Monday, February 26, 2007

New launch from Prophet

The good people at Prophet have launched a new blog called BackPocket which is aiming to collate marketing news and views from across the industry. I’ve had a look round and there’s some strong material here. The “factoids” section is especially useful for getting quotes and stats for presentations – as always the rule is check these out for yourself - at least make sure you name your source if using in a presentation.

Since there is too much information out there right now, it's nice when somebody takes the time to distill it for you.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Consumers are ripping up the old model - like you didn't know

More evidence that consumers have decided enough is enough when it comes to obtaining media content. A recent research piece in the UK showed that many consumers zap through ads using digital recorders to time shift their viewing. Similarly research from Australia shows that more consumers than ever are using technologies such as BitTorrent to get to "their" programs when they want rather than when they are told they can have them. For marketing researchers, this means that we need to figure out a new and improved measurement system sooner rather than later to tell if anyone is watching our adverts. The proportion of people watching via Sky+ or similar technologies is small but the adoption rate will increase no doubt as factors such as HDTV switchover, more adoption of Media centre type PC’s and better broadband services kick in.

In theory, this change in viewing patterns should drive down the overall budget for broadcast advertising on the assumption that better targeting will mean less wastage. However it’s not clear that this will indeed be the overall impact for products with mass appeal. Would a brand such as Sony only want to advertise to people with the budget to spend £1200 on a TV? Aren’t they advertising to other groups for the longer term brand image? If it’s more difficult for Sony to get to 8m or so consumers via TV then it’s likely that their costs may indeed rise. It’s niche brands that can make the most use of superior targeting offered by new technology.

One other point on Sky+ - I really wonder whether broadcasters such as Channel 4 have investigated whether their ad breaks are too long for the new age. When we watch a big name show on 4 at home, we almost always play it back via Sky+ because we know the ad breaks run to 4 min lengths. By stretching a 45 min show to an hour, I wonder if they are really doing themselves or advertisers any favours. I would think that shorter ad breaks mean less zapping but it’s only the good folks at Sky who can tell us this.

Friday, February 16, 2007

What would Ogilvy make of modern marketing research?

I’ve been reading a great book by David Ogilvy recently called “Confessions of an Advertising Man” which was written back in 1963 but is still relevant to today’s marketing community thanks to its common sense approach to the nature of advertising. Ogilvy is clear that Advertising is a means to an end for organisations - not some great religion to be worshiped but a practical tool to help sell. The text of this book is full on great quotes and one-liners which jump off the page. The ones which really caught my eye showed Ogilvy to be a rarity for a creative ad man back in the 1960’s – a man who wanted as many facts as possible to help him sell more of his client’s wares:

  • “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals”
  • “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
  • “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
  • “You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial. If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer. People screen out a lot of commercials because they open with something dull... When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.”
It’s clear from the book that Ogilvy really valued facts and figures as much as great copy and certainly far more than a nicely painted graphic. This almost fanatical obsession with understanding how results could be analysed and improved came from a combination of Ogilvy’s early time in advertising spent with George Gallup and possibly also his time spent cooking in the infamous kitchens of Paris in the 1930’s where perfection was a minimum standard.

Ogilvy's Dove adverts were regarded as some of his best copy

As these adds which Oglivy wrote show, his style was simple and based upon experience he had learned through research reports - the photo at the top of the page, black on white text for readability and lots of product facts in the copy were his trademarks - in the 1960’s people read the copy if it was catchy - i wonder whether this is still the case. Another trick he used extensively was that of the testimonials (user experience summary). This made great commercials and factually based adverts talking up product features were also rarely shown to be ineffectual.
I’m not sure that these same rules apply to the market today – certainly things have changed somewhat in terms of the way consumers interact with media and there is no doubt that Ogilvy was writing at a time when even TV advertising wasn’t well researched. However I’m sure that were he alive today, he’d have some interesting ideas about the need for more research into what makes a great ad and what features work time after time.

