Score one for AOL

aolnewAs reported in Computerworld  and other media outlets yesterday, AOL announced its new “One by AOL platform, unveiled on Tuesday, promises a consolidated and holistic view of brands’ marketing expenditures and performance across all screens, including TV”

Also from the article: “One allows advertisers and agencies to use data as the foundation of their marketing strategy, looking at consumers through a single, media-agnostic lens, from Web to TV,” said Bob Lord, president of AOL, in the company’s official announcement. “Connecting audience data to media exposures throughout the purchase path lets brands accurately measure return on their marketing dollars.”

This is a very good sign from a company that I have not been positive about for a long time. Back in February AOL CEO Tim Armstrong discussed more layoffs at the company which did not surprise me at all. After all, I have written about AOL’s pending irrelevance going back to 2011. In fact whenever I receive an email from someone using an AOL account it feels to me like 1993 all over again and I even have recently heard the classic “You’ve got mail” sounder in my office.

In truth I did not properly evaluate the reach of AOL sites like Huffington Post and Engadget and while AOL and Mr. Armstrong continue to plow ahead toward the goal of lasting relevance, it is in many ways (particularly in the area of branded content) better positioned than is Yahoo and its somewhat beleaguered CEO Marissa Mayer. Even today there are calls for her ouster.

So while AOL’s days as a default email provider are less important, and its content more important, the development of the One by AOL platform may be just what many of us involved in digital advertising are waiting to employ.

From the Computerworld article:

“One is very important to AOL for many reasons,” said Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst with Constellation Research.

In the past, it’s been “very hard to work with AOL to get the customer insights across all the acquired platforms,” Wang explained. “So, the solution is mapping these new journeys by continuity of experience across channels, screens, process and other contextually relevant insight.”

The real test now will be how much simplification advertisers and agencies actually see in the new service, he added.

The more important issue, however, is providing a unified platform that customers can build on top of to track audience, attribution, conversion rates and other contextual insights, Wang said. “This is more than just multiple screens,” he noted. “Why? Customers don’t care what channel or screen they operate in, and marketers know this.”

Well, smart marketers do at least. Does this score one for AOL? Even if it is AOL is still trying to come from behind.  That’s the way I see it.

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Is Samsung on the comeback trail?

Samsung-Galaxy-S6-versus-iPhone-6Working in an office ruled by Macs and firmly entrenched in an Apple driven world (hey I even work in the Big Apple regularly), when it comes to my smartphone I have resisted the move to be all Apple all the time and have a Samsung S4. An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal noted that with the release of the Samsung S6 the company is ready to make amends for its misstep in releasing the S5.

When I bought my S4 in March 2014 I was given the option to upgrade to the S5 when it was to be released (which was only a week or two away). I passed on the opportunity and from what I can tell that was a very good call as there’s been very little positively written with regard to the Samsung S5.

Not all that long ago Samsung was the #1 smartphone in the world. Much of the sales came from outside the United States. Over the past few years Apple has continued to gain market share while China based upstart Xiaomi has skyrocketed to a strong market share. In their collective wake you will find HTC, ZTE, and Amazon’s Fire phone (remember that one?).

Why have I foregone the move to an iPhone? Not because it’s not a great piece of technology. It’s being a fish in a fishbowl worry that concerns me. If you don’t experience other technology you have no idea about what other options might be. The Android platform is a very good platform and integrates well with Google (maybe even better than Apple). If it’s all Apple all the time I might never get out of the fishbowl and that would be bad for having a more well-rounded user view of how the world is outside of Apple.

It’s also interesting to me that Samsung’s S6 is being released the same week as the Apple Watch. Is it coincidental? Do you think Samsung is on the comeback trail?

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The Age of Adjunct Professors

ProfessorsBeing of a certain age and experience I’ve a number of colleagues and partners that have taken to teaching in and around area universities as adjunct professors. An article in last month’s New Yorker magazine highlighted the writer’s experience and opinion regarding the increasing amount of courses taught at universities by adjunct professors.

