Accepting the BIAKelsey GOLOCAL Award

go-local-logo-agendaThis past week, at The BIAKelsey Leading in Local conference in Atlanta, Kelsey distributed its new GOLOCAL awards in three categories – Sales/ Revenue, Innovation and Strategic use of digital marketing.  Nearly forty entrants were considered for these three categories and three finalists in each category were brought to Atlanta for the announcement of the winners.

Placeable was a finalist in the Strategic use of digital marketing for the successful partnership with AAA CarolinasHeather Mcbrien of AAA Carolinas and I represented the team and I presented an overview of what we had accomplished together to the audience, which included empowering AAA Carolinas to emerge as a fierce competitor in their local markets across all three of their primary business units (car care, travel and insurance).  These results included:

  • Indexing some 1200 authoritative local landing pages for 230 locations
  • Generating 800% increase in organic traffic
  • Producing 35K new visitors per month
  • 25% conversion rate on all unique visits to phone calls, registrations and appointments

Included in Heather’s description of some of the softer benefits that have been generated by our campaigns together was that of the decrease in the number of tire kickers that have been generated.  Specifically, Heather described that the quality of leads generated are now far more qualified and in active transaction mode as opposed to window-shopping.

Prior to the announcement of the winners, I was afforded the opportunity to share some of the specifics of the campaigns that have contributed to AAA Carolinas’ success.

Placeable’s data management platform has been leveraged to capture and convert multiple sources of AAA Carolinas location data into accurate information that remains current and flexible.  Placeable Pages expresses this unique content with smart locators, search optimized local landing pages and a supportive CMS system designed to optimize for local search.  Placeable Passes are used to syndicate AAA Carolinas data to the primary ecosystem including Google, Bing, Facebook, Foursquare, Acxiom and Factual.  Yahoo and Yelp are next.  Placeable Pages are leveraged to facilitate the expansion of unique location content and a fueled link marketing campaign for cities and agents further drive impactful results.

Although a finalist in the category of Strategic use of digital marketing, we in fact did not win.  However, had we won, I would have shared some of the following…

First I would have graciously thanked BIA and the esteemed judges on the panel.  I would have also thanked AAA Carolinas and Heather McBrien for being such a wonderful client and for joining us at the conference and for providing such a valuable endorsement for my company in such a spirited fashion.  And then I would have recognized my account teams who made everything really happen.  They are the real winners.

One of the guiding principles that makes Placeable such a special company is our call to our employee-owners to demonstrate their value everyday.  This means to demonstrate their value to themselves – to the company – and especially to their clients.  Being a finalist for this award – and the recognition by our peers – is a testament to that commitment and effort.

Placeable is dedicated to the ROI challenges that our enterprise customers face every day.  We attack the cost of waiting head-on.  We believe that nobody would accept a 76% confidence level in a pregnancy test.  We believe that nobody would accept a 51% confidence level that the surgeon might operate on the right leg once they go under.  And we feel that nobody should accept a negative consumer experience due to some level of inaccurate information about their company, when it is preventable.  We do not accept mediocrity, and neither do our customers.

Lastly, I would have invited members of the audience who feel the same way about perfecting customer experiences to come talk to us about how we can help them, overcome their data integrity issues and compete fiercely in local search as we have done with AAA Carolinas and so many other enterprise brands.

Local Retailers Win When They Optimize for Local Search

modifiedA related article entitled “Local Search Marketing, Accuracy Trumps Distribution” may be viewed on CMO.com

Retail success has long been largely dependent on physical location. Selecting commercial space requires consideration of many factors including demographics, socio-economics, competitive proximity, traffic patterns and more.  Multi-location retailers apply a great deal of strategy when opening a store.  Mall retailers will swap locations when premium space becomes available so that they are more visible to consumers passing by.

Today, however, location means more than capturing the passer-by.  Location also means being found by the digital searcher.  70% of consumers research local products and services on a desktop and then use their mobile device to get where they want to go.  A consumer that has decided to visit your store is in buy-mode.  Will they find you?  Did you take steps to ensure that a consumer would know that you changed locations in the mall?  Will your store be located where the “X” marked the spot?  Is the premium location really premium if a consumer shows up at the doorstep of another business instead of yours?  How much revenue will you miss out on?

I recently shared the results of our original research, which examined local search behaviors of more than 1,000 consumers in the United States. We discovered that consumers are frustrated with location search. The frequency of time that a consumer is led to the wrong destination using web-based directions is unacceptably high.  The impact on brands is significant and you have the power as a retailer to prevent a negative experience with your brand.

If a consumer can’t find you, especially when they are ready to buy, what is at stake? Revenue for sure, but brand loyalty will also suffer as a result of a negative experience.  We actually found that 73 percent of consumers say they lose trust in a brand when the online listing shows incorrect information. Specifically, 67 percent lose trust if they get lost walking or driving to a location.

Our research showed that 56 percent of consumers rely on Internet search engines to find retailers. Therefore, you should pay attention to optimizing Internet search engines with location data that will help customers find you.  Search engines are powerful mechanisms for capturing and converting prospects into customers.  The availability and accuracy of searchable information online about your business is paramount to building and sustaining a solid customer base.

