What’s your click-through rate on that billboard?


Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Last month I wrote about the advantages digital media has over traditional media. I heard from many people who agreed–and, of course, a few who didn’t.

While many in the latter camp have reasons to favor traditional media (calling to mind Upton Sinclair’s observation that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it”), a few also pointed out instances where digital is far from perfect. Most notably, these discussions centered around the challenges that come with measurement and our over-reliance on data. In the interest of being complete, therefore, I wanted to share some additional thoughts on that subject.

It is absolutely true that there are challenges in measuring the impact of digital media, especially when it comes to what stimulates a decision to buy. Consumers see a variety of messages before making a purchase, and they interact with brands in a variety of ways. Let’s imagine, for example, that you buy a new chainsaw on Think of all the times you may have been influenced leading up to that purchase. You’d likely have different perceptions of brands in the category, formed by everything from product placement to package design. You would have likely heard radio spots or seen TV commercials for different chainsaws. And it’s very possible that price was a factor, with one brand standing out on a given day due to a promotion or sale.

It’s shortsighted, therefore, to attribute any single consumer action to any one interaction with a brand. Consumers usually click the “add to cart” button based on a collective set of impressions accumulated over time, not the last message that appeared before them. Accordingly, traditional media still plays a vital role, and can often influence purchases just as much, if not more so, than digital – even when the last action was taken online.

However, while you might not be able to learn everything from digital, it can still provide invaluable information–information previously unavailable to marketers. Which of multiple messages, for example, gets a higher click-through rate? What traffic sources yield the leads most likely to convert? What type of content generates the most interaction from your audience? All these things are eminently discoverable via digital media. Such insights might not tell you everything, but they provide opportunities that simply aren’t available via traditional media.

This was precisely the argument I made with the example of a CEO blissfully spending money on billboards while voicing his doubts about digital, given “how hard [the latter] is to measure.” Yes, it’s true that analytics aren’t always conclusive and that click-through rates can be misleading. However, compare that to the inadequacies of traditional media. What was the click-through rate on the last billboard you put up? The last radio spot you produced? Your last newspaper ad? Even if you correlate sales to ad spend, you’re making a lot of assumptions–more, it’s clear, than you have to make if you use digital media responsibly.

Yes, you should be looking for a definite return on your marketing dollars, and no, we haven’t yet perfected a way of knowing everything that goes into consumer decisions. However, the strategic use of marketing resources is increasingly dependent upon your skill in optimizing along the way. What makes digital superior in most cases is that the money you’ve already spent teaches you about how to make the next dollar go further. You might still have to make some inferences about what’s influencing customer purchases, but – if you’re smart about what you measure and realistic about your goals for any specific investment – you can eliminate some of the guesswork. And while that might seem like a small victory, it’s a considerable leap forward for your marketing budget.

4 reasons why digital beats traditional media—and what to do about it

“Digital vs Analog” by James Broad on Flickr

I’m often asked, “Is traditional media dead?” The answer, of course, is “no.”

It’s true that cord cutting is accelerating, print subscription rates are declining, radio as we know it is being challenged by everything from Pandora to the auxiliary jack, and billboards have the same problems they’ve always had—being place-bound, offering little opportunity for targeting, and accommodating only the most simple messages. But does that mean they’re “dead”? No.

As the challenges cited above suggest, however, it’s indisputable that traditional media are being marginalized like never before. And while many businesses have adapted to this shift, some—especially small-to-midsize businesses—have been slower to respond. If you’re still trying to make sense of these changes or trying to make a case for digital getting a larger share of resources, it helps to focus on the four advantages digital has over traditional media—and what that means for your business.

1.    Traditional media only talk at the audience; digital media allow for conversations. Since its inception, advertising was largely a one-way medium, seeking only to get a message in front of an audience. Yes, it often included calls to action, but most advertisements seemed uninterested in a dialogue. Accordingly, consumers became increasingly uninterested in those messages, shifting their attention to media—primarily social media—that encouraged them to have their say.

What does this mean for you? If you seek only to raise awareness about your brand or message, traditional media offers great options, as does digital display advertising. However, consumers expect to be able to engage with you on social media and other digital media where conversations are just a click away. If you don’t make that opportunity available, they’ll likely bypass your message—or respond negatively to it.

