It’s a cliche to say the only constant in our lives is change, but it’s also a fact – hence why it’s a cliche. And it’s a cliche to say there has never been another time in marketing history where the Fear Of Missing Out has wasted so much marketing budget.
Every time a bright new shiny digi-object appears (which is almost daily) marketers rush to spend money on it, before any evidence exists to prove its worth.
In her brilliant book “Viral Marketing – The Science of Sharing” Dr Karen Nelson-Field, Senior Research Associate at the University of South Australia’s Institute of Marketing Science, reveals many truths about viral and digital marketing channels.
The obvious fact is the most common issue affecting success in the digital world is simple – change is occurring ahead of learning.
The same thing happened when CRM and database marketing first appeared in the 1980’s – and millions of dollars were consequently wasted. In the early stages of any new media adaption cycle, marketers become so enamoured with the possibilities of the new channel, they only see the positives and only promote the ‘successes’. They actively choose to ignore failures.
As the Dr says; “when the wave of new devotion is so strong it is easy to ignore research that is counter to popular commentary.”
A self-fulfilling wave of anticipatory enthusiasm puts pressure on marketers to over-invest to avoid being left behind – FOMO. Decisions are based on hype rather than evidence. And like lemmings the individuals follow the crowd.
This medical condition is known as trend blindness. But as I’ve learned over the years, most people don’t want to speak out against the madness of crowds – popularity always trumps commonsense.
If you believe some experts, the way to viral marketing success is to have a cute cat, dog or kid doing unusual things in your video. And while some of the most viewed videos on You Tube include these species, more videos have failed than succeeded with cats, dogs or kids in them – but we only ever hear of the successes and assume that’s the full story.
Being a researcher the Dr quotes many experts in their field to support her case:
Jenni Romaniuk, Research Professor, School of Marketing, University of South Australia said in 2012: “early knowledge is patchy in substance: research findings are often reduced to soundbites that get passed on without any regard to the quality of the underpinning research. Case studies – particularly ‘successes’ are taken as gospel instead of being treated more appropriately as single points in a larger story.”
And Bruce McColl, Chief Marketing Officer, Mars Inc says: “Don’t be seduced by new! Technology is there to serve your strategy; your strategy should not serve technology. Rigorously explore new media to enable a better execution of your growth strategy. Any other approach is a gamble with your shareholder’s money.”
This is an issue facing businesses when it comes to social media – they are letting the technology rather than the facts drive the strategy. I see it daily when consulting to marketers on their social strategy.
One client of mine is in the food business and increasingly a constant publisher of food porn. And while it’s a nice activity to post appetising food shots, now that we’re tracking the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts to sales, the head hours involved are certainly a long way off paying for themselves.
That’s not to say the channels won’t become profitable. But unlike traditional channels where you know the minute you post a paid ad whether it works or not, the social channels require long term investment of expensive labour – something most small businesses for example cannot afford, or are reluctant to invest in.
The other issue in the social space is the qualifications of the alleged experts. There appears to be the old attitude of “I work in digital, therefore I am… an expert”. Curiously when I ask audiences of digital marketers to nominate the books they’ve read recently (published by legitimate experts) the silence is deafening.
Some will argue that the increase in spend in new channels is part of the investment in learning, as the channels are new. The fallacy with that argument of course is that if you are going to invest in new media, it should be bench-marked against existing media over time to determine its value. And most of the investment in digital channels is not being accurately measured against existing channels that work.
Only when a new media proves it can pay for itself, do you add it to your marketing mix – either by investing additional funds or at the expense of channels that don’t perform as well.
So at the risk of being unpopular for having a contrary opinion, I’m off to read the Docs book again – I learn something new every time I do. For example, did you know that arousal and valence are key to viral success?
Wait there’s more…
Yesterday I received a letter from my health insurer NIB. I’m a customer and a shareholder, so they are investing my money in this stuff.
In the first sentence they told me they were stopping my cover in November – no questions asked, whether I like it or not. Stuff you.
The next paragraph of corporate-speak, once deciphered, explained they are doing this because they are completely incompetent. Apparently their actuaries are not very good at their jobs.
The letter tells me they have created a policy that is unsustainable. It’s my policy and it pays $1.28 in claims for every $1.00 in premiums it receives. And because they are so useless, I now have to change policies to one that provides far less cover, but costs me far more per month.
