Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Self –Procurement & The "Money" in the Middle

This morning’s session on Local Search at the Kelsey ILM Conference, offered a number of tactical solutions to using local search for smaller businesses. Gib Olander, Director of Business Development at Localeze, hit on an interesting note. After re-iterating the benefits to local search for small businesses, he laid out a few barriers to entry.

Olander commented on the use of self-procurement of media and how small businesses shy away from it because of the complexity of booking and managing campaigns.

I’m not sure I agree with this outlook. A few weeks ago at the Warrillow Conference in Toronto, there was a compelling discussion around the idea that small business owners are at the core, consumers themselves. Consumers are becoming increasingly tech savvy.

I think the combined factors of consumers (small business owners) becoming increasingly confident in online applications (thanks in large part to social networking), and the media publisher’s strides in developing user-friendly interfaces will make self procurement a more viable approach.

Perhaps we should start giving SMEs a little bit more credit. It’s clear that the majority of businesses are not yet fully versed in what the web has to offer. But it seems unrealistic to insist on the need for multiple middlemen.

I imagine a day when developing customized API based systems will be as easy as it is to blog today.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Conversational Marketing - The Wildfire

There was an excellent keynote presentation last week at Interactive to the Max in Toronto by Sean Moffitt, President of Agent Wildfire.

Sean did a great job of laying out the rationale behind the urgency of harnessing the web to build brands. More specifically, it was about the need to embrace the social aspect (word of mouth) of the web and to promote the conversations between users and brands.

An old favourite video kicked off the argument:

Rather than paraphrasing the presentation, I've jotted down a few important data points from the deck:

Globally there are:
  • 850 Social Network users
  • 100+ Million Blogs
  • Avg. # of Blog Links - 12
  • Avg. Facebook Friends - 164
  • No. of Per Person Brand-Related Conversations Each Year – 4,65 Source: Agent Wildfire Presentation 2007
  • Generation X's Split of User Generated Content Consumed vs. Corporate Generated Content is 35% to 65% and the younger Net Generation's split is 51% (user generated) to 49% (corporate). Source: Harrison Group 2007
  • Business & Ad People as a “trusted profession” – ranked 17 & 20th out of 21 professions Source: Gallup
  • 76 percent of consumers don’t trust advertising Source: Yankelovich
  • 2/3rds of brands have re-branded themselves in the last 3 years Source: BrandChannel
These were only a few of the many statistics throughout the presentation that made an air tight case for the importance of building conversations with consumers.

Sean also pointed out results from a recent survey that showed 70% of companies are currently spending less that 2.5% of their budgets on "conversation marketing". The same survey showed that 81% respondents project that by 2012 they would spend at least as much on conversational marketing as traditional media.

The biggest challenges to getting to that enormous shift in spend were outlined as:

  • 51.1% - Manpower restraints
  • 46.9% - Fear of loss of control
  • 45.4% - Inadequate metrics
  • 43.5% - Culture of their organizations
  • 35.8% - Difficulty with internal sell-through

"Fear of loss of control" was truly the theme throughout the day (and has also been over the past few weeks in other conversations).

Historically, marketers have relied on the dollar vote from consumers. This is were I argue tirelessly about the obsession these days with clicks and immediate ROI. If you ask me, the idea of letting go and allowing consumers to participate in the growth of a company can't be more logically sound.

Kudos to Sean for laying it all out last week!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pure Plays vs. Traditional Agencies - Who Gets the Conch?

Saw some great case studies at Interactive to the Max in Toronto today. Marketing Magazine hosted the event in association with IAB Canada. I have volumes of notes on the content and need to distill them over the next few days.

Today I thought I’d comment on the “Smackdown” session at the end of the conference. Geoffrey Roche, Chief Creative Officer, Lowe Roche and Mike Kasprow, Vice President, Creative Director, Trapeze held an open debate about whether advertisers are better served through pure play digital media agencies or full service traditional agencies.

Geoffrey argued that the full service agency has better mobility in that a creative concept can be born and executed quickly within the agency walls. He also pointed out the fact that campaigns require different media depending on what is trying to be achieved. He likened the digital agency to a displaced fridge during a kitchen renovation. Stating that a digital agency only has the fridge and its contents while the rest of the appliances and many ingredients found in the kitchen (traditional agency assets) are still intact and have multiple uses.

Mike politely retorted “using a traditional agency is like going to a restaurant and ordering dinner knowing that 30% of it is being outsourced”. Traditional agencies simply do not have the expertise to deliver the effectiveness that the channel can deliver.

And so went the debate.