Direct Response is upon us. Live with it and ‘Fill a Need’

So how hard has the recession hit online advertising?  The growth of the industry has grinded to a crawl in comparison to almost every consecutive year going back to 1996.  Some say 3%, some say 6% and some even say 0%.  But not all sectors match this trend.  Search is projected to push a 15% growth in 2009.  In general, affiliate and lead-gen spending is also expected to continue to grow at a similar pace.  Yes, the recession is impacting spend levels this year, but it is how advertisers are spending their dollars that is really what has changed. Continue reading

Advertiser Control Over Ad Spend and The Swinging Pendulum

There is big pendulum swinging over who controls spend in Online Media.  The economy has taken a swinging nose-dive and everyone is looking for signs of fall-out.  One thing that is for certain, Advertisers are aggressively taking back control over their spend.  There will be budget cuts of 15% of more across the board in Q4.  The place where those cuts are starting is anyplace where an ROI can’t directly be derived.  If a publisher can’t prove a return they will lose the spend.  Response-based advertising is probably the most insulated area of the industry.  This means a push from CPM towards CPC and CPA, even for display.  Advertisers will be driving the pricing models and publishers will have to buckle in order to sell inventory.  With less money to spend, more pressure to perform, hundreds of publishers and networks competing for the reduced dollars at hand…advantage advertisers.

Here is the story…

My good friend, Jonathan Ewert says that every four years there is a great big pendulum that swings in our industry.  On the end of that ball is the influence factor over who controls the dollars in Online Media.


In the late 90s it was clearly the advertisers who had the control.  As they began to test the new medium and brought dollars to the internet in increasing amounts, advertisers tested all kinds of mechanisms that the publisher could come up with.  But it was the advertiser that dictated what measured performance, what the price they would pay and what services they expected in terms of campaign management and reporting.


Then the pendulum swung in the other direct – towards the publisher – as online media shifted from “new media” to internet advertising.  “Standards and policies” were written.  Publishers started driving pricing; and ad server utilization, campaign management provisions and acceptable reporting became organized and structured according to what Publishers were willing to provide.  Advertisers had to start working with what was available, throwing more resources and time at managing the diversity that clients were demanding which made the process of managing internet advertising increasingly more expensive.


Competition for inventory rose steadily once again following the recoil of the bust and price inflation followed.  The explosion of ad networks broadened advertisers’ options and the result was a drastic overload on resource requirements to manage just a single campaign.


While all of this was going on, Search outpaced display as advertisers began to recognize the value of response-based advertising and Google’s climb to the top of Everest was off to the races.


Fast-forward to the beginning of 2008 and you had topped-off CPMs, somewhere between 200 and 400 ad networks (depending on who is counting) and Google controlling 60+ % of the addressable Query stream on the Internet – 90% collectively controlled by Google, Yahoo and MSN. 


Throughout the first-half of 2008, prices hit all time highs in search as traffic growth online slowed and competition for popular keywords rose.  CPMs for targeted quality display inventory trumped the last four years and publishers began to push to reclaim inventory from the networks that had been previously aggregating and watering down their value.


Then the big ball started to swing.  With the advertiser no longer able to increase spend in search without compromising ROI and publishers reclaiming display inventory in order to elevate CPMs, something had to change.  Additional factors at play, aggravating the situation, was the continued consolidation of search (think Google’s increasing share of the Market – the Yahoo deal, Google running on ASK, etc.), the intense-resource demand on advertisers associated with managing disparate data sources, and publishers trying to push CPMs while a massive number of networks commoditize eyeballs. All of this equates to the advertisers almost hitting a breaking point.


Then the economy took a swinging nose-dive and everyone started to run around asking themselves what is the fall-out result for online advertising.  Is this the next bust?  Here come the layoffs.  How many VC-backed companies are going to go under which have promised huge returns with no revenues to prove it?  One thing that is for certain, Advertisers are aggressively taking back control over their spend.


You can figure there will be 15% cuts in budgets across the board in Q4.  At least that is what some of the larger advertisers are talking about and that is what some of the networks are already hearing.  The place where those cuts are starting is anyplace where an ROI can’t directly be derived.  Lookout publishers – if you can’t prove a return you’re going to lose spend. 


Response-based advertising is probably the most insulated area of the industry over the next 2 to 4 quarters given our economic environment.  Advertisers have to advertise to keep generating business, but branding online is going to suffer.  This means a push from CPM towards CPC and CPA, even for display.  Advertisers will be driving the pricing models and publishers will have to buckle in order to sell inventory. 


Furthermore, diversification of spend across less expensive, higher-returning publishers and networks will also draw attention.  This means that advertisers who have hit the asymptote of their returns on Google or the major display ad networks – when spending a dollar no longer returns $1.50 but now returns $1.25 – will start to look elsewhere to maintain their margins.  With smaller budgets to spend, ROI pressure will become intense.  We may even begin to see performance-based commissions between advertisers and agencies as competition for control over the spend increases between agencies.  Certainly this will be a likely case in the SEM arena.


