Getting Dogged by Paid Search Placement?

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by matts76

I’m heading out of town this week and needed to find a local doggy daycare and multi-day accommodations for my beagle-mix, Elvis.

So, like most people these days, I did a Google search for dog care centers in the Rockville, MD area to get some recommendations. I was surprised to see that the top “natural” result as well as the top paid result, via sponsored link, were both for the same care facility.

Of course, after seeing an ad for Ana’s Ark, a local dog kennel, as well as a “natural” search result that listed it at the top, I checked it out. I ended up visiting the facility and ultimately booked Elvis there. Another nice marketing move on the part of the facility was to offer a live doggie webcam so we can watch our dog if we want to. Sold.

From a marketing ethics perspective, I read where over 60% of adults have difficulty determining the difference between paid advertising and natural search results. This number seemed high to me, though, I guess it’s possible as different search engines distinguish paid ads and placement versus natural. I also feel that as younger generations mature, this number will drop significantly. Digital natives most likely can determine paid placement versus normal search results without much issue.

It is up to marketers to use good judgment in helping the current generation of consumers to determine paid versus unpaid. While ad revenue is what keeps engines going and benefits consumers just as TV ads help to keep TV rates in check, being sure that such “advertorial” type of content is distinguishable so that consumers can make their own choices is important.

The Politics of New and Emerging Media

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by matts76

Sarah Palin certainly had a bad day earlier this week when she received a resounding boo when she arrived in Philly to drop the puck at the Flyers hockey game. Have a look for yourself:

This incident reminded me of how quickly the masses can not only turn on the best PR or marketing intentions and strategies, but can also let their thoughts be known to the world in a matter of minutes via blogs, chats, viral video, and social networks.  Even after publications like the LA Times ran the story, it was only as long as it took fans with video enabled mobile devices to get home from the game before the world caught a glimpse of some not-so-great publicity.

As marketers, examples like these remind us of how important it is to do thorough research before embarking on a plan or tactic.  For example, Philly fans are known to be very team loyal and brutal toward any outsiders.  With this in mind, another hockey city may have proven a more positive reception. Know your audience.

This 2008 presidential race itself has taken on more of a presence online and utilizes all online media platforms to reach the masses.  Yet,  it’s amazing to see that even the online marketing efforts by both John McCain and Barack Obama have been scrutinized for not complying with the e-mail and online information solicitation policies set forth by the FTC and other watchdogs.  Again, do  your background research.  Know the standard policies for e-mail opt-in, ease of navigation that makes consumer choice easy and so on before building out an online platform.

The candidates have even inspired amateur marketers to give their product hawking skills a go like the t-shirt design competition that evolved on Cafepress, known for letting anyone design their own graphics to apply to clothing and sell with no up front costs.  This again reflects how far-reaching marketing efforts, in this case to sell a candidate, can reach.  The best course of action before taking your message to the masses online is to know your audience, gauge their possible responses and be ready, evaluate message and responsiveness as the strategies and tactics are rolled out, correct as needed, and change course and respond to negative feedback transparently and constructively to prevent even more damage.

If a Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, Then is a Viral Video Worth a Million?

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , on October 11, 2008 by matts76

Last Wednesday, I logged into Facebook to check and see if any friends were online and also to update my status with, at least in my mind, another witty statement to give friends a few laughs. I must say that I do like Facebook’s redesign, as it makes updating my profile easier.

On this particular visit, I look notice of something that I usually ignore completely–namely, the ads that Facebook serves up. It caught my attention because it was a thumbnailed video clip that announced that the new season of South Park was beginning that evening on Comedy Central. I had become so used to, and ignorant of, Facebook’s normal text ads that I was oblivious to them.

However, this ad not only presented me with valuable information, as I didn’t know South Park’s new season was about to begin, but also incorporated a viral video to get my attention, which I found unique amongst the usual ad serving that Facebook usually offers. Since the ad was from Comedy Central, a source that I’m interested in, I clicked the video as well. It offered a preview of that night’s premiere episode.

As seen in the screenshot below, Facebook is now using ads in the right sidebar of the page that go beyond text and incorporate images as well. I’m actually starting to notice them now.

I’m not sure if it’s the use of the color pictures in addition to text that finally got my attention, the positioning in the right sidebar that is Google-esque and familiar, or a combination in conjunction with the relative uniqueness of South Park’s video ad breaking through the clutter that got my attention.

