hard Times

One trend I am noticing more and more as the advertising market sours and budgets decrease are vendors and publishers doing end-runs around agencies and key internal evangelists.
CMO’s and senior marketing managers are grasping for improvements in performance and tactics that can help them ink out any additional value from their current marketing budgets.  This desperation has opened the door for more nimble agencies (recently referred to as “insurgents”) and publishers to offer direct deals and tools that can deliver increases in performance and bottom line revenue.

One of the most aggressive user of disintermediation tactics right now is Google.  While they have claimed to be the partner to agencies, which has traditionally, driven the bulk of their business they are starting to be more aggressive in their direct dealings with companies.
Google is heavily promoting their tools for efficiency, performance and increased value and increasingly becoming a more trusted partner for brands.  Here are some of the ways Google is getting into the boardroom.

Avinash Kaushik Road Show – Avinash is a friend and a brilliant, engaging speaker and writes a valuable blog Occam’s Razor.  I think one of the best investments Google has made was to bring in Avinash and send him around to large companies to tout the value of analytics and digital marketing.  He talks about how to get the most out of your campaign by looking at the data and making changes where they have the most impact – powerful stuff in bad times.  Between his reputation and Google’s aggressiveness, he is getting in front of the most senior executives and making them aware of the opportunities in search and digital marketing.   At the same time they understand the power of digital.

More Free Stuff – in a time of decreasing budgets Google is rolling out more and more free stuff.  This free stuff is getting the attention of executives at all levels of the organization.  Some of our clients have resisted changing analytics vendors but as they see the power of Google Analytics and its wonderful price tag of “free” they are moving mountains to try and get it in place.   This has actually helped many agencies and marketers advance agendas for better analytics, multi-variant testing and increased budgets for search marketing.

Recession Marketing & Missed Opportunity – This is brilliant.  Come and in and show the “Missed Opportunity” they are leaving on the table in multiple forms of marketing.  My firm, Global Strategies pioneered the “Missed Opportunity Matrix” detailed usage is described in Search Engine Marketing Inc.

One of the biggest forms of sales pressure now is the “fear” that they are under spending the competition or leaving vast sums of opportunity on the table.  This is the one that is the most frustrating.  Many companies have cut budgets and us in the inside are trying to get more out of what we spend now but publishers are beating up the clients with how much more they should spend and we are caught in the middle of the frenzy.  We want them to spend more to increase brand, market share and actual sales but they are not willing so having Google, Yahoo and other publishers pressure them

Trend and Opportunity Tools – A recent deployment of Google Trends & Ad Planner has gotten the attention of many marketers.  While this data has been available to agencies for a while they are now aggressively shopping it to Marketing Intelligence and Marketing departments for them to use without having to go to the agency.  The trend tools are great for insights into what people are doing.  I personally thank Google for making this data public and exposing it to the MI teams since they are, in many cases, the key drivers of the Marketing mix and the associates spends.

Executive Stalking, GooglePlex Tours and Resort Conferences – Probably the biggest change I am finding is the stalking and precision interaction with key influencers.  Almost daily I am getting emails from mid –level and senior executives who have been approached directly by sales people offering them a better solution if they work directly with them or drop the current agency.  Again, this is not new but the people doing are often subcontractors, vendors and partners of the current AOR agency.

For my next company I want a GooglePlex and the press that goes with it.  Just an invite to the “Plex” makes even the most seasoned marketer giddy like a child on Christmas morning.  There are a number of vertical events where Google brings a host of MI and Marketing Executives to Google, put them up at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto and introduces to all the power of Google at the “Plex” with great speakers and presentations of tools and the raw power of the Google machine.
I am also getting calls from many of my clients that they have been asked to attend various “summits” and events that are fully funded.  These have been around awhile but with most companies having significant bans on travel this is becoming more and more popular.  Once you get them there you are able to “power sell” them and have direct dialogue without the interruption of agency partners.  The additional quality time on the slopes or links in invaluable.  I foresee these types of events growing.

This post was not to bash Google or complain about the tactics since in most cases their aggressiveness is advancing my agendas with large companies.  I do thank them for allowing me to stay neutral and ride the coat tails.  I do however get upset and may start closing some doors the more they try to bypass my AOR or label me as a barrier to the client’s success.

