The escalating “arms race” in the adblocking arena.

Have you noticed how, despite installing adblocking software on your computer or mobile device, a lot of online advertising is still making it through to you?

That isn’t just your imagination. It’s happening – and it’s getting worse.

According to a recent report based on findings prepared by researchers at the University of Iowa, Syracuse University and the University of California – Riverside, the extent of “end runs” being successfully made around adblockers is quite high – and it’s growing.

According to the research, more than 30% of the Top 10,000 Alexa-ranked websites are thwarting adblockers in order that millions of visitors will continue to see online advertisements despite running adblocking software.

As the universities’ report states:

“Online publishers consider adblockers a major threat to the ad-powered ‘free’ web. They have started to retaliate against adblockers by employing anti-adblockers, which can detect and stop adblock users.   

To counter this retaliation, adblockers in turn try to detect and filter anti-adblocking scripts.”

Some of the more “forthright” publishers are being at least a little transparent about the process – first asking visitors to stop blocking ads. If those appeals go unheeded, the next step is to notify visitors that if they fail to whitelist the site, they will no longer be able to access any of its content.

The problem with this scenario is that many visitors simply go elsewhere for content when faced with such a choice. Still, it’s nice that some online publishers are giving people the choice to opt in … in an environment where the publisher’s content can be monetized to some degree.

Other sites aren’t so courteous; instead, they’re overriding the adblock software and serving up the advertising anyway. That certainly isn’t the way to “make friends and influence people.”

But “violating consumer intent” is kind of where we are in this arena at the moment, unfortunately.

QR Codes Live!

In marketing, QR codes have been the butt of jokes for years. The funky little splotches that showed up in advertising on everything from magazines to transit buses were supposed to revolutionize the way people find out information about products and services.

Except that … QR codes never lived up to the hype.

While a few advertisers stuck with QR codes doggedly, for the most part we saw fewer and fewer of them after their first initial years of splash.

But now, QR codes are making a comeback. It turns out that they’ve become central to mobile marketing tactics.

We’re talking about QR couponing, which is exploding.  Newly published estimates by Juniper Research, a digital marketing consulting firm, show that nearly 1.3 billion coded coupons were redeemed via mobile devices in 2017.

Moreover, Juniper is forecasting that the number of coupons with QR codes being redeemed via mobile devices will continue strong at least through 2022.

A big reason for the sharp increase in use is built-in QR functionality on smartphones – led by Apple which has begun including QR reader functionality as part of the camera application on its new iPhones.

This action takes away a huge barrier that once confronted users. The lack of in-built readers meant that consumers had to download a separate QR code scanner app.

We know from experience that one more action step like that is often the difference between market adoption and market avoidance.

But with that hurdle out of the way, major retailers are starting to take advantage of the more favorable playing field by finding more uses of QR code technology. Target for one has announced a new Q code-based payments system to scan offers directly to their device-stored payment cards, which can be scanned at checkout for instant payment.

Expect similar activity in loyalty cards, making their redemption easier for everyone.

The newly revived fortunes of QR codes remind us that sometimes there are second acts for MarComm tactics and technology – and maybe it happens more often than we expect.

Changing Cross-Currents in E-Mail Marketing

Many marketers find it one of the easiest marketing tactics to execute … but also one of the least effective in terms of results.

In the realm of digital marketing, e-mail marketing has to be one of the most mature choices of tactics these days. It’s been around for a long time, and its relatively small hard-dollar costs make it one a natural “go-to” marketing tactic for many companies.

But today, a declining percentage of marketers see e-mail as one of their most effective tactics in the digital marketing arsenal.

So, what’s the problem?  Many companies have the technology and skills in place to perform e-mail programs using in-house resources. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that more companies are seeing their e-mail programs becoming less effective — for a variety of reasons. Among them are these:

  • E-mail filtering technology is making it more difficult to land e-mails into inboxes.
  • Privacy regulations are becoming more stringent.
  • Overuse of this marketing tactic means more e-mail messages than ever from more companies are being deployed – and with that, more of them are being ignored by recipients.
  • While e-mail used to be the only digital direct marketing game in town, today there are a bigger variety of ways to engage with customers and prospects.
  • Building a high-performing e-mail list that also conforms to regulatory stipulations is more challenging than ever.

This last point is particularly nettlesome for marketers: Data quality and data management are considered among the most difficult challenges for marketers – and also among the least effective in terms of their success.

So, in some ways the factors affecting the use of e-mail marketing are working at cross-purposes. E-mail marketing is easier to execute than other digital marketing endeavors … but as for its effectiveness, many marketers rate other tactics higher, including content marketing and search engine optimization.

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how attitudes and behaviors regarding e-mail continue to evolve. Will this time-honored tactic decline in importance, or find new life?  Stay tuned …

Today’s Most Expensive Keywords in Search Engine Marketing

I’ve blogged before about the most expensive keywords in search engine marketing. Back in 2009, it was “mesothelioma.”