My two partners and another associate all teach at NYU Stern in New York City. Personally I’ve had a half-dozen occasions to ‘guest’ lecture at various universities on the subject of direct marketing and entrepreneurship. The now fully tenured Professor who invites me to guest lecture in his class was not enamored of the New Yorker magazine writer’s article noting that it fosters misconceptions and in large part is just wrong.

Are students benefiting from the teachings of adjunct professors? The teaching (and reputations) by fully accredited professors – is it being damaged by adjunct professors? Are students and parents being dis-served when adjunct professors teach college courses at the undergraduate and graduate level?

The answer, like so many, is that it depends. Since I have not yet taken on a class for an entire semester complete with a syllabus (that is often derivative of what others have done since inexperienced adjunct professors likely have little to go on when it comes to creating a syllabus from scratch), I can only offer an outsider’s viewpoint. The reason I note that ‘it depends’ is that there are good ‘full’ professors and less-than-good ones as there are good adjunct professors and less-than-good ones as well.

My take is that most adjunct professors come from the business world and like me want to share their knowledge and experience with today’s students. This real-world experience can be invaluable to a student that wants to hear how things are from someone who’s doing them or has done them recently as opposed to only hearing from a long serving professor who has not worked outside academia for many years.

These adjunct professorships do pay a stipend by semester. It’s not all that much on an hourly basis when one takes into consideration travel, class time, student meetings, creating syllabi and grading papers and presentations. There is cachet to referring to oneself as a professor (although I have to laugh whenever a student calls me that since I am far from being one at this point) and I can offer that from personal experience that teaching is at times exhilarating and exhausting. Sometimes those two things are coincidental.

It’s important to remember that universities benefit from adjunct professors in that they make less money than full professors. But from my small sample of experience the students don’t mind at all and in fact like it since adjunct professors have direct lines into jobs and introductions to people directly associated with the student’s field.

I am continually debating with myself whether or not I wish to take on teaching a class in a coming semester. It’s a big responsibility and I am keenly aware that my partners and colleagues that are teaching put a great deal of time and effort into their teaching and truly care about their students.

I come down that this new age of adjunct professors is much more positive than it is negative – as long as the effort and desire are there to truly help the students learn.

What do you think? Are adjunct professorships a sneaky way for universities to cut expenses? Or are adjunct professorships a practical way give students a viewpoint that is outside of the normal academic approach?

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Experienced direct mail professionals should make great internet marketers

Direct mailI went to see a good friend participate as a panelist at a local direct marketing association HVDMA business lunch today. I was a member of the association for a number of years and generally enjoyed seeing and talking with my fellow direct marketing professionals most of whom specialized or still specialize in direct mail. I was reminded that at times people use the terms direct mail and direct marketing interchangeably. Let me make it clear that for the purposes of this lost direct mail is mail. This means anything picked up, or dropped off and then mailed by the USPS or some other provider like Fedex, UPS, DHL, that might arrive in your mailbox. Everything else that constitutes direct marketing is non-mail.

Having plied my trade for more than twenty years in direct marketing (many years primarily via direct mail) I want to make this clear. I LOVE direct marketing. Yet I rarely do any work in direct mail and so far in 2015 I haven’t had the opportunity to employ direct mail for any of our client’s campaigns.

Many of the professionals I saw at the event today are longtime experts in direct mail. I find that these pros while often sporting some grey hair, have by osmosis a deep and thorough understanding of internet marketing. Yet in many cases they continue to work in direct mail since apparently it’s in that area that opportunities are most prevalent for them. It’s not that they are uninterested in search, display, content, native, and social media marketing.

The best digital marketers as I’ve said before, are the best direct marketers. If you found yourself nodding and thinking ‘well that’s obvious’ you’d be surprised how many people miss that point – both on the provider side as well as the client side. The buzzword and acronyms associated with digital marketing can be a bit intimidating. Terms such as DSP, DMP, MSP, SSP and RTB (to note just a few) can make older eyes roll back in their heads. I know how this feels. Yet to have all that talent and experience on the sidelines because of a lack of deep understanding and recent experience in new channels and techniques is such a waste.

Whether companies are in start-up mode (as most are) or around for awhile but in the process of adapting to the rapidly changing e-commerce marketing landscape, consider talking to and working with a direct marketing and even a direct mail expert. Great direct marketers are almost always at ease with math. Why? Because they, (as my partner Nader says), “measure the snot out of everything”. And he’s 100% correct.

