5 Jan

Web Advertising Overtakes Newspapers in the US

Image taken using Hipstamatic for iPhone

Via Advertising Age, a sign of the times:

The internet (including mobile) passed newspapers in 2010 U.S. ad revenue, making the internet the second-largest ad medium behind TV, according to Interpublic Group of Companies’ MagnaGlobal.

Given both the rapid decline of the newspaper industry in America and the strong growth of the internet advertising sector, this is not exactly shocking news, but even so it is still an important milestone.

It’s a bit of a weird moment precisely because it has been so long that people have been predicting that online would overtake print as an advertising channel.

For those who are curious, it’s well worth signing up to MagnaGlobal’s site so that you can download the December 2010 Global Advertising Forecast, which is stuffed full of interesting numbers and analysis, such as the following on the state of the global print advertising market:

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3 Jan

A Small Thought on E-Books

Firstly, Happy New Year’s!

Secondly, yesterday a friend sent through a look forward to the tech world in 2011 by the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones. It’s well worth a look – much of it is highly relevant to social media marketers, but just for a change, I’d like to look at something else, which is his thoughts on the e-book market:

Will iPad 2 keep Apple ahead?

As ever, Apple has said nothing about a new iPad, but there is plenty of evidence that a second version of the tablet which rocked the tech world in 2010 will have its second coming in 2011.

When it is unveiled, iPad 2 is likely to be thinner and lighter than its predecessor and to feature a camera for video calls. By then there should be a clutch of Android tablets – and the odd Windows slate – with similar or better functionality. They are also likely to undercut the iPad, which experience shows will stay around the same price at which it launched.

But don’t bet that Apple’s device will be toppled from its perch. The aura of cool around the iPad – however much it may be despised by some of the digerati – is not going to fade soon, and there is a vast reservoir of untapped demand for the tablet from a less techie audience which will not accept a substitute.

Mind you, when it comes to e-readers, here’s one confident prediction: Amazon’s Kindle will prove a far more popular place to buy and read e-books than the iPad.

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23 Dec

Merry Christmas!

So, just as an addendum to Monday’s post, in the end we never actually left Edinburgh on Tuesday, since our flight to London was cancelled and even we had gone down earlier, the connecting flight to Florence was cancelled as well!

Just to build on the point I was making then, we were fortunate that we were checking the BA website the night before obsessively, so we knew that our flight was cancelled from about 9pm.

Why fortunate?

Well, BA’s email and text about the cancellation only arrived at about 3:30 in the morning, which is after when we would have woken up if we hadn’t already known (since it was a very early flight). For us, that wasn’t such a big deal, because we were in our own home with regular internet access, but I’m sure that finding out officially at such a late stage would have been much more problematic for people who were staying in hotels or having to travel down to Edinburgh for the flight. Operationally, it wouldn’t take too much to send out the emails and texts once the flights had been officially cancelled, so that people would have more time to make alternative arrangements.

We were fortunate, since we have rebooked for Friday and, fingers crossed, this should be less chaotic by then.

Anyways, enough of my moaning!

Suitably Social Marketing would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I’ll be doing a bit of light blogging between now and the New Year, but the main thing I am working on at the moment is setting up the SuitablySocial.com site, which will be live in January 2011.


Randall Helms

20 Dec

A great marketing opportunity

As someone who is due to fly to Italy tomorrow via London Gatwick, I’ve obviously been taking a keen interest in the ongoing chaos that has enveloped Britain’s transport infrastructure, particularly the London-area airports, due to the recent snowfalls.

Given that historically Britain has not received that much snow, the disruption per se is not particularly surprising, but what has been interesting to me is just how poorly both the airport operators and the airlines have communicated with their customers. One of my wife’s good friends spent the best part of two days trying (and failing) to get back to Poland from Heathrow, having waited in vast, endless queues only to be fobbed off with being told to call premium-rate phone lines that didn’t help at all.

Her story, sadly, is typical, at least judging by press reports, and it seems quite clear that there has been a catastrophic failure to plan both for the snow (since it was predicted well in advance) as well as how best to keep passengers informed as to what is going on and what they can expect. I think most people are reasonable, and will understand that severe weather conditions will be disruptive, but where people do get upset is when they are kept in the dark as to what is going on, as well as how they might be able to change their plans.

From what I have read in the press, it seems pretty clear that no airline has really managed to satisfy their customers during the last couple of days, which leads me to think that there is an amazing marketing opportunity open here to any airline that is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to assist their passengers.

