Category Archives: Online Advertising

MetLife’s new ad, featuring Schroeder, is more than just a rich banner – it’s an interactive experience and game that encourages the user to play the keyboard to help Schroeder successfully play a mini concerto in what looks like Carnegie Hall. It’s a brilliant way to engage with users and keep their attention for more than a split second, and the scoring and social sharing ensured this unique experience went viral.

You can view a video of how the ad works here:

This is easily one of the best banner ad executions since the I’m a Mac banners that also ran on the NY Times home page. It must be the high dollar cost of the ad placement on that brings out the best in banner creative.

If you missed the ad, you can play the game on Facebook, or catch it on March 1st on


Brilliant MetLife Ad

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Groupon is Not a Marketing Strategy

Groupon logo.

Image via Wikipedia

Groupon‘s UK Managing Director Chris Muhr opined today that the reason Google would want to purchase Groupon was because Groupon has “…something that Google does not have and no one else has and that we have really tapped a new market,” but is it really a new market or have the just tapped into the greed and laziness of businesses who long for days of old media? I think it’s the later, which is why the idea of Groupon is at once appealing and dangerous to small businesses and brands all over. But first a bit of background.

How Groupon Works – Groupon highlights one business in each city every day with a sale that’s too good to pass up. (They also have “side deals” and Groupon Stores, but we’ll focus on the main deal here.) Usually 50% or more off retail price of a service or item. They like to focus on a price range that makes the item easily bought on impulse and guide businesses to try to stay under $50 for the best results. So if you sell wine for $30 a bottle they’ll want you to offer it for $12-$15 on Groupon. Then Groupon takes 50% of every transaction successfully processed through the offer. So to continue the example, if you sell wine for $30 regularly, you’ll put in on Groupon at $12 and you’ll end up with $6 per bottle sold. They’ll also set a tipping point for the deal to be activated (the “group”” in Groupon) and will also let you cap your deal at a certain amount of sales. It’s pretty easy to see that if you don’t have much margin built into your product, you’ll be in the red on every sale, depending on how you structure your Groupon. And if you can give up 75% of revenue and still make a profit, it’s likely going to be a very small one, which means you need to sell a lot of units to make any money.

So, then why does a business use Groupon? Businesses use Groupon because they can drive a large number of visitors to a store location with a single event. They hope that the new customers reached by Groupon will buy additional items above what is advertised (if you’re losing money on your Groupon this is considered a “loss leader” strategy,) and/or you hope that they become loyal customers that come back. But I also think they use Groupon because they’re lazy. That’s right. Lazy. And here’s why.

Groupon works a lot like a newspaper ad used to. You find the biggest circulation possible, you make an appealing offer and you hope that you get customers that will come in and like your business. It’s the old “spray and pray” model of marketing that worked so well in the days of mass production and mass consumption. Get it in front of them and they will buy. It takes little thought, little effort. It doesn’t take cultivating relationships, building a brand or finding customers who really need your service. It’s the laziest form of marketing out there.

If you’re a business you have four critical attributes that help drive sales: your brand, your prices, your awareness level and your location. There are of course many more; but let’s look at these four for a moment.

Your Brand – If you have a strong, growing brand, you don’t need Groupon. Your brand drives customers, customer loyalty, word of mouth marketing and strong margins. You can charge more, spend less on advertising and focus on growing your brand through unique experiences and high quality products. It’s a virtuous cycle, but one which few companies get into and fewer still that can maintain it.

Your Prices – If you don’t have a strong brand but you have incredibly low prices then you’ve defined yourself as the low cost leader, you’re first in the race to the bottom and you know you’ll live a life of low margins and need to move a lot of units to make up for it. You also aren’t ideal for Groupon because you probably have a brand associated with being the low cost leader, and Groupon’s pricing structure doesn’t work well in a low margin world (as outlined above.) If you’re priced in the middle of the market you really don’t have a lever for sales on prices because customers can go to the low cost leader.

Your Awareness Level – Among your customer base your awareness level is what drives repeat visits, word of mouth and new customer acquisition. If you have great awareness, if everyone knows that you’re the only 24 hour locksmith or the only tux rental place in town then you’ve got great awareness. If you’re one of 12 women’s clothing stores, like a Chico’s in a strip mall somewhere, you’re awareness level isn’t great. Groupon starts to sound like a good idea here.

Your Location – Unless you’re a virtual retailer with a strong ecommerce presence, you’re really limited to the surrounding area for your customers. How far they’re willing to travel to get to you is a function of all three above. Groupon makes sense here too.