2.    Traditional media are only available on a set schedule; digital media are often available on demand. The phrase “appointment television” seems quaint. While there’s something to be said for the anticipation that would come with waiting for the clock to strike 9:30 p.m. so you could watch “Seinfeld,” it’s far better to watch, listen or read what you want, when you want. Even live sports, once thought to be the saving grace of traditional TV, are facing challenges as audiences determine that they’d rather consume only the most relevant information—highlights and scores—on their own terms instead of watching every play as it happens.

What does this mean for you? It’s likely programming better consumed as it happens will offer more value for your traditional media dollar: live sports, reality TV and awards shows, for example. However, know that this is changing and that advertising dollars should follow the consumer to on-demand programming.

3.    Marketing via traditional media is all about interruption; digital marketing is more about the audience’s ability to opt in. Soap operas got their name because advertisers determined they could market household products—including soap—to a largely female daytime audience via dramas about the lives and loves of the rich and infamous. The model was built around interruption: give the audience something they want, then interrupt them with the advertisement you want them to see. This is still the dominant model today on both traditional and digital media—but audiences are using everything from the remote control to ad-blocking technology to avoid unwelcome messages.

What does this mean for you? Targeting has never been more important—and never more possible. Whereas most traditional media allow only for guesswork based on audience demographics, digital media allow for much greater sophistication, using strategies like modeling and remarketing to minimize waste. In addition, advertisers have the option of putting resources into opt-in forms of marketing, including organic social media and email marketing, combined with content that’s more engaging (see #1 above) where they can be more certain that the message will not be seen as a nuisance.

4.    It’s hard to measure the impact of traditional media; it’s comparatively easy to measure the impact of digital. I once had a CEO tell me he wasn’t sure digital was right for his company because it was hard to measure. During that conversation, I could literally see a billboard outside his window with his company’s message and no clear call to action. I was tempted to ask him how he was measuring the return on that investment, but I didn’t. While it’s true the impact of digital marketing can’t always be measured, it’s much easier than measuring the impact of traditional media. It can’t be done without effort, but it is very possible to know which messages resonated and lead to a specific action—if you’re strategic.

What does this mean for you? New ways of marketing demand new approaches to marketing. Planning on the front end, optimization along the way and analysis on the back end are the keys to success and should be looked at as imperatives, not luxuries.

As the media landscape evolves, the key is to integrate your efforts. Understand that there are real reasons behind the shifts in media consumption, but know also that traditional media isn’t dead—at least not yet. (It’s no small irony that this article was originally published in a print publication.) By being open to the best of both, you can prioritize based on the only thing that really matters: what’s best for your customers and prospects is generally the best choice for your company, too.

How to use Facebook groups to connect with your audience

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One of Facebook’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses.

On the plus side, it’s for just about everyone and about just about everything. However, that also means it’s not really for anyone, or about anything specific. And as the platform has swelled to nearly 2 billion members, it can be a challenge to focus the audience on a specific topic.

One solution to this problem is something that has been around for years: Facebook groups. Groups provide a place for people to connect around a shared interest or for mutual benefit—and businesses can benefit when they bring those people together. A few examples:

  • Employee and volunteer groups give your internal audience a place to share information and stay connected.
  • Nonprofit groups allow you to share information and build advocacy among donors and other supporters.
  • Colleges can use groups to give students, faculty, staff and alumni a place to discuss specific topics.
  • Manufacturers of products can create and facilitate groups for customers to share ideas and ask questions of the company and other users.

Groups provide several benefits, in that they allow real-world conversations to continue and grow online. They also allow your company to tap into the collective intelligence of your audience, bringing people together in a place where everyone can learn from each other and share information with the group. Groups also have advantages over Facebook business pages, because the conversation can be more focused since groups are less affected by declining organic reach. Finally, groups can be made private, with users having to be accepted into the group — a great solution for businesses that work with minors or who want to protect more sensitive information.

Perhaps the best thing about groups is how easy they are to create:

  • A group “owner” must establish the group. He or she names the group and can add photos, documents (a policy shared with employees, for example, or a user guide shared with customers).
  • The group owner will also need to decide whether it will be public, closed (members must be approved), or secret (which can’t be discovered by search and is only available to those who have a link and who must be approved). This can be changed later if needed.
  • The group owner then can add other group administrators and moderators. While you only need one owner, it’s good practice to have at least two to three people involved to ensure responsiveness. It’s also important to know that there are subtle differences between being an administrator and a moderator, with the former having more access than the latter.
  • Promote it to those you want in the group and, if it’s private or secret, accept their requests to join. It’s good practice to have some content and conversations added to the page first, however, so group members will get a good first impression and be able to interact right away.

