I am pleased to have my voice heard here. Many thanks to @colincampbellx for reaching out.

“Why do some people post negative reviews online, of games they have never played and have no intention of ever playing?

New research into reviewing habits online reveals the motivations of consumers who rate products they haven’t actually experienced. It helps us understand why such things happen in gaming.”

Read more by @colincampbellx at Polygon.com.

Choice is now available locally and globally on and offline for pretty much any good or service a consumer could want. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands looking to reach customers across the device universe (mobile, desktop, tablet, gadget, etc.).

Marketers have better access to customers, but customers are better informed as they go into purchasing mode. Comparison shopping, product forums, social media, and other information sources have given the consumer the ability to make informed decisions before, as well as at the point of purchase.

As a result, brands can no longer solely dictate pricing and product delivery timetables – their customers are playing an active and real-time role. Social media, showroom price matching, and price comparison marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon make it difficult for any brand that’s not dictating MAP (minimized advertised price) to be undersold or commoditized.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the B2C world, 66 percent of Moms say that the Internet has changed the way they get information about products, but this savvy comes with caveats. They want to initiate the conversation. Source
  • In the B2B world, 70 percent of B2B tech buyers surveyed said that the amount of budget spent electronically would increase if it were easier and more convenient to browse and purchase items directly from suppliers and their websites. Source
  • Then there are the Internet-born brands such as Warby Parker and others that are making costs and benefits more transparent, disrupting traditional retail margins. Eyewear was a market ripe for disruption. B2C lighting and plumbing supplies are markets currently being disrupted. Source

What does this mean for marketers? It means that brand narrative, data-aided personalization, rich product information, and access to company experts is more critical than ever before. It means that integrated marketing is here to stay.

The minute you accept that your brand or product is replaceable is the moment you start working on great things like positioning, merchandising, packaging, product development, measurement, and an integrated marketing approach. This is the time when you start thinking about how to surprise and delight customers and obsessing about how to remove friction from the buying process. This is when the product finds its voice, and you as the marketer find your power.

Public relations firms such as FeishmanHillard are moving toward an integrated service offering, but as a senior PR contact posited to me earlier today, will FH’s Omnicom agency partners welcome this new quasi-competitor?

Call it “integrated communications” or “integrated marketing,” the transition will not be easy. As Dave Senay, president and chief executive at FleishmanHillard in St. Louis, pointed out: “About a third are turned on by” the new vision, “about a third will go along with it and about a third will not get it.”

Why are single-focus PR, social, mobile, and traditional agencies affected so deeply by the digital r/evolution? The modes and mediums by which we market have changed dramatically in less than five years, e.g., mobile, social, apps, and data influence. Data can now inform (and complicate) a multitude of related independent and interdependent channels. Long gone is the traditional purchase funnel … and long live the analytics and measurement industry.

Welcome the new marketing mavens. Call them Math Men and Women, strategists, data scientists, … these are the principles and collectives (agencies or otherwise) that understand how to harness the integrated marketing ecosystem. They ground their recommendations in strategy and planning (an understanding of the customer), manifest them in effective creative, build them with tech, and measure them in analytics.

And while traditional PR agencies and large holding companies reconfigure (along with mobile- and social-only shops) to serve this brave new marketing world, agencies that were born digital – that were built for media integration – had better maintain their sprint. Everyone is gunning for the leader, and right now the leaders aren’t the biggest or most specialized agencies; the leaders are scaling to meet the increasing demand for integrated services.

Read the article that inspired this post at nytimes.com.

Public relations professionals can play a big role in driving and amplifying their clients’ digital marketing efforts. One area of opportunity is search engine optimization (SEO).

We all know that customers use search at the beginning of the information gathering and purchasing cycle, so it’s imperative for all brands and businesses to be found in natural (organic) and paid search. Since paid search can be costly for broad, general terms, it’s best to employ best practices to improve your clients’ exposure in organic, unpaid search.

Here’s a quick playbook for improving SEO with public relations.

