campaigns, digital, how to, technology, trend

Remarketing: From Stalking To Smart

If you haven’t been through the experience of searching for a product or service and then being served ads all over the web for the same product or service, then this is probably your first day online. Welcome to the Internet. There’s a lot more than porn here.

Jokes apart. The way marketers currently use cookie- or sign-in-based ad remarketing makes most users feel like they’re being shadowed. Like their every move is being tracked. Like Big Brother is watching.

For those who came in late, remarketing is the act of targeting users who have already visited your website, or clicked on an ad, or searched for a particular product or category, or interacted with you on social media, or downloaded your app.

It initially began as a really smart idea. Someone who’s interacted with you or your business’ category is more likely to be persuaded if you are able to identify them and serve them an ad based on their earlier interaction with you. It sounded like a beautiful blend of digital marketing and CRM.

And then all hell broke loose.

Here’s the greatest prank I ever heard of.

Remarketing Prank

This is exactly how remarketers work. If the user’s shown interest in spoons, let’s give him spoons. Big spoons, little spoons, silver spoons, gold spoons, plastic spoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons…

Here are some reasons why this kind of remarketing doesn’t work.

  1. It’s as close to online stalking as you can legally get.
  2. The user might have actually already bought the spoons, in which case the ad impression was wasted.
  3. The user may have had only a fleeting interest in the product or category.

So how do you make remarketing more effective?

By making it useful to your users.

Here’s one way to do that.

Suppose you let your user pick what they’re interested in. You store that information – either through a signed-in profile or a cookie or both – on that user’s browser. And then target them with ads focused on those interest categories.

At any point of time, the user can update their interest categories, making sure they’re always being served fresh, relevant ads. They can also – in the interest of privacy – choose to opt-out of this programme.

In a sense, you’re getting your users to optimise your advertising for you. And increasing your relevance to them; and, hopefully, brand equity.

Thoughts?

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digital, industry, opportunities, trend

Predicting 2014, aka What I Want To Do In 2014

The tough part about leading an agency creative team is that you have to set the direction and the vision for the work that you will do.

The great part about leading an agency creative team is that you get to set the direction and the vision for the work that you will do.

Digital marketing in India has come a long way since I defected from traditional advertising in 2009. Fewer marketers are talking about digital being the future; they’re beginning to see it as a de facto way of life. I, for one, believe we’ve entered a post-digital age, and that all marketing efforts going forward need to accept and leverage that reality.

I think we need to go beyond looking at digital as Internet and mobile. I think we have to look at digital marketing as an intersection of three worlds; and that intersection doesn’t always need to reside in the virtual world.

What Is Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is an intersection of three previously distinct worlds.

Forgive me, but I’m going to repeat three buzz-phrases you’ve been hearing for a while. They’re the absolute truth.

  • Content is the new communication. You can’t be a marketer and believe that you’ll achieve brand engagement with a 30-second TVC.
  • Data is the new oil. Because digital allows us to capture what people are actually doing, versus the focus groups that capture what people claim they’re doing.
  • Mobile is the new TV. It’s belittling to call the first screen you look at every morning, the only screen you carry wherever you go, and the last screen you look at every night a “second screen”.

The other thing we need to practice is data-driven marketing. If you’ve managed to get past information overload and get someone to actually click through to your content, you aren’t doing yourself justice if you aren’t setting up to reach that person again. Every piece of engagement that you run needs to help you understand something more about your audience.

The Marketing Circle Of Life

Marketing today isn’t scientific unless it’s driven by data.

If one understands these shifts, it’s not difficult to see where digital creativity is going in 2014. Here’s my bucket list for the year to come.

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campaigns, communication, content, creative, digital, how to

Seven Steps To Construct A Digital Campaign

Digital isn’t old enough to have theories. Or gurus.

The understanding of the medium, and how to use it to build brands, varies wildly. As a result, the planning and structure of digital campaigns is often a matter of guesswork.

The thing is, there is no single method to cracking a digital campaign. You can start with an idea, an objective, technology, data, a platform or the audience. Each method looks at the medium differently. Each method is equally correct.

Each truly great digital campaign has, however, some things in common. Let’s break those down into seven steps.

Seven steps to construct a digital campaign

The extremely complicated, ever-evolving, one-stop infographic of digital marketing.

 

Part 1: The Brief

In a medium that’s targetable, measurable and fast-evolving, writing a good brief needs to go beyond the basics.