The real work, however, is maintenance: continually adding content, responding to questions and ensuring that it remains active. This is what determines your success: since starting groups can be so easy, it’s tempting to jump right in. You’ll want a plan, however, for ensuring that your group remains viable and that the owner, moderators and administrators are working together to keep the audience’s attention.

While groups have a lot of merit, they’re not without their pitfalls. Consider, for instance, that your employees must use their personal Facebook profiles to participate in groups. This may not raise any issues, but there can be challenges associated with intermingling your internal and external audiences. While being in the same group as someone else gives them no special access to your Facebook profile, it does make things that are publicly available (your profile photo, for example) more conspicuous to that audience. If for no other reason, then, you’ll want to have an employee social media use policy in place.

Overall, however, groups are great at helping you reach some of your subset audiences more effectively than through a business page alone. It takes effort to make them work, but they’re a great tool for keeping people connected to each other–and your brand.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Reputation: How to make the most of what’s being said about your brand online


“Online reviews” by James Provost on Flickr


Looking for an explanation of why social media matters? Look no further than this quote from “The Thank You Economy,” by Gary Vaynerchuk: “Consumers have more direct, daily contact with other consumers than has ever been possible in the history of the planet. More contact means more sharing of information…in short, more word of mouth.”

This quote effectively captures the degree to which social media has given the audience a voice in the conversation that’s equal to – and sometimes even louder than – that of even the biggest brands. This is great for us as consumers, because now — for the first time in human history — we can access a critical mass of our peers from just about anywhere at just about any time, giving us access to better information about products and services. It presents tremendous challenges for businesses, however, since reputation management can take considerable time and attention, and since it can feel like we’re no longer in control (spoiler alert: we’re not).

Some businesses are responding by dismissing the importance of consumer opinion sites or downplaying the impact of negative reviews. This is a huge mistake, however. In a recent study by Fan & Fuel Interactive Digital Marketing Group, 97 percent of consumers said customer reviews factor into their buying decisions. And in the same study, 35 percent of respondents said just one negative review can make them decide not to buy. It does matter, whether or not we like it.

It’s also important to understand that reviews don’t exist in a vacuum. In addition to consumers actively seeking them out on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, they’re also happening upon them during Google searches even when they’re not searching for reviews. Google’s local search, also known as the three-pack, includes not just links to a retailer’s website and address, but also a star rating and a link to Google reviews. Furthermore, these reviews have at least somewhat of an impact on search results, with research from a variety of sources indicating that companies with higher rankings, or even just more reviews, are more likely to appear in the top three results.

With this in mind, it’s becoming more critical for those in the B2C space to take an active role in managing their reputation – on Google and elsewhere. Here are a few keys to success:

  • Fix what’s broken. Every business has challenges. If yours are customer facing, it’s more important than ever to fix them. Your flaws will inevitably be amplified on consumer opinion sites, and the more prevalent they are, the more likely this becomes. There’s no substitute for addressing the root cause of those issues.
  • Do the research. A somewhat obvious first step is to look at the major review sites to see what’s being said about you and your competitors. Whether it’s positive or negative, you’ll want to be aware of what’s out there. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
  • Ask customers to review you (as long as you expect the results will be favorable). If you are confident that you provide excellent service, more positive reviews may be available to you – if only you request them. One option: send a request to your email list with a link to all the relevant review sites. This is a good strategy even if you already have plenty of good reviews, but it’s absolutely essential if your online reputation is not what you’d like it to be. The best antidote for bad reviews is good reviews.
  • Repurpose good reviews. Once you have an inventory of positive reviews, reach out to some of your most ardent advocates and ask if you can use their comments elsewhere: on your website, in your brochures, enlarged and slapped on the wall of your building – the opportunities are endless. Use every opportunity to get these comments in front of prospects and customers.
  • Capture customer testimonials on video. While you can’t control what someone says in a review, you can create testimonials that show you at your best. Make sure you don’t let them languish on YouTube, however: share them on your website and via social media to give them a better chance of being discovered.
  • Consider using a reputation management dashboard or outsourcing the effort. Like anything else in your business, reputation management takes time and effort. One option is to invest in a tool like BirdEye, which captures reviews from a variety of sites and allows you to see them all in a single dashboard. If you want to save even more time, you can outsource the effort and have someone monitor, respond to, and generate new reviews on your behalf. You may be able to trade a few dollars and get back more time to spend with your customers in the real world – which may, in turn, lead to more positive reviews.