So if you’re a middling business with little or no brand, little or no price differentiation, and a fixed customer base that is more or less only growing with the population in your area, then you have only a few levers to pull to make your business go. You can go about the hard work of building a brand in your community. Connecting with core customers, building word of mouth by creating an amazing experience, or demonstrating expertise above and beyond the competition. Or you can cut your prices, be the unbeatable low cost leader and price match anyone else. People know that they’ll get the lowest price from you and that goes a long way. Or you can increase your awareness by advertising, sponsoring events, etc. Or you can open more locations, a capital intensive process that may or may not work for your business.

Or, you can Groupon. Because with Groupon you don’t need to do any of that. You just spray and pray. Cut the prices on an item and let Groupon do the rest. But is that really it? Do the customers come back? Do the customers care that you exist? Do the customers remember who you are and where to go the next time they need something you provide? There are plenty of Groupon disaster examples on the Web that say “No.” Because without thoughtful marketing in place, Groupon is just a flash in the pan.

In the PR trade they say “Getting on TechCrunch is not a PR strategy.” I say “Getting on Groupon is not a marketing strategy.” And it’s where I think Chris Muhr is wrong. Google provides the savvy, thoughtful marketer a lot more than Groupon ever could. It provides the people willing to invest in their brand, their customer experience and their awareness with an avenue to showcase their business to people actually looking for them, not just people looking for a rock-bottom deal.

This goes for big brands as well as small businesses. If your brand is flagging, and you’re undifferentiated among your competitors Groupon is not going to solve your woes. It doesn’t matter how many gift cards you sell if you can’t convert those customers into repeat customers and advocates of your brand. And if you don’t fundamentally change your brand and the customer experience then Groupon will be nothing more than crack for your marketing department. Because each time you run a Groupon you’re high will be a little less than the last time and your hangover will be a little worse. For every Groupon you run, you dilute your brand a little bit. Do it once and it’s a marketing stunt. Do it over and over and you begin to redefine the value of your product or service. You hurt your brand and any differentiation you had. You’ve chosen the low cost leader, commodity approach. Prepare to accept the consequences.

So can Groupon work? Absolutely. Is it the right answer? Maybe once. Is it a strategy? Absolutely not. Is it easy? Too easy. Small businesses and big brands should focus on reengineering their customer experience from the web site to the warranty service. And when that is done then, maybe, it’ll be time to shout it to the world with Groupon. But more likely, the people that have been blown away by the change in your service will have already told the people you want to reach. Don’t be lazy. Do your job. Your brand and your bottom line will thank you.

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Small business video marketing – using a call to action

video call to action

I recently had the opportunity to write a guest column about online video marketing over at ReelSEO, and I focused on the importance of including a call to action in your video to encourage viewers to take action after watching.   Whether it’s subscribing to your YouTube channel, sharing the video with a friend, visiting a website or your store; a call to action is critical to creating measurable ROI for your video marketing program.

Here’s an excerpt of HOW TO: Create a Call to Action in Small Business Video, read the rest over at ReelSEO:

A video without a strong CTA is a missed opportunity for a small business looking to create new business from their video marketing. This is an important difference between video marketing for big brands and video marketing for small businesses. A large brand can post a video and use “softer” measures of success such as reach, brand recall, and impressions, but small businesses have limited budgets and success is measured in terms of ringing the cash register.

Image via ReelSEO.

Disclosure: I work for TurnHere. We make and promote video for small businesses.

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Who Still Thinks We Want to See More Ads Online?

fireflyvideo logo

Apparently these guys do.  Firefly is a new company specializing in taking existing pre-roll video ad content and serving it in standard banner ads.  When you roll over them they pop-up a takeover window and play the video ad(s). Which begs the question, is there really a demand to see more pre-roll ads? Does anyone like pre-roll advertising? (I mean, besides the advertisers?)  Typically I find myself surfing Facebook for 30 seconds while I wait for the pre-roll to end.

If you want to engage me, give me something worth watching.  I haven’t clicked on a banner ad intentionally in at least a decade. Even with today’s announcement that streak seems likely to stay intact for another 10 years.

What do you think? Will pre-roll ads in banners make you more likely to click? Watch for yourself and let me know in the comments!

Image from NewTeeVee.

*These are my personal views as always, and not those of my company.

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Stop Praying for Viral Video

Beyond Viral book by Kevin Nalts McNalty

If you work in the online video space for more than 30-seconds you’re bound to get asked this question, “How do I make a viral video?”  Spend more than 30 days in the industry and you’ll feel like Brett Wilson, CEO of TubeMogul feels about the phrase viral video:

There are a few buzzwords that irk me. First is “viral video.” A viral video is a rare and beautiful thing, but we know that only about .33 percent of videos on YouTube have over a million views, and there are a lot that are effective that have far fewer views (53 percent of videos on YouTube have less than 500 views). People throw around this term carelessly to describe any video made for the web. Let’s just use the term web video. I was cheering when Rob Davis from Ogilvy said the same thing on stage this week at the Brightcove Video Monetization Summit in NY.