After all, it’s really easy to say, as so many businesses do, that “our customers are the most important thing to us,” when things are going smoothly, but it’s a very different matter in the midst of the crisis.

My wife’s friend is never again going to fly KLM due to the way they treated her – and why should she?

Replicate that experience tens, no, hundreds of thousands of times, and just imagine the hammering that so many different airline brands are experiencing right now!

Think of all the people speaking to friends and family about they feel the airlines and airport authorities essentially abandoned them, and think about the ripple effect that has.

After all, this is not happening in a void, as if the airlines had a vast amount of goodwill to burn. I’m only 30, but in my lifetime the flying experience has become progressively more unpleasant – the security checks, the service standards, and so on. As an article in the FT last year argued, aviation is the only form of transport where the consumer experience has actually worsened in recent decades.

Of course, I am very fortunate to be able to fly, and I recognize that, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the experience is an unpleasant one, and I try to avoid it where possible.

Which is why, returning to the events of recent days, I am a firm believer that any airline that demonstrably went to all lengths to assist and keep informed their customers would reap dramatic rewards in terms of customer goodwill.

If you actually can walk the walk, that will put you far ahead of those who just talk the talk.

8 Dec

When everything is social, what happens to serendipity?

Last weekend the cover story in the Financial Times magazine was “Facebook’s grand plan for the future” by David Gelles, a panoramic look at the company that is by far the biggest player in the social sphere. The whole thing is worth reading, but I just want to pick out one thing that really struck me:

(Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg) uses the word “social” a lot, and it’s not always obvious what he means. He is not simply talking about telling your friends what you had for breakfast with a status update. To Zuckerberg, a more social world is one where nearly everything – from the web to the TV to the restaurants you choose to eat at – is informed by your stated preferences and your friends’ preferences, and equipped with technology that lets you communicate and share content with people you know. What Zuckerberg is talking about is a new way of organising and navigating information.

It’s only a small paragraph, but this really struck me. If your potential experiences are pre-filtered according to the expressed past opinions of yourself and your ‘social graph’, what happens to those thrilling moments when you find yourself enjoying, even loving, a movie (or restaurant or book or travel destination) that you had no idea you would be interested in? Is serendipity defunct in a world defined by social media algorithms?

6 Dec

Trolls and policing the conversation

About a week ago the New York Times published a very interesting article about how website owners can handle internet trolls, a topic that is of particular relevance to anyone working to build and maintain an online community, whether on their own platform or through a service like Facebook.

The article, “When Anonymity Breeds Contempt”, is by Julie Zhuo, a product design manager at Facebook. In it, Ms. Zhuo looks at trolls and the havoc they wreak on all kinds of online communities, as well as how new approaches to site design can minimize the impact of the determinedly abusive:

Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

Many forums and online communities are looking for ways to strike back …

(The) the law by itself cannot do enough to disarm the Internet’s trolls. Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity …

Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.

In slowly lifting the veil of anonymity, perhaps we can see the troll not as the frightening monster of lore, but as what we all really are: human.

Read More »

1 Dec

Why should companies blog?

Many people, when they think of creating a ‘social media strategy’ for their brand, tend to think only of social networking. Facebook! Twitter! MySpace! (OK, maybe not so much MySpace these days).

As I discussed in my dissertation, social media is not just social networking, and it encompasses many other different avenues for engaging with customers. One of the most important of these other social media tools, at least in my opinion, is blogging.

I believe that there are several important ways that blogging can help brands to achieve their marketing goals:

  1. By allowing a direct connection to the customer
  2. By humanizing the brand
  3. By achieving strategic marketing goals
  4. By helping to reach new customers/markets
  5. By assisting the process of brand repositioning

To start with, like other forms of social media, blogging gives brands a direct, unmediated connection to the public in a way that traditional marketing channels like television or direct mail don’t. As I discussed in my dissertation, this allows brands to have a two-way communication with their customers that can then feed into other areas beyond marketing, such as customer service or new product development.

The specific advantage of blogging over other forms of social media is depth. You can only say so much in 140 characters, but in writing a blog you can really explore a topic in depth and offer the reader something of lasting value beyond just a straightforward marketing message. To go back to the point about two-way communications, the depth that blogging encourages can also manifest itself very positively in the comments section, where smart, engaged customers can provide valuable feedback that can have a positive impact on the business.