Here are some salient points that arose from the discussion:

  • Digital agencies live, breath and eat the medium and are therefore better versed in its possibilities. (Mike)
  • In a meeting, if you’re not the one coding (or close to coding), the questions that might come up in the concept stage from the client will create delays. (Mike)
  • Media agencies are not compensated fairly although they are the ones that are finding the audiences in this fragmented landscape. (Geoffrey)
  • Canadian digital budgets have not warranted (to date) a complete shift in agency direction. (Mike and Geoffrey)

I couldn’t help but wonder whether an entirely new structure needs to occur in this day and age. Would it make sense to have a brand agency that focuses only on strategic messaging (the what) and then an agency that deals with the tactical deployments (the how). In the late 90’s, the digital agency buzzword became “practices”. An account manager has access to the practices in order to conceptualize a fully integrated program on behalf of the client. Practices include DM, Search, Print, Outdoor and so on.

But in real life, the meetings don’t happen as often or to the caliber as they should prior to presenting the client with smart solutions. When the “practices” are not fully involved in the beginning stages of a program, the entire system falls apart. Miscommunication stunts creativity. An account manager, who has experience with DM and outdoor is well versed in the potential for their client. However the same account manager, who is not a coder, simply doesn’t have the library of information about online possibilities at his or her fingertips.

The topic is much larger than this. The current digital agency landscape has fragmented itself. We now have agencies that are full service, ones that are focused on SEO and SEM, email specialists, directional agencies and most recently there are social networking agencies starting to pop out of the woodwork.

Some of the most forward thinking agencies have built out dashboards so that they can control the brain of the project and outsource where they need to. The significance of the dashboard is that the client begins to rely on this singular reporting mechanism to streamline all media. The dashboards also allow these agencies to own the data and present the fully integrated results to the client.

Ironically, most of the truly engaging case studies I’ve seen over the past few weeks, have been presented directly by solutions providers or media publishers. These individuals are so laser focused on their capabilities and on ways to innovate and inspire that they have become agents in themselves.

We weren’t going to change the world this afternoon but one thing was clearly agreed upon: at the end of the day, in this fragmented space, he who ultimately delivers the audience wins.

Elite Social Networks or Loners In Lounges?

There's been a lot of chatter about the closed social networks out there like A Small World, Diamond Lounge and Reuters Space. They've been billed as highly targeted vertical communities with desirable audiences and bright futures.

But having checked out some of these communities, it's very clear that their success is relying heavily if not entirely, on the socio-economic make-up of their members. Following the theory that "it's lonely at the top", it makes sense that users in these closed environments will stray to mingle with the masses.

Here's an extreme analogy:

When traveling with 5 colleagues and only one is a member of the First Class lounge, the sole member is faced with a decision; ditch the other 4 and sit alone to enjoy a free drink and peanuts while not making true eye contact with other peanut eaters, or spend 30 minutes socializing with the others who clearly have some common ground and money to buy nuts and a drink (otherwise they wouldn't be traveling together).

While there's a clear opportunity to connect like-minded individuals within the closed communities, it's important to remember that these networks more often than not, really don't "own" the user in the way they hope to.

Currently, the elite networks are missing major components of true social behaviors. While there may be an undeniable cachet to being invited into the circles, new members are often quickly disappointed by the limitations of the sites.

Online user behaviors transcend group dynamics. People use email, instant messaging, watch videos, upload photos, use search and directories as priorities. Providing sub-standard applications to accommodate only a few of these behaviors will not build sustainable communities regardless of how closely their members' socio-economic commonalities are tied. The combination of limited value in terms of "cool stuff" and the clear draw of targeted media placements will soon make users take their elitist ways to or depending on how you look at it, out of the ghettos.

In the meantime, the open networks have had an opportunity to grab critical masses, aggregate all demographics, and overlay psychographics and behavioral data to create platforms that will gladly offer elitist "groups" every opportunity to create their own playgrounds.

Who knows, with all those bored A types, eccentrics and gainfully unemployed refugees, it's an offer they may not be able to refuse.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Levi's Mobilizes Teen Market - A Case Study

I saw an interesting mobile marketing case study this evening at CaseCamp in Toronto.

Brady Murphy of Vortex Mobile and Lisa Rowe of Armstrong presented their “Mobile Marketing for Levi's @ Virgin Fest Toronto” case study.

Here’s a summary:


Levi's wanted to re-capture market share from competitors like Parasuco, Seven and other emerging brands that have attracted their elusive 17-24 year old target.


Implement a grassroots campaign appealing to their target's inherent desire for 15 minutes of fame. The idea was similar to American/Canadian Idol in that people were able to vote for the next Levi's model.

The Virgin Fest
was selected as an appropriate venue as it delivered the right audience.

Scouts were sent out to search for trend setting candidates to enter the contest to be the next Levi's model. A tent was set up at the event with all makes of Levi's jeans. Selected candidates were fitted with the best pair of jeans for their body type, photographed and then given a unique voting ID.

The unique voting ID is a simple application that is increasingly being used for various purposes (polling opinions at conferences being one of them).

So, the candidates were given their unique codes plus instructions on how their friends could vote for them by text messaging their short code. And so it began…

One of the elements that made the voting a success said Murphy, was “the ballot counter”. As friends would text vote, they were instantly given latest statistics on their friends’ votes. Murphy went on to explain that this created a major lift in voting activity. "It made the promotion believable" claimed Murphy.