Step 1: What do we want to say?

Nothing different from a traditional advertising brief. Have a single, clear message. If it can be differentiated from competition, excellent.

Step 2: Who is our audience and what do we know about them?

Digital allows one to segment and target by location, gender, age, browsing behaviour, interests, networks, content preferences, frequency of visits, online shopping habits, search history and much more.

Yahoo serves up over 6 billion unique versions of its home page based on this kind of segmentation and targeting.

Basically, digital allows you to put aside the bazooka and pick up a flyswatter when you have to kill a fly.

Forget the safety of numbers. Go for the effectiveness of tightly-segmented messaging.

Step 3: What do we know about their digital media habits that might help us crack this brief?

It’s time to drill down and slice-and-dice the data available to you. And it isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Figure out where your audience is spending most of their time online. Which devices they’re using. Which browsers. What they are talking about. When. What time of day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it one well-inferred nugget can lead to a brilliant campaign.

Knowing that mums are the biggest online shoppers in India helped us plan an entire campaign for a baby brand. Knowing that most of our aspirational audience surfs the Internet on tablets helped us build a website designed for touch. Knowing the frequency of visits helped us optimise messaging on a website.

The more you know about them, the better your solutions.

Step 4: What do we want them to say, feel or do as a result of this campaign?

Traditional advertising teaches that perception influences behaviour. In digital, behaviour can influence perception.

Case in point: Many people I know perceived Twitter as a waste of time. They thought it was confusing, and wouldn’t touch it. But when pushed by friends to use it, they got hooked. They now think Twitter’s the coolest thing since sliced bread.

Behaviour influences perception.

So think smaller. Break down a large objective into more everyday tasks. For example, replace build expertise for our skincare brand with get people to visit our website every time they have a skin-related query. You’ll find a smarter, more effective solution.

Part 2: The Creative

It isn’t as simple as writing a TVC and crafting the print, poster and outdoor. Our campaigns need to be viral, and that needs a different approach.

Step 1: The Story

Digital is a multi-screen platform. Each screen is different in terms of size, content and usage. It isn’t enough anymore to adapt the same message for each screen. Instead, it helps to think of your idea as a story. And use each screen differently, to tell different chapters of it.

There are three kinds of media we can use to tell our brand’s story; unabridged, unaltered, under our control.

Owned media — the website, the mobile app, any other platforms the brand may have created.

Paid media — banner ads, search ads, emailers, SMS.

And social media — which is, in my opinion, more leased media than owned.

Take the example of a fashion brand. One can use the website to showcase products; the blog to drive imagery; the mobile app to combine a loyalty programme, a virtual dressing room and personalised, location-aware content; targeted, contextual, paid media to tell people what the brand has to offer and drive them back to the website; and social media to help begin conversations around the product range and image.

One story, different screens.

Step 2: The Virality

There’s no point in having a great story if nobody’s hearing it.

Remember: the average user visits 89 websites a month. And has Liked 80 brand Pages on Facebook. And has 229 other friends filling his or her News Feed.

The only way your story will be heard above all this clutter is if you can find enough of the right people to help you broadcast it.

Social Influence Marketing refers to leveraging people’s influence on social media to broadcast and amplify your message.

However, they’re not going to tweet out your body copy. You have to give them something malleable that they can reshape to create their own unique content, while still staying true to your story. Their mashup of your story then goes out to their own followers, which exponentially increases your reach.

Earned media, of course, generally refers to news coverage. While a smart PR agency will naturally tap news media online and offline, there is merit in seeding your story among bloggers and smaller, perhaps category-specific, online channels. It’s a quick way to ensure more and more people know about your story.

Make sure your story has something in it that’ll help you get talked about. Then find the people who’ll amplify it for you.

Step 3: The Reward

Here’s the thing.

People are overloaded with information. It’s easy to miss something. It’s even easier to close a browser tab in irritation or absent-mindedness.

So, when someone clicks through to your campaign, be grateful. Very grateful.

I always like to give my audience a reward to show how grateful I am. The obvious way is through a contest, or gifts to loyal fans. However, I believe we can do more.

People come online to socialise, search for information, find a utility or just for entertainment. Make sure your campaign ticks one or more of those boxes, and you’ll have a reward worth coming back for.

The brand must have its reward as well. It could be crowdsourced content, new fans, time spent, leads generated, shares received, hashtags trended, what have you. Identify the rewards the brand will earn. And match them up against your objectives. If they don’t match, maybe you need to rework your campaign. For example, 100,000 new fans may not be a sensible reward if your objective is to get people to spend more with you than they already do, right?