One proviso I should mention, however, is that having a blog that is open to comments (which is essential, in my opinion) leaves you open to being targeted by trolls and spammers, which means that you have to be willing to police the comments judiciously, encouraging conversation whilst discouraging pointless flamewars and abusiveness. Trolling will be the subject of my next post, but it is certainly essential that companies be aware of it upfront when it comes to designing their blog policies.

One of the most valuable things about blogging is that, if done well, it helps to humanize the brand. This can be achieved by writing in an authentic voice, and not in the arid marketingspeak that was for so long the default tone of most brand communications. People crave authenticity, and yet for too long so much customer-focused business communications have sounded as if they were written by robots. By striving to always be ‘professional-sounding’ marketers have ignored the tremendous vitality of the English language, and how it can be used to effectively communicate a message. If you go back to the classic marketing text The Cluetrain Manifesto you can see that this concept has been around for a long time, but even so too many marketers have failed to take heed of it.

One of the other main values of blogging for marketers is that it can help to achieve a brand’s strategic goals. Because blogs are customer-facing and constantly updated they can play a big role (if done well, of course) in helping the brand to reach new markets and/or to transform the expectations and understanding of existing customers. Again, the key variable is depth; if a brand wants to reposition itself, a good blog can do a lot to help the process along by both reaching out to new markets (in terms of interacting with bloggers influential amongst the new target group) and by hammering home the new brand message through the repetition that is inherent in the blogging format.

Any thoughts on other reasons why companies should blog?

30 Nov

My consultancy services

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve recently established my own marketing consultancy, Suitably Social Marketing. I’m still working on the website, but for the moment I’ve written a brief piece on my service philosophy, which is located on the Suitably Social Marketing page. Please have a look!

A brief excerpt:

Suitably Social Marketing is a marketing agency with a simple mission – to help you define and achieve your marketing goals.

You might be wondering at this point – “why would I need to hire someone to help me understand my goals? I know my business better than you do.”

Of course, you are right. You are the expert on your business. No question.

But you might be too close to your work to truly understand its relationship to the wider marketplace.

This is where I come in. I won’t know every operational detail, but I can provide you with a fresh perspective as well as the benefits of my knowledge of marketing, both practical and academic.

29 Nov

Failing to follow my own advice

Apologies for the lack of content in recent weeks, I’ve clearly been failing to follow my own advice from my dissertation that social media content needs to be updated regularly!

I’ve been working to set up my own consultancy firm, Suitably Social Marketing, as well as doing some other bits and pieces, but I will have some new content very very soon, so keep your eyes peeled …

4 Nov

A few thoughts on group buying

Two weeks ago, Patricio Robles of Econsultancy posted an article entitled “Group buying has jumped the shark”, which I’ve been meaning to blog about ever since, particularly since I had an interesting discussion on the topic via Twitter with @andrewjdavison of Ziggurat Brands.

Anyways, before I go on, it’s worth excerpting the crux of Robles’ argument on the potential of group buying services like Groupon:

Unfortunately, the talk about Groupon is crazy and no matter how much one likes the group buying model, it’s safe to say that group buying has jumped the shark.

What everyone seems to be forgetting: Groupon and its competitors don’t really sell anything. They serve as agents for local businesses. Those local businesses not only discount their products and services significantly to get members of Groupon’s audience through the doors, they pay a hefty commission for the privilege …

Group buying’s Achilles heel: the growing realization that group buying sites aren’t delivering a vast audience of high-value consumers who are interested in patronizing the businesses they discover through their group buying purchases. Groupon’s own data confirms this. According to The Wall Street Journal, Groupon’s research found that only 22% of Groupon buyers go back to the businesses from which they purchased a Groupon …

And there’s good reason to believe that the ability of group buying sites to deliver loyal customers is constantly declining. After all, group buying is sprouting up everywhere. From startups receiving millions of dollars in funding to AOL to newspapers, everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. Make no mistake about it: this will have a viral, cannibalizing effect on whatever ROI these sites might ever hope to generate for the businesses that use them. After all, if you’re a consumer, another great deal is always around the corner, so why ever pay full price?

This is a very interesting article, but I don’t quite agree with the main thrust of it. It may well be the case that Groupon’s potential is being over-hyped, but at the same time I have my doubts about the key element of Mr Robles argument, which is that Groupon will end up being hammered by intense competition in this sector, for two reasons:

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