While most of the ads don’t have any relevance to me, which makes them less than effective from an interactive marketing perspective, the occasional ad can have an impact in the case of the South Park video clip. The clip also fit Comedy Central’s online marketing efforts, as video clips of upcoming episodes are often offered as a preview through their website. By extending these same clips in thumbnail format to other platforms to gain interest, the effectiveness and reach goes even further.

Shine It Up Real Nice…Your Online Sales Depend on It

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2008 by matts76

The importance of polished, professional looking web design has been repeated time and time again in the marketing realm. Research shows that consumers tend to purchase from, and have greater trust in, websites that are professionally designed, present transaction security confirmation, etc. Additionally, providing post-purchase tracking information and order confirmations via e-mail is important. Otherwise, consumers can think that the order wasn’t placed properly and credit card data is floating around in an online black hole.

I’m currently in the market for a new watch. I’ve been doing some comparison shopping online and was once again reminded of the importance of professional web design. While design that isn’t as flawless as most professional sites may not be an indication of a website that is any less secure or trustworthy, aesthetics definitely play a role in influencing my purchase.

I’m looking to purchase a watch in the $200 range, so, the watch isn’t high end but costs enough to warrant the need for a seemingly trustworthy retailer from which to buy. After doing an online search, I was presented with a variety of retailer results, including many who incorporated SEO and paid advertising marketing strategies to improve results and traffic.

The first site I clicked into was found via a Google ad. I personally feel that the look of the site, despite having security and Better Business Bureau online seals prominently displayed, didn’t look as professional as sites like Amazon.com, which also had the watch I was looking at, for the same price. Maybe it’s the way the page was laid out or the way links to products were presented, but the first site didn’t gain my trust. It just felt cluttered or somehow unofficial. It almost has a more amateur feel than Amazon.com and others. See samples below of Amazon vs. the other site:

Ultimately, Amazon will probably win when deciding the site from which I purchase my watch. I’m sure positive brand equity and previous experience with the site helps to enhance the clean, polished product presentation made on Amazon’s website. Even with the other website’s marketing offer promise of free shipping and a free Swiss army knife with purchase, I just wasn’t comfortable with providing my credit card information.

This online buying excursion reminded me of the importance of maintaining a polished look. But, really, in the business world, I think this is a common sentiment that is also something I was raised to believe. As my dad would say, have a polished look, maintain eye contact, smile, and have a firm hand shake to market yourself.

Compact Car Tries Making Sexytime with Consumers

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on October 11, 2008 by matts76

As global economies continue to teeter on the edge of oblivion, consumers everywhere are being more conscientious about spending. The auto industry is being hit particularly hard, especially in the U.S. Drivers are traveling less to conserve on gasoline spending and trading guzzling SUVs for more practical, gas-sipping alternatives.

It seems that as vehicles become more fuel efficient and practical, they also move further away from the sexiness of, say, a Lamborghini or Ferrari. So, what’s a marketer to do? The last time I checked, talk of fuel efficiency didn’t get the average consumers pulse racing in anticipation.

French automaker Renault, known for fuel efficient, yet otherwise uninspiring cars that are sold primarily in Europe, is taking a stab at sexing up one of its compacts, the Twingo, in a new integrated marketing campaign. It is driven primarily via online videos and a racy website and is supplemented with print and TV ads. To me, it seems that they’re taking a page from the Mini Cooper playbook in making compact sexy.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the forthcoming campaign that focuses on the theme of being “in tune with today” and markets the Twingo through ads that inject sex, cross dressing, and even stripping to push the car that otherwise doesn’t appear to have had major redesign or look much different than the average compact.

Like it or not, porn has helped to drive the growth of the Internet, for better or worse. Renault has taken this concept and integrated it into the site that’ll launch to promote the Twingo.

It will apparently feature an age verification landing page where users confirm that they’re at least 18 years of age, a la porn sites, and then, upon clicking yes, are greeted with envelope-pushing (at least by U.S. standards) video clips and risque shots of the car itself, complete with pasties over the headlights, as seen here:

One of the viral videos that is launching to promote the Twingo features a guy driving the car to a nightclub with a group of friends, who, upon arrival, see the guy’s father dressed in drag waiting in line to get into the club. Despite what the viewer thinks will happen next, the guy asks his dad if he can get he and his friends into the club. Then, the Twingo tagline “In tune with today” runs to further promote the cars alleged “edginess” and hipness. Give it a look, and decide for yourself whether you think this viral tactic will actually convince consumers that the car is hip.

