The Summer of My Discontent

discontent

It’s been a while since I posted here largely because I have been quite vocal in other places – like Ad Age (see Articles/ buzz – https://trenchwars.wordpress.com/articles-buzz/).

In fact, this has been the summer of my discontent where I rail against the tech drum beat which continues to be deaf to the needs of marketing practitioners’ for practical solutions.

Perhaps because I am a printer’s daughter, I am much more interested in the machinery of marketing than the cool of it all. I am far more passionate about ad tech answering the “Now what” and “So what” questions in the same platform than the algorithm that drives the platform.

Mostly, though I remain aghast at deep the struggle marketers of all stripes are quietly enduring; feeling as though THEY are doing it wrong whilst everyone must be doing it better and more frequently.

Wrong my friends.

My articles in Ad Age in last two months paint a dismal picture of the gap between ad tech and marketers – from SaaS to programmatic buying. I talk about why the precious PESO model doesn’t work. Mostly, I highlight a gulf between ad tech and marketing borne ignorance and fueled by greed.

As 2016 comes to its marketing peak – I remain defiant of an ecosystem that defines itself by what is “tech cool” instead of what is “marketer happy.”

As 2017 comes around – I know our time is at hand because marketing is a trust business. The ad tech “kids” got nothing on us. Time to rise and shine.

Judy Shapiro

 

The centralized search model is over. Welcome to your personal search.

I was having dinner with a dear colleague one night after a long day. He was trying to explain how uTube will become the video search engine in the future and that fact was key to understanding a new way to optimize search in video. “Nothing will come close” he said.

Rather impolitely, I kept saying, actually insisting, “No – they won’t be”. He looked at me rather incredulously and not without good reason. He was well ensconced within bosom of the techno-glitteri and he moved in the high-glam world of high tech. He knew stuff about uTube that most people didn’t. I was not just challenging him; I was challenging most of the accepted wisdom of the techno Silicon Valley world; that in the internet game there will be a few search winners, Google and uTube. Game over. That belief was required for the rest of our conversation to continue.

Poor man. He could not get me to agree to that simple, well understood principle.  I could not buy into a monopolistic search belief system. I sense the centralized search model is ready to fall apart. I was not just being argumentative or combative, but I sensed a “new” trend that has been operative for 20 years was starting to asset itself and only few people seem to see it.

I call the trend, “the techno-edge effect” and the main principle is that new technologies migrate from the enterprise level to the consumer level, to the “edge”, at some point. Some simple examples to illustrate my point:

  • Corporate Audix systems (messaging systems) evolved to become consumer answering services and ultimately devices (1980s)
  • Desktop PCs became personal PCs (1990s)
  • VoIP for enterprise migrated to consumers via services like Vonage (2000s)
  • Centralized software development to crowd sourcing (2007)
  • Podcasting was a corporate activity, now anyone with a webcam can be a broadcaster (2008)
  • Centralized news service to citizen journalism (2008)
  • “Cloud” computing would have only been contemplated for business a mere few years ago – now the model of the new Netbooks is that your data is “in the clouds” (2010…)

(Enough yet? If not email me, I can send you about 2 dozen more J)

The point is that the march to the technology edge is unrelenting and undeniable. The only question is how fast a particular technology will move to the edge. One could argue that Twitter became so successful so fast because it encouraged a high level of customization and personalization – it moved out to the edge really really fast.

Very interesting, but what pray tell, does this have to do with the entrenched and well accepted belief that search will be dominated by a few centralized companies?

Everything! Because I believe technology has reached the point where we will be able to create a totally personal web not through some centralized company, but through the transformative ingredient of trust. Now that people are creating trust for themselves (via communities, blogs etc) the power is shifting relentlessly from centralized search providers, (like a Google or uTube) to distributed power of the Trusted Web.

The model of the Trusted Web and decentralized search

Instead of semantic search or intelligent search agents from big companies driving the web’s evolution, I contend that each person’s ability to drive trust into every web action will be the animating force that moves us from centralized search paradigms to a new, decentralized one. In the new model, we will be able to search better because our trusted communities are doing search for us. We can better trust sites, because people we know had good experiences and we will learn about new things on the internet with services like Twine or HopSurf that gives us ideas based on people who are similar to me.