These seven steps aren’t the alpha and omega of digital marketing. But, properly executed, they could help you develop better, brighter campaigns going forward.

This post originally appeared on afaqs! Campus.

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careers, creative, industry

Note To Self

Over the course of my eleven-odd years in advertising and digital marketing, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest bosses one could ask for. They’ve taught me not just how to do better ads, but also about how to be a great boss. So, every now and then, I find myself recollecting – and scribbling down – their words and deeds, trying to constantly teach myself how to be a better leader. Here are some of the notes I’ve written over the years – from my bosses to myself.

First: don’t worry about the boots you’re stepping into. You’ve been hired for a reason. Either you’ll continue where your predecessor left off. Or bring a new, much-needed perspective to things.

Be happy with what you’ve inherited. Change comes later.

Not every role needs you to change things around.

Give yourself time to judge the people you’re working with. Understand them first, form opinions later.

Spend time with each of your team members in your first couple of weeks. Have several meetings – with the whole team; art; copy; ACDs; ACDs + teams. Understand how they work and what work they do. Allow them to decide how they work, so long as it isn’t too out-of-sync with the way you work.

Get to know your team at a personal level. Have those non-work conversations. Every day.

Remember your own ambition: to build India’s best digital creative team.

Lead by example. Don’t waste a minute of your day. Work harder, think smarter.

Remember your principles:

  • Every brief is an opportunity to do great work for a brand. Aim for a great idea in every piece of work that crosses your desk.
  • Chase perfection in execution. Every word of copy, every element of art.
  • Every post, every tweet, needs to be perfect. Be ready to pick fights about this.
  • Aim to crack a beautiful idea every time. Something that people have never seen before. Something that’ll blow their minds.
  • Corollary: Sometimes the simplest ideas work best.

Compromising with yourself kills greatness. If there’s even the slightest hesitation in your mind, speak up. Take work to the client only when you’re thoroughly convinced by it. You aren’t here to win a popularity contest – you’re here to do great work.

When you’re assessing work, be frank. Be honest. Be brutal. But be constructive. Your team looks to you for the solution. Provide it.

You’re in digital marketing. And more often than not, you will need to move the client along to where you are. Be ready for fights, heartbreak, disappointment and long hours. You’re getting paid to deal with that kind of shit.

Don’t get trapped in your cubicle. Get up. Move around.

Shut the lid of your computer when you’re working on something. Twitter won’t do your thinking for you.

Get out of office to brainstorm more often.

Follow your own creative process. (Below is mine.)

  • Re-read the brief.
  • Do some research online. Soak in the world of the brief.
  • Make the words collide. Don’t stop making the words collide.
  • Refer to the Wall Of Tech.
  • Think visually.
  • Your idea needs to make people laugh or cry or whoop or feel ashamed – basically, evoke an emotional response.

Find inspiration around you. Open your mind to people, culture, design, technology, art.

The quickest solution isn’t necessarily the best. Wherever possible, take the time to think through your actions.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes when working on a brief. But don’t keep those shoes on for too long.

Drink lots of green tea at work. It calms you down. And reduces your cholesterol 🙂

Keep the focus on the work. But remember it’s talented, motivated people who can give you that. Focus on the people and the work will take care of itself.

Stay calm. Don’t yell. Unless you absolutely have to.

Praise in public. Criticise in private.

Don’t overdo the praise. Avoid the superlatives. Because when you then use a superlative, it’ll mean so much more.

When you’re interviewing a candidate, interview them like Google would. It’s easier to wait three months to find the right candidate than to hire the wrong one in a month.

Try to get people to work during office hours. Rather than before and after them. Creative people get inspired by the life outside the agency doors. And deserve to enjoy their personal lives too.

Be strict. Don’t be rigid and inflexible.

Your door always needs to be open.

You succeed when your team succeeds.

You need to protect your team.

Trust your team to get the job done. But be ready to step in at any point if things go wrong.

Collaborate. Get to know tech, media, search and everyone else. They’re just as special as you think you are.

Delegate. But always know what’s going on.

Run a weekly job stat meeting with the team. And daily ones with the ACDs.

Continue to give credit where it’s due. You don’t need to be seen as the writer on every job. And remember, your name appears on the credits by default – so make sure the work is brilliant.

And, lastly: if you’re not having fun, then you’re not doing it right.