I think, from an integrated marketing campaign perspective, Renault is taking a unique approach in using humor and sex to change perceptions about an otherwise practical, yet uninspiring, car. It will be interesting to see if the campaign gets legs and helps to boost sales especially given the state of the economy. If nothing else, I think the videos that will be tied to the campaign are humorous enough to build some buzz and pass along.

Can I Get a “Woo Woo” for Multicultural Marketing

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , on October 2, 2008 by matts76

I was online this evening booking train tickets for my wife and I for our upcoming trip to NYC this Friday. She’s participating in the Avon Walk for breast cancer, so, we figured we’d make a weekend of it. While booking our Acela tickets, I noticed something unique on the Amtrak website. In addition to the English version of the website in all of its marketing glory, Amtrak prominently displays a link at the top of the homepage for the “Deutsch” version. While the Spanish version of the site is available via link as well, I thought the choice of German was a bit unusual. Check it out:

This is an interesting marketing strategy, I thought to myself, and I must learn more. So, I did a quick search and came upon the press release issued by Amtrak as to why the German version of the website was created. One of the quotes from an Amtrak official stated the following:

“Outside of North America, Germany is one of our top markets,” said David Lim, Amtrak’s Chief Marketing Officer. “These customers are very comfortable using rail travel in their home country, and we want to make it easy for them to be able to enjoy rail travel in the United States, as well.”

Additionally, the marketing of Amtrak’s services in German is smart because the engines used to pull the Acela trains are made by Alstom which was, as of September 25, named as German rail operator Deutsche Bahn’s supplier of the year, which increases familiarity of the product amongst German consumers.

The wide acceptance of rail travel as a common standard for transportation amongst Europeans and Amtrak being the established leader in the U.S. market make this marketing decision a good one. As such, I give a “Woo Woo” of the train whistle variety to Amtrak for using this strategy as part of an overall online integrated marketing plan.

Hey Kid…Want Some Candy?

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on October 2, 2008 by matts76

Well friends, we’ve officially been catapulted into the month of October, which means marketing of Halloween treats kicks into high gear! I do have to admit it, I am a fan of Hershey’s peanut butter pumpkins and am psyched that the candy maker chose to expand it’s horizons beyond Easter and the peanut butter egg to allow me to celebrate a multitude of holidays with the peanut-buttery goodness. I knew that we’d officially entered the Fall season when I visited the local grocery store only to find the sun tan lotions, barbecue essentials, and beer coolers replaced with hundreds of thousands of pounds of Halloween candy. Now, I’ll step off my endorsement (this is a marketing blog after all) of the pumpkins and get down to business.

Halloween is a great time to again consider the ethics of marketing to children. Both online and off, kids are presented with many marketing messages to persuade them, and their parents, to purchase Halloween treats and many other products. This time of year also reminds me that, ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to determine what is and what is not appropriate for their children.

As the title of my post suggests, it was, and is, common practice for parents to remind their children to never talk to strangers who offer candy, or a ride home from school, or try and persuade them in other ways. Kids are also taught to “Just Say No” when it comes to drugs. This was never illustrated more brilliantly than in the super-awesome episode of Diff’rent Strokes seen here (I encourage you to watch it in its entirety):

Why then, when it comes to newer methods of marketing, like online marketing specifically, do marketers end up being blamed for obesity, being predatory toward younger consumers, etc., etc. when the fundamentals of “just saying no” to drugs or strangers offering you candy and overseeing what children consumer should still be with parents? Whether someone is literally offering a child candy or trying to do so “virtually” through a chat encounter or elsewhere, parents should instill the values of right and wrong with their children. Further, they should take an active role in what their children consume both online and off.

While parents are at a disadvantage right now because they aren’t necessarily the first to know how to use certain technologies and may be luddites who fear such emerging media, they should be active in establishing what is appropriate for their children when it comes to online interactions, including the marketing messages they receive.

Candy and consumer goods should be occasional treats to reward for doing well in school or completing chores or hitting some other milestone. Better yet, as was the case when I was younger, if a child sees a marketing message and wants a toy or candy or anything else, let them save up and buy it themselves under parental supervision. This adds value and helps to establish a work ethic and good spending habits in the long run.

As marketers, it is our responsibility to be sure that messages are truthful and age appropriate and that websites and online promotions targeting children follow the rules of not being deceptive, not requesting information from young consumers, offering parental tips, etc. Going back to Hershey’s, their Halloween site and even their homepage puts this into practice via a cool feature that flags their websites as possibley trying to sell goods to consumers with an “Ad Alert” megaphone icon as seen here:

Strategies such as these help to keep online marketing responsible while also providing parents additional tools to help make sure their children are safe when they aren’t around.