In other words, their customers have to pay for their stuff-up.
Here’s what they are doing to me (and I assume all others who had the same policy):
- Increasing my monthly premium by 6.9%
- Reducing the percentage refund I get on claims by 11.8% (85% to 75%)
- Reducing the total annual amount I can claim on a number of services, including a 50% reduction in the healthier lifestyle benefit (gym fees, quit smoking, etc) by $1,400 PA*
*The total amount I can claim PA on the current policy is $14,100 (plus unlimited preventative dental), under the new more expensive policy I can only claim $12,700.
They recommend I take this more expensive policy. And why wouldn’t they – they’ll make more money and have given me no choice.
Even worse, are the weasel words they use to fool you. Here’s one example from the FAQ’s:
Question: “What happens to my premium?”
Answer: “Your new premium will take effect from 17 November 2014. Please note that the amount of your first payment may be different from the amount detailed in your letter, as the new price is effective on 17th November 2014 and your first payment will be adjusted over this period.”
Notice how this doesn’t answer the question. It talks about the first payment amount, not the premium. The premium is the amount you pay annually, so the answer should tell you if it has gone up, down or remains unchanged. The answer given is close to dishonest, or just plain incompetent. Probably written by lawyers.
I’m not sure why the people at NIB don’t get it, but customers prefer the truth. Given NIB’s attitude, here’s something they could have written that is more truthful and explains the situation accurately:
“Your premium? What do you think will happen to it you stupid fool? We are going to rip you off mercilessly. Why should we pay for our mistakes? We’re going to increase your annual premium, reduce the percentage of refund per claim and reduce the amount you can claim each year, so just pay the invoice and don’t ask any questions. And BTW #itsgoodtobehuman.”
This is precise and explains the position clearly to the customer. The customer can then decide which wall they will bash in sheer frustration and anger, so as to ensure the resulting injury is covered under the existing policy – because it obviously won’t be covered under the new one.
In case you’re wondering about the strange #hashtag stuff, this is where the efforts of the marketing team are focused at the moment. After all, social media is far more important than being honest, or protecting customers against policies that fail. “Hey, let’s get social, join the conversation, cliche, cliche, blah, blah, blah, #itsgoodtobehuman.”
The million dollar mistake
As a shareholder I am a tad concerned about the letter, so I’m going to raise the problem at the next AGM. After all, other shareholders need to know how their investment is being wasted by the actuaries and marketers. Here’s why:
Just consider the consequences of this communication. The lifetime value of my membership, which is a family one for at least another 10 years, then another 30 years for my bride and I, plus the lifetime value of my 2 children for at least 60 years as adults.
This equates to 10 + 30 + 60 + 60 = 160 years
Using the current annual premium and not factoring any imposed price increases or inflation, or single/family memberships, a simple estimate of my family’s lifetime value is at least a conservative 160 x $6,000 = $960,000+
That’s a lot of premium. It’s certainly a lot to risk on such amateurish communications.
I must admit though it is good to be human. We can vent our frustrations when companies screw with us and we can stop using insurers for life when they treat us appallingly.
Where’s my Google? I need to search for health insurers…
P.S. In case you’re interested here’s the letter and FAQs:
Yesterday, I received an email from iSubscribe – an online magazine subscription company. I’m a customer.
The subject line said: Limited time – free gifts, bonus issues and more!
Here’s what I could see through my preview screen:
Given the enticing offer, I clicked on the link with some enthusiasm, looking for an idea for Christmas presents. And here’s what greeted me:
The landing page was interesting – mainly because there were no “great subscription deals” as advertised in the subject line and email message. Instead there was an advertisement for a magazine awards event.
What lunatic thought it appropriate to offer magazine subscription deals and then send recipients to a landing page promoting an industry award show? The institution at which they got their digital marketing qualifications should be shut down immediately. There is absolutely no correlation between the email and the landing page.
At first I thought it might have been one of those domination ads that take over your screen, so I clicked and scrolled, but to no avail.
Here’s the rest of the page:
This is the equivalent of Woolies offering discount groceries and then sending you to a landing page for their Employee of the Year nominations.