Of course, that was eight years and a lifetime ago in the world of cyberspace. In the meantime, asbestos poisoning has become a much less lucrative target of ambulance-chasing attorneys looking for multi-million dollar court settlements.

Today, we have a different set of “super-competitive” keyword terms vying for the notoriety of being the “most expensive” ones out there.  And while none of them are flirting with the $100 per-click pricing that mesothelioma once commanded, the pricing is still pretty stratospheric.

According to recent research conducted by online advertising software services provider WordStream, the most expensive keyword categories in Google AdWords today are these:

  • “Business services”: $58.64 average cost-per-click
  • “Bail bonds”: $58.48
  • “Casino”: $55.48
  • “Lawyer”: $54.86
  • “Asset management”: $49.86

Generally, the reasons behind these terms and other terms being so expensive is the dynamic of the “immediacy” of the needs or challenges people are looking to solve.

Indeed, other terms that have high-end pricing include such ones as “plumber,” “termites,” and “emergency room near me.”

Amusingly, one of the most expensive keywords on Google AdWords is … “Google” itself.  That term ranks 25th on the list of the most expensive keywords.

[To see the complete listing of the 25 most expensive keywords found in WordStream’s research, click here.]

WordStream also conducted some interesting ancillary research during the same study. It analyzed the best-performing ads copy/content associated with the most expensive key words to determine which words were the most successful in driving clickthroughs.

Running this textual analysis found that the most lucrative calls-to-action included ad copy that contained the following terms:

    • Build
    • Buy
    • Click
    • Discover
    • Get
    • Learn
    • Show
    • Sign up
    • Try

Are there keyword terms in your own business category or industry that you feel are way overpriced in relation to their value they deliver for the promotional dollar? If so, which ones?

CPR for Marketers? Marketing principles expand well beyond the 4 Ps.

4PsIn the world of business, we do like our checklists and bullet points.

It’s part of an impulse to distill ideas and principles down to their essence … and to promote efficiency in whatever we do.

It’s no different in the MarComm discipline.  Nearly everyone knows about the “4 Ps” of marketing: Product, Place, Price and Promotion.  The principle has been with us for nearly a century.

5CsThese days, however, the 4Ps of marketing seem inadequate. Stepping in to fill the void are additional attributes and angles that have been put out there by marketing specialists.

Several of these newer paradigms — one coined by Robert Lauterborn, a professor of advertising at the University of North Carolina, and another from technology marketing specialist Paul Dunay — consist of a group of marketing “Cs” ranging from five to seven in number: Consumer, Cost, Convenience, Content, Connection, Communication and Conversion.

Űber-marketing specialist Jennifer Howard has taken a different approach; she’s added to the original “4 Ps” by tacking on five new “Ps” covering the sphere of digital marketing.

Those new digital marketing attributes are Pulse, Pace, Precision, Performance and Participation.  They go a long way toward filling in the yawning gaps in the original list of attributes.

Beyond the notion that anyone who can manage to come up with five additional attributes that begin with the letter “P” deserves a medal of sorts, Howard’s new terms happen to be worthwhile additions that help bring the principles into the interactive era:

  • Pulse – active listening and attention to customer, brand and competitor insights.
  • Pace – the speed at which marketing campaigns are carried out.
  • Precision – assuring that marketing messages are delivered correctly.
  • Participation – creating conversations with customers that enable them to “join the conversation.”
  • Performance – meeting expectations for results via measurable and accountable MarComm tactics.

If you’re thinking now that we can’t go much further than the “Ps” or “Cs” of marketing … not so fast!

In fact, we now have yet another set of marketing attributes being brought to the table – this time by database marketing specialist Nick Necsulescu.

4 RsNecsulescu focuses his approach on customer segmentation – namely, interpreting data and converting insights into customer-centric solutions.  Recently, he’s been talking up the “4 Rs” of Marketing at various marketing trade events.  For the record, the “4 Rs” of are these:

  • Right Customer
  • Right Message
  • Right Channel
  • Right Time

More broadly, Necsulescu sees the “4 Rs” as “personalization redefined.”  He contends, “Of all the potential, new-age replacements for the four Ps of marketing, this set of ‘rights,’ in my opinion, is the most accurate.”

Necsulescu is particularly keen on three major customer expectations:

  • Customers expect instant gratification
  • Customers want to feel empowered
  • Customers are interested in self-service

In order to meet these new kinds of expectations, Necsulescu figures that marketers need to learn as many insights as possible on individual needs – the kind of information that determines what type of an offer should be presented and the message surrounding that offer. Also, to make sure the timing of the offer is well-targeted and that the offer is being presented through the most preferred channel.

That’s where robust CRM systems and databases come into play, with true 1-to-1 marketing tactics employed.  The challenge is daunting … but in Necsulescu’s view, he doesn’t think companies have much choice in the matter.