He’s not the only one.  Kevin “Nalts” McNalty is currently writing a book on online video called, appropriately, Beyond Viral, which we hope comes out sooner than later.

And to add two more to the growing crowd of those with a distaste for the words viral video, check out Mike Arauz’s presentation (slides + audio) from SXSW ’10, Web Video Thunderdome, where he lobbies instead for the term “spreadable” or “shareable” videos.

Oh, and of course you can add one more name to the petition to stop praying for viral video – me.

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Twitter – The Web’s TV Guide?

Is Twitter the Web’s TV guide? A recent study from TubeMogul suggests that we’re taking video links seriously in our Twitter feeds. MediaPost reports:

A curious bit of data emerged from yesterday’s study of Q1 2010 video metrics from Brightcove and TubeMogul. Twitter referrals to videos on every major category of destination resulted in longer viewing times than any other traffic source.

This is the battle that Twitter and Facebook are waging against Google.  They’re betting that the information surfaced by our friends, including video, is more valuable to us than machine-returned results.

And while Google still drives the lion’s share of the eyeballs, a more engaged eyeball is a more valuable one.  As online video advertising grows, the audiences that engage are the ones that will monetize.  The fight for the dollars in online video will only intensify as the online video market surges from $1.4 billion to $5.2 billion by 2014.

online video advertising growth graph

As brands and businesses try to figure out online video will they go for the mass of views or the engaged viewers that are highly targeted? Only time will tell.

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My Talk on Video Search Engine Optimization

Vanessa Zamora interviews me at Pubcon Dallas

Vanessa Zamora interviews me at Pubcon Dallas

I’m a bit tardy in getting this up, but last month I had the opportunity to speak at Pubcon Dallas on the topic of video search engine optimization.  While video is a hot topic, many don’t realize how important it can be for successful SEO.  In this talk I cover:

  • the three main ways to make video work for your search engine optimization program
  • stats about the online video opportunity when it comes to search
  • best practices on how to make video search engine optimization work for you business

You can learn more about VSEO from my post on video search engine optimization on the TurnHere blog and in this interview at Pubcon. My favorite site for video search optimization information is


Video Search Engine Optimization: VSEO FTW! from Morgan Brown on Vimeo.


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Making Sense of It All

The hardest thing in marketing is to make sense of it all. The data, the conversation, the customer complaints, the customer kudos, product features, service definitions, all of it is an overwhelming cacophony to the audience trying to synthesize and make sense of it. The best marketers are the ones who can take those inputs and create an easy to understand story that gives context to the information. A story or framework that allows customers, business owners and the community at large to make informed decisions and sense out of the noise. If you do that in marketing, you win.

In this post I want to talk about applying this idea to the measurement of marketing campaigns.  Because while it’s easy to throw in some Google Analytics code and say you “measure” the truth is it’s much more complex and nuanced than that.  And those marketers that can get past those one-sized fits all measurements and to the true measurement of success will be the ones standing in the long run.  So let’s look at how this applies to measuring online campaigns.

Data is Messy

In most instances the inputs are messy, nonsensical and contradictory.  The data is tough to grok and make sense of.  If you leave your audience to figure it out you’ll miss a key opportunity to help inform their thinking by providing a fact-based context, a lens in which to look at the data.  This can lead to poor decision-making and lead to choices that are misinformed.

Take Web analytics for an example.  The detail available on Web analytics can make them cumbersome and difficult to properly assess.  Traffic sources, visits, referring URLs, keywords, ad variations, organic versus paid traffic, goal conversions, bounce rates, CPA and CPC by source, (and the list goes on) creates a very complex picture of what is really going on with any one ad buy or campaign.  In an integrated online campaign with email, search, display, social media, PR and more the data set gets more complex and to the untrained eye muddier and less satisfying in terms of pointing to clear wins and losses.

This complexity makes it difficult for executives without a background in online marketing and analytics to digest the data and make strong recommendations.  The lack of clarity in the data picture presented makes much of the data inactionable.  It’s almost like it was never measured in the first place.

Providing Clarity

A good marketer provides clarity and context to results to give executives a frame of reference and an easy way to review, digest and act upon.  This means distilling complex data down to meaningful, high-level overviews backed by detail that can be reviewed a section at a time.  Providing clarity does not mean whittling down the data to nothing. That has the same negative impact as too much data, you’ve stripped relevance and meaning out, leaving you without the richness and granularity needed to make smart business decisions.