To be more successful I suggest these sales teams work closer with some of their most loyal evangelists and help them move the greater agenda rather than just trying to badger the client to buy more of something that might not be the best activity for them at this time.   By helping clients and agencies maximize the current spend they will ensure the tactic is successful and generates leads/revenue for the client.  Playing a s team rather than burning bridges in a down economy will result in even stronger bridges when the economy improves.

Tweet Hall – creating our own session

Here at SXSW in Austin the Twitter for Marketing session was full nearly 30 minutes before the session so we were not able to get into the room.  A bunch of those blocked from entering were frustrated and noticed a nice open area just down the hall and move there to have our own sessions. Not being deterred the 50+ rejects commenced to have our own session that turned out to be better than the actual session.
The hour went from 101, 201 to 501 as people shot out questions that interested and perplexed them:

Q: What is the best tool to use?
A: Most seemed to like Tweetdeck for their laptop and Twitterphone for their mobile device

Q: How do businesses make money using this?
A: There were examples of monitoring conversations to software downloads to connecting with prospects who had not found them via search.

Q: How do I separate my personal and business Twitter accounts?
A: Everyone agreed it was a must for many reasons such as liability, job security, mistake preventing etc.� Most use different tools to manage the accounts so they would never cross post.� For example, since the personal account was the most fluid they used Tweetdeck and used the Twitter site for the company activities.

Q: What are the best tools for my phone?
A:� Most people liked Twitterphone and others like Tweetie, and Twitterlater
We used the Twitter has tag #tweethall to represent the content and allow people to comment long after the event.

There is an excellent video of the questions and the value of this action at
http://www.lalunablanca.com/2009/03/tweethall-an-episodic-community-of-rejects/

Other coverage of #tweethall
http://www.globalstrategies.com/index.php/what-we-know/twitter-tips

Photos of the event

Pubcon Austin – Hear me speak!

pubcon-speak For those of you in the Austin area or that are flying in for PubCon South or SXSW  stop in and catch my session on the SEO Landscape where I will cover the following:

  • Is SEO still relevant?
  • What is the outlook for SEO – data from the new eMarketer report & SEMPO
  • What should people be thinking about?
  • 5 things that are frustrating me about the industry
  • 5 Recommendations for success

SEO is increasing in popularity due to the high cost of PPC as well as a new understaning by companies to integrate these best practices into their current workflow.  I will talk abotu what I think is changing and how companies can leverage and prepare for the new world of Search Engine Optimization.

SES London 2009 Observations & Comments

I have a particular affinity to the SES London conference.  It was at this event about 7 years ago the GSI partners and I were referred to as the “dream team” of search and we have had our heads high with pride and delivered killer work since.  Attending the event also means I get to go on a long weekend with my wife to some great European city – this year we went to Paris.

What did I observe this year?

People want results – in all of the sessions and post session Q&A I heard people wanted more than fluff.  They wanted something actionable and how to get “more” out of what they are already doing.  The keyword research session was full with people wanting to know how to expand their keyword lists and better organize them to drive more people to their sites.  Many attendees were interested in any way they could find to optimize their campaigns and there was a significant undercurrent of cutting the clutter and just getting to the facts of how to make paid search work harder

Accountability & Validation – Interesting was how many people wanted accountability in the most accountable form of marketing.  The analytics sessions were full and people were asking hard questions about tracking conversions for both SEO and PPC.

SEO is hot – I was surprised by the number of people asking questions about SEO best practices even in paid search sessions.  The attendees I spoke with are under pressure to get more “free traffic” and ensure they have done all they can to rank well with organic search.  The sessions on optimizing videos were full – one person told me they needed to get in and learn since YouTube was the #2 search engine and they must rank well in YouTube for their important words.

Incorrect Information – I am amazed at the number of speakers who really have no clue how things “really” work.  I am not here to point anyone out but I think all the events may want to have a better speaker vetting process for those they allow to speak internationally.  What works in the US may not work in another country.  Just because someone knows someone or is a power blogger does not mean they are really good at doing what is best for the client. Note to attendees – just because you heard it at a conference or read it on a blog does not mean it is correct.  The team at Global Strategies always try to do a debunking session after each conference to see what clietns and prospects have learned, half-heard or now believe that may have a negative  impact on their business.