There’s no question that customers are paying more attention to what their peers are saying online. That means it’s an imperative that you do, too. The conversation will happen with or without you, so take an active role. With a little effort, you can substantially mitigate the negative, amplify the positive, and differentiate your business – which ultimately will result in more prospects becoming customers, and more customers becoming true advocates.

Social media as a social good


Social media is frequently in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Murders are broadcast on Facebook Live. “Challenges” go viral and end up causing serious harm. Children are bullied and exploited. Fights over politics, religion, and things much more mundane erupt. The list goes on. However, it’s important to remember that just like most things in life, social media is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. While it certainly has its pitfalls and problems, it also can be tremendously beneficial. The examples below are some of the best reminders that social media can make us more aware and compassionate while stimulating people to take action in a way that makes the world a little better.

  • Addict Aide and “Louise Delage.” When Addict Aide, a Paris, France-based nonprofit, sought to raise awareness about the dangers of addiction, they turned to a tool uniquely capable of reaching young people: Instagram. Addict Aide developed an Instagram profile for “Louise Delage” – a character created out of thin air, but presented as a real 25-year-old woman. Drawn to “Louise’s” good looks and seemingly lavish lifestyle, the profile attracted thousands of followers. What most of her followers didn’t notice – at least not immediately – was that each of “Louise’s” photos included a drink – a bottle of beer, a cocktail, or a glass of wine. Subtly included and rarely featured prominently, the inclusion of these drinks intended to make a statement: Louise is like many of the young people you know – and addiction is a factor in many of their lives. The campaign, designed to draw attention to the fact that one out of every five deaths of young people is related to addiction, had a real impact on Addict Aide’s mission. After “Louise” was unmasked, Addict Aide saw a five-fold increase in website traffic and the nonprofit received significant media coverage. Altogether, it was a small investment of resources that paid off in a huge increase in awareness and engagement.
  • Ami Musa and UNICEF on Pinterest. For many users, Pinterest acts as a sort of wishlist: everyone from do-it-yourselfers to brides-to-be use the platform to share an inventory of material things they believe would make their lives better. UNICEF took this idea in an unconventional direction to remind Pinterest users of an important lesson. In keeping with its mission of serving children around the world, UNICEF created a Pinterest profile for Ami Musa, a 13-year-old from Sierra Leone, featuring a board called “Really want these.” It included things like clean water, food, an education, and a pair of shoes – much more mundane than what the average Pinterest user would share, but basic needs that are severely lacking in Ami’s world. UNICEF’s message was clear: be grateful for what you have and be generous in supporting those who aren’t – by supporting, of course, organizations like UNICEF.
  • The Pilion Trust’s “F*ck the Poor” campaign. In today’s communication environment, a little shock value can go a long way toward capturing an audience’s attention. Often, this manifests itself in superficial ways, but occasionally it’s used to convey messages of substance. One example is the Pilion Trust’s “F*ck the Poor” campaign. The UK-based charity, which provides resources for the homeless and others in need, wanted to get people talking about poverty – and get people talking they did. Armed with a video camera and a sandwich board bearing the “F*ck the Poor” message, Pilion Trust representatives took to the streets of London. When they recorded the responses they received and compared them to how people responded – or, more accurately, didn’t respond – to a “Help the Poor” message, the takeaway was clear: people do care about poverty, but seemingly only when provoked. Pilion Trust’s efforts encouraged the audience to understand that apathy can harm those less fortunate just as much as outright attacks—and that to combat the issue, they needed to take action in the form of financial support for programs and services for those in need.
  • Social media’s impact on Amber Alerts. When you hear about social media and missing kids, you may first think of the risks – and there’s certainly plenty of cause for concern. What’s less well appreciated, however, are the considerable ways in which social media keeps children safe. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, social media is a contributing factor in the overwhelming majority of resolved Amber Alert cases, as civilians are transformed from mere observers into collaborators in spreading the word. Whereas milk cartons were once a primary means of getting information about missing children in front of those who might be able to help, we now use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the same purpose. As social media use has become commonplace, more lives are saved and more children are returned to their families.

There are many other examples, but there’s only one way to ensure social media becomes even more of a net positive in our society: through our individual use of each platform. So, today, consider what you share: does it add more than it detracts from the human condition? Does it make the world a little better, or a little worse? The next time you’re ready to click “submit,” remember the words of John Kennedy: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”