On the Net – How to Make Your Website Attractive to Advertisers
No single innovation has democratized our world more than the Internet. With no more barriers to entry than a laptop and something to say, personal websites have flourished. And while the thrill of seeing your words writ large in cyberspace holds an undeniable appeal, many armchair publishers seek a greater dream of their achievements being recognized with monetary reward. But the vast majority of websites are never monetized. However, if financial gain is part of the game plan, here are a few vital requirements.
First and most important: content is king. This is true now more so than ever before, as demands on consumers’ time become ever more staggering. If your goal is to hold users’ attention, and compel them to return, you’d better have something meaningful to say.
Here are some key questions to consider. Is there an audience? Not all content is created equal-for yours to stand out, it has to be relevant and well-written. Is it unduplicated? Make sure that what you have to say hasn’t already been said hundreds of times around the world. Is it fresh? Users may visit once, but if you want to compel them to return, you have to provide a reason. Content must be refreshed, and users must know when that has happened. Is it ‘sticky’? Does your website draw people in, only to lose them seconds later? Make sure that your content is engaging and draws users further into your site. This leads to high user engagement, which is a valuable metric within the advertiser space.
The true value of creating a valuable content site, however, lies in its ability to build a scalable audience. Without scale, it is very difficult to monetize a site, regardless of its content. Smaller sites can join an ad network, where they may be grouped appropriately, and have ads run across the site. In those cases, CPMs and sell-through rates tend to be lower, and the overall size of the opportunity is limited by the size of the inventory. However, once a site builds an audience with scale, a few things happen.
Your site will start ranking on industry measures such as comScore Media Metrix, and advertisers start taking your calls, or start calling you themselves. You can move away from just monetizing your site through ad networks, and look for opportunities to represent your site as a stand-alone property. This represents the chance to capture a larger portion of an overall ad buy, rather than just a piece through an ad network. More importantly, with scale comes the opportunity to build custom sponsorships and integrations. These may require resource-intensive redesigns, hard codes and/or editorializing – and there’s no way this work will be justified without the revenue associated with scaled inventory levels. One final note on scale: be absolutely confident in your technology solution’s ability to grow with your audience.
Google can teach the rest of the world a thing or two about scale. Granted, it fulfilled the first part of the equation by getting into the market first, creating a search engine before anyone else had really thought about it, and piggybacking on Yahoo’s growing audience to build its brand. Then, of course, it wrote a killer algorithm that worked better than anyone else’s. But now, it has scale. This means that it can sell millions of search terms at pennies a click, and still post multi-billion dollar quarterly earnings.
Facebook is another great example. Having generated 35 billion pageviews worldwide in October 2007, it has made two things possible. First, it can leverage the volume of its page impressions to generate significant revenue by running direct-response ads against a cost-per-acquisition target. But more importantly, it has created a vast community that allows it to build multi-million dollar integrations for brands to talk directly to its consumer base. While this model is still unproven, the lesson here is: without scale, it’s not possible to build it, let alone make money from it.
However, not everyone can be Facebook. Building massive scale is, by definition, reserved for only a few online giants. So how’s a new website to get by? Let’s go back to Economics 101. Bearing in mind all of the initial points about content, start by looking for niches that are in low supply and high demand. This strategy allows a site to charge higher CPMs for its content, and drive revenues with smaller levels of inventory.
Let’s look at a few examples. Objective automotive sites, with strong content that attracts auto enthusiasts and car purchase intenders, experience extremely high sell- through rates and command excellent CPMs. Automotive advertisers are aware that consumers have selected their vehicles long before they ever step onto a dealer site, and recognize the value of positioning the messaging in front of these key buyers early in the process. And with only 1.5 million new vehicles selling in Canada each year, they are prepared to pay for the opportunity to intercept that decision-making process.
Another great example is the emergence of environmental issues at the forefront of society. Despite the focus on ‘green’ issues, good quality environmental content can be very tough to locate online. The result? An increase in its value – advertisers will be willing to pay premium prices to reach consumers with a timely message that resonates with their environmental concerns. In short, find a niche or gap in the online space where advertisers want more inventory than there is available, and you will find an opportunity to generate revenue.
Finally, but equally as important, is the functionality and design of your website. When building your site, take the time to look at other sites and think about design, functionality, and advertiser requirements. Your site must work, navigation must be clean, and the design must be appealing to users. Remember that you will have to appease advertisers to attract advertisers. This means including standard IAB ad units, ad placements above the fold, and a willingness to support rich media. There are many advertisers who will not buy any ad unit that falls below the fold. Factor that into your design thinking at an early stage. You should also consider what kind of integrated opportunities you are comfortable accepting, both from an editorial perspective, and a design perspective. Build those opportunities into the site at the outset so that you don’t require a complicated redesign down the road.
Also, consult with professionals in the field. If you are just starting out, working with an ad network allows you to outsource your sales effort to professionals who are already in front of agencies, instead of trying to compete with them. This might translate to an ad exchange, or a semi-transparent network at the outset, and graduate to an advertising representation house as your site gains unique users and media profile. Or, if you decide to retain an in-house sales staff, invest in capable sales professionals to represent it in its best light, and negotiate the appropriate market rates for the inventory.
There is more to website monetization than If I Build It, They Will Come, but by following a few basic maxims, the road to success is fairly straightforward. Build interesting, unique content that either creates a mass market, or a desirable niche market. Make your site beautiful, functional, and advertiser-friendly. Then, take it to market with confidence, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Kristie Painting is Director of Sales at Olive Canada Network
Branding the Man They Called Jesus
Separating Church and State (of Mind)
At some point in our lives, each of us learns the lesson that discussing religion or politics in mixed company can backfire. You can really set some people off and ruin a nice dinner party by sharing some personal convictions. This issue was a concern when we were first approached by the semi-religious organization, Yaaway Media, to design a brand identity for a community media website aimed at inspiring a more caring and wise world by sharing the messages and lessons of the man called Jesus—not so much the central figure in the Christian religion, but the historical figure whose sage wisdom is as relevant today as it has been for centuries. ‘Sound like an interesting challenge? We thought so too.
Keenly aware that our company is largely defined by its clients and projects, we always evaluate opportunities against a set of criteria that include profit, portfolio, ethics, and fit—but what about optics? At first, this situation felt a little like that which arose when gambling or pornography companies had approached us in the past, leading us to politely decline the work. No matter how you slice it, religion is a touchy topic. Our association with the project could have an impact our own brand, so we had to tread carefully.
Once the project was finished, and though proud of the results, members of the Industrial Brand team would hesitate before discussing the Yaaway project, making sure to explain the situation clearly to avoid it being summarily categorized as bible-thumper fodder. Our team members’ histories run the gamut of those raised in religious homes of various faiths, to those who are completely secular. We didn’t all share our client’s beliefs, but didn’t oppose them either, and following the completion of our initial assessment process, we were surprised at how quickly we became comfortable with the subject matter. The message was positive, and nobody was being duped.
Starting Out: Sunday School
To set the stage, the Yaaway team—a group of experienced media professionals—had already spent over a year (and considerable funds) building the framework and technology platform for a large online community, based on media sharing and social networking. The site was much like a mash-up between Facebook and YouTube, but with a difference: each video and post would ideally be centred on personal stories about Jesus. Not necessarily about Christianity, but Jesus himself. The site would be free to join and use, there were no plans for any advertising or revenue streams, and any user would be welcome to participate, regardless of perspective or religious affiliation.