In the future, we will rely on the power of our networks to inject trust into our search – we won’t go to Google first. If some specific event requires that I get search help from a diverse set of backgrounds, I can create a virtual, new trusted group from all my networks. We will still search internet, but we will start with our trusted network first moving out only as the need requires.

This new proactive model of creating trust is not some future, far off concept. It is happening here and now. We now use trust based content rating systems to determine what content is more trustworthy. Reputation systems allow us to better trust verified SMEs (subject matter experts) versus just any reviewer. The explosive growth of communities demonstrates how people are proactively creating trust through shared interests. Twitter, Comodo HopSurf and Twine are interesting in this decentralized model because they provide an individualized community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data. Forums are yet another mechanism for people to create individualized trust by letting users share experiences.

All this adds up to the inescapable trend that the techno-edge effect for the Internet is that trust will be dismantling the centralized search monolithic model we have today. We are now moving to this new trust decentralized model. A model I call the Trusted Web.

Watch this space.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

BING versus Google: Will “Judy Consumer” get the difference?

We consumers seem to becoming just pawns in the power struggle between the two Internet born behemoths of Google and Microsoft. To Google, we are “products” to be sold to highest bidding advertiser and to Microsoft we have been reduced largely to a software license.  When I see the battle of these two corporate super powers play itself out on the grand stage, I am left feeling awed and also feeling rather puny too. 

 So when I read the plethora of opinions being spun by experts about whether BING is better than Google, I wonder what “Judy Consumer” thinks. I do suspect that no matter what the experts think, both views introduce largely technology benefits whose subtleties are probably largely lost on the vast majority of “Judy Consumers” in the real world who use this stuff.

 What the “Judy Consumers” of the world do know is the new BING advertising campaign which promises that BING is not a just search engine but a decision engine. I can imagine the agency/ client meetings assessing this positioning versus that. I can hear the focus group comments that came from the testing that no doubt went into the creation of this campaign. And I can certainly feel the excitement (maybe even a little tension) as the agency reported on the research results in support of the recommended campaign. Been there, done that.

 Clearly the BING campaign is meant to communicate that people will get to the relevant information they want faster than Google. But this almost a technical benefit (aka better filtering of search results) is lost in the grandiose nature of the BIG BING promise as a decision engine. Maybe I am just too independent minded (and not the primary target), but I can’t help resisting the notion that Microsoft technology will decide anything for me.  What I really want is technology to give me the information I need to make the decision I want. So the premise of a decision engine falls flat to my ears. But hey everyone’s a critic.

 So then I went to look at how does BING delivers in its decision making promise. I did the first search that came to mind – I searched my name. Ya’ know what? Google did much better and was more accurate than BING by far. In fact, I could compare results very efficiently via a site called bing-vs-google.com that David Pogue of the New York Times was kind enough to introduce me to in his recent article.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/technology/personaltech/09pogue.html?ref=technology   

 I tried again thinking that I am not nearly important enough to have a depth of results to get an adequate idea of how BING works. So I decided to search the term “online trust”. The results were no more satisfying this time. True – BING does have a few nifty features like the related searches and the excerpt from the site without having to click around, but beyond that, TBH, I could see no perceptible difference.

 Maybe I am not looking hard enough and I certainly did not put it through its paces as David Pogue did for his NY Times article. Or just maybe the differences are too subtle for “Judy Consumer” to notice or for anyone to even care enough about to look for these extras.  And this is where BING is at a distinct disadvantage because inertia is one of the most powerful marketing forces on the planet. While that’s good news for Google, it’s bad news for BING because I suspect people will try BING for kicks, but drift back to their inertia induced Google search patterns.

 So what will “Judy Consumer” really think? I don’t proclaim to know but I hope “Judy Consumer” makes up her own mind and not rely on either Microsoft or Google. Or the pundits either for that matter. They know too much.

Judy Shapiro (http://twitter.com/judyshapiro )

Who cares what Google says!

My son showed me a Google search result that was in contradiction to a fact that I knew to be true about the Great Depression (I am, by training, a history major).

 

So I looked closer at the source he was using to make his point and realized it was a not a reliable information source but rather an affiliate site from some financial services company.

 

“Honey”, I say with more patience. “Google simply shows you which pages have the words you looked for. It can not tell you which information to trust.”

 

And then out of the mouth babes came, “Then who cares what Google says”. Precisely.