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Twitter: Where Identity Is Everything
digital, social media, technology

Twitter: Where Identity Is Everything

I don’t believe any other (non-professional) social networking platform lays as much emphasis on a user’s profile as does Twitter.

Think about it.

The average Twitter user has spent at least a few minutes deciding what to write in their bio. And the (hyper)active Twitter user changes their bio frequently to reflect a change in status, a new opinion, new news or just their latest favourite quote.

Apart from the content, of course, is the way it’s written. People go to great lengths to be witty, or to understate the coolness of who they are or what they do.

And, of course, there’s the whole Verified Account thing.

Personally, I’ve spent a decent amount of time crafting and re-crafting my bio, more times than I can count.

Typically, my bio tells followers — and prospective followers — a bunch of things:

  • It acts as a quick professional introduction. (Digital Creative Director).
  • It’ll tell people where I work (most of the time, at least).
  • It also tells people how I perceive myself. (Reader, writer, geek).
  • A shameless plug for my wife’s burgeoning small business (CXO @PoppadumArt — the longstanding joke is that the value of X varies daily based on whether she needs a packer or a social media manager).
  • Occasionally, it tells people about my latest piece of work (Creator @BioStories).
  • I specialise in puns and “Aaww Dad” kind of humour, so my bio has a hat tip to that too (Purveyor of fine PJs).
  • I might round it off with a note on something that’s on my mind right now; as it turns out, this week’s topic is Indian politics (Itinerant Twitter activist).
  • All of this, of course, is written with an undercurrent of humour that makes me (in my eyes, at least) seem more follow-worthy.
  • A dissection of a sample of Twitter bios will probably yield similar results.

Of course, the whole purpose of sweating over my bio is to attract more followers, and reduce unfollows.

Naturally, once I’ve made a statement about myself, I need to make sure my tweets live up to it. Take a look at my timeline, and you’ll realise they do.

It sounds rather simplistic, right? But what I’m getting at is this:

Your bio is the first step in building a personal brand identity on Twitter.
It’s the headline of the ad, or the baseline of the company. And everything you do on Twitter simply follows from there. Many people get on Twitter for a purpose, and the bio helps them establish that purpose.

Which is why it surprises me that Twitter pays little heed to the bio. To the extent that, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, it doesn’t tell your followers when you’ve updated your bio.

A gaping hole in the feature set of a platform that revolves around strong personal branding.

A couple of weeks ago, the team at Hansa Cequity, the digital-driven marketing agency where I work, rolled out a tool to fix that hole. It’s called BioStories.

BioStories - Home

BioStories

 

At a basic level, BioStories sets up a user’s Twitter handle to auto-tweet every time you update your bio, thus giving the user’s new status the visibility it deserves.

The tweet carries with it a link to the user’s public BioStories page, which aggregates all the user’s bios since they signed up.

A user's public profile page on BioStories

A user’s public profile page on BioStories

 

In a very real sense, BioStories lets your followers — and prospective followers — learn more about you and your life based on your Twitter identity.

BioStories is free to use and in open beta at www.biostories.net. As you read this, we’re working on improving the app, and will soon be churning out a whole host of bug fixes and new features.

We didn’t build this with monetisation in mind. But we do hope to gather data and learn more about Twitter users in the process. Our biggest validation, of course, would be if Twitter picked it up and built the feature into its own system.

Do sign up and give it a shot. Feedback — tweet to @BioStories — would always be welcome.

 

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creative, digital, industry, trend

What’s Dead, And What’s Not

It’s become fairly fashionable in digital circles to pick on trends and describe them as ‘dead’.

And if you were to listen to every doomsayer out there, you’d probably believe that the digital marketing world was populated by brain-eating zombies.

Fortunately, to misquote Mark Twain, the rumours of certain deaths have been greatly exaggerated. So here is my take on what’s dead and what’s not.

The Digital Dead

The Digital Agency Is Dead

Doomsayers here, here and here.

Well, there’s no question digital agencies are the need of the hour. Unfortunately, not every digital shop has the ability to really think from a brand and business point-of-view. Most are still in the ‘engagement’ business, and spend their time coming up with different ways to give away iPads on Twitter.

The challenge is that the independent digital agencies in India have become acquisition targets for mainline agencies. Given time, mainline agencies will probably begin to truly integrate digital thinking into their mainline processes. Which means that digital shops may end up becoming nothing more than digital production houses.