You’re thinking: “So what’s the catch?” Well, we wondered the same thing, and were suspicious about a business model that didn’t include any plans for revenue. We did our homework and discovered that there really wasn’t a catch. Yaaway was a group that had the foresight to say, “Okay, there are a lot of issues and stereotypes surrounding religion these days. So how do we still get out the message of ‘doing good for your fellow man’, while side-stepping the existing public perception of Christianity?” The answer they came up with was to distill the core messages from the historical teachings of Jesus and avoid getting bogged down by the dogma of organized Christianity.
As the project got under way, we realized how unique the creative brief really was. How would we be able to create an identity suitable for a web-savvy community centreed on Jesus’ story and wisdom, while avoiding traditional religious icons? As a group of brand designers with varying perspectives on faith and religion, we were rather intimidated by this unusual situation. At the same time, we were excited by the design challenge to create an identity that expressed Jesus-centric sharing without looking ‘churchy’. Like many previous challenging projects, sticking to our proven design methodology lit the way.
Meet Jesus: Just a Guy With a Beard
As we began digging into the project, we learned that the core of this online community was a unique world view. They called it a ‘Spiritual Point of View’, focused on the “non-religious life of Jesus, the humble person who transforms people of every social class and culture with a spirit of truth and love.” We weren’t convinced that you could really separate Jesus from religion.
As designers in the branding business, we often toot our horns about building on the existing equity of a brand. This client had the exact opposite problem. It needed to distance itself from the existing brand perception of the Jesus camp—often viewed as right-wing fundamentalists. Beyond the unique portfolio addition this project represented, it was a rare opportunity and challenge.
What the Heck is a Yaaway?
The name Yaaway is a playful re-interpretation of Yahweh, originally an ancient Hebrew word for God, or “the one”. By misspelling the word, our client sought to not only distance itself from a traditional religious word, but create a fun, youthful-sounding, nonsense word like Google or Yahoo. The word also wouldn’t have obvious religious connotations. Another benefit was that the word Yaaway could be purchased as a domain name, which was critical.
Early on we uncovered the fact that our client had already invested significantly in the development of the technology behind the online platform, which was being beta-tested online. Yet after more than a year of work on the project, the company had not engaged in any brand strategy or identity design, and had been using a placeholder logomark which was essentially a knock-off of the YouTube logo—a thoughtless contribution by one of its technology developers. This approach was clearly unsuitable as its identity needed to stand apart not only from other religious-based sites, but from the social media/video sharing world. Said the company’s owner, “I feel like we’ve built a world-class race car without considering the body style or paint job.”
The original Yaaway logo.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
The goal for the Yaaway website was to create a safe, friendly and welcoming experience about the real Jesus, and not about Christianity. The brand and user experience would have to appeal to a global community of spiritually-motivated and non-denominational visitors pursuing truth and knowledge, and all faiths would be welcome. The core of the site content would be stories and video and, although debate would be encouraged, any antagonistic, irrelevant or inappropriate content—such as the promotion of exclusive religious doctrine—would not be welcome.
That said, unlike so many religious websites (and there are many), this site would have virtually no editorial control. The content would be self-organized by the community itself in the spirit of a Wiki, with the founders ‘letting it go’, for the most part. Content that members enjoyed and valued would be promoted by users through a voting system, while content not viewed as harmonious with the spirit of the site would settle to the bottom, down-voted and nixed by the user community.
What Would Jesus Design?
An early research step in our process was what we refer to as a Brand Discovery session, essentially a workshop including a series of exercises and games designed to challenge key stakeholders’ preconceived notions and assumptions. As with many clients over the years, our Yaaway clients arrived in our studio with ideas of what they wanted to accomplish, who their audience was, and what was needed to achieve their goals. Our first job was to challenge that paradigm, and dig deeper into the situation to reveal more than could be expressed in an initial creative briefing. The workshop culminated in identifying Yaaway’s brand essence and aspirations, and the creation of a visioning statement to provide the core direction for the brand design project.
Due to our client’s own moderate views on Jesus, we explored the extreme right-wing, church-driven fundamentalist websites, and determined how Yaaway was not that. In fact, one of the more interesting things that emerged during this research phase was that it was far easier to determine what Yaaway was not, which was one of the best ways of determining what it was. This was especially relevant to the project as the identity of the Yaaway community would be largely determined by the users themselves. Plus, this process of discovery made a huge difference to our own acceptance of the client and the project.
Personal biases began creeping into our team’s psyche, and as communication designers, it’s critical that we’re able to set aside our own preconceived notions and focus on the goals, needs and audience at the core of the problem before us. However, the topic of Jesus Christ was a difficult one to remain unbiased about, regardless of faith or perspective. The tactic we settled upon was relative to a round-table discussion; one where any issue or query could be aired without judgment, and then settled before approaching the next. After confronting and discussing our biases, we let our process reveal what our assumptions clouded and the identity began to take shape.
What Does Your Soul Look Like?
As far as branding and identity challenges go, this project had many. In creating the identity, we had to dive deep down into what the site could become well into the future. This invariably led to some interesting and important developments when designing the website itself.
Beside the fact that the intended audience was a vast multicultural group made up of various ages, educations and faiths, the client insisted that we avoid direct references to the image of Christ, as well as classic icons of Christianity such as a crucifix, lamb, fish, crown of thorns, etc. The logo and website interface had to look ‘Web 2.0’ while standing out against sites like YouTube, Facebook, DailyMotion, etc., and it most certainly had to up-stage related competitors such as GodTube, JesusClips, and GospelTube. Further, the site had already gone live as a beta with placeholder graphics and an interface that hadn’t fully considered the user experience. We had our work cut out for us.
We began by highlighting key words, targeting various graphic elements and iconography, in order to grasp particular themes and ideas. We then cross-referenced the visual language of spirituality (both subtle and blatant), with the vast online social networking meme, seeking inspiration for ways to communicate the concept of non-denominational spiritual dialogue, while avoiding cliché graphics.
A sample of some of our concept sketches during the design process.
As community, sharing, connections, and exchange of ideas became central themes, we sketched and explored visual language that included speech balloons and quotation marks as connectors, links, overlapping elements, clusters and video screens. An epiphany came when the speech balloons were arranged to reveal a cross in the negative space—a fortunate point of view as the client didn’t want Yaaway to have any obvious religious or denominational overtones.
Another moment of insight came upon reviewing many different styles of quote marks. Arranged in an organic cluster at varied sizes, they suggest abstracted talking heads coming together in their shared dialogue. With some adjustments, that central point of focus became the ‘invisible’ cross discovered earlier.
Custom typography to complement the rounded forms of icon was developed along with a colour system flexible for both print and web environments. This vibrant palette suggests a journey from cold to hot, as from discovery to acceptance, as the ascending quotes reach upwards to a more spiritual focus. Four graphic elements not only provided the minimum for a sense of community, but four elements also serve to represent the four books of the New Testament and the four disciples who wrote their chronicles of Jesus’ life.
The final logomark, fully realized and addressing the brief, client requirements and target audience.