 

Google’s power comes from its ability to gather information efficiently and serve it back to users based on a keyword driven algorithm technology platform. However, no matter how intelligent keyword search becomes, it can not provide the critical ingredient to make search reliable – it can not tell us when to trust the information we are being given.

 

That, is where, the line in the sand is drawn between the searches of today and the new way to search in the future. Between the power of Google today and upcoming power of whoever delivers trusted searches.

 

And I am betting that this “whoever” will be our digital social networks. I believe they will become the new Google of tomorrow (actually Googles…)

 

Look at this it this way. In the real world, much of what we need to know can best come from our personal and professional networks because it is, in fact, trusted. We go there first because it saves us a lot of time and fuss. We enlarge the information gathering process only if this does not provide us all we need.

 

Translate that concept to our digital social network world. I believe that we will be able to configure our social networks efficiently to be our first search circle moving out as the needs requires.

 

It makes sense. It’s what we do every day.

 

Watch out Google. Here we come.

 

Judy Shapiro

Whatever.

Pity the poor agency person pitching me. I have actually felt sorry for them at times, until they start their pitch and then I remember why agencies infuriate me.

You see, I spent a dozen years at an agency before jumping to the client side. I know all the agency speak phrases that are meant to pacify clients that ask too many questions. I’ve been reminded of those phrases lately because I have been hearing lots of these phrases in lots of agency pitches in the past four months.

I miss the days when agencies prepared real proposals (“pitches”) with real tactics and costs. I don’t think most of these creative directors even know what a storyboard is anymore. Pitches nowadays seem to be have the “same” vague, unclear promises such as one promise that came from a social media agency where they claimed that “our article will be seen by 60 million people with hundreds of back links back to your site”.

Oh my — such big promises. It would make any inexperienced marketer sign up. I would.  But when you pick apart what exactly will they do get this level of activity, well the vague plans become even vaguer.

“Ah” – you say – “but my big agency does campaign plans, strategies and analysis”. I bet they do. And I bet you have lots of great looking strategic documents with very little specific results to show for it. And worse, the cost actually makes you think twice every time you pick up the phone. Unfortunately, based on feedback from my friends at large companies like Siemens and Avaya, I know full well that big agencies simply move too slow, are too late in picking up new tech trends and cost too much. Pity – because Paltalk is exactly the type of client where agencies can do the most good.

So after hearing countless pitches, I have come to the conclusion that either agencies are too clever for me or they never encountered a client who is an “Industry veteran” (as Forbes described me when I started at Paltalk), who knows what she wants and knows that agencies should be able to deliver it. When I question proposals (gasp — how dare I), I keep getting a vague air of “Trust us … you can’t get it … you’re not cool … only we cool agency types can get it”. This attitude is what gets my blood boiling. To add insult to injury, they act like clients should be grateful that they (said agency) even agrees to service them at all!

So what’s to be done? I love this industry too much to leave well enough alone. I propose that agencies must do nothing less than change their business model and it involves evolving to mirror the business of marketing that clients have to confront today!

But how? Well, here are my top 10 things that agencies can start doing differently. They are specific and actionable. I propose them because in these tough economic times, agencies need to either evolve or many will die.

The Agency 10 Step Recovery Plan.

1) Never confuse desired outcome with what you will actually do.

Promising results is fine .. but be clear and specific how you intend to do it. Is it too much to ask for details so when you say, we will have a blog campaign, that you explain how much time will be spent on blog postings. Don’t just promise results and leave the details as a vague “whatever”.

2) Be honest.

Stuff happens in any campaign. But when things go wrong in digital campaigns it is too easy to blame the client’s infrastructure. At least come to the table about what happened but don’t just shrug and say “whatever” (yes an agency person actually said that to me recently when I asked them about a troubling stat.)

3) Know what you know and make sure your client understands that.

Too often in an effort to be efficient, clients ask agencies to stretch beyond their competence – to the frustration of all. Much of digital marketing is technologically challenging – so don’t set yourself up to fail. Passing on business short term will win credibility in the long term.

4) Don’t propose campaigns you know are highly unlikely to be technically feasible.

Ok – this is one of my pet peeves. I ask an agency pitch me on a program with a clear deadline. Yet they insist on presenting ideas that can not be executed within the time frame I have. When I ask why they presented this idea, the answer is often “so you can see our depth”. All I can think is “whatever”.