So there we have it:  We’re now dealing with Marketing Cs, Ps and Rs.  A veritable alphabet soup of attributes — and all the implementation challenges that come along for the ride.

We may need a little CPR for marketing professionals, too!

Marketers Give Themselves Only Middling Grades on Understanding ROI

Marketing frustrationIt turns out that even the practitioners in the marketing field don’t think they’re doing a very good job of understanding the return on investment on key marketing tactics.

That’s a major takeaway fnding from the most recent State of Search Marketing survey conducted by digital marketing information clearinghouse Econsultancy in conjunction with the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO).

This survey of industry professionals is conducted annually.  The 2013 research cycle queried ~400 industry and marketing/communications agency professionals.

One would think that in an evolving field like digital marketing, the degree of collective skill in the discipline would be rising over time.  But the opposite appears to be the case – at least in terms of the professionals’ own self-assessment of their skills.

The SEMPO research report presents how marketers consider their level of understanding to be in terms of ROI factors.

What the research reveals is a pretty stark decline in self-assessment grades between the 2012 and 2013 surveys:

  • Understanding of paid search ROI:  ~47% consider their understanding to be “good” (down from ~79%)
  • Email communications ROI:  ~41% consider good (down from ~57%)
  • Digital display media ROI:  ~28% consider good (down from ~37%)
  • Social media ROI:  ~11% consider good (down from ~15%)

What’s the reason for the decline in these self-assessment ratings?

It could be ever-changing definitions of what each of these marketing tactics actually encompass.

… It may be that there is an actual decline in overall proficiency as more people are assigned these marketing tasks who have little or no relevant knowledge or prior training.

… Or if could be the rapid speed in which technology is evolving in the marketing sphere.  (Big data isn’t the half of it.)

Of the major marketing tactics addressed by the Econsultancy/SEMPO research, it’s clear that social media and mobile are the most mystifying to practitioners, judging from the percentage of survey respondents that profess to have a “poor” understanding of their ROI:

  • Social media ROI:  ~51% report having a “poor” understanding
  • Mobile marketing ROI:  ~35%
  • Search engine optimization ROI:  ~28%
  • Digital display advertising ROI:  ~26%
  • Paid search ROI:  ~19%
  • Email marketing ROI:  ~14%

Underscoring the admitted lack of understanding about ROI in social and mobile channels, the survey respondents reported that only ~11% of the digital marketing dollars in 2014 will be allocated to social media.

For mobile marketing, it’s even lower (~3% of the marketing budget).

This isn’t to imply that marketers don’t recognize the importance of these tactics.  For instance, more than eight of ten respondents consider mobile marketing to be a significant development in the field.

It’s just that many of them are having great difficulty going from Point A to Point B when it comes to quantifying the marketing payback.

[For access to the full report, which also provides interesting insights on the most popular marketing metrics, go to this page on the SEMPO website.]

(Still) Seeking the Sweet Spot with QR Codes

QR codesI’ve blogged before about how QR codes – those splotchy icons at which someone can point their mobile device and be taken to a website for product information, a coupon or some other type of content – seem to be having difficulty becoming accepted by the mainstream of U.S. consumers.

And now we have yet more evidence to suggest that QR codes may never achieve the level of potential that marketers have hoped for them.

Youth marketing and esearch firm Archrival give us the latest clues as to the lack of adoption we’re seeing when it comes to QR codes. Here are two key findings from a survey it conducted among 500+ students at 24 American college campuses in late 2011:

 Although ~80% of respondents owned a smartphone and claimed to have come in contact with QR codes, only ~21% were actually able to successfully scan the QR code example that was presented in the Archrival’s survey.

 Three out of four respondents reported that they’d be “unlikely” to scan even one QR code in the future.

What’s the problem? Archrival uncovered a number of hurdles when it comes to QR codes. Several of them could be classified as “deal breakers” in the overall scope of things:

 Many survey respondents did not realize that a third-party app needs to be activated in order to scan a QR code. They mistakenly assume that it can be activated with their camera.

 Other respondents believe that the QR code-reading process is too lengthy and cumbersome.

And on a more fundamental level, doubts are being expressed about the value or usefulness of the web landing pages that are promoted via the QR codes.

What we may be witnessing is a dynamic that’s similar in some respects to what happened with CD-ROMs about a decade ago. There was once a boomlet of CD-ROMs being sent via mail to consumer and B-to-B customers. CDs were viewed as a great way to provide extensive rich content that was difficult to download and expensive to print traditionally.

But because the tool was “one step removed” (it needed to be loaded into a desktop computer in order to be viewed), the rate of interaction with these CDs turned out to be abysmal.

Similarly with QR codes, first there’s the need to possess a smartphone with a barcode scanning app installed. Once properly equipped, people then need to take the time to find and launch the app on their mobile device before pointing the camera at the QR code.

For many in today’s “instant gratification” world, taking those extra steps, however simple, may be a bridge too far.