What’s An API? Marketers…You Should Know.

While my career is really marketing, I spend much of my day in the world of technology, in part because some of my marketing clients operate in the tech sector, and partially in the development of new web and mobile applications that we build for our work. The second of those pursuits led me to a blog post by Will Lovegrove, CEO of Datownia, discussing the growth in web services, or APIs (application programming interfaces), that allow developers to leverage existing application functionality from a growing list of companies.

Cover of book on REST programming from O'Reilly

REST programming (a way to develop APIs) is keeping developers up late, and making life anything but restful for many companies.

Note to marketing clients….. read this article.

Yes, it is a technology article, not a marketing article. But in it, lies the undoing of many companies. The explosion in available APIs is rewriting the rules for application development by allowing developers to speed the creation of disruptive innovations through easy and convenient leveraging of other development teams work. Programmableweb.com sends out a weekly blog publicizing the latest additions to its API directory, now counting an astonishing 8,180 functional APIs. This is a big deal.

Why should marketers care? APIs make it easy to access Facebook functions and embed them in new application. They are how you can integrate Google geolocation functions into mobile apps.  They let you integrate social media tools or data resources into brand-specific campaigns. And this list goes on and on… Developers can take these tools and rapidly build new applications that can rewrite business strategies, open new doors for communicating with prospects and customers, and simply put… change the nature of your relationships with your customers.

One thing that strikes me during many marketing conversations is how unaware many marketing teams are regarding the pace of technology change around them. They continue to be comfortable with “marketing as we do it” instead of constantly seeking ways to inject testing of new ideas, new technologies and new techniques. I am forever dumbfounded how project teams still seem to have little idea how to use data effectively or how to best interpret data that we collect. I cannot believe that brand marketing teams still eschew the integration of logical measurement triggers in ads…if for no other reason than to accurately gauge effectiveness.

The foundation of great marketing continues to be compelling ideas, visuals and content. Just look at some Wieden + Kennedy or BBH ads and that is immediately obvious.  But great “marketing” is more than just the brilliant concept and its glossy advertising execution. It is integrated across media platforms to pervasively touch consumers with the brand message. It is deployed in interactive executions that create engaging, memorable experiences. And that increasingly takes technology….technology that is advancing rapidly every day thanks to things like those little APIs.

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Pens, Pencils, Erasers … And Good Ideas.

About a week ago, I was looking for a hook to hang a trademark certificate on the wall in our office when I came across some antiques from the past. Ink cartridges for my Cross fountain pen, ink refills for Cross ballpoint pens, Pentil refill leads for mechanical pencils, and a couple packages of Pentel Clic Erasers. These used to be part of my office equipment, along with unlined sketch books that I took notes in. In their place, an iPad, Evernote, Penultimate, Smartsheet, Google apps and various other web-based tools that I now rely on.

I am old enough to remember the days before the cell phone…when as a salesman, getting off a plane meant making a made dash to the bank of pay phones to connect with the office. I still remember the first computer my company purchased — an IBM PC XT, to which we soon added several of the early Macs with those eyestrain-inducing 9″ screens. I’ve experienced the rise of the Internet from an arcane academic/military network, to the most dominant force society has ever experienced, if measured by its ability to make the globe smaller and build social connections across continents.

Through it all, as a marketing professional, there is a thread connecting all these evolutions/revolutions. That thread is that that no mattter what the current technology environment, no matter what the economy, no matter how the customer consumes media, it still takes good creative and/or good content to  spark the emotional connection needed to get a reader to act. With all the new technologies available to track and auto-respond to consumers, it is easy to get caught up the “how” of complex, multichannel marketing campaigns, and to lose sight of the “what”… as is what messages or content we are presenting the reader. Too often, I see creative executions that smack of “we speak” (we being the advertiser and their agency) instead of “you speak” (as is what do you the customer want). I engage routinely with people who express that “QR codes don’t work”. In fact, they work perfectly well when the financial or content-driven incentives are in place.

The digital revolution is an exciting time to be in marketing. But for all the cool tools we have at our disposal to support marketing objectives, the most powerful tool of all remains the one sitting our shoulders.

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Value In The Information Age

 

Flash Drive ImageI was with a colleague yesterday who was asking if I had gotten a USB flash drive from a mutual partner. He then asked if I had gotten a mousepad, or one of the new pens. I begged him to stop.

Frankly, I have three USB flash drives in my computer bag from various companies, I don’t use a mousepad, and I no longer carry pens with me all the time. It made me realize that if that partner really wanted to provide me something with value that would also impress me and make me want to use them more, they could give me knowledge. Not data, but the analyzed data, the visualization graphics and the concise conclusions that would help me be more competitive at what I do in my job.