So the pendulum, which started to swing in the beginning of Q2, went full tilt when the market dove.  Advertisers now hold the cards and publishers and networks that recognize the truth will step up and work with them to maximize the value of their relationships given the pressures present in the economy. 


With less money to spend, more pressure to perform, hundreds of publishers and networks competing for the reduced dollars at hand…advantage advertisers.

Right Media Offers the Private Label Publisher Auction Tool I Am Looking For


I always promise to seek out and find solutions that make a difference and I encourage us all to demand technology to push us to improve how we manage our online advertising initiatives.  Sometimes I find them and sometimes they find me!


 


This past week I touched on Right Media and the concept of online auctions as a mediated exchange between buyer and seller.  I also presented the argument that there are too many hands in the pot with this model.  Right Media’s new “Direct” product elevates the inventory quality potential by only bringing in publishers as opposed to it’s traditional exchange which is largely comprised of networks and non-premium inventory.


 


I had the delightful opportunity to speak with Bennett Zucker from Right Media yesterday.  He called me the “mad man in the mountains.”  LOL.  We actually had a great conversation and spent a lot of time sharing ideas.  But one thing that Bennett shared with me I am bringing back to you.  Right Media will private label their exchange technology.  My challenge has been met.


 


In my Disintermediating Ad Exchanges, Publisher Ad Auctions (http://arikaufman.com/2007/02/07/disintermediating-ad-exchanges-publisher-ad-auctions.aspx) I asked you to find a technology or develop a technology that would empower publishers to cut out the middle men so that they could run their own inventory auctions.  Right Media is doing just that.  I did not ask how much penetration they have or how many clients they have, but I was really pleased to learn that this exists.


 


Let’s look at the publisher technologies. 


 


Ad servers are pretty well covered, however meekly.  None of them are that great, as we all know, since every trade show floor is full of publishers wandering around looking for “that” platform, which can actually forecast inventory with a degree of accuracy and to save them lost monthly revenue. 

Publishers have whittled together DFP and Omniture and perhaps some additional Business Intelligence tools to create some insight into what is available to sell.  That’s the closest I have seen.  But the inventory insight is never more than a week or two out.  Yahoo has a room full of people calculating forecast models and they only get about a month out before their accuracy rates drop sharply. 

Basically you just sell an approximation of what you think is safe to sell, and make-good on what you over-sell the following month.  Publishers frankly have to rely heavily on networks to backfill the inventory that develops last minute, because they have no way of predicting what will be there in advance.



So we rely on networks to take on the excess inventory and they sell it cheap.  We have no way of knowing monthly over month exactly how much inventory we will give to them, and we tend to turn the dials up towards the end of the month as our direct-sell customer’s campaign commitments are being properly met. 


Enter the auction.  The Right Media Direct auction is a legitimate alternative to a network and, it seems, may be offering higher returns for publishers than networks (in some cases). 

Direct offers publishers the opportunity to push higher value inventory into an auction than they might otherwise have done with the exchange service.  They can do this last minute, with what they haven’t sold.  The result is that less inventory will flow into the networks, which offer low returns, and whatever the network doesn’t sell will probably end up back at auction again in the traditional exchange anyway!  That’s a nice model.  But not what I was hoping for.


 


What I like is that Right Media will enable a publisher to run their own auctions in-house.  They will private label the technology.  So a publisher can sell their own advertising directly and then run excess inventory through their own auctions.  Quality inventory that doesn’t sell can go to the private auction rather than a network who returns less for it.  This is not the top-level inventory that they sell directly, but it’s better than that which should be getting farmed out to networks or to Right Media’s exchange auction. 


 


Publishers will retain a higher yield for their inventory while simultaneously moving more of their inventory directly.  This I like.


 


This self-directed publisher auction model will enable a site to increase sales without having to increase their team or the costs associated with growing the operation.  In fact, they may even find that they can move more inventory with less people!  From my publisher days, there was always that juggling act.  How much inventory can a sales person sell.  A top-performer vs. and average performer.  What is the ramp-time of a new hire.  A direct-selling auction tool offers a publisher the opportunity to have their own clearing house with a much higher return value than their current network clearing house options.  I really like this.


 


Right Media has a solid set of models here.  They are a destination for remnant inventory that a network can’t sell or for publishers that would prefer to work with the auctions directly as a clearing house for non premium inventory.  Advertiser’s like it because it is an easy way to buy advertising and is increasingly familiar due to the commonality of search advertising auction-style buy models.  With regard to publishers who participate directly, advertisers know exactly where their ads will run, which they prefer to networks.  And the private label model offers publishers the opportunity to auction-off more premium inventory to advertisers directly.  This will help them retain a greater share of their own advertising revenue and will offer advertisers the opportunity to get access to more premium inventory at a lower rate because the auction model will offer access to better rates.


 


So in the end, I really appreciate the call Bennett.  We found something that we were looking for.  Now I know that there are solutions for publishers to manage auctions both for Search and Banner advertising directly.  Superb.  Great talking to you.

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