Another interesting feature of this campaign was the use of MMS to download the Levis pictures of the candidates directly to the phones. Once downloaded, friends could forward the picture to other phones or emails. The viral component of the campaign was tremendously enhanced through this.

The third factor that made this campaign a success was the use of social networking by the candidates to gain votes. 25 groups were created on Facebook and MySpace involving 3,500 members and 2,000 wall posts.

Finally, there was an "instant win" feature implemented. Gift certificates were awarded instantly to voters who called at particular points of the campaign. The tenth voter might have received an instant SMS response saying “congratulations, you won a $100.00 gift certificate”.

Due to the rich elements incorporated into this campaign, the activity outlived the duration of the contest. 57% of unique votes occurred after the event was finished.

Campaign Results – 11 days of activation

• 314 models recruited
• 22,000 sms votes generated
• 1,000+ MMS downloads
• Forwarded messages (not calculated)

"The number of SMSs generated through this year’s campaign outperformed 2006 by 106% and their inaugural event in 2005 by 800%" said Murphy.

This case study is one of many that show the potential implementations of mobile marketing to teens.

I was impressed by the way in which this campaign truly spoke to the market using the right environment (Virgin Fest), the right messaging (find your fit and be famous), the right platform (text vs. email) and the freedom to use tools outside of the campaigns’ parameters (social networking sites).

Monday, November 19, 2007

CRM - It Can't be that Hard

I’m trying to put my finger on exactly why I feel that localized, small business CRM is going to explode over the next year. I know it wasn’t Google’s announcement of their partnership to and it’s not like contact management systems like ACT! and Goldmine really fascinate me.

Maybe it’s the idea that millions of small businesses with a newfound interest in online media (specifically email marketing), could really use a comprehensive CRM system that provides marketing automation with the same level of sophistication as some of the systems being used by national advertisers.

Just like content management solutions have long been integrated into directories, wouldn’t it be prudent to offer a marketing system to compliment the existing services?

As publishers are under increasing pressure to provide performance models, they must play a larger role in yielding higher conversions for their advertisers. This way they can manage inventory (or offset the cost of a lack of it).

I think I’m starting to get impatient about this topic. It feels like it’s been years since the capabilities have existed. Why isn’t anyone connecting these dots? Granted, they may be busy buying up Pay-Per-Call platforms and what not...but I really believe that this is a huge piece of the puzzle that could go a long way to differentiate one local search or online directory from another.

With all the advancements in this field namely's multi-tenant "platform as a service" roll out this year, it seems like this investment is a no-brainer.

I have too many thoughts on this to map it all out in a blog. I will have to take this little favourite topic of mine offline for a while and maybe spell it out to those that might listen.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Blocked Traffic on Social Networks & The Advantages of Being Anti-Social

IT Security companies are effectively communicating (or marketing) the need for corporations to be concerned about security and loss of productivity due to employees wasting time on social networking sites. As a result, the valuable traffic to these sites may start to diminish during peak media messaging hours (9-5).

Back in September according to this BBC article, a UK law firm, Peninsula, estimated a loss of 233 million hours per month or £130 million a day by employees “wasting time” visiting social networking sites on the internet.

The estimates were based on a survey conducted of 3500 UK companies, suggesting that some employees spend up to two hours a day visiting social networking sites at employers’ expense.

While findings of the survey were alarming, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) told AFP that the total ban to networking sites would be “something of an over-reaction”.

But earlier this month, Barracuda Networks released a survey based on data contributed by several thousand customers. The survey showed that 44% of companies using Barracuda's Web filtering technology block access to MySpace, and 26% are doing the same to Facebook. The analysis showed that while 19% of companies blocked both the sites, half said they block one or the other or both.

In a separate survey of Barracuda 228 IT security workers, results showed that 53% of businesses restrict Web surfing. This number is expected to increase by 23% in 2008 to 65 percent.

The top motivations behind these restrictive measures were:

• Prevent virus or spyware (70%)
• Control employee productivity drain (52%)
• Lessen the load on bandwidth (36%)
• Liability issues (28%)

In August, Sophos, an international provider of IT security and control, released a report that showed 43% of 600 polled workers said their employer blocks Facebook access completely.

According to Sophos, 41% of Facebook users are willing to disclose personal information to complete strangers. And details such as employment history and mobile phone numbers found on Facebook could be used to launch corporate phishing attacks, security experts warn.

Social networks have been making major strides towards becoming directionally focused. Some have partnered with online directories; some have added business advertising opportunities and many have started to cultivate reviews. If this trend continues and corporations continue to block the major social networks from their employees, ironically, the anti-social characteristics of today’s directories and local search engines may be their greatest advantage. Consumers who tend to plan dinners, movies and other after work activities online may be forced to use less social environments.