What intrigues me most about Ogilvy’s writing is that he attributes almost all of his best techniquesto fact based research. To me, he’s saying that the reason he got things right was in part down to his (unique?) ability to listen to the numbers and suspend what may have been his personal tastes (see his point about loving art but refusing to use a painting in place of a photo which he knows to have more potential impact). This is surely a lesson to many advertisers today who appear obsessed about creating “great” commercials at the expense of “effective” ones.

Based on what Ogilvy has written, I’ve taken a guess at what his top tips might be for modern advertisers who live in the modern multi-channel world?
  1. The test / learn / execute cycle is not optional – hence why I think Ogilvy would have loved online and 2.0 based technologies for their optimisation capabilities.

  2. Don’t place great faith in intricate copy when useful sales messages will win the day – I hate to say it but I’m starting to admire some of the adverts run by PC World because they hammer home their points over and over in such a way that consumers can’t fail to be educated (now I know that the Advertising Standards Authority have taken a dim view of some of their commercials but they are objecting to the facts spouted out and not the style of the ads).

  3. Make sure an idea is researchable – I think the think Ogilvy leaned from DM agencies was the great comfort one can take from measurable results. Nowadays, it’s clear that almost all advertising media are measurable – some are easier to read than others (and in some cases some are too easy but that’s an article for another time) but all are now susceptible to ROI analysis and should be so on a regular basis.

  4. Adapt with your consumers – Ogilvy had a great point to make that your copy should be accessible to your customers. Sounds simple but I think too many people forget this.

If you can think of other rules to add to the list, why not post them below?

I think these rules of thumb would serve any advertiser well for a while in terms of watching the numbers and ensuring meaningful ROI is both achievable and measurable. Like all "rules" though, there will always be exceptions. Exceptional people are few and far between and exceptional ideas certainly don't come up every day of a persons working life. If your commericals don't follow this pattern, at least ask yourself a question on what you are doing.

It’s up to us as an industry to improve research methodologies all the time to make sure that no stone is left unturned in the ROI quest and that our clients needs are always ahead of an agencies need to win an award in Cannes.

Want to learn more? Order Ogilvy's excellent books can be purchased by clicking on sidebar pictures of this website. Thanks

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Marketing happens when? How seasonal should the analysis be?

I was looking at the very interesting “google trends” tool today to try and work out a couple of marketing related points for my new business and I came across a couple of really fascinating trends which said an awful lot to me about something which is wrong with marketing folk.

Google trends allows users to track the usage over time of a search term in order to see when and where the search term was being used most. I ran a couple of different searches to try and understand how usage of google is changing and how interested marketing folk (or others) are in some key marketing terms. Although Google don’t let users see overall volumes of search (i.e. how many searches from their sample they are showing), they do show overall trends in search activity across 2004-2006 and the level of seasonal variation.
A couple of typical searches look like this:

Vodafone – general upward trend – seasonal peak late in the year but probably following major news articles and market growth

Tax Returns – the ultimate in seasonal business? Little interest outside peak times although some smoothing in 2006 which may be consistent with the activates of some governments in trying to smooth this pattern out

So now, let’s look at the results which relate to this blog – i.e. marketing analysis and the marketing mix.

Marketing Mix – What strikes me first about our search for marketing mix is the level of seasonal variation in the use of the search term. There is a wild variation across the year in the search suggesting that this is only an issue for many at two periods of the year – 1) around April (when budgets get released?) and 2) just before Christmas (and all the parties) when budget requests have to be submitted.

Marketing Analysis – search against the term marketing analysis shows an almost identical pattern – lack of interest for most of the year then some seasonal swings in order to get the budget sorted / spent. There's even a potentially worrying trend downwards but this appears in lots of searches so this may just reflect a move away from google to other search engines or a trend towards non-search activity.

So fair enough – optimisation of the mix is only a part time job isn’t it? Don’t we only need to optimise the mix once a year – aren’t all the plans annual?