What I’ve found in my process of focusing on digital marketing (as direct marketing), is that I regularly employ almost all of the techniques I’ve learned along my path from direct mail.

In return for receiving my endorsement of direct mail professionals, I ask that as a group the question of ‘is direct mail dead’ be dead itself. Direct mail is not coming back to what it once was ever again. Ever. I do like to think that marketing professionals will continue to employ direct mail in appropriate circumstances (I still love the smell of ink on paper as old habits die hard) particularly for B-to-B efforts as well as more expensive consumer products (and those with higher LTV’s). There will be some to point out that overall direct mail is growing year over year as did Bruce Biegel of Winterberry in his annual remarks to the DMCNY this past January. But keep in mind that postage continues to rise and there are more people in the United States every year. The days of mass mailings are long since past. Let your guide be the shrinking amount of printers, mailing houses, direct mail list and other service providers as to whether direct mail is somehow going have some sort of renaissance.

Not every business is constructed with the principles of direct marketing at its core. But with so many companies involved or becoming involved in e-commerce it makes good sense to talk with experienced professionals who have a deep understanding of direct marketing.

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Non-drivers commuting time activities have changed the game

smartphone-and-tabletStories in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal this week focused on the time Americans take to commute to and from their jobs. In the New York City area a story in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the need for upgrading the Port Authority Bus terminal given that there are more than 6,500 buses each day now going in and out of the facility.

From an article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal ‘

In 2003, 6,556 buses carrying 133,835 riders came through the Lincoln Tunnel on the average weekday nearly all of them heading to the terminal, according to the RPA.

More than a decade later, ridership was up about 30%, according to the RPA. In 2013, there were 6,905 buses carrying 174,396 riders over the same route on an average day.

The Port Authority expects the terminal’s rush-hour passenger traffic to grow by as much as 51% by 2040.’

More people are commuting than ever before in New York and other large American cities. There are a number of reasons for this but chiefly the reason is that housing affordability is directly correlated to the distance from the city in which you work. The further away you live the more affordable it is to rent or buy a house or apartment.

Commuting in 2015 is vastly different than it was in 2005 before the iPhone and other smartphones became ubiquitous. As recently as 1995 what you did while you were commuting by bus, train, or carpool was much like it was in 1975, or 1955. You chatted with your fellow commuters, read newspapers, magazines, books, or slept. Some people played cards. A few still do.

The top three things people do while commuting – at least as I have observed repeatedly are:

#1 Stare at their smartphone

#2 Read on their tablet

#3 Sleep and listen to music or whatever since I can’t hear it but many have earphones

I notice that fewer people than ever before read actual newspapers or books.. Trains and buses are much quieter than ever before since a majority of the people are involved with their technology often to the exclusion of what else is going on around them.

Commuting time has also become productive time (if desired as I acknowledge that some people are not interested in being productive while commuting). More significantly people today are able to do many of the same things they do at home while on the move. That’s a huge game changer. 

If these trends are not making you even more certain that location based mobile messaging and advertising are ever more relevant marketing actions then you may not have a long career in advertising. In baseball they say ‘hit ‘em where they ain’t’. When it comes to marketing and growing sales it’s ‘hit ‘em where they are’.  

Commuters might be served location-based offers on their mobile devices for things that are relevant to the lives of commuters. Offers for cultural events, restaurants, shopping and sporting events anywhere along the commuter line. After all they are ‘there’ twice a day on the commute back and forth. It makes sense to target people who already have experience in traveling to or through your location.  People will tell you they don’t want ads but everyone wants an option on a good deal.  

The bottom line is that commuting by public transportation is the least boring it’s ever been before. What do you do while you commute?

Posted in Best business practices, Living in the World Today, Location based marketing, Targeting, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is your brand right for ABC’s Shark Tank?

episode-621Working with start-up companies is intense as the stakes are high and often the fees are low.  It’s something I and our team have a great deal of experience with and no two start-ups have ever been remotely alike in the way they operate.

