Is third-party marketing data on life support?

As a marketing professional for the better part of four decades, I can’t imagine any of us doing our jobs without soaking up as much data as possible to help with our decision-making.

And data accessibility is miles ahead of where it was when I first entered the marketing field.  Back in the day, “finding data” meant hitting the reference libraries to access government or other reporting – especially if you were lucky enough to be located within a reasonable distance of one.

There was the phone for real-time information-gathering … and also the FAX machine for quick receipt of “facts in brief” — not to mention the “wait-and-wish-for” mail and package delivery services.

If it was insight you needed from customers or prospects about a new industry or business venture, primary research was always an option — if you had the money and the time to allocate to the effort.

As for “first-party” data, that was available as well – but how often were we at the mercy of the bureaucratic machinations of in-house IT departments to get even basic data requests processed in a timely way?

All of which is to say that marketers have always used data – but the quantity wasn’t as great, while the timeframe of data acquisition was at a snail’s pace compared to today’s reality.

But now, after having become quite spoiled at the availability of all sorts of information, might it be that we’re regressing a little?

In particular, third-party information purchased in bulk, often from data aggregators, seems to be where the backsliding is occurring.

Consider ad targeting and building audiences: We have access to valuable first-party data thanks to website analytics and studying the results of our own e-mail campaigns.

There’s no question that the first- and second-party data which marketers are able to access are highly valuable in that the information creates efficiencies in campaigns and drives higher conversion rates. But theoretically, the ability to layer on accurate third-party data would take things even further.

There’s also been third-party behavioral data from three big behemoths — Google, Facebook and Amazon – that can be used for MarComm targeting purposes. But of those three platforms, just one of them allows third-party data to be made publicly available to end-users.

This poses challenges for the suppliers that aggregate and sell third-party data, as the quantity and quality of their information isn’t on the upswing at all.

Fundamentally, finding a good source for third-party data entails understanding what sources each data aggregator is using and the methodology it employs to collect the data.  Factors of scale, quality, reputation and price also come into play.

But despite best efforts, when testing third-party data for MarComm campaigns and lead-generation efforts the results are often pretty ugly — the data loaded with inaccuracies and basically terrible for efficiency metrics.

It doesn’t help that with the rise of Amazon as yet another “walled garden” of data, the “open web” represents a ever-smaller portion of the total ad spend — and hence also a decreasing amount of the third-party data that’s available to end-users.

With the veracity of third-party data becoming more suspect, it’s had an interesting effect on data management platforms, which are now focusing more on the actual messages themselves and not the “personas” of the people receiving the messages or how they were identified and targeted.

Is it possible for third-party data to provide good information to AI systems — intelligence that can verify and augment the value of the first-party data? If leading ad platforms can use such third-party data to enhance the accuracy and value of what they sell to advertisers, there still may be valuable material to work with.  As it stands, though, I’m not sure that’s the case.

What are your experiences?  Please share your perspectives with other readers here.

In copywriting, it’s the KISS approach on steroids today.

… and it means “Keep It Short, Stupid” as much as it does “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Regardless of the era, most successful copywriters and ad specialists have always known that short copy is generally better-read than long.

And now, as smaller screens essentially take over the digital world, the days of copious copy flowing across a generous preview pane area are gone.

More fundamentally, people don’t have the screen size – let along the patience – to wade through long copy. These days, the “sweet spot” in copy runs between 50 and 150 words.

Speaking of which … when it comes to e-mail subject lines, the ideal length keeps getting shorter and shorter. Research performed by SendGrid suggests that it’s now down to an average length of about seven words for the subject line.

And the subject lines that get the best engagement levels are a mere three or four words.

So it’s KISS on steroids: keeping it short as well as simple.

Note: The article copy above comes in at under 150 words …!

Digital display advertising: (Still) looking like the weakest online promo tactic.

untitledI’ve blogged before about the lack of engagement with online banner advertising, and as time goes on … the picture doesn’t change much at all.

When you break it down, online banner advertising is a bust on several levels:


  • As of the most recent stats, clickthrough rates on online banner advertising are running about 0.08%. That translates to fewer than one click for every 1,000 times the ad is served.


  • Based on current pricing for online banner ads, that one click might be costing anywhere from $5 to $10 (and it might have even been an accidental click).


Despite these “inconvenient truths,” nearly two-thirds of digital ad spending continues to go to online banner advertising based on a “cost per impression” pricing model. Why?

One answer is that it’s an easy way to advertise a product or service. Simply supply ad creative to the publisher and let it be served online.