I’m getting more data on this…

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reviewing Reputations - Advertiser Generated Content

I was doing some research on the many Reputation Management companies that exist to help national brands and small businesses quantify and qualify what’s being said about their brands and then counter balance if and where necessary. While this work has traditionally been the job of a PR agency, the blogosphere brings complexity to the issue.

The sheer volume of information that requires tapping, analyzing and monitoring and real time management as a result is the driving challenge. Changing the title from Public Relations to Reputation Management implies a more appropriate sense of urgency.

One of the sketchier departments of the new “Reputation Management” organization is the area that recruits review writers en masse thereby creating a network for national brands to tap into for content generation. Writers can get paid anywhere between $10 to $200 on while advertisers are charged double for the luxury of accessing the network with content that for the most part, is quite positive (shocker…).

Most of the other reputation management companies position themselves as PR agents online but 9 times out of 10, their service listings reveal that they are simply SEO specialists that have a team of copy writers that post positive reviews in as many areas online as possible. That means everywhere from Bebo and Buzznet to any other site that is viewed as a consumer forum.

Some of the content generating services disclose themselves as such in their writing but others try to be stealth about it. In both cases, brands could be jeopardizing trust with their consumers.

Media savvy consumers are developing intolerance for breeches of trust and advertorial spamming. In some cases, consumers post colorful comments about their feelings towards businesses that have clearly hired copywriters to persuade a purchase or shift an opinion about a brand.

Small businesses should also be concerned about their reputations.

Last year a Kelsey Interactive Local Media report indicated that the traffic on local social search sites built on reviews, such as Yahoo! Local, Judy’s Book and Yelp, collectively grew 44% from August 2005 to August 2006 (compared with flat growth among the top five IYPs) and to at least partially justify this growth, according to Hitwise, a September 2006 Harris Interactive Poll showed that 67% of respondents are “likely to post reviews,” while 79% are “likely to be influenced” by them.

To respond to this trend, publishers are struggling with the concept of launching review functions without well-established content (I thought users were supposed to post them??). The assumption here is that users will break their loyalty to one directory and move to one that offers richer content.

While no content generating service would admit to working in this area, some of the tip off’s that look fishy in newer local search services include:

  • Reviewer Profiles that reveal over 500 reviews posted within a short time frame (under two weeks)
  • A disproportionate volume of reviews on national brands for a local tool
  • Reviewer profiles that are focused on one vertical (like 50 reviews in one food type category)
  • Uni-sex reviewer profiles that comment on gender-specific businesses

There are more, but these are some of the more blatant ones that I have come across in my research.

To get around this content issue some directories, including Google’s, are aggregating reviews from outside sources. While this doesn’t eliminate the existence of fraudulent reviews, it helps to dilute their paths.

Business is built on reputation and building a reputation takes time. Consumers know this. So why has the online channel turned this into a race? I guess word of mouth will start to trump anonymous reviewer profiles in any case so this may be a moot question answered through social networks.

In the meantime I’m trying to decide who should be more concerned about their reputation – the national brand or the publisher that may or may not be telling the truth about them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Public Philanthropy...Blogging Goodness

One of the many obvious benefits that blogging has brought to national brands is the ability to communicate their local community involvements and showcase their social conscience.

More and more studies are showing that doing good is good for business. So, companies are exploring new ways to exercise philanthropy. Some donate profits to good causes; some affiliate themselves with charities and some sponsor local little league baseball teams. Some brands like Dove are going as far as to create new causes!

Here's a viral campaign launched by Unilever for Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty"

From a research perspective, the information gathered from blogs and discussion boards is helping companies to choose which causes are priorities within their target groups. With products like Nielsen’s Buzz Metrics or Umbria’s MediaSense, companies are able to get a sense of how consumers are responding to their efforts or lack thereof.

According to a Jupiter Research study, bloggers are opinion leaders.
While user-generated content on the whole is increasing in volume and momentum, bloggers are not yet representative of the North American population but they do tend to have higher levels of education, affluence, more time spent online, and have obvious passion about issues they write about. Bloggers may be early indicators of mass trends within their respective fields of interest.

Thanks to Al Gore and other influencing factors like global weather changes, the environment appears to be at the top of the list for consumer discussion topics.

Recent research conducted across Canada by TNS Canadian Facts shows interesting demographic trends. There are three key insights:

• The trend is incredibly strong with youth. Given a choice to do business with companies who are socially and environmentally responsible, 41% of 18-24 years old surveyed agreed. (An Umbria environmental blog report showed a major male skew).

• The second demographic factor to consider is aging baby boomers, many now over 50. 43% of this attractive buyer target would consciously choose to do business with companies who are socially and environmentally responsible.

• The third powerful group was the female consumer, recognized as buying or influencing 80% of purchases. 42% of women vs. 33% of men consciously choose socially and environmentally responsible companies. Interestingly, the numbers increase significantly in boomer women with 57 % of women over 50 make this choice.