As wtih all identity design projects, we ran the final top three logos through a theoretical strainer. Is it readable? Is it relevant? Does the typography resonate with the brand? Elements right down to subtle moods changes affected by colour were scrutinized. The editing process is always one of love and hate; but it’s what takes a logo from good to outstanding.
Of couse, final delivery of the brand design included many elements beyond the logo. These included a comprehensive online brand usage guide, complete stationery package, collateral and promotional materials, signage, and the critical interface design for the website.
Some of the applications of the new Yaaway identity and web interface.
On the 70th day, We Rested
Yaaway was a challenging project; one that our team will not soon forget. We are proud that our belief in creative strategy helped us overcome what at first seemed a worrisome project with a challenging brief. This case study will serve as a litmus test and benchmark for future brand identity projects, proving that even when faced with extreme difficulty, our individual talents, combined with our collective faith in the design process, will guide us to effective solutions. We no longer pause before showing off the project, often catching new clients off guard by saying “Can we tell you about Jesus?”
But Was the Project a Success?
The client was ecstatic with the brand platform and, after several months, re-launched its website, promoting it publicly. The site began to expand daily, with a growing collective of spiritually curious users signing up, engaging in dialogue and up-loading videos. The identity even won industry recognition such as a prestigious Communication Arts Award in the 2009 Design Annual.
Then, trouble. It was found that the primary users on the site were Christian—no surprise for us, but a disappointment for the client. Although we were told the site was making good progress, the client suddenly announced that further development of the project was being halted and the core team disbanded. The owner felt compelled to change direction and discontinued his funding. With his original unusual business model lacking a revenue stream, it was no surprise that he ultimately decided to commercially market the technology platform to groups and associations looking to build their own media-based online social networks.
Recently the Yaaway.com website itself went offline, surely a disappointment for those who worked so hard on it for two years. But, maybe one day, it will rise from the dead.
To view a brief case study in our portfolio, go to: http://industrialbrand.com/work/case-studies/yaaway-media-inc?page=1
To view the longer case study overview, go to: http://www.industrialbrand.com/files/Yaaway_Case_Study.pdf
To see the last version of the site in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, go to http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.yaaway.com
Mark Busse is Design Director at Vancouver’s Industrial Brand, recent Past President of the BC Chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), and Co-Chair of Icograda’s Design Week Vancouver 2010. He would like to thank his colleague Nancy Wu for her input and assistance on this article.
The Loyalty Program: Providing Strength in Brand Equity
Canada is loyalty crazy. How crazy? Approximately 86% of Canadians identify themselves as loyalty participants. We trump the Americans in this regard. There are some good reasons for this and Canadian marketers are looking hard at loyalty program marketing as a meaningful way of touching their customers and providing them with added value. More and more, it is becoming a point of differentiation for a brand.
I recently put together a panel of loyalty program experts at an American Marketing Association (Toronto) discussion. We explored the evolving landscape of loyalty programs, and talked about where we think they are heading and what are the key considerations for managing a successful loyalty program.
The panelists were Steve Allmen of Aeroplan; David Soberman, a professor at the University of Toronto; Rubina Havlin from Scotiabank; and CRM consultant Pat McGoey. The following is taken from our discussion.
Loyalty is Hot
As mentioned, Canadians are big on loyalty. No less than 75% per cent of consumers in Canada say they actively participate. Nationally, we average two and a half retail programs, two financial programs and one and a half travel loyalty programs, which equates to an awful lot of plastic in someone’s wallet. Contributing to the difference between our situation and that of the US is that Canada has fewer brands with large market share. Then there’s our success with coalition loyalty marketing programs, including the internationally well-known example of Air Miles. Air Miles was once described, by CRMtrends.com, as the ‘1,000 pound gorilla’ and it led household penetration in Canada until the Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum program took over.
So how did loyalty become so big? It started in Germany in the ’50s with S&H Green Stamps. It was introduced at that time because some industries had restrictions on price-based competition and companies were searching for other ways of differentiating themselves. When consumers bought groceries or gas from S&H, a large national retailer, they would collect a number of stamps for their purchases. These stamps were collected until there were enough to redeem them for merchandise like toasters, clothes or toys.
I mention this example because it demonstrates the core of what loyalty marketing is about. As competition increases, it becomes important for brands to resist entering a price war with others. In Germany, this was prevented with regulation, so an enterprising retailer found a great way to build its brand equity by offering an additional incentive to stick with it. This translated into brand loyalty, equity and increased profits for the company.
The same holds true today in today’s super competitive marketplace, where you have many more brands and options. To be successful, brands or retailers need to avoid “commoditization” brought on through discounting prices to match or undercut the competition. Brands which want to continuously build brand equity and stay profitable must find more efficient ways to add value and replace the need for deep discounts. Loyalty programs fit the bill.
If this is the core of why brands undertake loyalty programs, who is driving its evolution? Consumers and retailers, that’s who.
The Consumer Drives Innovation, Not the Brand
Consumers are the biggest drivers of innovation. First and foremost, Canadian consumers want the programs to be easy to use. They want to be empowered and have a say in how can they collect, use and redeem their points. They don’t want to be put into a box or overly-structured framework, which limits them.
This opens up the door for the banks and credit/debit cards to make some great strides in the future of loyalty programs, as consumers look for ways to spend and collect every day. Rubina Havlin says that the industry is going back to basics and that it’s striving to add value for target customers and be ‘honest’, noting that the establishment of trust between the consumer and the brand is where equity is built and share of wallet increased.
Relevancy: the Success Determinant
Since wallets can only fit so many plastic loyalty program cards, one key to success is how relevant a reward is to a consumer. This point was discussed for a lengthy period of time. The group concluded that if you strive to provide relevancy and choice, you can drive program success.
A good example of the marriage of relevancy and choice is the Rewards Network (formerly iDine) loyalty program. It reaches a core audience of consumers who like to eat out and it offers the opportunity to register any credit card at its website. From then on, whenever a member dines out at a participating Cashback Rewards establishment, and pays with his registered card, an automatic 10% credit is added to his next credit card statement.
Retailers also drive innovation, as they are now demanding more creative solutions. In order to differentiate themselves, retailers want to find solutions to look after their consumers in ways that are superior to their competition. What we see now, and will see more of in the future, is the use of more robust data to separate customer segments and then treat each segment differently. Monitoring the amount spent, or the type of products a loyal customer buys, will allow custom offers to be made. For instance, retailers can offer a special promotion to increase the share-of-wallet of infrequent visitors, and consumers benefit along with the retailer.
At the discussion, Pat McGoey mentioned West 49’s All Access program as a leader in this regard. One reason for its success is that it has made its loyalty program more of a social meeting ground. It’s all online and loyal customers can access special offers, download music, and take part in forums where they can share with other like-minded individuals and learn about upcoming events.
“There’s great innovation here,” McGoey noted. “The future could hold more examples of this type of creativity and the fusion of social marketing with a loyalty program. If a loyalty program can also become a ‘meeting place’ for consumers, it opens the door for dialogue with purchasers and can provide the opportunity for deeper client understanding.”
Thinking of Jumping on the Loyalty Bandwagon?
These examples sound pretty exciting, but a brand that’s looking to develop a loyalty program must be sure to put itself first. The company offering the loyalty program has to win. Ultimately it comes down to the question: did the program deliver increased business, increased number of loyal consumers, and increased market share? And did it build brand equity? If it is just the consumer who purchases your product or shops at your store who is profiting, shut down the program. It’s not working.