I closed the message in disgust. The only good thing to come from it was an idea for a blog:)
Then today I received another email from them. They’re prolific if nothing else. The subject line said: And the winner of The Maggies 2014 is…
Personally I don’t give a stuff about the Maggies. The fact that Who magazine is a winner of any award says it all. In case you’re interested here’s the email message:
As you can see there are still no free gifts or bonus issues. Maybe this is the “more” they offered initially?
So dear reader, do I unsubscribe? Or do I go to www.magshop.com.au and shop there?
No, I think I’ll go to my local newsagent instead. They sell last month’s magazines at half price – better than subscription rates. In fact, I could probably put them in the post reasonably cheaply?
Hmmm, there’s a big idea – a subscription business for one month old magazines. Better get some crowd funding started. Where’s my Twitter log-in?
This is so exciting. I could win a magazine industry award!!
One thing you cannot always control in marketing, whether your message is owned, earned, paid, native or any other digi-buzzword, is the content that accompanies yours, in whatever channel it appears.
Like many, I’ve always thought the word “editorial” did a reasonable job of describing/defining any content published about a brand by a third party, at no cost to the brand, in any media channel. But hey, it’s the digi-age and everything that’s already proven and defined, now has to be given a new buzzword to describe it – otherwise it’s viewed as old fashioned or irrelevant by the digi-fashionista.
And if you consider it, to the uninformed layman, the term editorial is obviously confusing. After all, it appears to just describe the words and images independently published in any media channel.
Whereas the term native advertising has a far clearer meaning. It obviously means advertising about natives.
What’s that you say? It doesn’t?
Well confound me. I’m a confused communicator.
Apparently native advertising is part of that amazing new digi-invention known as content. You can read the definition of native advertising on Wikopinion.
Anyway, last week the Courier Mail newspaper ran a story on its website about a murder in Brisbane. It involved a gruesome murder where the poor victim was ‘cooked’ by the murderer. On the same page as the story, a video automatically started with an ad from Masterfoods that asked, “Why cook when you can create?”
Then yesterday, one of the Australian advertising industry gossip newsletters ran a story headline: “Why agencies should focus on reciprocity rather than engagement“. I have no idea what that means. But the final sentence in the introduction copy, located just above above an advertisement, read: “So it gives me no pleasure to condemn it <engagement marketing that is>
The advertisement that appeared directly beneath the article had the headline: “Marketing Nation Roadshow – Engagement Marketing 2014”
So the lead article condemned engagement marketing, just above an advertisement promoting an engagement marketing conference.
I wonder how that will affect the advertiser/publisher relationship, engagement-wise, if you get my drift?
So the editorial content was in conflict with the paid content. Will this have any impact on either? It’s difficult to know. And while this isn’t really native advertising, as the editorial is an opinion piece about a technique not a brand, it does demonstrate the pitfalls that can occur when advertising or creating content.
Years ago, despite supplying correct artwork, The Australian newspaper retouched my client’s advertisement with disastrous results. Read more here.
Even worse was a printer we used for a fundraising mailing. They completely reproduced our artwork, because they had old-fashioned technology and couldn’t read high-res PDFs. We didn’t know this until it was too late. We discovered the problem because the printed samples had typographical errors that weren’t on the original approved art supplied to the printer.
Suffice to say we didn’t keep the account. And one wonders what sort of compensation was given to ASDA for this placement mistake:
Sadly these sort of stuff-ups will always occur – from either human or computer error. And unfortunately the social media zealots will blow the mistakes completely out of proportion.
When it does happen it might feel like the end of the world and your job. But the noise soon dies down, as people’s “social focus” very quickly changes to the next trending topic.
That reminds me. I have a copy deadline for a press and online advertisement. You remember paid advertising don’t you? The first one I wrote in this series more than paid for itself. Plus there was the branding value it generated and the Likes and the comments on social media and the editorial in another person’s blog.
Hang on. That wasn’t editorial. That was native advertising.
How fan-digi-tastic! Next thing you know I’ll be publishing content…
You may have already seen the advertisement for independent Scottish travel agency, Thorne Travel. Shona Thorne the owner of the travel agency said “We’re like the Virgin Airways girls, only bigger and a bit more real”.
When I entered “Thorne Travel Agency advertisement” into Google, the result revealed how quickly this home-made ad has “gone viral” (as many commentators like to say):
One report dubbed the video ‘so bad, it’s good’. The ad features the glamorous Thorne Travel staff, strutting along the high street in tight-fitting dresses to a pumping club soundtrack, granting holiday wishes to locals with startling special effects.
