The old Zen vs., the new Zen

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I just read an insightful article titled “Zen and the art of online selling” that appeared in a recent MediaPost blog. The article states that in order to be seen as a leader, you must first have an intimate knowledge of your target audience. This means engaging with them and collecting their thoughts, concerns, likes, dislikes, etc. While this may come as a revelation to smaller businesses in the online business world, the idea of doing a deep dive with your target audience is not new. Traditional advertising agencies have employed strategic planners and researchers who’ve been probing people like ethnographers for decades. A good strategist can uncover golden nuggets of useful information that can give a marketer an edge or point of differentiation that they weren’t previously aware of. Using this edge to put a business ahead of the pack can turn a perception of leadership into a reality. While the above-mentioned article has some solid practical steps to get you started, may I suggest you get professional help if you’re serious about getting to know your audience. A strategic expert can help you most effectively engage your audience, gather data and then make sense of it and give you real suggestions to improve your business. Nobody knows your business better than you. Just keep in mind that someone else may be more qualified to tell you about your consumer.

This is your brain on twitter.

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In a traditional ad like a billboard or television commercial, you are limited to the medium; 60 seconds of airtime for a commercial and the number of poster sheets that fit on the billboard. But the internet offer a landscape that stretches boundaries farther than the eye can see. In traditional advertising, these boundaries limit what you can communicate to your audience. More often times than not you’ll notice that the majority of traditional ads spend their efforts on telling you about their product or service. But on the web, everything is flipped around. Instead of telling you about a product or service, you are shown the product or service in action. Take a recent New York Times article where Methodist University Hospital in Memphis released a live video webcast of a patient’s craniotomy while the patient remained awake. No billboard or print ad necessary touting the expertise of Methodist University Hospital. You can see it for your own eyes. Social networking, webcasting and online video are a wonderful thing for marketers in that they allow them to “show” their audience rather than “tell” . But mediums that happen in real-time, like a video casting, can be a double-edged sword. In Real-time information scenarios, you don’t really have control of the outcome versus scenarios (print ads for example) where the creator has control of what is released. In this way, marketers carry a greater risk if things don’t go well during the web cast or video cast, but also a greater reward if it turns out to be positive. I’m not saying one is better than the other, however. I believe smart marketers will use a combination of showing and telling across traditional and non-traditional mediums. Finding the right media mix is a lot easier if you can utilize the power of what the internet has to offer. After all, it’s not brain surgery. Or is it?

Enzo F. Cesario

The yellow shine of PPC.

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yellowpageslogoThere’s a lot of discussion out there on the difference and effectiveness of PPC versus good SEM strategies that rely more on organic tactics. For a decent explanation on the differences between the two, read this article. When companies plop down the greenbacks to rank higher on Google or Yahoo, you can bet they’re expecting more click-through traffic as well as buy-through traffic. There’s lots of data out there that points to the effectiveness of PPC and having a good PPC strategy is smart. But in my opinion, it’s just another tool in the marketing toolbox and should not be used willy-nilly. What I wonder about is the effect on a brand image when relying too heavily on PPC for a long period of time. Does it harm a brand? Does it look too much like a hard sell? Does it turn would-be brand evangelists off? I haven’t been able to find any data on this, but my gut instinct tells me it can deteriorate a brand image if PPC is used with a heavy hand.

Gather around children, grandpappy wants to tell you a little story. In my younger days working in the advertising industry, I remember freelancing at one very large ad agency where an entire floor was devoted to media planning and buying for telephone book directories. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe they employed all those people for yellow page advertising. A gentle-mannered ad exec explained to me that yellow page advertising was highly effective and clients got a great return on their investment. The exec went on to explain that yellow page ads didn’t cost much to produce and they were highly targeted.

As you can imagine, that same floor today is now filled with young segway riding e-marketers who are supplying their clients with the latest and greatest digital offerings; and not a yellow page in sight. Later that day I walked around on the other floors and I noticed a flurry of activity not devoted to phone books. In fact, there were a bunch of other floors in the building devoted to many other facets of getting the word out for their clients.  There were people working on television commercials, print ads, radio commercials, P.R., product placement and even a think-tank like group helping the client engineer and design new product offerings. The point here is that the telephone directory advertising was just one (very profitable) facet of reaching their audience. Just like how PPC should only be a facet, not the whole kit and kaboodle, of an online strategy. Right now PPC is in its heyday and remains a bright and shiny object for online marketers. Which is all good and well. I just hope they don’t let the shine blind them.

Enzo F. Cesario