Another may be that advertisers consider banner advertising to be a basic component of any promotional campaign: prepare a mix of direct marketing, some search engine marketing, some print advertising and some digital display advertising, and you’re off to the races.

A third reason — related to the one above and I suspect one big reason why so much digital display advertising persists in the B-to-B realm in particular — is that publishers who offer a suite of promo tactics as part of a specially priced integrated program always throw in digital display advertising as part of the mix. It becomes the default option for advertisers as they approve bundled programs and the discount rates that come along with them.

Here’s a suggestion for advertisers going forward: Push back a bit and ask publishers to come up with alternative program options that don’t include digital display advertising.  The revised program might not look as promising at first blush, but then remember the stats above and you may well see the attributes of the alternative program in a more positive light.

Ad blocking goes big-time.

Adblock-PlusA new milestone of sorts has been reached in the ad blocking realm. Adblock Plus, the leading ad blocking tool, has just announced that it’s just passed the 100 million marker in active installations.

An earlier milestone – 500 million downloads – was reached at the beginning of this year. That means the active user base has now doubled in less than half a year.

If these figures are accurate – and there’s little reason to think that they aren’t – it’s a pretty big deal. No longer is ad blocking an exotic functionality that’s the exclusive preserve of techies or other geeky subgroups.  It’s gone majorly mainstream.

What’s driving the ad blocking business is the ubiquity of online advertising. For many viewers, it’s nothing short of intolerable:  obtrusive, irritating, and sometimes creepy (hello, retargeting).

So once a well-functioning and reputable tool like Adblock came along, it was only a matter of time before it would take on “snowball-rolling-down-a-mountainside” proportions.

AdBlock Plus promises “annoyance-free web surfing.”  But as with most any innovation, there are one or two hitches. For Adblock Plus, it’s something called “Acceptable Ads.”

untitled“What’s that?” you might ask. It’s a white-list program that allows certain advertisers through Adblock’s screen.  The company receives a cut of publishers’ revenues through that program.

Fundamentally, it’s how Adblock Plus makes money. But it’s also how advertisers can do an end-run around the very service Adblock provides.

AdBlock goes to great pains to “explain” its rationale and why the Acceptable Ads program makes sense for everyone.

But it isn’t difficult to see where this might end up.  Larger advertisers will see fit to exempt themselves from ad blocking by paying for the privilege of their ads being served.

Which gets us right back to where we were with advertising in the first place, doesn’t it? Pay to play.

What’s old is new again, I guess. And meanwhile, the online ads just keep coming …

Digiday ID’s the most “overhyped” marketing developments of 2015.

Digiday logoWhat were the most overhyped marketing stories in 2015? Media company Digiday‘s brand reporter Tanya Dua has come up with a list of four that she feels fits the bill.  See if you agree.

Apple Watch

Apple WatchDua notes that the Apple Watch was announced with so much fanfare that developers began making apps for it a half-year before the product hit the shelves — including big consumer players like Target and American Airlines.  But sales of the Apple Watch have been tepid at best.  There’s no way the marketplace performance of the product has come even remotely close to the company’s hopse for it.

Thom Gruhler, a CMO at Microsoft, says it well:

“When it [comes] down to the Apple Watch, one big question has still not been answered: Will anyone end up really ‘needing’ to engage with this shiny new technology?  What happened in 2015 was a disappointing start.”

Others appear to be even less charitable. A few are even equating the launch of the Apple Watch with that of another product that was similarly hyped:  Remember the Segway?  Everyone was supposed to end up having one of those — whereas the reality is closer to no one having them, with the exception of a few security cops and a few “trendy” businesses with long hallways.

Wearable Tech

wearableMany prognosticators were expecting that the “big data” promise of using wearable technology for experiences that were predictive and personalized would be fulfilled in 2015.  That’s hardly what’s happened.  According to Dua, wearables have yet to deliver anything like that in any meaningful way.

She quotes Julie Lee, Managing Director of marketing communications firm Maxus USA’s Chicago office:

“Technology, design and user experiences still need to be worked out. Though many companies are making great strides, we continue to watch this space to see if ‘what’s possible’ can truly become possible.  Wearables still hold great potential, but we’ll need to address today’s obstacles before we can become a ‘wearables-first’ market.”

Tanya Dua cites two other developments she feels were overhyped in 2015: Influencer Partnerships and Virtual Reality.

The problem with influencer marketing is when there’s little natural synergy between brands seeking to connect with their consumers more directly. “Authenticity” matters — and too often influencers are rather awkwardly tied to products few people would ever associate with them.

