Search Marketing, Thy Name is Google

I’m going to kick this off with an amazing statistic – on average, digital users only spend 1/5 the time searching  on Google than they do on Facebook (1:47 hours per month versus 7:45 hours per month). But, search marketing gets more marketing dollars than display advertising (the kind you typically find on Facebook) –  $55.7 is billion projected to be spent on search ads in 2104 versus only $51.8 billion for display advertising. When you consider the time variance of user activity online, this statistic shows that brands believe in the ROI of search:

Time Spent Online

Why is search marketing so important to brands? First, the ability to target a consumer based on a specific search query provides tremendous ROI to the marketer -IF in return the marketer provides a relevant path to conversion. If a consumer searches for “Michael Kors black pants”, and lets say Macy’s is on the first page of Google with a link to it’s retail page showing specifically Michael Kors black pants, the propensity for a consumer to convert on Macy’s would be very high. Now lets say I Google this term and Saks Fifth Avenue shows up first with a relevant text ad, but when I click through, it just goes to Saks home page. As a consumer, the conversion path isn’t relevant, so back I go to Google to find a truly relevant page.

Second, the ability to track ROI on search marketing is easier than with other types of media. When a brand sets up their ads, landing page and conversion pages to track correctly, Google Analytics and other analytics trackers are able to provide the advertiser the specific return – i.e., if I spent $5,000 on Google advertising for the keyterm “Michael Kors Black Pants,” I should know how many people clicked on the ad, and how many people purchased pants (or other items), from that ad click. It’s the combination of relevancy and ROI that makes search marketing a top digital channel for marketers – with the caveat that marketers need to use the channel correctly in order to realize the ROI potential.




The Art and Science of Digital Storytelling

5gfwg-y-arciic6xmigv-tl72ejkfbmt4t8yenimkbxeejxnn4zjnz2ss5ku7cxtDigital storytelling is the evolution of brand management. Since the concept of branding took off in the 1950s and 60s, the idea behind brand management, or marketing as we know it today, started when large CPG companies  noticed the quality levels of products being offered by competitors around them improving. A brand manager would be responsible for giving a product an identity that distinguished it from nearly indistinguishable competitors. This required an understanding of the target consumer and what we call a “branded proposition” that offered not only functional but also emotional value.

Fast forward to today – in order for brands to compete on the emotional level in consumers hearts, many have turned to digital storytelling. Some recent technologies allow marketers to tell highly involving and dynamic stories. Marketers can release dynamic video, and users can easily upload audio, video, and photos, effectively interacting and contributing to the brand in real time. More significantly, user-friendly interfaces give consumers easy-to-understand ways of being part of the storytelling process. This ease of interaction can result in increased engagement and an enhanced user experience. As an example, this year Marriott released CUR8, a mobile app which allows guests to share their favorite travel moments through digital videos on their social media networks:

In David Kwan’s blog, he lists the three ways  marketers can leverage media and technology to promote digital storytelling:

  1. Enlist users in the storytelling process
  2. Let users put their own images in stories
  3. Give users the tools to create, use and share their own content

In a turnaround from traditional marketing, consumers are now part of the story, and driving the emotion of the brand. Where will we go next?

Viral Marketing and Reflections on the Ice Bucket Challenge

It doesn’t get any better for a brand than the summer of 2014, when the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge took America by storm. If you haven’t heard about it, you’ve been under a rock: the Ice Bucket Challenge has quite literally “soaked” the nation. Everyone from celebrities to college mascots have poured a bucket of ice water over his or her head and challenged others do the same or make a donation to fight ALS within twenty-four hours.

People have shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and Aug. 13 and mentioned the challenge more than 2.2 million times on Twitter since July 29, according to those sites. My Facebook feed was taken over by friends and family doing the challenge. I even may have been challenged, but have yet to pour the water over my head. Donations to the ALS Association have also spiked, with over 260,000 new donors.

What many people might not know is that the Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t even originate with the ALS Association. The Ice Bucket Challenge had been making the rounds on the Internet for several weeks before it was tied to ALS. Matt Lauer, the host of NBC’s Today Show, took the Ice Bucket Challenge on July 15 after being challenged by the golfer Greg Norman, but pledged money to a hospice in Florida.

However, the association with ALS took off after Pete Frates, a former baseball player for Boston University suffering from ALS, took up the Ice Bucket Challenge. Frates can no longer speak, but his Ice Bucket Challenge started the association with ALS. In late July, Frates learned about the challenge from his friend, and nominated himself for the challenge. Instead of having ice water poured on his head, he posted a video of himself bouncing his head to “Ice Ice Baby,” the 1989 hit song by the rapper Vanilla Ice. He challenged some friends, and the stunt spread quickly through Boston circles, then across the web until everyone jumped in.

So for all the people at my office who are amazed at the marketing department of the ALS association – don’t be. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a classic example of how viral marketing should work. It’s not a creation of a marketing department, but something more organic.  On the subject of viral marketing, Tom Lamb, the chief marketing officer at Lowes, states, “If we start out with the intent of going viral, we drift far into a hollow message just to be entertaining.  On the other hand, it’s not a matter of running an extension of your national campaign. For it to work, it’s got to be a neat little idea that connects back to your brand, but is fun or engaging in a singular way.” In this regard the Ice Bucket Challenge succeeds immensely in its singular purpose. The videos themselves are concise in their message. It’s a basic rule of marketing –  Get your point across as succinctly as possible and as resonantly as possible.