That is a big lesson in the era of B2B content marketing and in a services economy where even companies with cool products need to define value add around their precious inventions. Think for a minute about Apple. The iPhone without the apps market is a nice phone, but with it, the phone is your on-ramp to the future. Just as important as inventing a cool phone, was creating the ecosystem that permits the phone to be more than a phone.

In our business, we do landing pages for clients. There are some powerful, credible self-service competitors in that space. Yet, we do pretty nicely. How? Not all customers have the knowledge, experience, skills or time to make their landing page strategy work. Nor the hours to evaluate the results and the commitment to continually be reading the trend data in the market to evolve strategy. Let alone the diverse domain expertise to optimize how to use landing pages in a complex, multi-faceted media plan. The services wrapper around the base offering (the landing page) is as critical as the offering itself.

Back to those USB keys, it is not that tangible incentives are bad. Sometimes they really hit home. But to really impact a customer, make sure you know what they really value. It may be that many of your best prospects value what’s in your head more than that branded gadget you can put in their hands.

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Using Data Wisely

Earlier today I read an excellent post by Alistair Croll on O’Reilly Radar, titled “Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it“. It was intruiging discussion about the challenges of big data collection and use. As a services company that helps clients collect, analyze and utilize data in marketing, I found it valuable since, as practitioners, we hold many of the arrows that could readily “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

As we routinely see in programs, consumers do not recoil at well targeted, subtlely-presented personalization or content customization. As consumers, we value content that is relevant and appreciate promotions that we can use. But, that does not mean that we want to be permanently constrained in our own demographically-constructed data prisons. Nor in some perverse, masochistically-inspired twist of fate, do we suddenly want to find that our data is causing us to receive higher interest rates, or pay higher prices than our peers. Think for a moment about the case of Orbitz which employed profile driven presentation of higher price hotel options to Mac users. I can here myself now saying “I can afford the more expensive tablet, so I want to pay higher prices for hotels too!”

Mind you, Expedia did not display higher prices, all they did was differentially display the higher priced options in preferred positions, but it was different from the logic displayed to other consumers, and could have impacted the reader’s choice of hotel. Consumers dubbed that a fail.

As Alistair eloquently points out, the issue is not how much data we collect, but rather how the data will be used. And in the hands of businesses driven by investors hungry for profit growth, that can pose a slippery slope.

In our current experience, many customers have yet to realize the magnitude of either the data-driven marketing opportunity, or of the unique challenges that extensive data capture can pose. As the first reality sets in, the second becomes a problem. For those of us in a capacity to educate, or to influence the conversation in positive ways, the imperative is growing, since it will only take a few high profile cases of misuse to bring along legislative actions that can dampen innovation and restrict us from bringing to fruition the great potential for effective marketing locked inside those mountains of data.

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I’ll Take Media My Way

I am sitting on the Metro heading into Washington, DC and as I survey the riders, a demographically diverse blend, I am taken by their equally diverse media consumption habits.

There are clearly a lot of electronic devices and many people absorbed in either typing, reading or listening to phones, tablets and computers. But there are newspapers and magazines and blank stares too, and those are surprisingly not confined just to older riders. Yes, I realize that the subway (with periodic loss of signal) is not necessarily the perfect test audience, but apparently, we are not yet all slaves to mobile devices.

That is the current state of affairs for marketers…a heterogeneous amalgamation of media consumers that savvy marketers must reach in the most efficient way possible. Contrary to some headlines, the world has not fully jettisoned “all things NOT D”, and in fact, some younger consumers are even showing some love to tangible creations (think…Postagram).

I  believe that the migration to electronic media consumption will continue unabated, but it is valuable to periodically take the time to look around and see what real people are reading, as opposed to always listening the the echo chamber that is marketing media.

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The Conundrum of Creating Engaging Print

I was reading some articles on Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism “State of the News Media 2012” report and came across the graphic below.

Top 10 Magazine Advertisers 2012

Percentage Change in Ad Spend for Top 10 Advertisers 2011 v. 2010

Leaving aside the big jump for AstraZeneca, the fact that jumps out at me is the bifurcation in the presumed value of the medium. There were some notable increases in spend, offset by some equally notable declines. Advertisers are clearly split about whether magazines are really a vibrant ad medium. While readers continue to methodically migrate to web- or mobile devices for media consumption, they are not making that shift “overnight”. And in the fragmented online media landscape, magazines continue to deliver a platform in which readers willingly accept advertising. So, magazines should be able to justify their ad platform easily, right?