As for virtual reality, the problem is one of practical implementation and adoption by consumers; it hasn’t been happening — mainly due to lack of content and available hardware. Without those pieces of the puzzle in place, marketers simply can’t justify the cost having their brands present in the mix.  Instead, look for this trend to gather more steam in 2017 and years further out, Dua contends.

What do you think? Is Tanya Dua correct in labeling these marketing trends as “overhyped”?  What else would you add to the list?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Surprising statistic? One-third of American adults still aren’t on social media.

social mediaFor the many people who use social media on a daily basis, it may seem inconceivable that there are a substantial number of other Americans who aren’t on social media at all.

But that’s the case. The Pew Research Center has been tracking social media usage on an annual basis over the past decade or so, and it finds that about one-third of Americans still aren’t using any social networking sites.

To be sure, today’s ~65% participation rate is about ten times higher than the paltry ~7% participation rate Pew found the first time it surveyed Americans about their social media usage back in 2005.

According to Pew’s field research findings, here’s how the percentage of social media involvement has risen in selected years in the decade since. (The figures measure the percentage of Americans age 18 or over who use at least one social networking site.)

  • 2006: ~11% using at least one social networking site
  • 2008: ~25%
  • 2010: ~46%
  • 2012: ~55%
  • 2015: ~65%

In more recent years, the highest growth in social media participation rates has been among older Americans (over the age of 65), ~35% of whom are using social media today compared to just 11% five years ago.

That still pales in comparison to younger Americans (age 18-29), ~90% of whom use social media platforms.

While it’s a common perception that women are more avid users of social media than men, Pew’s research shows that the participation rate is actually not that far apart. Statistically it isn’t significant, in fact: a ~68% social media participation rate for women versus ~62% for men.

pew-research-centerSimilarly, there are more similarities than differences among the various racial and ethnic groups that Pew surveys — and the same dynamics are at work when it comes to differing education levels, too.

Regional differences in social media practice continue to persist, however, with rural residents less likely to use social media than suburban residents by a ten-point margin (58% versus 68%). City dwellers fall in between.

More details on Pew’s most recent field research on the topic of social media participation can be accessed here. See if you notice any surprising findings among them.

… And then there were two: Facebook is nipping at YouTube’s heels.

Facebook “grows up great” to challenge YouTube for video supremacy online.

FB vs YTOnly few years ago, YouTube was pretty much the only game in town when it came to online video.  And Facebook wasn’t even in the picture.

Today, the online video landscape looks far different.

In fact, Facebook is on track to deliver more than two-thirds as many video views as YouTube this year.  And both services have a comparable number of monthly users overall.

Recently, market forecasting firm Ampere Analysis surveyed ~10,000 consumers in North America and Europe.  Approximately 15% of them had watched at least one video clip on Facebook within the past month.

While Facebook hasn’t exactly caught up with YouTube, its rise has been pretty stunning — especially when you consider the massive head-start YouTube had.  More than five years, in fact, which is a lifetime in the cyberworld.

Undoubtedly, one reason for Facebook’s success in video is its “autoplay” feature which snags viewers who might otherwise scroll by video postings.  Facebook reports that it has experienced a ~10% increase in engagement as a result of adding this functionality.

And there’s another big advantage for advertisers that Facebook possesses.  Since its viewers are always logged in, Facebook has the potential to collect far more demographic and behavioral data on its viewers that advertisers can tap into to target specific demographics.

For now at least, Facebook doesn’t offer the option for ads to run before video clips begin playing (the ads appear after the content).  Also, Facebook’s ad charges kick in after just three seconds of the ad being shown, compared to YouTube which sets the bar higher for ad charges to take effect.

[Incidentally, Twitter has the same 3-second policy as Facebook, whereas Hulu charges only for ads viewed all the way through.]

Another difference is that Facebook charges for every ad view, so if a viewer watches a video twice — even if it’s the same video in the same viewer session — Facebook counts it as two views.  On YouTube, that would be considered one view, regardless of how many times the video is watched.

Of course, these kinds of differences can be adjusted — and there’s no reason to think that Facebook won’t do just that if it determines that making those changes are in their best business interest.

Besides, advertising rates are already similar between the two platforms, which suggests that advertisers have come to place a high value on Facebook’s robust audience targeting.