New Search Economic Models – I attended this session looking to see if anyone has cracked the code to one of the crazyiest compensation systems in marketing.  Search Marketing vendors have to contend with so many different pricing models it is insane.  The panel made some great recommendations about new models and how you should develop a performance plan for SEO which is great.  I am all for performance models in SEO but most companies can’t tack PPC performance let along traffic from organic search.   My frustration with the panel was that I did not hear ways to overcome the many reasons it is not practical.

Getting Back to Basics – in my session on “Integrating Search with Other Activities” there were 137 attendees in the session and I asked a series of questions tot he audience and their answers quite frankly amazed and scared the hell out of me.
Question 1 – How many know what their bounce rate is for their site, campaigns or specific pages?   4 people indicated they knew.  This is frightening.  These are people who you got to your site and did not go deeper.  We call these “one click wonders” and if you used paid search to get them you need to figure out why you are not connecting very fast.

Question 2 – How many of you have integrated your paid and organic data and analyzed it for opportunities?  3 attendees indicated they had done this.

Search Marketplace Growth – I moderated a panel on the State of Search Marketing.  There was some great data which I will report on shortly.  I asked the question of the audience about what organizations like SEMPO, the conference and evangelists can do for the marketplace and the following are some of the responses:

  1. Educate senior marketers.  Most search marketing engagements enter the company at too low a level.  We need education about search strategy and value to CMO’s and CEO’s in order to get more expansion.
  2. Consistent best practices – there are to many differing ways to optimize content and no real definition of priority.  Can anyone develop standard best practices.
  3. Support for in-house teams – these seems to be growing and as budgets are cut for agencies or agency fees reduced people will need support.  There were a few people who were asking about where they can get more information.

Networking and Catching Up – Maybe it is the abundance of pubs in London that make it one of the better networking events.  Everyone forms into groups and hits a restaurant where the most valuable updates are exchanged.  From the restaurant many regroup in the hotel bar which was packed every night to past 2am and this is where the “real information” is exchanged.  You learn about agency defections, client wins and losses and as the alcohol takes hold what techniques are working and not and how much more demanding clients have become.

I have to hand it to Stuart and Marylin for pullig off a great event.  Looking forward to next year!

Hyperlinking for Intellectually Challenged Businesses

Recently I needed to resolve a problem with my Health Savings Account.  This is a cool program that deducts money from your pre-tax dollars and holds it for you.  You are given a Visa debit card to pay for your medical supplies and doctors payments that are not covered by insurance.  What I did not know is I needed to send in my receipts since the IRS does not want me to use these previous non-taxable dollars on anything but healthcare – unfortunately I did not get that memo so I needed to get the form from their site via my account to submit the invoice to get it approved.

When I clicked on the link to get the needed form I encountered something that I personally can’t comprehend.   The link to the form pops up a PDF and in the PDF is a note telling me the form has been moved to another location.  For the life of me I cannot understand why they would not just change the link to the form or even easier put the pdf form in that location.   My only rational is that someone did not understand how to do it and it was just easier to upload a new PDF with the same name – again I am perplexed why that PDF could not be the form rather than a note the form has been moved.

Maybe someday I will understand how the web teams in large companies think.

Are you Findable?

That is the question I am starting to ask marketers who just don’t seem to get it.

In my Top Shelf SEO session at Webmasterworld Vegas I asked the room how many people using an iPhone have had a problem finding the information they were looking for an nearly all the hands went up.  This is fundamental – you need to be findable.

Over the past few weeks I have done a number of Search and Digital Marketing summits for large technical companies.  At each of these I ask the audience a set of specific questions:

  1. Do you use search engines?  100% of the hands
  2. If you were to make a purchase over $300 how many would go to search engines for your research?  100% of the hands
  3. How many of you are selling products or services values over $300? Nearly all the hands went up – they new the next question!
  4. How many of you are using Search Engine Marketing to make your products findable?  Only a few hands went up!

The point of these questions was to show that while people are heavy users of search in their private lives they have not made the connection that people looking for their products might do the same – why is this?

Digital Marketing commentary from a global marketing road warrior.