One of our clients is so I will take the hits if this post is seen a shameless plug.  This Friday night March 13 at 9PM AquaVault will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank.  The AquaVault founders Avin, Jonathan, and Rob, will stand up in front of Sharks Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Grenier, and Robert Herjavec. The efforts up until now have been on the B-to-B side with hotels buying AquaVault’s and then renting them to their guests.  There have been many individual website sales but the founders felt the opportunity to be on Shark Tank was too good to pass on.  Is it the right thing for AquaVault?

In truth an appearance on Shark Tank was not among the primary things we were focused on in helping AquaVauit grow their company and at the same time maintain the high brand standards we’ve all agreed upon.  Personally I find Shark Tank to be entertaining if not overly theatrical.  Which makes sense since after all it’s a television show designed to achieve the highest ratings possible.

But is it a good idea for your start-up brand? If you ascribe to the old adage any publicity is a good thing then it’s a no-brainer. Keep in mind that many companies audition for Shark Tank and very few make it onto the air.  The personalities of the pitchers become as important (if not more so) than the product.  I’ve talked with many people about it and found that viewers of Shark Tank are passionate and dedicated – meaning they watch almost every week.

We questioned if an appearance on Shark Tank for AquaVault could in any way damage the brand’s reputation with higher end hotels that rent the units to their guests.  This was a primary reason why it was not a formative strategy. Now that it is in the can and ready for airing, we could not be happier or more excited.

The way I see it is most start-ups would benefit from appearing on Shark Tank and we are thrilled that AquaVault will appear tomorrow night.

Do you have a product that could benefit from being on Shark Tank?  Under what other conditions might such an appearance be detrimental?  Are there any?

Posted in Advertising, Brand Advertising, Innovation, Marketing stuff, Reality Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t think millennials watch TV commercials? Think again

tv-and-textingAre millennials watching television commercials?  My informal survey of millennials (a small sample of less than 10) provided a takeaway that millennials DO watch television commercials.  Sort of.  As we know millennials are the ultimate mult-taskers.  Texting, tweeting, and many other social networking platforms are engaged during the commercials and from what I was able to determine, millennials actually welcomed the interruption as an opportunity to catch up on being thoroughly interconnected.

For so many brands television advertising still delivers broad reach and (mostly formerly) the ability to time the deployment of marketing messages at specific times. I note formerly since with DVR’s and subscription channels so many viewers can choose to watch what they want when they want.  And as we know, viewers can fast forward through many of the commercials (although C3 and C7 agreements have resulted in fast forward being disabled during the seven day period after the broadcast).  Not to mention that viewers can often watch shows without commercials at all.

In the context of how millennials behave I came to the following very surprising conclusion:

When viewing movies or programs that they had seen before, or were only mildly interested in, television commercials made for a lower-key, less intensive viewing experience. In fact since we are talking mostly about re-runs, television commercials offer content that millennial viewers may not have seen before.  I.e. commercials can actually get more attention than the program itself. 

Should it really be so surprising?  No, certainly not on behalf of the generation that grew up with Hey Arnold, Rugrats, and Power Rangers. They’ve been watching television and television commercials their entire lives.  Perhaps Generation Z (beginning born five years either before or after 2000 as there’s no agreement on this) will fit the profile of serial (or cereal) television commercial avoiders.  But from what I am learning apparently not millennials. 

Most television viewers will probably tell you that they’d prefer not to watch commercials at all.  That does not mean they aren’t willing to watch commercials in lieu of paying to watch a particular program.  We all have our price.  It just depends on the individual.

So what about millennials?  Millennials can be anywhere from early 1980’s to the early 2000’s). With their mastery of viewing technology alternatives, if you are like me you think ‘who’s better at avoiding the watching of commercials?’  There’s a mound of statistical evidence to support the concept.  Or is there?  An article from noted that millennials who watch television either online or on a television 55% watch 4 or more hours per day, 32% watch up to four hours per day, and only 13% watch no television on a television per day.  So millennials are watching television after all.  But an article from the New York Times from November posited that millennials don’t necessarily desire what we consider traditional televisions.

Think about that as you consider how to reach this highly desirable demographic group.  Millennials are watching.

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