Buying Audiences, Getting Worked

You can go to the trouble of carefully segmenting your market, identifying several heterogenous segments and placing each individual or household in one mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive segment. Then you can carefully develop marketing strategies for each segment that move the prospect down the purchase funnel, culminating in a sale at–ideally–an acceptable ROMI.

Or you can find some “audiences” and let an algorithm decide who gets your ads and when. And get worked by the legions of adtech providers.

Think I’m being a little dramatic or that “I don’t get it, man?” Try this:

  • Fire up your Twitter app
  • Start blocking every sponsored post (ad)
  • Do this for a few weeks

You’ll notice two things:

  • The ad frequency stays the same
  • The relevancy of the ads gets even worse

Continue reading

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An Odd Industry: “Marketing Leadership”

I stumbled into some word salad “content” accidentally the other day and was so enraged by the complete and utter lack of meaningful information that I did something crazy. I looked at the bio of the writer. Turns out, it was a CMO that had many years of experience in something called the “marketing leadership industry.”

Please note this. The point in the bio was not about selling more goods and services to customers, nor building brand equity, nor any of the other things we as trained marketers traditionally get paid for.

It seems that “marketing leadership” today means talking at conferences and writing gibberish opinion pieces. Worse, there’s an industry of this, mostly practiced by charlatans. Who knew?

I’d much rather label somebody as a  “leader” who has a track record of practicing proper marketing science and selling more goods and services. As a marketing manager, you’ll learn from that type of person. As a CEO, you have a duty to employ actual marketers in the role of CMO.

Let’s hold “marketing leadership” to a higher standard in 2017, shall we?

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Gaming AdTech: Easier Than Go Fish

I turned off the ads on my blog today after learning that gaming the AdTech ecosystem is easier than teaching a three year old to play Go Fish. A post on my findings is forthcoming. Thanks for bearing with me.

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Why Ads?

Why ads on my personal blog? I’m running a little experiment right now. When I’m done, the ads will come down. I don’t like them either.

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Still Trust in Big Data?

We had an election yesterday where hundreds of millions of dollars of models, data collection and analytics predicted one outcome. We got the other.

Still think you can predict how a particular ad impression will impact a purchase decision for the mouthwash you’re selling? Stop fantasizing about how much adtech will improve your advertising. Start with strategy, not algorithms. And win.

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Dashboards are Lousy Maps

Marketing dashboards are poor maps of where you’ve been. You need first-hand experience with the terrain you’re now encountering, not more lousy maps.

To improve your marketing, don’t hire a cartographer. Hire the hiker who’s seen the terrain up close. And win.

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Where’s the Digital Tear Sheet?

Tear sheet

Digital advertising is a mess. Your ads aren’t likely to be seen because:

Further, nobody really knows the size of the circulation.

Take, for example, the recent controversy over the size of Business Insider’s “audiences” (a BS trigger word). BI claims their audience is 5X that measured by comScore. Nobody knows who’s right, although I’m more likely to trust a third party like comScore. I’ll bet a dollar that the actual Business Insider audience of real human beings  is well under half what comScore says.*

So you don’t know exactly the circulation size while more of your money is being spirited away by the technology involved to run all these ads. According to the IAB, only 45% of your media buy is going to publishers for working media, with the remainder siphoned away by an un-understandable advertising ecosystem.

In the meantime, nobody can produce the equivalent of a digital tear sheet. Remember those? Back in the day, no invoice got paid without physical proof that the ad ran where it was supposed to. Was the tear sheet a guarantee the ad was ever seen by a human and not relegated to fish wrap? Of course not. However, the publications were audited (ABC or BPA), so you knew the size of the circulation. And you had physical evidence that the ad at least ran.

Marketing: The Magpie profession

Marketing: The Magpie Profession

Try this sometime–ask your agencies to produce verifiable evidence that each and every impression actually ran. (Server logs or other digital ephemera don’t count).  In other words, ask for a tear sheet before you pay any bills. The online advertising business as a whole is just not prepared to provide what marketers should insist on, for each and every ad run. Why? It’s our (marketers) fault.

As marketers, we suffer from neomania and are easily distracted by shiny new technology, much like magpies. Doing the heavy lifting of ensuring advertising delivery isn’t new, exciting or worthy of a panel talk at a conference. A whole industry has developed to take advantage of our failings.

The funny thing is, digital advertising works. I have no question. I just wonder how much more we’d invest in various digital media if we didn’t have so much of our money and effort siphoned away by adtech.

Takeaway: As marketers, we have to get better in holding the digital advertising world accountable for proving that our impressions are shown to humans. We need the equivalent of a digital tear sheet, not more technology.