One of the reasons the ad appeals to people, despite its cringeworthiness, is that it’s real. It doesn’t pretend to be anything but a “tongue-in-cheek” take-off of the Virgin advertisements.
And in a world of manufactured authenticity thanks to content marketing, social media and “reality” television, to name a few culprits, values such as honesty and integrity stand out.
As a recent owner of a retail travel agency and online cruise business, I have some expertise in the travel category. It is one of the industries that has been affected significantly by the internet.
One interesting aspect of the industry is how the pure-play online travel brands are struggling to survive. And ironically it’s because the supposed benefit they offer – low overheads – only applies when you can acquire new online customers cheaply. And of course you then have to keep them coming back.
Anyone who works in the industry knows that the people who shop online for the cheapest quote are often the least loyal and most expensive to service. They are the modern equivalent of the old Yellow Pages shopper.
Curiously the internet is no longer a cheap option when it comes to acquiring new travel customers. After all, the cost to remain on the first page of Google is enormous, not to mention the PPC cost for generic travel terms.
FYI the travel industry is the third largest PPC revenue contributor for Google behind finance & insurance and general retail merchandise. Yet the majority of online-only travel businesses cannot survive on a diet of digital media alone – they must also use analogue media if they are to succeed. Read more here.
And because the digital marketing overheads for such online businesses are costing more and more, it is now possible to run a competitive ‘bricks n mortar’ retail travel agency, surviving only on passing traffic, smart marketing and good service.
The other reason the online travel sites are having to invest more, is that many customers who moved to online services, are now moving back to travel agents, particularly for high-cost or long-stay travel.
People will use internet booking systems for simple return flights and maybe an overnight accommodation booking. But when it comes to expensive holidays or multiple destinations with connections, transfers, visa and entry requirements, tours, flights, accommodation, etc these customers more often rely on the expertise of travel agents.
A friend just returned from a 4 week holiday in Europe. As she said, “there’s no way I could have created my holiday myself. And I’d rather give my money and the profit to a real person than some international tax-dodging travel website that’s not there for you when things go wrong.”
Travel agents offer better value than online services
The travel industry has done an appalling job of educating the market about the benefits of travel agents. Most people incorrectly believe they get cheaper deals online than with agents – this is a false belief. Travel agencies get better discounts because they have greater volume and distribution leverage than online services. They can also create packages that individuals cannot create using online services.
Travel agents are also available with a human on the end of a phone when something goes wrong. Whereas most online services require you to DIY when it comes to problem-solving – and the DIY is via a website, that rarely has a phone number to call.
Good service always trumps cheap price
The Thorne Travel ad also works because it focuses on the staff and the service they give. It doesn’t flog holiday packages. David Ogilvy said “all great advertising has charm” and in a clunky way this one does too.
That’s not to say an online site that disposes of distressed space in hotels, cruises or flights is not a good service. There will always be an online market for last minute bookings and a whole range of normal travel services.
But the market will select its own level regarding use of travel agents and the use of online travel services. Travel agents are not going to disappear soon. But they need to demonstrate their consumer proposition more effectively if they are to compete more successfully.
I offered my friends a “mates rates” deal with their travel bookings, but very few used my agency. Most were convinced they could get a better deal doing all the work themselves online. Either that or I have less mates than I thought?
Personally, I’d rather pay an expert to book my holidays. I’m happy to book flights and accommodation for simple trips, but when it comes to investing seriously in my relaxation, I’ll use an agent every time. It also creates business in my local community.
Flight Centre is an example of why travel agents will survive. It is one of the most successful travel agency brands in the world, with year-on-year global growth and continued expansion of new retail stores, as well as online business.
One of the main reasons it is successful is the personal service their travel agents provide face-to-face with customers. And the staff are one of their best assets, as they tell their friends and colleagues about working at Flight Centre and the deals they can get them.
The other reason for their success is the way they use their database of customers. They keep in touch, make relevant offers via mail, email and phone, test and analyse results – “how old-fashioned” I hear you say?
Oops that reminds me – Christmas/Summer holidays are coming. Better call my travel agent before it’s too late…
That’s one of the most famous lines from the Seinfeld series. Kramer said it when in the sauna with Jerry and George at the NY Health Club.