Umbria Inc., a market intelligence company that specializes in blog research and consumer generated media (CGM) for market insight, recently completed its first blogosphere research report outlining changing consumer attitudes and behaviors on environmental topics.

Umbria's research, based on data collected from more than 40 million blogs from mid-June through mid-September, 2007 showed that consumers are increasingly discussing environmental issues in online social media, with nearly 10,000 mentions per week* over the course of the summer months.

The study showed that virtually all industries are affected by consumers’ growing environment concerns. The top 10 personal changes discussed online by consumers were:

• General home: 19.7%
• Automobile: 2.9%
• Packaging: 9.6%
• Products/goods: 7.2%
• Lights/lightbulbs: 6.4%
• Paper: .9%
• Travel: 5.3%
• Shopping bags: 5.0%
• Stores/shops: 4.0%
• Electronics/cellular: 3.3%

While the environment is only one of many issues that consumers care deeply about, the principle behind the benefits of aligning brands appropriately remain the same across all others.

For this environmentally focused study, specific brands bubbled to the top of conversations. As expected, not all were referenced positively. The five brands mentioned most frequently were Toyota/Prius (majority leader), Google, General Motors, Exxon Mobil and GE.

The insights gathered using the Blog metrics tool provide invaluable data to companies that have interests in aligning with these targets. Whether it’s used as a barometric measure of consumer attitudes or to understand competitive standings, this type of research has long legs and a lot of walking to do.

Look for more blogger-based display media solutions coming to the party.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Are Canadian Local Search Players Leaving B2B Money on the Table?

Closing remarks at this week's Warrillow & Co. "Stealing Share" event geared towards marketing to Canadian small businesses, confirmed that national advertisers are not only trying to reach this market but they are doing it on a local level.

Canadian B2B advertisers plan on increasing their online media budgets in 2008. Email had a planned increase of 54%, paid and organic search was up 47% and spend towards banners was raised b 39%. The big losers of this survey were television and national newspapers which saw decreases of 7% and 8% respectively.

Another area covered by the trends survey was the tactical approach businesses plan to take in 2008. 17% of B2B advertisers will implement blogging strategies and 16% will pursue online discussion board opportunities.

All indications show that national B2B advertisers are planning to increase their use of online media to advertise to small businesses.

I recently blogged about the lack of true business networks. The issue was brought up again this afternoon when John Warrillow commented on the lack of affinity between small business owners. In some cases, the competitive nature of the verticals make it impossible to connect any social dots. We've also noted that small business owners are primarily consumers and that social networks are already working to blur the lines between personal and professional lives.

When it comes to local search for this market, the field is wide open in Canada. Most options are US based (an option made slightly more attractive by the thriving Canadian dollar).

With major national brands like Costco and Best Buy starting to use localized guerrilla-style tactics to gain market share, it's clear that given the opportunity or appropriate platform, they would certainly use a locally focused search to capture this lucrative target.

The question is whether business owners who are already starting to use social networks as their own advertising platform, will be given the right tools within the social environment to source vendors.

Directories and local search engines have their work cut out for them. I have a feeling we'll see some Canadian developments in this area in the near future.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beef up Affiliate Programs

At the Warrillow & Co. conference today in Toronto, the research company released some interesting findings from their 2007 survey on marketing to Canadian small businesses.

This year’s conference entitled “Stealing Share” is dealing mainly with the topic of challenger businesses that are cropping up to service the Canadian small business sector. John Warrillow’s presentation this morning showed a number of examples of businesses using various media techniques to gain market share. “Small businesses have more choices than ever as a result of Internet and high speed penetration” said Warrillow to describe the highly competitive nature of effectively reaching the 2.3 million small business owners in Canada.

Some of the featured challenger businesses included Costco in the small business supplies area, ING in banking and Vonage in the telecommunications field. Across all challenger businesses, when the small businesses were polled on how they became aware of the new brands, online advertising came a close second (at 22%) to TV (at 26%).

One example that stood out from the rest was the case study. was singled out as a company that was using online affiliate programs effectively to not only heighten brand awareness but also to steal market share. Warrillow’s study showed that the average revenue share for an online affiliate program within the tech sector is between 1 and 2 percent. By contrast, pays double and sometimes triple the industry average.

As a result, the affiliate program attracts a lot of attention, motivates partners to merchandise the links and does wonders for their SEO.

If budgets for affiliate programs could become more flexible in that they include some investment towards brand awareness, the thought of paying double or triple points starts to make a lot of sense.

More tomorrow…

Monday, November 12, 2007

National Channel...Stuck with the Hot Potato

A couple of weeks ago, Idearc blamed the CMR channel for their poor Q3 online sales performance.

The statement came as a shock as the national channel only represents about 15% of their total revenue. Idearc took this line further when it revealed its plans to get around the CMRs all together. Idearc's attraction to the open market has been going on for about 4 years.