5) Think about the business end game.

Agencies always “talk the talk” but they actually rarely “walk the walk”. Remember, clients pay agencies to deliver tangible business results – not just to do cool interactive stuff that no one associates with your brand. I even had one large digital agency tell me that they thought creating a highly viral campaign with a strong branding component was not possible. The best viral stuff can not be branded, they said. Obviously, my reaction to this agency was thanks very much but “whatever”.  I kept looking.

6) Create a campaign that engages the entire interaction lifecyle.

For some reason, agencies seem to stop short in their campaigns as though their job is done once the person has clicked or registered or done whatever action the campaign required. I rarely see thinking beyond the direct call to action. I am suggesting that agencies need to consider the full lifecycle management of the prospect; even they don’t have responsibility for executing the full plan. It would be nice to see how the concept extends beyond the banner campaign.

7)  Be humble.

The arrogance of interactive agencies sometimes amuses me but mostly just irritates me, especially since there is often a startling lack of business results to show for their arrogance. Again, recent experience had one agency tell me that they wanted to advertise with a banner campaign an interactive viral promotion to encourage consumer usage of the viral interactive device. When I asked how could you “advertise” a viral campaign that relies on the unexpected nature of the “gag”, I was told I didn’t get it. Another “whatever” moment.

8)  Be a technology leader to your client.

Delivering a traditional ad campaign is well understood by agencies and hence they often do a good job on these campaigns. Its all falls apart when the clients need integrated digital marketing campaigns. Then it gets messy. Very messy. Agencies do not integrate new technologies into their business model easily. Why? Because technology proficiency comes with depth, experience and time. Agency fee structures never ever supported this level of depth.

Clients always had to push agencies to adopt new technologies and nothing has changed. But clients need more guidance than ever – like what to do when PPC effectiveness really does start to decline. When will agencies finally step up to the plate and start leading their clients through the increasingly complex technology marketing game.

9) Clean house.

Start improving the level of skill and experience you hire to represent your agency. Stop hiring “children” who can talk the cool talk but who never lived through a tough business cycle. In the “old days” only the best MBAs from the best business schools were in account management. Real clients deserve real business smarts, not kids.

10) Execute!

Good ideas are nice … but execution is paramount. It is amazing how often campaigns are not to be completely executed. There are hitches, glitches and hiccups. Often, it is the result of a lack of homework and project management on the part of the agency. I find this the most baffling, largely because there is no excuse for it.

I am tired of feeling”whatever” when dealing with some marketing agencies. I want to be inspired. I want an agency to move me. And I have not found the right partner.

But take heart. I usually get what I want. I just have to work a bit harder at it.

Judy Shapiro

Build it and they will come – biggest digital marketing myths debunked

 

“Live and learn” is a tried and true approach to getting what you want – in business and in life. But some lessons seem to go unlearned – no matter what. On the business side, the lesson that stubbornly refuses to be learned by many is the notion that if someone builds a site they can build traffic “for nothing”. I can’t tell you how many friends talk to me about sites they have built but they are puzzled about why they have very little traffic. I always ask what they have done to promote the site. They often cite lots of activity that, in the end, have relatively little traffic building value.

 

Then I ask, OK – what else are you doing? Do you spend money on SEO or Google Adwords or other promotions? They often say no giving reasons such as fear of click fraud in Google Adwords. Or on the case of SEO, they don’t know how to be sure they are getting what they pay for.

 

But these reasons also conceal a deep myth people have about eCommerce. They believe that since much of the Internet is free – they can promote their site for free too.

 

That myth deserves to be skewered once and for all. The truth is that the web works like any other business venture. Investment is required is make it grow. The difference is where and how to make those investments.

 

So here is my top list of digital marketing myths that deserve to be slayed and the best ways to focus your marketing investments.

 

Myth #1 – Your time is FREE.

This is one I hear most often from new web business owners. The time they invest they feel is free because there is no out of pocket costs. I suggest this is one the biggest mistakes small web owners make.

 

Repeat after me – YOUR TIME IS MONEY!!!! Think about this way. Any time you spend on your business means you are NOT doing something else that can earn income. Instead, work under the premise of “Pay yourself first”. Assign yourself an hourly rate and you will quickly see how much money you really are spending on these activities.