  1. Determine the keywords and phrases your clients want to be known for in organic search, e.g., your client’s value proposition, brand or product names, and top three communication pillars or points.
  2. Measure where your client ranks for those keywords and phrases. There are a number of web and desktop applications that you can use for rank measurement including Rank Tracker, Bright Edge, and others. You’re looking for search volume (number of searches for these terms), competition (where competitors rank), and your client’s current rank.
  3. Create a plan to integrate the highest value and highest opportunity keywords into future communications. Map these words and terms to the most relevant pages on your client’s website. You want to match keywords to pages where high-value information and transactional goals are in place, e.g., a download, a lead capture form, etc. Or, create new landing pages that best serve your clients’ customers.
  4. Even if you’re measuring rank for 50-plus keywords, be sure to prioritize 5 – 10 keywords that will send viable leads or sales to your client’s website. This prioritization helps focus efforts across marketing channels and disciplines.
  5. Now it’s time to do the work:
    • Update web page meta data (your page titles, keywords, and descriptions) to include the targeted keywords and phrases.
    • Integrate keywords and phrases into your press releases and boilerplate, again mapping back to relevant pages on your client’s website.
    • Run your links through your measurement package’s link tracking tool, e.g., this is the tool for Google Analytics.
    • Create a process so that all internal stakeholders take these steps across all published materials.
  6.  Measure natural search referrals and results weekly (or monthly, based on resources), using any additional learnings to fine tune your SEO efforts – carefully reviewing how visitors navigate through your client’s website.
  7. For keywords and phrases where there is too much competition and your client cannot rank highly in natural search, consider using paid search and social marketing to boost visibility.

This same methodology can be applied to all outgoing content-related efforts, including press releases, website content, white papers, and more. Any digital content that enables links to your client’s websites, microsites, and other digital presences, such as social media, can help reinforce brand messaging and pillars. If there are special targeting considerations such as geography, customer job roles, etc., be sure to incorporate those into your planning.

This type of optimization on-site (websites, microsites, social destinations) and in outbound communications ‘tells’ search engines that your client has content authority, thereby improving their search engine rank over time. Be patient however, ranking result improvements take 30 – 90 days to start materializing in organic search results.

Originally posted to Quora.

Simply relying on customers to find your product through social media and PR channels limits your ability to market and measure results.

Audience segmentation should take a holistic view of the audience – demographics, psychographics, social conversations, interview revelations, technographics, etc. A thorough review of the quantitative and qualitative data gives marketers and merchandisers the information they need to target products and messaging to consumers in a consistent, contextual, and continuous manner.

Accurate segmentation allows marketers to:

  • Align stakeholders around defined audience personas or archetypes
  • Create targeted and relevant messaging
  • Focus teams on content and promotions
  • Automate and/or hand-craft relevant push notifications and personalized content
  • Often, inform product design and pricing, etc.

Layering social sentiment (conversations, feedback, interviews, etc.) over a segmentation exercise can illustrate the customer’s voice, purchasing drivers, concerns, etc. Segmentation also helps create the framework for engagement and conversion measurement.

With the right data, segmentation, messaging, and measurement, a brand can find direct correlations between its outreach and the customer response.

For all of the talk and work around consumer data integration, the industry is just getting started with the type of data correlation/merging that enables seamless, relevant experiences across the Web. When systems play nice it’s a beautiful thing, e.g., Amazon.com, the promise of Facebook Custom Audience Targeting, etc., but when systems get the wrong instructions (keywords, omission of negative keywords, algorithm weighting) you get this headline with a food ad.

ritz-crackerfuls-cnn

I’ll be speaking on a Sacramento Public Relations Association (SPRA) Professional Speakers Series panel about “Defining Your Digital Strategy” on May 23, 2013. Josh Morgan from Edelman will also be on the panel, as will Phil Tretheway of Position Interactive. It should be a great conversation; I hope you’ll join us.

Venue: Cafeteria 15L
Date: May 23, 2013 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Address: 1116 15th Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814
Cost: $25 members / $30 nonmembers

More details and the RSVP Eventbrite form is here.

Retailers should make amends when customers voice a perceived wrongdoing, however, J.C. Penny’s new ad is a miss – a lost opportunity to draw in new customers. The ad does go to rebuild goodwill among the retailer’s current core audience, but to those unfamiliar with JCP’s newest product assortment, the ad strikes a desperate tone.

I’d planned to visit JCP because of Ron Johnson’s once lauded (and now derided) merchandising strategy. News of the new, brighter, more open JCP featuring independent brands that exude curatorial respect – Levi’s, Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler, and others – got my attention. Now, I’m not so sure. While I applaud J.C. Penney for trying to protect (and win back) their core audience, this misstep might be a case of winning the battle, but losing the war. They’ll save today’s shopper, but lose tomorrow’s; shoppers that embrace experiences and narrative and who will pay a premium (or at least full price) for it.