When migrated from a fixed price directory product to a pay-per-click model, the national channel was last on its mind. To be fair, all the self-procurement tools they were working on over the years were more geared towards the 85% revenue weight of their local channel.

The CMRs' role has been changing dramatically over the past 5 years. Its strengths were historically rooted in driving efficiencies to a super-complex paper wrought business. Its priority was to provide a sales channel to the yellow pages publishers who would provide them with exclusive re-selling rights.

Today, with the evolution of the yellow pages businesses and the increasing migration to the digital channel, CMRs are pushing themselves to become thought leaders in the “directional” space. It’s simple really. To keep the clients, you need to provide value. The value these days is in providing objective media planning services and flawless execution.

Apparently, objectivity doesn’t sit well with publishers. With the acute awareness of the competitors streaming in, they don’t take kindly to the CMRs’ new attitude (questioning “the Matrix”).

Idearc isn’t the only publisher or media property to experience this frustration. I’ve had a number of conversations in Canada and the US about how agencies in general are a cog in the wheel to the publishers. The publishers feel they are doing three times the work to sell their products to an agency (never mind the end client).

Like it or not, clients hire agencies to protect them from the onslaught of media opportunities. The local landscape has many and whether they are self-procured or not, national advertisers will need some objectivity from someone.

I remember this problem in the mid-90’s when thousands of .com’s where being launched. All of them were convinced that they could do a better job selling through to the client. In some cases it was true. In many cases however, I spent long nights getting my clients out of bad contracts that they had done independently.

Results speak for themselves. The national channel will invest and re-invest in products that drive returns. They’re getting better at quantifying these returns and eventually, they’ll get more demanding.

It would be prudent to focus on the product’s ability to bring buyers to the sellers.
Integrity wins business.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Losing Face...The Parents Show up to the Party

So the switch has been flicked and ads are appearing on Facebook now. In Canada, Air Canada is among the first to use the platform.

I love the 23/6 parody on this that Greg Sterling posted on his blog. While the image is over the top, the first ads on the interface stick out like spam and really dilute the user experience. Placing the ads in the middle of the news feeds forces users to sort through unsolicited information.

With their self-procurement service, the advertisers and their creative will have limited quality control. I did notice however, that they were hiring Account Executives to handle their larger advertising accounts. With time, I hope they manage to balance the type of messaging that appears on the site with the users' expectations.

I would also hope that Facebook will apply some sort of capping on the amount of ads sold. Fortune 500s are notorious for being uncool online. Often it's like the nerdy parents showing up to the party - a buzz killer.

Here's some hope and a prayer that media planners will lead their clients to doing the right thing. Consumers are easier than ever to bore, annoy and ultimately lose.

Be clever, be genuine, and god's sake be brief!

As for the many unfiltered advertisers that may stumble upon this monkey paw, I hope for Facebook's sake that someone will be watching user behaviours closely for any changes in session patterns.

Facebook...Socializing with Local Search

What is it

Facebook has built an application allowing users to create stand-alone web pages. These pages do not affect personal profiles or contacts and as such, are well targeted to businesses.
Here's an example used on the FaceBook blog. It’s beginning to look a lot like a local search directory with photos, business hours and price ranges available right on the page. As an added bonus, Facebook has partnered with to allow users to make reservations directly from the Facebook environment.

The "Create a Page for your Business" application launches by asking the user to select between local business (and drops down a list of categories), a brand or product or an artist or public figure. This organization offers a glimpse of things to come.

  • Users are able to post reviews on the business page and this is a feature that Facebook does not allow site owners to change.
  • The viral potential is enormous as once a user has interacted with a business page, it shows up on the news feed as a recent user activity.
  • This could potentially become a content-generating strategy that might feed into their recently added “local Picks” application that I blogged about last week.
  • The SEO play is a given.
  • Facebook has existing infrastructure (in the form of partnerships), to allow rich content like video.
  • Offering brand pages may funnel into a marketplace or the current classifieds area the site currently operates. User reviews on brands and products has to date been left to the shopping sites.


The Social Networking environment is a double-edged sword for local search. If users post negative reviews, the impact could be devastating in this trusted environment. It could produce volatility that may lead to attrition. As no one has yet cracked the code on purity of reviews, this challenge remains real.

Directories and local search players are scrambling to get a piece of social networking pie. In Canada, Yellowpages
.ca has added an “add to Facebook” button on their listings. This button allows you to send the listing straight to your own or anyone else’s Facebook inbox. In the US, it looks like the directories are fighting the battle and hoping to create their own communities.

The launch of this service sends a clear message. The interesting question will be whether 50 million loyal Facebook users will feel any need to use other sites to generate content like reviews or picture uploads.

From a user perspective, it’s easy to understand the progression of Facebook’s features but the ads themselves are a bit on an eye soar. When the same user looks at his or her relationship with an online directory (traditionally this has been a non-interactive environment), it becomes harder to justify the time and energy being asked of them to post reviews.