The big “Unless…” here is that integration may happen the other way around. Where the digital shop may integrate video production, PR and event capabilities. They may start thinking from a brand and business perspective. And suddenly, they’ll be eating into the mainline pie.

Verdict: The digital agency isn’t dead…but unless they change their medication quick, they will pass on peacefully in their sleep.

The Full-Service Agency Is Dead

Obituaries here and here.

Sure, they’re coming under pressure from digital shops right now. But see above. Eventually, integration – whether driven by traditional agencies or digital agencies – will win out – from a creative, brand, business and economy point-of-view.

Verdict: The full-service agency is visiting the doctor regularly, and the pills are bitter, but the long-term prognosis is still good.

Email Marketing Is Dead

Eulogies here, here and here.

Yeah, look. As much as I choose to send most emails I receive straight to the bin, I have to admit that email marketing is far from dead. Gmail tabs notwithstanding.

Yes, open rates have dropped. But here’s another way to look at it. I was recently tracking Open Rates and Click Rates across a bunch of brands, and sure enough, they’d all declined to some level after Gmail tabs. However, Clicks Per Unique Open were up. Which showed me that I was engaging with my most meaningful customers.

Across all our brands, email marketing continues to drive conversions, cross-sell and up-sell. Based on smart analysis, segmenting and targeting. And it’s working for our clients.

Verdict: Alive and kicking. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Real-Time Marketing Is Dead

Evidence here, here, here and here.

Oreo screwed us all. What started as a single, beautiful (if opportunistic) tweet has snowballed into a flood of desperate attempts to capitalise on news. What Amul did in India on hoardings decades ago, brands are doing now on Twitter and Facebook.

And, let’s face it, 99.95% of all real-time marketing tweets are crap.

They’re a force-fit. A desperate attempt by a brand to sound cool and ‘with it’ by jumping on to an event that the brand might have absolutely no connect with. An event that may not even gel with the brand’s personality. And with creative that will most likely suck.

Verdict: It’s alive, but I wish it were dead so that brands could focus on what’s relevant to them and their audience.

Social Media Marketing Is Dead

Opinions here, here and here.

My take here is really simple. The last great innovation I saw on social media was Skyrec (Google it). Right now, I see brands busy spamming News Feeds and Timelines with “engagement posts” and, worse, contests. (More about that here.) It’s still driving clicks to e-commerce, but…

It’s become a numbers game instead of a quality game. Instead of following a funnel from broadcasting to narrowcasting, brands and agencies are sticking to broadcasting. 5 million fans? I have 10 million. And 30,000 Twitter followers to boot. Fuck you too.

Most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg has proved thrice in the last two years what I’ve been saying for a while longer – that social media cannot be owned media. Because you, as a brand, don’t set the rules. First, Zuck reduced the reach of Posts and made advertisers spend money to reach an audience they’d already spent money to acquire. Second, he introduced Timeline, and put paid to all those Facebook apps brands had spent crores creating. Thirdly, he gave image posts the maximum reach last year – and, this April, chopped that down, sending social media managers into a tizzy.

Over time, Facebook will become a brand’s RSS feed. And Twitter will become a brand’s influence marketing platform, once (if) agencies realise that contests are doing sweet fuck-all for a brand’s image and bottomline.

Also, from an agency standpoint, social media management is pretty much a loss-making proposition. Lots of man-hours, piss-poor retainers, ultra-easy to screw up. So yeah, it’s not exactly a bed of roses.

Verdict: Yeah, social media is dead, and I’m kicking the corpse on the way out.

Content Marketing Is Dead

Tears shed here and here.

Again. It’s a question of creativity. Most of the content going up on brand blogs and websites is repetitive, redundant and boring. There’s no newness, no novelty, no differentiator. Often, there’s no focus on a brand’s tone of voice. Most content is just clutter.

But, that said, we’ve just begun to explore content marketing. And, every now and then, brands like Red Bull will come along and do a space jump and content marketing will once again be the new darling of the crowds.

Verdict: Content marketing is alive, but just a toddler, and needs some hand-holding to grow up.

Banner Ads Are Dead

The shortest take yet. Yes they are. When was the last time you clicked on one, eh? Or failed to get annoyed by a pop-up, a pop-under or (that new darling of publishers) auto-play video?

Verdict: Save yer money, cut the life support, let banners die. And look for more organic ways to engage.

This kind of a topic sort of demands a poll, so I’d love to know what you think.

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