Not really no. Modern thinking suggests to me that analysis is a continual undertaking in the marketing process - how many flowcharts exist within organisations showing the "plan> execuite > review > learn" cycle in one form or another. If this is the case, the mix needs optimising over and over again – the feedback loops should exist so that marketers can review their overall performance (at least on the short term KPI’s) in a matter of weeks rather than once a year. Companies which are optimising once a year are likely to only be looking at the big picture once a year. This strikes me as too infrequent for most organisations in our new more dynamic marketing environment. Annual plans certainly have their place but from the look of the data above, it seems that we’re twice as likely to review the marketing mix once a year at Christmas than during late May.

Reasons why the annual marketing analysis cycle is a good thing

  • Everyone is standing back and taking a look at the same time
  • An annual review is like servicing your car – it’s a once a year task to check and verify safely
  • We’re busy for the rest of the year actually selling stuff – no time to make decisions on marketing mix or check it’s right
  • The agency do this for us – we just verify their work at our annual review
  • We review our direct activities all the time – they are continually optimised
Reasons why the annual marketing cycle may limit your business opportunities

  • If everyone else is reviewing their mix once a year, this leads to strategic opportunities to steal a march on competition by changing when you conduct reviews – can other organisations respond to your actions in June if they are locked in an annual cycle
  • A high performance race car has a full service after each race – new engines after every couple of races and the telemetry is reviewed during the race and analysed both in real time but also afterwards – isn’t your business worth the same care and attention rather than subjecting it to a review only when you have to.
  • Marketing is selling – if you are busy selling stuff and don’t consider ensuring that customers have oversight of your goods and services, you’ve probably made a mistake
  • If you rely on an agency to conduct your mix reviews, what are the chances that you will get the best people at their busiest time of year? If you do get the best people to work for you, will they really be able to give you their undivided attention?
  • OK so direct marketing is continuously optimised? Well that’s a start but to use the car analogy this means the steering is optimised but the engine may be running short on oil and about to seize up any day!

Marketing teams can’t turn off for most of the year and come out of hibernation when budgets are being decided or plans need submitting for another calendar year. The best marketing organisations I’ve seen work campaign by campaign with a strong emphasis on continuous learning and re-planning. The attention they pay to the mix has created strong teams who know how to keep marketing relevant to their customers year round. With consumer trends moving so quickly I believe that annual mix optimisation will give way to quicker and quicker cycles of optimisation.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Web 2.0 explained? Now what....

Just came across this video on the subject of Web2.0. OK - it's just a buzzword but this video asks some great points of the viewer - enjoy and be intrigued!

It's certainly one of the best things to come out of Kansas in a while.

The author has requested that people leave comments and suggestions to enhance the video (this is the first draft), so if you have something to say join the conversation.

More on this and the ever popular "marketing 2.0" buzz at a later date.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Just back from the Technology for Marketing and Advertising conference in London

I'm just back from the snappily titled Technology for Marketing and Advertising conference here in London and I have to say that I was very disappointed at the range of exhibitors who were present at the event. My overall impression was that the range of visitors ranged from "e-mail optimisers" to "direct mail optimisers" and little in between. From my point of view, i had hoped that some of the broader technologies would be on show - where were Clearchannel, DDS and others who appreciate that "marketing" is a broader church than just anything containing 0's and 1's?

Having said this, there were some highlights which made attendance worthwhile for me:
  1. the Google University - a good introduction to Google Adwords which was well received by all present. The funny aspect of the presentation was watching tech specialists struggling to get a projector and laptop to work together which shows it happens to all sorts of organisations.
  2. the keynote speech on web 2.0 - i couldn't actually get into this so am taking a punt but the fact that almost everyone wanted to see this speech showed how important this new trend is for the industry.
  3. a company new to me called Apteco and their FastStats product which had some interesting graphics to help cut through data clutter and what looks to be a solid offering with a good graphical interface.

Whilst i was initially disappointed that no exhibitor that i could find took a broader approach to what marketing means, i was also heartened to see how many people attended the event. Assuming all goes well with our new business, we shall endeavour to attend this event and show people another side of marketing.