For loyalty programs to work in the future, companies will need to consider a few factors when developing their program.
First and foremost, does it make sense for the industry and the audience?
This notion of relevancy is very important for a program to even get off the ground. Interview a sampling of customers and do some secondary research to get a read on your audience.
Can it set your brand apart from your competition?
If so, leverage the stuffing out of it to deter ‘copycats’. The Optimum program from Shoppers Drug Mart is an extremely complex and expensive operation, as it handles an immense amount of data. The value to the business and the consumer is great, but so is the undertaking. Few can hope to follow and Shoppers takes full advantage of that.
Will it provide real value to the customer?
Will your audience see it as useful or annoying?
Can it collect useable data?
Customized offers are an excellent way to keep building loyalty. An innovative program that exemplifies the use of the Internet and the power of collecting information is www.breakfastcentral.ca. This is the first-ever non-transactional loyalty program launched by Quaker/Tropicana and Aeroplan, with strategic direction and implementation by OSL Marketing. The Internet is the key enabler, as individual Quaker/Tropicana products purchased in store have PIN numbers printed on the packaging, and the loyalty program member enters these numbers into their online profiles. The website is the lynchpin, as it houses terrific consumer data on the consumer to be used for later promotions. Using this information to cross-sell provides greater opportunity to reach a higher potential audience and eliminate wasteful spending.
It seems daunting for a brand to create a program from scratch, especially for a tier-two player. However, the stiff competitive landscape is forcing many to consider the implementation of a loyalty program, which is why we see the future bearing many coalition loyalty programs. Together, retailers can leverage the power of individual loyalty program brands, like Aeroplan, and not have to manage or invest fully. More partnerships between top-tier reward providers are making loyalty programs more feasible and successful.
The fundamental goal, or core, of loyalty programs is building brand equity and increasing the ‘stickiness’ of your brand with consumers. Ongoing loyalty programs not only allow for instant added value with purchase, they also allow for the collection of relevant purchase behaviour data that can then be used to provide customized offers and relevant programs on an ongoing basis.
A loyalty program is a highly-strategic and cost-intensive addition to a marketing mix. When done correctly, the investment is easily recouped. Educate yourself, or find those that can provide the expertise needed to find or develop the right program to suit your needs and the needs of your customers.
Best Practices: A Top Ten List
At the end of the roundtable discussion, the panel came up with a set of loyalty marketing best practices. The following points may be a checklist or roadmap to loyalty program success.
GET CREATIVE – Try something new and different to make your program a competitive advantage that you can maintain and continue to leverage.
EXECUTION – Too often does a program fizzle due to a poor roll-out. Do your research, look at case studies and work to create and implement the program correctly the first time.
EASE/EVERYDAY USE – Make it easy for the consumer join, accumulate and redeem.
LEARN AND EXTRACT INFORMATION – Use your collected data to know your customers, and use it to add value for them.
MODULATE REWARDS – Use of data can differentiate customers to maximize return on your investment in the program.
DRIVE THE VALUE – Up the value to the consumer on the purchases they make every day.
SEGMENTATION – Targeting your core customers and making the program relevant to them increases brand equity, loyalty and sales.
AFFORDABILITY – Have a value you can afford. Coalition loyalty programs can help provide your brand value.
GET AHEAD TECHNOLOGICALLY – As technology continues to develop, try to stay ahead of the curve and be where your customers are.
Mike Duncan is Managing Director of Toronto’s OSL Marketing.
True Calling Media: Purpose-driven, Digital-first
We are True Calling: a media company, a digital-first content creator, and publisher of short, inspiring documentaries. Our philosophy is simple—love what you do.
We started when we had an idea: that so many people are disconnected from their passion. We believe that if more people loved what they do, society would be happier. If people were more satisfied at work, things would be better. By telling real stories of people who truly love what they do, we hope to spark action in people to pursue their passion in life.
We tell real stories about human ambition in every corner of passion and profession. But what makes us different is that our content is cinematic and award-winning, with a built-in audience that shares and engages with it far more than any advertising can achieve. Normally, when you stop paying to push your advertising, it ends. But with True Calling, the content lives on and grows forever, which is a unique feature of our series.
Because at the core of what we do, we’re different—we’re purpose-built. We didn’t build True Calling to be a big business venture—it just started working well that way. We’ve shifted our positioning as we explored the business, but we always told the stories that needed to be told, and partners have always been asking to work with us since. In our latest and final iteration, we have been working with long-term partners whose values align with ours. These partnerships are what fuel our growing library of diverse stories in all walks of life.
True Calling sits at the intersection of passion, purpose, and profession, and more than ever, everybody is drawn to those themes. We’re creating high quality content at scale, that has an ever-increasing value to our audience. And because of that, our audience continues to grow rapidly.
We started out at our studio in Gastown and have recently scaled the business to open a new Toronto production studio and office. We want to tell uniquely Canadian stories, and bookending the country was a natural progression to be able to do that. This growth comes at a time when viewers are in control, easily able to “skip ads” in the mobile scrolling environment. Audiences today reject overly branded advertisements and have a low tolerance for traditional ad formats. The current landscape pushes content creators like us and advertisers to develop a responsibility to create inspiring, cinematic and relevant native content that both consumers and brands are proud and excited to share.
What compels us to tell stories with this responsibility every day is the amazing engagement and feedback online. People really love the stories we’re sharing, and that’s driving us to press forward. Our compass is our mission, and we will keep telling stories until everyone is fulfilled, and loves what they do.
In the Mail – PURLs Put the Polish on Direct Mail
The upswing of direct mail is no surprise. This is the age of ever-increasing media fragmentation, ‘Do Not Call’ registries, the growth of the Internet, and the emergence of other factors that have caused marketers to place a premium on one-to-one communications with consumers. Further, technologies have also made it easier than ever to measure ROI on marketing dollars, putting an added burden on marketers to justify their strategies. Overcoming such challenges has led to smarter solutions.
If you believe that great direct mail is about relevant personalization, then you’re going to love Personal URLs – or PURLs – the latest development in the personalization, efficiency and effectiveness of direct mail.
As any marketing professional knows, personal communication always delivers better results. PURLs not only enhance the personalization of direct mail campaigns, but they provide a number of other benefits that multiply their impact and returns.
Imagine creating direct mail pieces for donors, existing clients or prospects, customized with graphics, photos and text to match each individual’s preferences. Tailoring an offer to appeal to one person, and then modifying it to target another. Now imagine that functionality achieved in one press run, and further, driving each recipient to a personalized website where you can capture additional information and engage in a one-to-one conversation.
With PURLs, you can expect automatically-triggered follow-up emails to respondents, variable email content determined by web activity, and automatically-generated leads distributed via email, PDA or cell phone.
What’s more, all customer visits and online activities are tracked, and reports generated, to help fine-tune marketing activities, and data is automatically delivered for immediate upload to CRM systems. You can even watch the real-time results of your campaign in action. Tools like these offer the ability to optimize programs and offers, and ensure that your program achieves results.
Effective channel integration is the goal of every marketer. How do you integrate email, direct mail, internet and mass advertising into a single campaign, and then watch the results from all channels unfold in real time on your desktop? PURLs are the bridge connecting all the channels and the tracking mechanism.