It's becoming a perfect storm...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Small Business Communities

To date, pure plays like, and have been most popular in the Small Business arena. Each of these sites provide news, resources and some interesting directory-type products. for instance, offers a franchise directory as well as a classifieds area specifically made for buying and selling small businesses.

On the CRM front, Dell launched a small business resource center site this year called Dell Small Business 360. The site was built to provide a service to the growing number of small businesses that after buying the Dell products have limited to no resources helping them to implement the technology or maximize its efficiencies. Sounds a lot like IBM’s trajectory…

With the obvious fragmentation in the small business world, it’s difficult for the major destinations to captivate engaged audiences based on relevant content. The sites are task focused in that they provide general resources for natural stages in the development of a small business. So where are entrepreneurs going to get more?

Aside from the rss feeds, selected blogs and industry-specific sites, there are no real communities that employ the same 2.0 elements as the social networks. Sure, there are forums and corporately sponsored communities like Bank of America’s. But from a user perspective, it would make sense to have one centralized community where they can build contacts and discuss industry issues.

Facebook appears to have a strong business community bubbling under the social aspects that make it so popular. There are groups for what seems like every industry from Web 2.0 to Automotive and pharmaceutical. To date, the communities are relatively benign in true activity but the membership numbers are staggering. Although this category is biased to early adopters, there are 26,836 members of the Web 2.0 group. But looking at other industries, it’s clear that niche communities are growing. I find it impressive that there are 1,726 members of the “if you’re a travel agent, you will totally understand” group.

A Small World is also very strong in the area of business communities. Although the angle is more exclusive, the site is quite effective at categorizing industries. One of the features allows you to search the entire global network by industry. In terms of geo-targeting, the site was built with this in mind. Invites to launches and city-specific offers are a staple advertising opportunity.

Historically, targeting industry-specific audiences online meant targeting with SIC codes across a network or looking for specific industry verticals. You could imagine how many impressions were wasted on the wrong audiences. These communities offer excellent targeting opportunities.

People like mixing business with pleasure and there’s room for more in this landscape. The key is developing a community that has appropriate demographics. The younger skewed communities like MySpace may not currently have the right membership mix.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pudding Media Calling...from the "Ministry of Truth"?

What is it

Scraping data from VOIP telephone conversations has been brought up a few times at local search conferences. Usually the question is asked in the context of being used as an optimization tool for keyword advertising campaigns that are tied to calls. Marketers can get extreme intelligence from inbound callers and the keywords they utter throughout a conversation with a customer service representative.

The subject has been a touchy one. The thought of big brother eavesdropping on your private conversations is a little sensitive.

Pudding Media, a start-up based in San Jose, California, recently introduced an Internet phone service supported by advertising related to what people are talking about in their calls. Much like Skype, consumers use a headset with their computers and call anywhere in the world at minimal costs. The Pudding service differs in that it does not charge for calls.


Pudding Media scrapes data on phone calls in order to display ads on the screen that are related to the conversation. A voice recognition ad server monitors the calls and then serves ads based on what it hears to the user’s computer screen while the call is taking place.

So when a user is discussing the purchase of a digital camera, an ad for Best Buy may conveniently appear on the callers browser. Dynamically driven ads could zero in on specific camera models etc.

Apparently Pudding Media is sorting out an email platform that will allow users to email the content to each other. Ads could end up on the mobile device during the call.


  • Optimal targeting through real time contextual ad serving
  • Free calls for the users
  • Viral potential - 1 to 2 marketing (an engaged "2")
  • Targeted at younger consumers who could potentially be won over as loyal users


Voice recognition technology has come a long way. The idea of deploying it in this manner is complicated.

As this may be skewed towards a younger audience or one that is quite cost conscious, I would wonder what kind of brand association is being offered to the advertiser. There is a definite fit for selected verticals but in the main, it might be difficult to convince Fortune 500s to advertise in this "eavesdroppy" space.

The Gmail application appears to be working. If people can get around text scraping, they may get over voice scraping as well. If Pudding positions this as a benefit to the user, it might just work.

Privacy issues on this specific subject have already started to brew. Last year at a New York Search conference, I raised this subject on a pay per call panel. There happened to be a privacy advocate in the audience that immediately stated that this type of data scraping can be considered a breech on the privacy and security. I'm not sure how Pudding has managed to get around this issue but I'd like to dig a bit deeper.

Who knows, with full disclosure, user consent, high quality free calling and a few prayers, this could develop into an interesting story.

I'm curious to see how a Krillion-type business might fit into this picture...

Local Picks on Facebook

What is it

Local Picks is an application built to work with the Facebook interface. It is built by Trip Advisor, a Boston based company that specializes in meaty, honest travel reviews. TripAdvisor® Media Network, operated by TripAdvisor, LLC, attracts nearly 30 million monthly visitors across eight popular travel brands, TripAdvisor-branded sites, ™,™,™,®,™,™ and™.