I was reminded of it today when a good friend of mine shared his “sauna experience” with me. Don’t be concerned dear reader, it’s not one of those saunas.
He’d been on the road working and stopped overnight in that bastion of modern capitalism, Launceston, Tasmania. After a long day he decided to relax in the sauna at the gym where he was staying – the Launceston Country Club.
No sooner had he started to build a sweat than two blokes entered the sauna and proceeded to converse with each other in a strange English dialect that uses the F-word for 50% of all words spoken. They also had their mobile phones with them. Yes dear reader – in the sauna.
They proceeded to watch a horse race on the mobile while cheering at the top of their lungs for the horse they backed – still in the sauna.
My mate asked them to tone it down a tad as he was trying to relax – after all, it was like a sauna in there. But they just used their favourite word and told him to F-off. Nothing like Aussie Bogan-Pride.
He promptly left and relaxed at the bar instead.
All the world’s a phone box
Why have manners disappeared since the mobile phone become such a part of our lives? Were humans always as rude and narcissistic as they are now?
I recall an article I wrote around 15 years ago about my experience in a Singapore cinema. More people were on phones than were watching the movie. Their idea of being polite was to have a blue flashing light instead of a ring tone whenever an incoming call arrived.
The place was like a crime scene surrounded by Police cars – non-stop flashing blue strobes. And when I asked the bloke in front of me to keep his voice down, I was made to feel like some sort of alien species.
We’ve all experienced it – in elevators, on public transport, in crowded areas – listening to the unavoidable monologue of minutia spill forth from some self-obsessed narcissist who believes the world is a phone box and everyone in it should listen to their dull diatribe.
I was at a funeral where a lady’s mobile rang during the service and she took the call. This week I attended a business lunch, where surprisingly, grace was said before we ate – it’s a long story. During the grace, someone’s wacky ring tone sounded as a text message arrived.
And despite phones being banned on golf courses, I was in the middle of a back swing when the phone of some fool standing behind me, rang at full volume. He then had the hide to tell people to delay their shots while he took the call. I know what balls we all wanted to hit – and they weren’t golf balls.
My university students sit glued to their iThings as I preach. I asked other lecturers if I was that dull and they assured me all students do it and not to worry.
I’ve even been on an interview panel to help a client hire a young marketer. The candidate put his mobile on the table in front of him. You can read more here.
I’m not sure of the answer. Because it’s not just phone and public manners that have disappeared. Social media and the comments sections in news stories are a horrifying reflection of self-servitude and illiteracy.
But the one thing in favour of manners is that those people who have good ones stand out like a beacon – and if good manners are part of customer service, the response by the customer is worth more than any investment a marketer makes in advertising.
Maybe we should rename the planet Narcissismville? We could invent concept cafe/bars where people can gather and connect via wi-fi, plug in their earphones, ignore the world and manufacture their digital lives for all their connections to adore.
What’s that? They already exist?
OK then I’m off to the gym to relax in the sauna. Oops nearly forgot my phone…
It’s not really surprising to experienced marketers, but given the bias in coverage for the digital media channels, it’s worth reviewing.
Let’s have a quick look at Kitty, the presenter for Progressive Insurance in Australia. She’s constantly on TV reminding us that because Progressive is online, they can save us money on insurance.
Multinational marketers have always taken ideas around the world to save money on marketing production costs. Strangely this sometimes upsets the local creative teams because they cannot create “original” ideas.
Sometimes the marketers clone the talent if they feel it suits the market. For example, Kitty is the love-child of Flo from Progressive Insurance in the US.
Here are a couple more matching images:
The campaign appears to be working well in Australia, most likely because it worked in the USA first.
These images come from television ads, or commercials, depending upon where you live. And these TV ads are the primary channel for attracting new customers to Progressive’s online store. Online channels are secondary.
In fact, most of the world’s largest digital brands and online retailers use television to attract customers. One reason is the expensive cost of online marketing to generate leads.
Insurers, like travel agents and other generic categories, have to pay a small fortune per click to get a lead, let alone a conversion. That’s why any marketer worth their salt knows they cannot rely on a single channel or technology platform to acquire customers. Marketers have to constantly test different media, offers and executions.