Creating a hierarchical story is an approach that I like to use to provide the clarity of a campaign while still providing robust and rich data to glean insights necessary to make good business decisions.  Here’s how I do it:

  • Give the big picture first. How are we doing? At plan, behind plan, ahead of plan.  Which way is the wind blowing and how are we doing.  Get that out of the way first and don’t sugar coat it.
  • Address key wins and losses.  Identify the big “needle moving” items. An email that went flat, a keyword that is going bananas, ad creative that has 2x click through of everything else, Scoble retweeted something.  Pick a couple.
  • Provide campaign element metrics. Summarize campaign elements in a top level reporting.  I like to show by element:
    • Budget
    • Clicks/impressions
    • CTR
    • Conversions to Goal
    • CPA
  • Optimization opportunities.  Identify areas to optimize, recommended adjustments in spend, scope, etc. These should be tactical adjustments to address the key loses as well as tweaks to the winners to turn them into homeruns.
  • Support data. This is where you have access to the backup that tells a more detailed story to the campaign element metrics.  Want to drill down in to a CPC campaign on Bing?  You need to have keyword and ad performance, both CPC and CPA.

Prep Work is the Key

Just as football coaches say that playoff games are won and lost during the two-a-day practices in August, the ability to tell a clear story that provides the data business owners need to make important decisions relies on prep work up front in setting up your measurement and analytics.  And the key is go beyond the out-of-the-box analytics measurements that come from Google or another provider.  You have to be able to tie the whole picture together.  Cost per click isn’t enough. You need cost per acquisition.

What is the desired outcome of the campaign? A new customer, an email sign up, a new fan? Whatever the end acquisition is, that is what needs to be measured against.  Without a clear tie to CPA the data is incomplete and it leaves a gap in analysis which makes the exercise less useful and relevant.  That blind spot can render data useless or worse, just plain wrong.

Don’t let the challenge of tying analytics down to the CPA level keep you from doing that work.  By eliminating that last mile blind spot (from cost per click or impression to cost per acquisition) you’ll be able to provide a much clearer story about what is working and not working.

Marketers Need to Tell Stories

This doesn’t just apply to their customers. It applies to everything they do.  It is crucial in creating a lens through which other business owners can analyze and view the data that you’re generating from your campaigns.  Without good data, and without a framework that makes the data manageable you’re unable to tell a good story, and ultimately succeed as a marketer.

Photo Credit

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Ad Space Disappears from New Home Page?

I was just checking out the new redesign and apart from its striking blog-like look, I noticed another feature that made it different from other news sites.  The ads seemed much less prominent in size and number than I’m accustomed to at other newspaper Web sites.  It piqued my interest that the change was that drastic that I immediately felt it with a quick visual scan of the page.  I decided to do a little comparison of the LA Times new Web site to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in terms of ad space and units on the home page to see if my initial reaction was right.  It turns out my eyes did not deceive me.

Some findings:

  • The new LA Times Web site has 34% fewer home page pixels dedicated to ads then the WSJ and 21.5% fewer than the New York Times
  • The new LA Times home page has fewer than half the ad units of the NYT and just a touch more than 60% of the WSJ
  • In total ad space (in square pixels) the LA Times has slightly more than the NYT, but the total size of the page drops the percentage of real estate drastically
  • The new LA Times home page is 13% bigger than the WSJ home page and 22% bigger than the NYT home page

Here is a comparison:

Los Angeles Times

Ad Space: 311,239 sq. pix
Full Page: 5,596,353 sq. pix
Ads: 5.56%

New York Times

Ad Space: 308,513 sq. pix
Full Page: 4,347,246 sq. pix
Ads: 7.10%

Wall Street Journal

Ad Space: 408,635 sq. pix
Full Page: 4,849,920 sq. pix
Ads: 8.43%

What does it mean?

It’s tough to say right off the bat of course, because the LA Times could be planning on new ad units that aren’t currently live.  They may want to break in the site and get feedback before crowding the user experience with ad units.  However, if this is a rather final design and implementation then it is quite a shocking reduction in potential ad revenue from Web traffic for the LA Times.  We all know that online ad revenues aren’t propping up these papers, but is it so bad in some cases that 20% less ad real estate is an acceptable loss? (Or as Chris Anderson likes to say “too cheap to meter?”)  Perhaps someone with more insight can delve into this; but at first look it seems like an awful lot of screen real estate committed to content (which is great for the user) with a much lesser emphasis on monetizing that traffic with ads (not great for the LA Times, unless of course they’re making it up elsewhere).

What do you think?

Some disclaimers:

  • I didn’t count other revenue generating areas such as job searches and real estate searches, etc. because it’s too hard to know what’s a rev share and what isn’t.
  • I did count the Yellow Pages box on LA Times because that was a fairly obvious ad unit. If you take it out it makes the numbers even more startling.
  • I did this quickly so I’m sure I’m missing some pixels here and there; but I believe the trend holds.
  • I didn’t have the time or inclination to do internal pages of the sites.
  • I’m not a math geek – feel free to pummel my math
  • You can see images of the home pages with the ad units I counted for the LA Times, WSJ, NYT (click the thumbnail for larger image)
latimes nyt wsj
LA Times NY Times WSJ
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