*Of interest is that on January 9, 2013, BI was proudly trumpeting 23MM monthly uniques. Interesting how the growth exploded after the acquisition by Axel Springer. Can anybody smell an earn-out here?

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Adventures in Winback Direct Mail

Blue Bottle Label

Blue Bottle Coffee Winback Mailing

I love winback customers. They are already familiar with your product and are usually much cheaper than a fresh prospect. Better, as they’re familiar with the product, you’ll often see much better retention when they come back after having seen the other options available.

As a former customer, I was really excited to see this dimensional mailer from Blue Bottle Coffee. A 3D box, nice rattle and filled with promise. Well done!

Except they spent tons of money to send it me first class (probably without testing) and never bothered to put my name on the box. Why not? They know my name!

Further, after investing all that money they didn’t give me a reason to open the box right now. It’s got a FREE sample of their latest product (pre-ground coffee) inside. Why not tell me to open it and enjoy their product again, in a new way?

Blue Bottle Bella Donovan Coffee Sample

Bella Donovan Sample

Since I love direct mail, I decided to open the box to see the single serving sample. As with everything they do, it’s packaged very stylishly.

I think the sample is intended to get me to come back to Blue Bottle Coffee and re-start my subscription. But I’m not sure.

The mailing started out poorly and got worse. Let’s go inside and check it out.

Blue Bottle Flyer Front




Notice the size of the flyer.  It’s impossible to get out of the box without bending it open. In fact, when I first opened the box, I thought they’d printed the flyer on the bottom of the box. It took a second–one more second than the average recipient will spend–before I realized it was a separate printed piece.

The very best direct mail will fall apart in one’s hands upon opening it. This piece required me to do work to get to what I’d hoped would be a strong offer, hidden on the reverse of the flyer. After all, why would you spend so much and not make an offer?

Sadly, I was wrong.

Blue Bottle Flyer back

A Flyer Without an Offer. Sigh.

Lots of “we” copy about the company. Nothing about me. Oh sure, I could “sign up” (poor choice of words), but nothing about my past relationship with the company.

Where’s the offer? Where’s the personalized benefits?

They could have thanked me for being a former customer, welcoming me back with a FREE shipment of their great new pre-ground coffee and maybe told me about some of their new home delivery options, making it even easier than ever to be a customer.

Nope. I learned that “we” have hated ground coffee for 14 years and now they’ve got a better way to make it. Why should that make me care enough to want to buy?

I haven’t yet opened the coffee. But when I do, I suspect the aroma will be that of a “growth hacker.” The piece doesn’t make the grade from a direct mail professional point of view.

Takeaway: Know the rules. Work with an expert. Make your direct mail investments pay off.

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Digital Flim-Flam: Mode Media Edition

How does the 10th most trafficked group of websites, per comScore, go out of business overnight? That’s what you should be asking yourself as you read the news about Mode Media’s abrupt shut-down last week, especially if you’re one of the army of freelancers left unpaid.

You might wonder how the company was able to attract an “audience” (there’s that digital word that should immediately cause your antennae to go up) of 137 million monthly unique visitors and  generate over $90 million in annual revenue. You would also be right to wonder how they could have raised over $225 million in funding and be valued at over $1 billion as of 2013.

The answer is pretty simple. The traffic wasn’t real. It was bots purchased from traffic brokers and sold to unwitting advertisers who didn’t care enough to look too hard at what they purchased. At some point the whole traffic scheme falls part if they can’t arbitrage the junk traffic for enough to cover the cost of producing the “content” (there’s another digital word that should also cause you to look twice).

Take a look at the following video, which has received over 10 million views as I write:


100 Years of Fashion: Wedding Dresses ★ Daily Views

100 Years of Fashion: Wedding Dresses ★ Daily Views

Really compelling huh? So compelling, it generated almost 900K views in the day or two after launch (left).  And bots have been viewing and clicking on it ever since.

As they say around the poker table, if you don’t see the sucker, it’s you.

Takeaway: Look at your direct, PMP and programmatic buys, line-by-line and site-by-site. Look at your site transparency report. And trust your gut: if it feels wrong or odd to you, it is.

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Mistaking Surveillance for Advertising

Are we focusing on identifying a specific and measurable goal, carefully segmenting our audience into mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive segments, then developing a very clear brief for our agencies?

Or are we simply selecting a bunch of cookie pools and letting algorithmic targeting decisions decide which “audiences” receive our messages?

If we had less surveillance and ad tech, we’d have to think in an old-fashioned way to build brands and sell our products. We’d be dinosaurs like Coca-Cola, P&G, Walmart, Ford, and, well you get the idea.

Don’t start with the technology. Start with figuring out who’s going to buy your product and who won’t. Brief your agencies well. Think about what you won’t do. Think like a marketer, not like the NSA. And win.

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