Here are some other digital brands using television to grow their business in different markets around the planet:
- The Iconic
- Even Facebook has advertised on TV, though more a branding exercise.
So here’s some advice if you want to succeed with your marketing in the digital world:
If your digital marketing expert does not recommend you use analogue as well as digital media channels to get people to your website, fire them! They are wasting your time and your shareholder’s money.
If you are attending an industry-run digital marketing training course that ignores showing you how to use the proven offline channels to get prospects online, ask for your money back, or at least a discount. These course providers are obviously scamming you so they can make money.
I recently saw an assignment for a digital marketing certificate course. It asked students to prepare a digital marketing strategy to launch a new product. But digital doesn’t include emailing your customers or using offline media, like TV or press, to generate leads.
Your customers use online and offline media, so you should too. If this sounds like a bit of a broken record, hopefully it will get through to those who keep ignoring it.
I’m off to the analogue world to teach Advertising Principles at university. We’re covering media channels – all of them – so there’s hope yet…
Years ago when the rebellious youth radio station Triple J finally got to broadcast nationally, with a foot print covering regional areas as well as capital cities, my agency was hired to launch the brand around the country.
A national tour of live broadcasts was scheduled. In true Triple J style, we printed street posters that were posted illegally in the towns prior to the live broadcasts. There were stickers, music posters, a TVC and free screen savers were distributed on floppy discs – how pioneering. Those were the bleeding edge days of the digital age.
One of the simple, but often overlooked things we did, was run a competition which captured details, via phone, fax, mail and that emerging technology, email. We then created a very unique mail-order catalogue. It was the first to ever sell Triple J merchandise, music and clothing.
It was called The J Collectibles. The design was landscape – the pictures below show the images stacked, but in the catalogue the image was the left hand side of the spread with the copy on the right hand side of the spread.
Take a seat…sit down and relax…
Get yourself hooked
Coffee table accessories…
Embarrass your neighbours
A very unconventional order form
The fascinating thing about the ‘decline’ of traditional media like radio, press and television (which are still some of the most powerful ways to reach large audiences, but that’s another blog) is that they could easily have lead the digital revolution.
The easiest thing a media brand can do, more than any other brand, is to quickly build a database of listeners/viewers/readers – very cost effectively. They just need to run competitions and link entrants to a landing page for data capture. The cost of promotion is minimal, as they promote within their own media channel and the prizes for the competitions are usually supplied by the advertisers and sponsors.
Then they can communicate personally to these fans via email, phone, mail, an App as well as in their specific mass media channel. Some are doing it reasonably well.
Triple J has J Mail, a weekly email newsletter as well as loads of social channels, podcasts and an online store where these days you can buy your Triple J Collectibles.
The Macquarie Radio Network, has an email newsletter, lots of competitions to keep listeners engaged and I believe they are part of the FiftyUp Club – a group buying club that gets ‘member’ discounts on utilities, insurance and other products.
Sunrise is a morning breakfast television show. They used to have an email newsletter, though they may have been conned to only use social media now, as they have a social hub. There doesn’t appear to be a subscribe to newsletter form.
There are other good examples, but they are in the minority. The problem in the media industry is simple. They don’t understand what business they are in. They think they are in the ratings business, when they are in the same business as all others – the business of making and keeping customers profitably. I understand the need to focus on the ratings. Yet they seem more focused on their presenters, journalists and dare I say it, their stars – rather than their customers.
Here’s an example. Recently Channel 7 sent emails out to advertisers and prospective advertisers. Apparently they are holding a party for the cast and crew of some daytime chat shows. They are hitting on the recipients of the email to supply free products and vouchers to make up large gift hampers for the cast and crew. Why? Because they can.
According to the email, the reward for giving free stuff to Channel 7 is that there will be plenty of social media activity at the party! Yes dear reader – that’s supposed to be a benefit for your brand. The narcissism is palpable – and not a customer in sight.
Hopefully there won’t be any drunken selfies of the cast without their foundation by Spakfilla and make-up by Dulux – one shudders to think of the images.
Traditional media should not be struggling for advertising revenue in the digital age. They have everything they need to easily build valuable relationships with their audiences and sponsors resulting in profitable businesses. Unfortunately they are looking in the wrong direction.
Hmm I’m off to get a bunch of cheap mirrors to donate to the hampers.