In my opinion, J.C. Penney’s retail reversal is a loss of the “surprise and delight” that propelled Target (Johnson’s former employer) to retail stardom. They’ve exchanged a “new position” for an undifferentiated return to mediocre pricing tactics. J.C. Penney is once again about price – not value – a position shared by many others in an increasingly crowded space.

Come back, Ron Johnson. You were just getting started.

‘If you’re in a race to the bottom, to the best price, you’re not going to win long term.’ – J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler

jcp

 

Sindhya Valloppillil’s article about consumer retail, titled “Why Consumer-Facing E-Commerce Is BROKEN,” created quite a storm on Twitter this past weekend. Venture capitalists invested in the noted firms were instantly on the defensive and entrepreneurs attempting to develop new retail models felt attacked.

While Valloppillil created a robust conversation about online retail and venture capital funding, the article failed to talk about the challenges online-only retailers face when trying to simultaneously craft a brand and establish a differentiated business model at the same time. To use a popular visual, these entrepreneurs are building the plane while flying it.

As an ecommerce marketer with several upstart scars, I know firsthand the challenges involved in flying, repairing, building, and trying to keep a business aloft while driving sales. The ability to focus employee excitement into a valid business model requires saying “no” to 90 percent of the projects that appear urgent. Moreover, focusing founder and employee passion into a clear, differentiated brand message takes just as much backbone. One’s ability to articulate a brand’s mission, vision, and values in each customer touchpoint – based on the customer’s context and device – and to then inspire them to propagate your message, is a thrilling and exhausting challenge.

While Valloppillil is enjoying what she termed the “shit show,” the larger discussion is around teams and people. Mike at the Dollar Shave Club lives the mission, but he needs a (or more) merchandiser, a strong technical lead, and omnichannel marketers that can help guide product development, merchandize the assortment, and diligently measure and optimize performance. Sometimes you pick the right team and sometimes a strong board of directors steers you well. If you’re fortunate, great people bring equally great people with them to your organization.

We know that DSC was surprised by the volume of interest that their first video created; they didn’t have the supply chain nor the product catalog to capitalize on the surge of customer interest. That said, they have a believable ethos that many of their competitors don’t. They have a story to tell and sell.

Yes, retail upstarts need to understand business, brand, and audience insights – all businesses do – but these elements can’t stand in isolation; they need to result in a roadmap that is executed on time by a coordinated team. DSC clearly did not execute fast enough. Amazon did and so did Zappos. As is Fab with their announcement today. So, before we start slinging mud about what these startups aren’t doing, let’s be prescriptive about what they should be doing.

I’m here to help. jason /at/ jasonmichaels /dot/ com.

 

Originally posted on wirestone.com.

In combination, Facebook’s announcements about its revised News Feed, ad targeting enhancements, and Facebook Home for mobile devices signal its next generation offering. As users, we’ll adopt and embrace many of these changes. As advertisers, our relationship with the social network is more complex.

News Feed Personalization

Facebook’s News Feed remodel will feature bigger, brighter visuals and improved feed filters that help create a unified aesthetic across all devices. The new features give users greater control over which stories they see, leading to more relevant opportunities for brands to connect.

Ad Targeting

Recently Facebook announced that their Exchange (FBX) is beginning trials of cookie-driven ads within the News Feed, meaning that users will begin to see ads for products and services they’ve viewed outside of the social network, or possibly related to their past purchases from brick-and-mortar stores. The added data integration from data partners Acxiom, Datalogix and Epson will further enable ads that leverage transmedia customer data and demand higher ad premiums.

Home for Mobile

In addition to these News Feed and ad targeting changes comes Facebook Home. This software layer transforms select Android smartphone home screens into a bright and lively Facebook News feed and app launcher, and includes other messaging features such as Chat Heads, which allow users to receive and reply to Facebook and SMS messages.

These substantive feature rollouts prove that Facebook has no intention of ceding any ground to competitors, and given their reach, targeting, and anticipated ad ROI, brands now cannot afford to look away. Facebook is no longer a walled garden we visit 14 times daily, it’s cementing itself as the center of our digital experience.