Remember that 30+% of direct mail recipients prefer to respond online. Are you there for them? Direct mail and the Internet make a smart pair, offering two distinct flavours. And consumers like a little of both.
So why do we continue to receive direct mail that is almost certain to engage the shredder instead of the intended recipient? The answer isn’t that complex. Some traditional direct mail campaigns continue to realize fair results, supporting the ‘why change?’ argument. In other instances, some mature organizations are simply challenged to execute change.
But if realizing greater returns from direct mail is part of your strategy, PURLs offer a smart solution. With relevant personalized messaging coupled with PURLs, it’s not uncommon to see response rates increase twofold.
With the Do-Not-Call registry due to launch in September, and the challenges this will pose to marketers, that PURLs’ direct-marketing solutions will find their way into marketing plans. After all, when the Do-Not-Call registry launched in the US, 60% of American households signed up. I don’t believe we should expect anything less in Canada.
PURLs aren’t just a solution for big business either. As the cost of PURLs is primarily driven by the actual number of personalized URLs used, this solution can be tailored to match the needs and budgets of businesses of all sizes. A small retailer with a compact target audience has the same ability to execute a program as a national client utilizing two million PURLs.
To make the most of today’s advanced PURLs however, it pays to follow some sage advice. Start by working with a PURL pro, someone who has learned from experience and understands how to navigate potential logistical issues. Make sure your PURL has compelling visuals, and flawless execution and web functionality. Before you move too quickly, develop a strategy. Finally, have a few people outside of your organization test- drive the PURL to see if it makes sense to them. Best of all, engage a one-stop-shop that offers all the solutions from digital variable printing, data work, and URL software under one roof. It will save you headaches, time and money.
Since this firm embraced PURLs late last year, we’ve been amazed by the results. As each execution unfolds, we discover new and unique concepts to make the delivery more creative and engaging. My hunch is that, as more clients try this technology, PURLs will increasingly win favour as the must-have component of any modern, direct mail campaign.
Mike Cowan is Director of Business Development at Vancouver’s Kirk Integrated Marketing Services.
Sidebar: The PURL Process
Just a few years ago, the transition to intelligent direct mail was significantly more complex. Today, variable digital printing technology combined with PURL software is nearly bulletproof.
A PURL is an individual web address that marketers can use to have prospects log on to a website. That website is specific to that prospect. An example would be www.mikecowan.kirkmarketing.com, which would direct Mike Cowan to a landing page tailored specifically for him.
A typical PURL assignment project starts with a brief consultation with the PURL provider. The database is handed over to the provider and a unique PURL field is assigned to each individual record. Artwork is uploaded and the web pages are designed. Questions and content can be tailored to support the program objectives. Each PURL can have different content, specific to the responder. The direct mail pieces are variably imaged with the PURLs, and then mailed out. Once the recipient logs onto his personalized web page, he is engaged and the interaction process begins. As the survey pages are completed, information is tracked in real time and available immediately via the tracking and reporting tools. The response triggers are immediate and come in two categories, internal and external. External triggers can be a thank you or confirmation of services e-mail, or a direction to complete an e-commerce transaction. An example of an internal trigger is a sales lead notification sent via e-mail, PDA or text message. This allows the service or sales process to be extremely prompt.
Pricing breaks down into three areas; actual set up, access to measurement and reporting tools, and individual PURL assignment, which is typically a cost per record. Costs for set up and dashboard access are usually flat fees, regardless of PURL quantity. The cost per PURL generally decreases as the quantity increases.
The processes are really no different than those of a traditional direct mail campaign, except for this one additional step. Like any good integrated marketing campaign, all creative execution should be consistent between direct mail, e-mail, digital and mass media solutions. Choose the right partner and PURL integration is seamless.
Reach Beyond – Advice from a New-Comer
It was Coco, our uber-friendly chocolate Labrador puppy, who introduced me to Louise, the editor of this magazine, in a lick-fest on the beach by the Maritime Museum (the dog and Louise, not me and…well you know what I mean).
By chance, I was wearing an old BBDO Asia Pacific T-shirt. In a former life I ran BBDO’s Asia Pacific region out of Hong Kong. Louise commented on it, and we got talking. “How about a piece on your thoughts about what Vancouver can learn from the rest of world?” she suggested.
So, after 25 years in communications, brand and business consulting working around the world, if the Vancouver communication industry came to me for advice, what would I say?
It’s unapologetically subjective and, after only a year here, little more than skin-deep. Then again, when I consult to CEOs on change management, I encourage them to pay special attention to the newcomers. Why? Because they’re the ones most likely to ask the ‘dumb questions’ that challenge the status quo; they haven’t been brainwashed by the establishment and their cultural naivety is an asset.
Three of my favourite themes appear to me to be particularly relevant here:
1. Stretch your horizons. Reach beyond.
2. It’s ideas that count, not the style.
3. Focus, and collaborate.
Smash the imaginary dome over BC that’s limiting your horizon. Brilliant ideas and good strategy aren’t bound by geography or culture. Vancouver has an entrepreneurial culture and, from what I’ve seen, this applies to the communication industry. There are some very smart, talented, creative people here with the power to change the world with their ideas. Today, 60% of British Columbia’s GDP is from small companies, BC is a hotbed of entrepreneurialism, and it could become a mecca for ideas companies.
Why be limited to a BC client-catchment area? And why the tendency to look eastward to Toronto, New York or London?
In my day, the large networked-agency headquarters tended to view their smaller provincial offices as remote out-posts, necessary to keep the local clients happy, but not capable of generating the world-beating campaigns. But that’s changed—the currency of the large traditional agency networks is now much diminished, both as a percentage of revenue and source of innovative ideas.
Twenty-five years ago the percentage of total communications services expenditure spent on the traditional channels of television, print and radio, cinema and outdoor would have been in excess of 75%. Today, companies like WPP (which accounts for 10% of total expenditure alone) have 54% of their revenues from ‘alternative’ marketing services–and are pushing for this to become two thirds of the mix. The diversification of these mega-communication groups has resulted in a rash of specialist consultancies and companies that provide creative services, idea generation and brand consultancy, all traditionally the territory of the advertising agency groups.
Change occurs at the periphery, not at the centre, or by committee. When there’s a fundamental change to the set of rules we’ve become used to (it’s called a paradigm shift but I hate that jargony expression), it’s normally created by the satellites, the mavericks or experts from other disciplines that challenge conventional wisdom with upside-down thinking. Charles Handy likened the change agents to fleas (the small companies) dancing around the ears of elephants (the big companies).
The old set of rules said: ‘We’re small because our clients are small. They’re provincial clients mostly with small budgets. We’d like to deal with bigger international clients, but our HQ in (insert Toronto, New York, London or wherever) deals with them.’
The new set of rules says: ‘Every business wants brilliant ideas to build its brands and its business. We don’t have to be big to develop big ideas. We do need the confidence, competence and culture to do it, and we have that.’
Some companies are doing it already. One Vancouver design company I met with set out to target only international clients within a specialist airport and retail niche and has 100% of it’s client mix from overseas, mostly in Asia. Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Bangkok are recognized centres of creative excellence – Vancouver could become one too.
It’s Ideas That Count
Spend your time creating, recognizing and nurturing brilliant ideas and bringing them to life. Don’t waste your time polishing turds.