This group of sites make up the largest travel community in the features:
Some of the strengths that Trip Advisor brings to the table for Facebook are:
    • 10 million+ honest travel reviews and opinions from real travelers around the world
      1. 28,000+ cities
      2. 200,000+ hotels
      3. 73,000+ attractions
      4. 140,000+ restaurants
      5. 825,000+ traveler photos covering 53,000+ top hotels
The current Local Picks program is sleek looking and has all the ingredients to make it a winning local search platform for the 50 million users within Facebook's community walls. At the moment however, the data base is extremely thin on content. Simple listings are unavailable and the corresponding mapping tool in weak. I'm sure they're working on content partnerships as I type but in the meantime, it's tough to play with.

  • Trip Advisor's brand is recognizable and respected amongst travelers
  • Comes from strong social networking background - Trip Advisor knows how reviews work
  • A strong network to reach into as the application matures
  • A great fit for Facebook users who are interested in posting favorites and not so favorites for all friends to see
  • Huge SEO potential for Facebook
  • Excellent advertising opportunities
  • Trip Advisor has already delved into the world of richer media with videos and images a staple in their portfolio

While Local Picks has all the right ingredients, it really needs content to make it work. Consumers are used to having local information at their fingertips through the many local search options on the market. Downloading this application and using it with limited success will delay the adoption rate.
I think the way in which the application was integrated is brilliant. I love the idea of using the trusted Facebook arena to present reviews and statistics on a location. I'm wondering when a CPG version will come out with similar tools?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

An Appointment with Local Media? Genbook...

What it is

San Francisco based Genbook has got an interesting hybrid model going. On the one hand, it offers local businesses the ability to get bookings online and on the other, it allows the businesses to advertise across its network. Basically, the local business can use the tool for free on their own business site or pay $69.95 per month to get media placement across the Genbook network.
The Genbook network is not so much a partnership situation as it is a media advertising portfolio. Advertisers will be placed on the usual suspects like, AOL, Yahoo Local and oh yeah, Google. So Genbook is acting as a media buying agency for the local business owner. Currently the flat fee of $69.95 per month covers the pay per click media campaigns that are increasingly being demanded by advertisers.


  • The appointment booking interface is easy to use and allows businesses to communicate available appointments online.
  • The fact that it is free.
  • $69.95 per month for an online media campaign is a steal considering the cost per appointment booking is certainly exponentially higher than a cost for a click.


I spoke to Genbook's User Interface Director, Anson Parker this afternoon and it's clear that Genbook has a solid understanding of what local advertisers want. Using the booking interface as a hook to attract users is working and will be the focus for the next little while. As a relatively new entrant to the local media scene, Genbook is providing advertisers with excellent value. Let's assume that a local MedSpa achieves even one booking this month. For $69.95 per month, the ROI is unimaginable. Getting the businesses to embrace cost per booking models and to appreciate lifetime customer values will be tough but make no mistake, it'll happen.

The bigger challenge will be to get users to adopt to this method of booking. Although the interface is easy to use, consumers have a lot of questions. At the onset, it may be better suited to existing customers rather than an acquisition tool.

I would recommend this to any local business that has a high price point per booking. Not only does the investment bring brand exposure and a sleek consumer interaction tool, but it brings a glimpse of how business will be done in the not so distant future.

Faster Food...GoMobo

What is it

Based out of New York, GoMobo is a free application for consumers that allows them to order their food from their mobile device via text messaging. Restaurants register for the service and receive orders online through a downloaded software or via fax. Consumers are given an order confirmation number and an "order ready" time.

Merchants are charged on a transactional basis and are sent a cheque each month from GoMobo.

  • Consumers order ahead of time so that they can avoid line-ups and go straight to picking up their order.
  • Payments are automatically charged to the credit card used at registration.
  • According to GoMobo, merchants see a lift in sales volume as well as average order value. GoMobo claims that restaurants have seen up to a 15% increase in sales.
  • Adds another sales channel for the restaurant.
General Thoughts

I think the best part about this model is the credit card payment option as it can sometimes be a hassle to have cash on hand these days. There are some challenges though.

I'm not sure if this product would have a large demand outside of the New York area. New York is a busy metropolis, Louisville, Kentucky, not so much and Winnipeg, Manitoba even less so. It doesn't hurt the merchants to register for the service but they need to be prepared to change their operation to accommodate faster food seekers. In essence, you're not only adding another line to your restaurant, but you're adding a demanding consumer line. It's like adding business class to your service. In the early days, your non early adopter customers who are very loyal and enjoy the interaction with your staff, may be put off by the stream of silent order picker uppers that are apparently neither ordering or paying for their meals.

Just like the microwave doesn't seem to be fast enough for us anymore these days, will this service also lose its appeal if it's adopted and saturated? Are we just moving the line one step to the left?

Local business is built on customer relationships, it's important to consider how this will affect your interactivity. What message are you sending your customers?

I'm curious to see how this unfolds and will keep an eye out.