 

Since you are spending your time and your money – spend it well with marketing activities that deliver a healthy return on your time investment. Here are my top suggestions for money (a.k.a. time) well spent.

 

1) Consistently scope out the competition and be sure you know how you are better/ different or offer more value. Make sure your web content reflects that competitive advantage.

 

2) Create some buzz about your company with free PR activities. Write the releases yourself and you can distribute it via free PR networks like TheOpenPress, PRlog, 1888pressrelease and myfreePR.

 

3) Participate in the social networking scenes with presences on the social networks sites. Again some of the top one are 360.yahoo.com, spaces.live.com, http://www.myspace.com, http://www.facebook.com, http://www.hi5.com, www.friendster.com.

 

4) Create good fresh content and put it on your site. You can also submit it to article directories. Be sure you include keywords that are relevant to your category. If you want to know which keywords have relevance, the Google search now includes a relative figure that tells you how many pages have the keywords you think are important. Use this tool to guide your keyword efforts.  

 

Myth #2 – There is too much digital fraud to justify the cost of online marketing programs.

Beyond affordability, the number one reason why people don’t invest in marketing programs is fear of digital fraud whether it be fraud click or copyright fraud if they sell online content.

 

It is unfortunate that these fears prevent many business owners from marketing their business online because the reality is that marketing in the digital world works just like the real world in one sense – there is going to be waste. John Wanamaker once said (he was a famous retailer and entrepreneur), “I know half of my advertising budget is wasted – I just don’t know which half”. And this applies to digital marketing too. It’s useful to remember that even though there is waste you are still going to make more money than if you do nothing.

 

So get over the fear and get on with investing in your business.

 

Myth #3 – Search Engine Optimization is too expensive or does not work.

SEO can be expensive and technically challenging. But train yourself to understand the basic dynamics and then you can purchase these services wisely.

 

And the basics are not that complicated.

1) Know which keywords drive your category and make sure your site has lots of them

2) Be sure your site has the proper tags so search engines can find, read and catalog your site

3) Refresh your site with good content that includes those precious keywords

4) Aggressively pursue a linking strategy (this is where other sites/ blogs link back to you)

 

With these core principles you can find services that reasonably deliver a competent SEO program for you.

 

Myth #4 – Building trust on my site is hard to do.

This is one of the easiest things to deal with because there are many ways a site can convey trust – most notably with credible site seals like BBB or a site seal from a reputable Certification Authorities like Comodo (www.comodo.com). One of my favorites is a free site seal that eMerchants can use from UserTrust (www.usertrust.com) . This seal is part of a program that delivers a free customer feedback platform where users can leave feedback about your site to increase trust. And best yet – it’s totally free.    

 

So build your sites dear friends – but don’t make the mistake of thinking the traffic will come for free. It doesn’t. Getting people to buy from you requires an investment – just like the real world.

 

Invest and they will come. Really truly.

 

Judy Shapiro  

Can you teach a new dog old tricks?

 

The buzz around all the new digital marketing tactics can be so confusing – Web 2.0, social marketing, D-PR, blogs, viral marketing, widgets, WOM and on and on and on. I sometimes get the feeling that all the Web 2.0 companies and agencies want to keep this all very mysterious so we all have to go to the “experts”.

 

Well —  think again.

 

Believe it or not – despite all the buzz – the principles that drive the good marketing have not changed and it is really quite simple.

 

1) Know what your target wants and satisfy the need.

 2) Know what your competition is doing and why you can satisfy your customer’s need better than the other guy.

3) Get the word out within a structured and disciplined plan approach.

 

This simple outline does not minimize the complexity there can be in understanding and executing – but the deliverables need to be crisply reduced to these basics.

 

And when it comes to #3 – don’t let any “new media” agency tell you that it is impossible to do a digital marketing media plan. That’s just plain rubbish. The ability to create a “digital media plan” like any traditional marketing plan absolutely is possible. Digital marketing campaigns are centered around planning content campaigns where strategic themes are developed and seeded across the digital media landscape. These content campaigns can be done within a specified timeframe (e.g. 90 days) and can be measured to see how they drove search volumes.

 

So indeed you can teach a new “media” dog old tricks – it is called marketing and media planning.

 

And if your agency does not get it – find yourself a “new” new dog.

Judy Shapiro    

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