Lately, we’ve heard the phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’ a lot, mostly in reference to the US’s handling of the economic crisis. But it’s also an apposite reference for the vast majority of communications in Canada (and the rest of the world by the way). Yes, yes, there are some wonderful campaigns out there too. But let’s have a reality check.
When I started in advertising in London over a quarter of a century ago, it was the tail-end of the golden ‘Saatchi Age’ that had created a genuine shift in creativity in the industry that many others rose to emulate. Even then, of the total volume of advertising messages out there, perhaps only 5% were exceptionally brilliant, 20% were good to passable, and 70% were poor to insultingly dreadful.
How has that ratio changed in 25 years? Not much. And that’s a pretty sad reflection on our communication industry—even automotive manufacturers (at least the Japanese, Korean and Germans) have innovated and improved dramatically since then.
Here’s the thing: highly-polished turds are still turds. Superb craftsmanship and expensive technical execution can’t disguise a weak concept or the lack of a differentiating, compelling idea.
I’ve seen very little to suggest the Canadian communication industry isn’t still trapped in the ‘bang ‘em over the head’ mode…go on, repeat it again…talking heads is the thing…the more verbiage the better…spell out the strategy in case they don’t get it…brand name repetition is the thing…add the compulsory un-funny quip at the end…explain the joke incase they don’t get it…” (If you think I’m exaggerating I urge you to record the commercial breaks in a typical show and watch them back to back…or listen to any one of the number of automotive radio ads).
I advocate communications that appeal to the intelligence, rather than insult it. Messages that require processing, that involve and engage – these might actually begin to rise above the litter, actually achieve rule No.1 (get noticed), and then justify the intrusion.
Focus and Collaborate
As with nature and as with brands, the two dominant forces are diversification and entropy (moving from order to disorder, or decay) and diversification. If you use these forces to your advantage you’ll champion diversification and specialization to avoid decay.
Small companies can’t do everything, nor should they want to. Focus on what you excel at and enjoy doing, Celebrate it and be the best at what you choose to do…then collaborate with other ‘best’ small companies in diversified fields. Specialization means collaboration with other specialists to provide security and growth.
There are a lot of fun, confident, go-forward companies out there, and there are a lot of nervous, defensive ones. I believe that Vancouver can become a centre of creative and strategic excellence, and I’d go further to suggest the Portland/Seattle/Vancouver triangle should actively position itself as such.
Smash that imaginary dome over British Columbia that sets an artificial horizon – be yourself, celebrate your difference and conquer the world.
How do you focus? Well that’s a whole other story in its own right, but it begins with a strong understanding of how you are currently perceived, then articulating your own compelling promise…
Peter Wilken is founder of the Vancouver consultancy Dolphin Brand Strategy.
The New Old – Mean New Rules for Sales and Marketing
Imagine that’s it 1980 and you’re 65 years old.
What have your life experiences been? How much longer do you think you’re going to live? How much longer are people around you living? And how do the answers to those questions shape your behavior in the marketplace – and, thus, the attitude of the sales and marketing community toward you?
You were born in 1915 and you grew up in the Depression and fought in World War II. Your experiences made you cautious, a saver rather than a spender. You’ve been saving, in fact, precisely for this last phase of your life – 10 years, maybe 15, tops, in which to enjoy (hopefully) a relatively dignified and pain-free glide to the finish line.
Not surprisingly, members of the sales and marketing community have almost no interest in you. They figure your brand preferences are already set in stone. They note you’re frugal, and probably living on a fixed income. And besides, you’re going to be six feet under in a decade or less. So why should they bother?
This set of assumptions may have been fine for 1980. But it’s wildly inaccurate for 2008. Yet, not only does this still govern most sales and marketing attitudes and strategies but, believe it or not, sales and marketing professionals are actually resisting the biggest and wealthiest segment of the consumer marketplace.
The Zoomers – Canadians 45-plus – add up to 14.5 million people, control almost 60% of all consumer spending, and are the only demographic segment whose net worth actually increased over the past 20 years. Yet the advertising and marketing world remain obsessed with the so-called ‘youth market’ – a segment whose share of the population and share of consumer spending has been in decline.
Not surprisingly, the Zoomers have noticed.
A study by US cable network TVLand indicated that almost half of Baby Boomers (the oldest now being 63) feel overlooked by marketers who advertise on television. Only 3% of them said they were extremely satisfied with the TV programming options available to them. And this is the generation that grew up on TV.
In the UK, a 2004 survey published by specialist marketing agency Millennium revealed that 86% of Boomers felt ignored by the marketing industry, and 70% felt patronized by advertising.
It’s no better in Canada. In an online poll we conducted of our own audience at ZoomerMedia, 80% of respondents said marketers were not interested in them and not communicating effectively with them.
Why do so many in our industry still remain blind to the importance of the Zoomer market? And – aside from not allocating enough dollars to reach them – why are so many unable to frame their sales messages effectively?
In my experience, marketers are, slowly, beginning to catch on to the numbers. They nod their heads and say, “Hey, yeah, the Zoomers…right…it’s big…” But then they go on acting as if the Zoomer phenomenon simply means there are more “old people.” In other words, they acknowledge the trend as a quantitative issue…but assume the qualitative issue is the same as it’s always been. Old people aren’t spenders, they don’t have much time left, and their brand preferences are locked in stone, so why bother?
You have no hope of effectively tapping this market until you realize that the “old people” of today are not the same as the “old people” of any previous generation in history. In my book, ‘The New Old,’ I make the case that this is a qualitative issue: “An astonishing process is under way today. It’s just starting to take shape, and its influence will be felt for centuries – maybe forever. The process is being carried out by the demographic segment that has been poked, prodded, analyzed, loved and hated more than any other group in history – the Baby Boomers. What the Baby Boomers are doing is, quite simply, destroying our entire concept of aging. The Boomers are, in effect, de-aging.”
The effects of this phenomenon influence groups older than the Boomers, hence our embrace of the entire 45-plus demographic under the umbrella name of ‘Zoomers.’
It shouldn’t be too hard to understand what’s happening because it’s happening right before your eyes. Let’s go back to that example I led off with – someone who was 65 in 1980.
Now let’s look at someone who is 65 today.
If you’re 65 in 2008, you were born in 1943. You grew up in the post-war Baby Boom era (although you’re technically a year or two older than the earliest Baby Boomers) – a time of peace and prosperity. Also a time of high inflation, easy credit, and a non-stop proliferation of new products and exciting technology. A time in which it made sense to borrow, not save. When Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the hot new product in Canadian politics, you were only 25. You may have attended Woodstock. Your contemporaries include Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, George Bush and Bill Clinton. And, thanks to today’s medical capabilities, you’re probably looking at another 25 years. Minimum. In other words, you’re still a player. And you’ve got the money to be a player.
You ought to be the most desirable audience for any marketer out there. But most of them still don’t get it.
What do sales and marketing people have to do? How can they better understand, reach and sell to this demographic?
In ‘The New Old,’ I offer a questionnaire that enables readers to evaluate to what degree their own organization is, or is not, responsive to the Zoomers. Since space here is limited, let’s jump to some solutions.