Autoplay features have raised some questions as to what constitutes a true video “view.”  If video ads are being autoplayed, views are easier to get, but are they worthwhile?  Also, the fact that autoplay videos are running without sound until such time as the viewer chooses to engage is causing some advertisers to create content that “make sense” even on mute.

But the bottom line on Facebook’s foray into video seems to be that the demographic and psychographic audience targeting Facebook can deliver is of important value to advertisers.

Add the fact that YouTube is no longer the only major online video platform, and it’s easy to see how significant competition from Facebook risks the loss of advertising dollars for YouTube, along with damaging YouTube’s growth prospects over time.

This is getting interesting …

Copywriting by computer: Wave of the future? … or wild-ass pipe dream?

persado logoIn recent years, computers have upended many a job category.  And they include quite a few positions involving “language” – from foreign language translators to medical transcriptionists.

And now, it looks like copywriting itself may be the next domino to fall.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal published a story about Persado, a company which has developed a software algorithm that enables it to write copy without the human element.

David Atlas, the company’s chief marketing officer, refers to it as “algorithmic copywriting.”  The process creates sentences with a maximum length of 600 characters that are used for e-mail subject lines and other short persuasive copy.

Persado builds the copy by sending thousands of different e-mail subject lines to the e-databases of its clients, which include large retailers and financial services firms such as, AMEX and Neiman Marcus.  Response rates are measured and used to refine the subject lines to narrow them down to just the most effective.

Company PR spokesperson Kirsten McKenna explains the Persado edge further:

“Typical A/B testing will send out only a few messages – then go with the one that gives the best response.  Persado can send out thousands of permutations of the same message to determine which would be the most successful.”

Alex Vratskides
“We have never lost to a human.” — Alex Vratskides of Persado

Comparing Persado’s machine-generated results with traditional copywriting, “We have never lost to a human,” Alex Vratskides, the company’s president, claimed to The Wall Street Journal.

Those results would suggest that Persado is doing things right.  And here’s another positive indicator of success:  The company raised over $20 million in venture capital earlier this year.

The bigger question is whether Persado will be able to scale its simple and short-sentence copywriting into persuasive copy for longer-form marketing materials such as sales letters and brochures – which would make it an even bigger threat and seriously threaten to upend the traditional copywriting field.

For the answer to that question, I’d never want to take issue with the views of veteran copywriter Bob Bly, whose perspectives I respect a great deal.  In writing on this topic, he states:

Bob Bly
Bob Bly

“I do think that either already or very soon, software will equal or surpass the performance of human writers in both simple content and short copy.  We have to prepare for the eventuality that computers may someday beat human direct response copywriters in long-form copy, just as Deep Blue beat Kasparov in chess and Watson clobbered Ken Jennings in Jeopardy.  Ouch.”

What do you think?  Is computer copywriting the wave of the future?  Let’s hear your own perspectives.

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!

Tripping the E-Mail Spam Alarm

Today, it’s more than just the “usual suspect” keywords that are landing e-mails in the junk folder.

se-mMost of us are aware of the kinds of words that trip spam alarms and cause e-mails to be sent straight to the junk folder – or not to be delivered at all.

How about these for starters:

  • Cash
  • Congratulations
  • Discount
  • Free
  • Income
  • Make Money
  • Urgent
  • Viagra
  • $$ / $$$

But research done by MailJet, an international e-mail service provider, looked at more than 14 billion e-mail communiqués and found that a bunch of other keywords are setting off alarm bells nearly as often as terms like “Urgent” or “Viagra.”

… Especially when considering the business categories that are so active in e-mail communications — retail goods, pharmaceuticals, providers of personal services, and the like.

Some of the other terms MailJet has found to be nearly as “toxic” are these:

  • bdcstDear Friend
  • FedEx
  • Increase Sales
  • Increase Traffic
  • Internet Marketing
  • Invoice
  • Lead Generation
  • Lose Weight
  • Marketing Solutions
  • Online Degree
  • Online Pharmacy
  • Order
  • PayPal
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Sign Up
  • Trial Offer
  • Visa/Mastercard
  • Winning

… And there are more, of course – including various permutations of the words and phrases above.

The inevitable conclusion:  It’s becoming more difficult all the time to use the most common phrases in “subject” lines and “from” lines that’ll land your e-mail in someone’s inbox successfully.

And getting into the inbox just the first step, of course.  The next is motivating the recipient to actually open your e-mail and engage with it, which are additional hurdles in themselves.

What words or phrases have you found to be surprisingly problematic in getting your e-mails delivered to your customers’ inboxes?  How have you dealt with it?  Please share your experiences with other readers here.