But, the canary in the coalmine is time spent in the medium relative to the proportion of media spend that magazines garner. Magazines continue to collect a disproportionate level of the total ad media spend when measured against the time consumers spend with the medium, as shown in the following eMarketer graphic (we simply don’t curl up with magazines as often as we park in front of computer, or read content on our tablets or phones.) And advertisers realize that.

eMarketer 2011 Ad Spend v. Time Spent in Medium

eMarketer Data Showing Time Spent in Varying Media vs. Proportion of Media Spend in That Medium

Unless print magazines can do something to dramatically increase engagement with their printed pages, advertisers will follow the eyeballs and take their ad revenue into other media. New image-recognition triggered augmented reality applications (e.g. Aurasma or Metaio) are one technique we expect to see used more commonly to facilitate media convergence and make printed pages a portal to extended content. (Conde Nast has integrated AR content into the September GQ issue (GQ Live)). Continued evolution in personalized advertising should open the door to greater targeting of ad messaging (which if applied carefully should also help increase engagement with individual issues.)

Readers seem to enjoy the tangible nature of their printed titles, plus we are still culturally attuned to the comfortable browsing experience of printed media. But these ingrained habits are not enough to fight off the allure of more dynamic media, or the increasingly interactive power of emerging tablet apps. To extend print’s useful life until online business models can mature will take a dose of technical creativity to make static print come to life.

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Gone SIlent…And Back Again.

Marketing is not rocket science. Then, why can it be so hard??

Over the past several months, I have been on a bit of a journey as several exciting new program initiatives have taken off at Cierant. That is good. Less good is the impact it has had on our marketing, which as happens in so many companies, took a backseat to customer priorities during this growth phase.

Of course, marketing does not work that way. Marketing in modern markets…consumer or B2B…is about creating connection, dialogue, engagement — all by-products of a consistent and even-keeled program. Yes, flashy, high-profile campaigns still have a place, but it is even more critical to be consistent and steady, constantly delivering value to your audience, and ultimately, there when they are ready to buy. In a world of near-infinite media options, and millions of technology-enabled marketers able to credible content that is both compelling and accessible, the failure of “absence” is more definitive than ever.

Over the weeks ahead, I will be working to reestablish foundered relationships and rebuild the following I had grown previously. For me it has been a lesson. Hopefully by posting this mea culpa, it can serve as a lesson for you too.

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E-Mail Remains Relevant…To A Point.

I have three e-mail accounts:  one business, one mixed use “testing” / “sort of interested” account, and one personal account. At 53, I am of the generation that went through our core business years with e-mail as an “essential” communication tool. But, while I check my business e-mail obsessively, I still miss messages. My personal account gets checked about once a week, and my “sort of interested” account…well, it sort of gets checked.

None of that profile is likely to be unfamiliar to you as a reader. Even amongst millenials who are more e-mail averse (see this NYTimes article from 12/2010 for a look into the trend), e-mail remains a form of communication…but only one form, and a situational one at that. Yes, e-mail is necessary at work, valuable in e-commerce world, and potentially useful for detailed communication with a friend. But, the sheer volume of e-mail I receive makes diminishes its usefulness.

Yet, in it’s 1Q E-mail trends report (Epsilon.com:  http://bit.ly/lUfOZg), Epsilon reported:

  • An increase in open rates (23.3%) both quarter over quarter (by 5.6%) and year over year (by 4.2%)
  • An average click rate of 5.9% which represented only a slight decrease from the prior year (6.0%).
  • A 3.0% conversion rate that was the strongest over a two year period.

It is important in evaluating e-mail activity to understand whether the data incorporates “service” messages…e-mails sent for transactional or customer support purposes… which, according to Epsilon, show the highest open rates (37.5%) and click rates (7.9%) of all e-mail. Epsilon’s data does include service message sends.

Across all age demographics, users are becoming more conditioned to get electronic statements, check for transaction confirmations, and review reservation reminders than ever. This means that the same characteristic that drives people to read e-mails as work, are now driving readers to their personal Inboxes — they NEED to check e-mail, like it or not. That creates a very real opportunity for marketers who understand how to target and deliver relevance and value.

In an August 2011 report, Pew Research notes that e-mail and search remain the top two most popular activities among adult Internet users, with 92% of online adults using search and an equal number using email. Counterbalancing those optimistic stats is the cold reality that most Inboxes are flooded and readers are increasingly likely to be focused on messages from specific senders they truly value…or that they know they need to open (such as bills). Finding time for marginally interesting content just not at the top of the list. In this environment, following good practice (clearly identifiable brand/sender, compelling subject, solid content that rewards the reader for opening, targeting strategies that drive solid relevance) is critical to success.

With all the emphasis on social media and mobile marketing, it is easy to toss aside boring techniques like e-mail. But, especially as the medium becomes a real for delivering transactional information, the medium can reward those who use the technique well.

 

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