First, let’s look at the enemiesof an effective sales and marketing campaign:
- Condescension – I call it the “there, there dear” syndrome. It communicates the idea that the target audience is old and helpless and relatively disengaged. It’s particularly lethal in the area of computers or other high-tech products, including the Internet: do not make the assumption that this market is too old to understand or use technology. The reality couldn’t be more different: they’re all online and over 1 million Zoomers spend 2+ hours a day on the Internet. In Canada, over 3 million own home theatres, over 4 million own digital cameras, over 7 million have cell phones; over 9 million have personal computers.
- Vagueness – This is the generation that grew up on TV. They know how to tune out the bullshit. They’re interested in information – in fact, they’re hungry for information. They actively want to know how your product or service can make their lives better. They won’t be fobbed off by vague imagery and soft content.
- Insincerity – This is an extension of the previous point. Some companies feel they can reach this group by pandering to them through imagery that evokes their past lives and experiences. This will never work if it is seen as a gratuitous add-on. If your product or service is irrelevant to their needs (or if you can’t explain why it’s relevant), then you’re not going to be able to save the day by shoe-horning a Grateful Dead song into an otherwise vacuous message.
So what are the buttons you shouldbe pushing? What are the appeals that are likely to work?
The key drivers of Zoomer appeal are:
- Health and Well-Being – Zoomers want to live longer and be healthy and active for as long as possible. Show how your product or service can contribute.
- Quality of Life – They want the best. They want to be surrounded by interesting and enjoyable things. They particularly want to benefit from new technology.
- A Feeling of Youthfulness – They act 10-15 years younger than their chronological age. A product or service that says “You’ve still got the magic” will be coveted.
- Exploration, Discovery, New adventures and Experiences – They’re still making plans! Anything that speaks to education, exploration, adventure and trying new things will generate strong interest.
- Independent Living – They’re going into that nursing home…never. Show how your product or service can enhance their environment, making it safer and easier for them to live independently.
- Fashion, Style, Sex Appeal – They want to look good, feel good, and be seen that way by others. Does your product or service help them in this area? And note: Sex continues into the 70s and 80s.
- Exceptional Service – Let’s face it, these people can be very high- maintenance customers. They want service that is highly personalized, that anticipates their needs, that delivers superior quality for the price. You can win on this one attribute alone.
- Convenience – They want products and services that are easy to use and shopping experiences that are as convenient as possible.
Tailor your product or service offerings, and the content, style and tone of your sales and marketing messages, to as many of these desired attributes as possible. This means digging deep into what you are actually offering, and trying to improve it substantively – you cannot rely only on the message.
Look at your product or service and run it up against each of the key drivers. Ask yourself:
- How competitive is this product or service today, vis-à-vis each key Zoomer driver?
- How could it be repositioned? Could some of its attributes be emphasized or highlighted so as to better fit with one or more of these drivers?
- How could it be modified or improved to fit with each key driver?
- What entirely new products or services could we introduce within our overall category of business, to better appeal to the key drivers?
This exercise will force you to constantly evaluate what it is you’re offering and how you’re framing it. Remember that the Zoomers is the all-time “been there, done that” market – this group wants the real stuff, its members are very good at tuning out fluff, and substance will always trump tap-dancing.
That said, when it comes to actual communication, there are some important dos and don’ts.
1, Think Products and Benefits – Not Psychographics
The trick here is not to over-think the psychology. What this market wants, above all else, is relevance. Zoomers want to quickly understand how your product or service relates to what they’re looking for. Every Boomer can remember the classic Wendy’s burger campaign, “Where’s the beef?” Take that as your mantra.
2. Show, Don’t Tell
Far too much of today’s advertising worships creativity for its own sake and fails to communicate the benefitsof buying and using whatever it is you’re selling. I’m not saying your message should be boring. But the key is to communicate the benefits clearly, and to cast your product or service in the context of the Zoomer lifestyle. And this, in its own right, should be even more exciting than anything an ad agency’s creative department can dream up. Think of it – the substance of your product or service is actually contributing to the Zoomer revolution. It is actually helping a generation that is shattering all the traditional ideas of what it means to age. Showing that role – bringing that experience to life – ought to be a creative assignment people would kill for.
3. Don’t Let Anyone Under 40 Write Your Copy. And Make it a Firing Offence to Produce Work That Shows Any Sign of Condescension
I am completely serious. You are playing for tens of millions of dollars, perhaps much more. How can you let the message be created by people who are 20 or 30 years younger than the target audience? Especially since these people, in the experience of most observers of the ad scene (including me) have not demonstrated even the slightest ability to understand and communicate with Zoomers?
If it were up to me, your ad agency would immediately replace the entire creative team with Boomers. Nobody understands this market better than the people who are in it.
If that’s impossible, require your copywriters to get a signed note from one of their parents before they submit any work to you. The note should say that the proposed ad or commercial has been read by the parent, and that the parent did not roll his/her eyes, burst into hysterical laughter, or want to punch the writer.
4. Create As Many Opportunities as Possible for Boomers to Engage in Dialogue with You
Zoomers are very interested in high levels of service, and in being treated as important customers. They’ve been that way all their lives. It’s only now, as they butt up against the traditional frontiers of “oldness”, that they discover that marketers are no longer interested in them.
Remember, too, that Zoomers have spent their lifetimes being cynical about advertising and sales, and suspicious of the claims of marketers, particularly where those claims have to do with the marketers’ professed attitudes toward consumers. “Your call is important to us” – a staple of the automated telephone responses that are the norm in business today – is perhaps the most exquisite expression of “We couldn’t care less about you, or why else would we substitute this recorded message for a live person?” Eventually, all these pious expressions of good will – so blatantly unfulfilled in the customer’s real-life experience – become background noise, and all large organizations morph into the same remote, indifferent, incompetent blob, to be navigated around, rather than engaged.
This leaves a pretty big vacuum for someone to do it right. Why not you?
The Internet provides a quick way of achieving this. A Zoomer-focused site can provide many opportunities to solicit feedback, create dialogue (between Zoomers and your organization, as well as between Zoomers and each other), and give your organization a human face while showing the Zoomers how important you believe them to be. Consider
- Polls, surveys and other feedback devices
- The opportunity to rate products and services
- Chat and forums, where your site can become a meeting place
- Podcasts, webinars, and other online events, both archived and in real time
- Virtual trade shows, fairs, exhibits, conventions
- Blogs and videos from your corporate executives, with talkback features for the audience
- Value-added “clubs” that offer enhanced services (or discounts) to frequent shoppers
The technology to execute every one of these already exists, and Zoomers are already heavy Internet users. Remember my earlier point: they are actively seeking relevant and helpful information.
5. Until the TV Industry Wakes Up, Your Best Media Are the Internet, Radio and Magazines
This audience grew up with TV and loves TV, but there is relatively little programming that appeals to it today. Indeed, the TV industry appears to be doing everything it can to drive them away. Until that changes, other media will get you there more quickly and efficiently. Remember that Zoomers like to read, and are hungry for information. The Internet is the fastest and most convenient medium for product research, and magazines offer the most focused and in-depth coverage of lifestyle or specific topics. Radio can also offer excellent reach: the audiences are growing older as the kids abandon the radio stations in favour of their IPods.
To sum up:
- Canada’s 14.5 million Zoomers control the marketplace
- Before you can sell them effectively, you have to understand this as a qualitative issue. They are literally creating a revolution in aging, and they are emphatically not the same “old people” as ever before.