So, what’s the answer to success in viral marketing? It starts with the right question: Is this something that people will connect to so quickly and viscerally they’ll want to see it again and again? If so, they’ll likely share it. The Ice Bucket Challenge hit it on the head – literally.

Mobile Advertising that Actually Works? Go Native.

mobile-adsThere is no denying that mobile ad spending is exploding as more consumers access the internet over their mobile devices. Mobile devices accounted for 55% of Internet usage in the United States in January 2104. Apps made up 47% of Internet traffic and 8% of traffic came from mobile browsers, according to data from comScore.

Correspondingly, by the end of 2014, according to eMarketer, more money will have been spent on mobile advertising than on newspaper, magazine and radio advertising. Mobile ad spending is set to surge by 83 percent in 2014, bringing in $8.04 billion more dollars than it did last year. Mobile ad spending is now the third most dominant ad medium, behind television and desktop advertising.

So advertisers recognize mobile as the platform to be on, and are putting their money where the people are. ButIn-feed-ads are they getting a return on their investment? Interestingly enough, many marketers don’t believe s0 – marketing and digital advertising experts consulted for a new eMarketer report gave mobile display advertising a B-minus for effectiveness. Several factors were cited as areas for improvement for mobile advertising, including improved creative – a migration away from static banners toward interactive formats that make use of all the capabilities on the mobile device and integration with the content experience.

The buzzword this year in mobile is native advertising, where advertising content is placed in the context of the user’s experience. And while some publishers and consumers blast them as just being sneaky, they are proving effective.


Say goodbye to banners and hello to sponsored content in your mobile newsfeed. Are you ready for it?

Team Mobile Responsive Website or Team Mobile App?

I “heart” apps. I also don’t mind using my Chrome browser on my phone (I have a Google Nexus 5). My husband is squarely in the browser camp – he has aI-heart-apps iPad tablet and hates downloading apps from the Apple Store. I think this begs the question – where are we going with mobile access?

A Nextweb article recommends that if companies can afford it, it’s highly recommended that they build both a responsive site and a mobile app in order to capture the entire mobile audience. The mobile app will provide a mobile centric experience for existing customers, while a responsive website can help provide an optimized experience to both old and new visitors browsing a company’s website or discovering it for the very first time. But from a user perspective, what is the preferred access point?

Analytics firm Flurry has published data on mobile usage by US consumers during Q1 2014. While users are spending more time on their devices (an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes per day, up four minutes on the same period last year), how they use that time has changed as well. Only 22 minutes per day are spent in the browser, with the balance of time focused on applications.


So by this data my husband is an anomaly. Users are still relying on applications to access the mobile web. Will this trend reverse as phones get keep getting bigger and bigger – the “phablets” as they have been dubbed? Will we migrate back to traditional web browsing with mobile-responsive websites? Or, since we are a generation used to accessing the mobile web via mobile apps, will we continue to use apps, no matter how large our phone is?

Following #FlatWillie, and questioning online communities in the social media era

#FlatWillie is on the move!

What is that you ask? This summer, the Northwestern University Alumni Association sent out a postal mailer to its alumni announcing a new online community – Our Northwestern.

To drive alumni to use the site, the mailer sent us all #FlatWillie. Cut him out, share him around town, and we could be entered in a weekly drawing to win a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card!

#FlatWillie’s been getting around – he’s been in London, Hong Kong, St. Louis, NYC and the American Southwest. My husband and I have done our part and have been hitting the town with #FlatWillie. He’s been to the Renaissance faire, and #FlatWillie also took in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

image In order to see who’s won the weekly gift card, you have to log onto Our Northwestern. Since I’ve been sharing #FlatWillie’s exploits on Twitter, it was the first time I actually checked out the site. It begs the question – why do I need this online community when I feel pretty plugged into Northwestern on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIN/Google+ already?

Is it perhaps this particular community – the academic community – that requires a separate online community? Universities are turning to social networking to create online learning communities that mix serious academic work, and connections among working scholars, with Facebook-style fun – without using Facebook. At the same time, what I consider to be the most “serious” of the social networks, LinkedIn, has built its reputation as a corporate networking, not academic networking, even though I belong to several NU alumni groups on that site.

While many colleges see LinkedIn as a complement to networking and an easy way to get current job titles and accurate contact information from graduates who might be slow to report changes through traditional channels­, other institutions and stand-alone alumni organizations view Linked­In warily, seeing it as potentially competing with membership programs carefully constructed over the years to offer alumni connections and related benefits. So even though LinkedIn has made a push to attract higher education to use LinkedIn as a alumni community platform, universities such as Northwestern are still creating their own community platforms.

Megan Reile posts in her 360Alumni blog that social networks are focused on individuals, and often feature “I” instead of “We”. LinkedIn is updated to reflect my accomplishments, and Facebook is updated with what I want/like/saw/did. Online communities, on the other hand, are meant to cultivate new relationships and connect people over a shared purpose – in #FlatWillie’s case, through our university. These communities are used by members to network, help one another, and share in school pride. In fact, 80% of participants in private online communities say they do so to help others.

image (1)Will #FlatWillie and university online communities continue to launch and prevail, or will alumni and other constituents choose to continue with multiple social media channels as their primary digital connection to their alma mater? And how will social media departments at universities (if universities even have one), be able to juggle managing both an online community and the multiple social media account necessary to capture all the online interactions of all of their constituents?