- They want to hear what you have to say. They’re rooting for you to have solutions they can use. What they don’t want – and what they will punish, ruthlessly, in the marketplace – is fakery.
David Cravit has over 30 years’ experience in advertising, marketing and consulting in both Canada and the US. He is now Executive Vice President of Zoomer Media, one of North America’s foremost experts on marketing to ‘the new old,’ and author of book The New Old, which will be released in October.
On The Net
Online Social Networking Gets Down to Business
Online social networking: by far, it has been the biggest marketing buzz term over the past couple of years. It seems that every speaking event, every conference, every webinar, and every marketing publication is making an attempt to understand this relatively new and unbelievably pervasive phenomenon. All marketers know that they need to consider this in their upcoming marketing strategies, planning, and execution, but many are left scratching their heads about how best to take advantage of the phenomenon. We’re curious too. To help marketers navigate these uncharted waters, Ipsos Reid created a special feature in our quarterly Ipsos Canadian Inter@ctive Reid Report to track activities, behaviour and attitudes of online Canadians.
First off, it’s important to understand the scope and size of the market. If we define this activity at the broadest level, then participation is nearly as universal as Internet access itself. Three-quarters of adult Internet users in Canada have participated in activities such as browsing online social networking sites, connecting with lost friends, participating in live chat, playing computer games live with friends or strangers, participating in forums/blogs, and other Internet activities that would classify in the broad- reaching category of social networking.
What is equally, if not more, significant is that the research shows that online socializing has captured a significant share of Internet browsing time – according to our estimates, as much as 50% of the average 18 hours per week that people spend online is spent on some form of social networking sites, including a significant number of ‘work’ hours. Consumers also rate these activities as being very important in their lives for connecting with friends, and as a meaningful part of their social lives. The scary thing is to think of all the more ‘marketing-friendly’ activities that this has displaced (online searching for news, sports, movies, health, travel, banking, etc.).
If we take a narrower, more defined approach to understanding who is participating in social networking, the numbers become a bit more manageable. As of Q2-2007, 45% of online Canadians have visited an online social network or community such as Facebook, MySpace, Classmates, etc., and slightly more than three-in-ten have placed a personal profile on one of these sites. These numbers increase significantly among younger age groups; two-thirds of 18 to 34 year olds have visited social networking sites, compared to only three-in-ten for 35 to 54 year olds, and just 20% of those 55 or older, with no significant gender differences within each age group. In a separate Ipsos-Reid report (Inter@ctive Teens) conducted with over 2,300 online teens at the end of 2007, we found that 62% of teens had visited an online social network. Aside from the youth component, our research has also shown that this market is attractive from the standpoint that these individuals are significantly more likely to shop online, buy online, click ads, and sign-up to receive permission-based email marketing.
So we’ve established that the market for online socializing is huge, and demographically and behaviourally attractive, but how does a company tap into this market? Other than the obvious banner ad purchases/sponsorships and other forms of online advertising, marketers are rather limited in how they can take advantage of this medium, and there are significant challenges to this approach.
Firstly, and probably the largest difficulty with this particular medium is the frame of mind consumers are in when participating in social networking activities. People are not very receptive to traditional marketing approaches in these social settings. It’s like the realtor who shows up at a Saturday night party, drink in one hand, and on the other, a stack of business cards, interrupting conversations and handing them out. It’s simply regarded as being inappropriate. As consumers, we are ‘used to’ being marketed to when we go to search for products and services online, or when we are browsing financial websites, looking up our favourite health/lifestyle sites, or checking out vacation destinations. But when we are talking to friends, we aren’t exactly in the frame of mind to stop what we are doing to check out the latest banner ad that sends you to a website to buy something. This poses a significant problem, to the point where many marketers have questioned the efficacy and ROI of traditional online advertising approaches on these sites.
Secondly, the choices that exist for marketers are relatively limited in this space. You have the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, or a fish-tank to choose from. Unlike the other 60 to 80 or so online activities that we have tracked over a 15-year period with our Inter@ctive Reid Report, online social networking is characterized by a few very dominant players – 28% of online social networkers pick Facebook as their favourite site, 24% choose MSN/MSN Messenger. After that, the choices are rather thin, Yahoo! is chosen by 8% as their favourite, followed by Pogo (4%), and less than 2% choose other sites such as Classmates, MySpace, or Plentyoffish. After that, the market becomes extremely fractured, with over 25% of Canadians mentioning niche sites that attract less than 1% of mentions as ‘favourites’.
On the bright side, as marketers, we can learn a great deal about the types of activities people like to participate in when social networking. Those ideas can be incorporated into our traditional marketing approaches via our websites, our mainstream advertising approaches, and ideally, integrated campaigns that cross traditional and digital boundaries. Things like the ability to customize individual consumer choices, the ability for consumers to provide immediate feedback on product and service offers, the ability to exchange ideas with other consumers who are similar to themselves, and quick, interactive activities such as quick polls, interactive games, choice-based exercises, surveys, and the like. Many campaigns have gone as far as to give consumers choices about how the marketing message is actually delivered to them by having them pick alternate story lines or outcomes in the actual campaign, or the actual offer or call to action.
What is probably the most significant and fundamental lesson that marketers can take away from online social networking is that the marketing landscape has been forever altered by these tools. Gone is the one-way communication; the ‘smack you over the head’ with the singular message driven by what marketers want you to hear. We have entered the new marketing reality – the true one-to-one marketing approach that takes into account a very customizable offer where consumers have considerable choice in the way they not only want the message delivered, but in the way they are able to customize their own consumer choices as it relates to how they receive and process your brand, and your products and services.
Steve Mossop is President of Market Research Canada West within Ipsos Reid (Vancouver).
How an effective strategy leads to memorable content
Walking through a craft beer tasting is where I first started learning more about the job I was being offered at Vyoo. I’d attended a networking event with my now boss and he was explaining to me how he was starting up an agency who’d focus on brand and content.
As we checked off different brews to try on our list, he explained that effective and authentic brand storytelling was the way of the future. This concept, however, isn’t new, almost everyone in marketing I know “tells stories”. It’s such a commonality in fact that these days it’s getting harder and harder for companies to find memorable ways to tell their stories.
So after a few sips of beer, I asked how Vyoo as a brand and content company was going to set itself apart from Toronto’s extremely competitive market? The answer was simple, strategy!
Companies don’t always invest the time to create a content strategy before they begin concept development. The effective way to properly develop a content strategy is to formulate a hypothesis, gather insights, speak to key stakeholders and then prove that hypothesis. Only after you’ve proven that hypothesis should you begin to develop concepts for any type of campaign or a media strategy for where you are going to tell that story.
The risk you run into not creating a strategy first is that concepts then become based on subjectivity.
For example a craft brewery hires an agency to to come up with a campaign to promote their new brew. The Creative Director of the agency takes a few weeks to develop concepts then comes into the meeting and holds a couple of different creative options. After a brief discussion of each creative option the client is asked to pick which one they like best.
The trouble with this is that it’s too subjective and although the creative might be incredible it doesn’t guarantee that it will resonate with your market. Having insight from your key stakeholders on your products or services (in other words proving your hypothesis) before you show them an ad, campaign or even a piece of copy on the website, is vital to success.
Having a strategy ensures you are creating something memorable and that your story stays true to your brand no matter which way you tell it.