Tuesday, March 31

Shifting Ad Dollars: Reckitt-Benckiser Migration

"We've seen a fundamental shift in consumer consumption and media habits migrating over to digital video. Obviously YouTube started it, but we want to be aligned with professional content. With broadband getting to the scale that it has, the shift has happened. The integration of traditional and digital media is here now." — Marc Fonzetti, media manager and internet specialist for Reckitt-Benckiser

According to AdvertisingAge, Reckitt-Benckiser joins a long line of companies that are increasingly interested in the net. The company plans to shift an estimated $20 million in TV ad dollars to the Web for more than 15 of its brands, including: Lysol, Air Wick, Mucinex, Finish and Clearasil. $20 million is still only a small percentage of its estimated $475 million media purchased, but signals an accelerated migration.

The increasing emphasis on the Internet isn't only about CPM. Its also about market share. The company, which markets everything from Electrasol dishwasher products to French's mustard expects to increase its market share from 30 to 31/32 percent in 2009. Even more striking, Rob De Groot, head of the group's North America and Australia region confirmed what our research for some of our accounts has been saying for some time.

"The start of the recession has been here for the last six months. We haven't seen any recession in our numbers," he said, according to Reuters. "There is no reason to doubt that our innovation-led strategy is not working."

Right. Recessions are elective. Innovation is exempt.

Reckitt-Benckiser has frequently led the U.K. stock gains, including adding 7.6 percent profit after beating analysts’ estimates in February. The real losers in their most recent move might be major TV network Web sites. Reckitt-Benckiser decided to partner with ad-serving video ad networks such as Glam, Tidal TV, YuMe and Brightroll, rather than TV network Web sites, to avoid higher online CPM charges.

It's long past time for advertising agencies and communication-related firms to consider the obvious. Convergence is accelerating at a increasingly rapid pace. In fact, from our independent research, there is virtually no one under age of 30 that distinguishes media from social media or broadcast from online digital. Besides that, traditional broadcast doesn't reach mobile.

All this means that 2009 is shaping up to be exactly what we said it might be. Except, this is the year of communication in three months, not 12.

Monday, March 30

Measuring Communication, Cost Part 1

While most communication measurement models ask professionals to consider the cost per impression as it pertains to the cost of the media purchase, the better measure is "cost per outcome" or "cost to achieve intent" (assuming the intent is achieved). While impressions are important, there still needs to be accountability in determining what those impressions achieve.

In the ROC abstract, there are three cost considerations: actual cost, time to produce, and experience required. The first, actual budget, is the easiest to determine (C = b + t + e). Specifically, the budget consists of the cost of the project, including printing, production, and distribution. Although overlooked by many companies, it's best to include internal staff time, benefits, etc. and/or the total cost of the external sources.

Why is important to calculate all costs?

Calculating the cost of any campaign, and elements within a campaign as they pertain to outcomes, can help communication managers and executives make better budgeting decisions. For example, if Publication A delivers 10,000 impressions at a lower CPM than Publication B, which delivers 500 impressions at a higher CPM, most managers would cut B before A. However, if Publication A delivers 10 outcomes while Publication B delivers 100 outcomes, then the decision would be flawed because Publication B actually has a higher ROC.

The thinking isn't new; it's principled, well-reasoned, and had been adopted by a few media buyers who realized it was often better to buy time on a television show that your audience watched than to buy bulk value rotate "deals" that landed you impressions at 3 a.m.

Last year, I provided a different real life example where I heavily recommended a local Ham Supreme retailer to place a good portion of its media buy on an unproven pilot program. The agency I was working for balked at the idea, insisting we buy a high frequency cable rotate instead. The result: Ham Supreme ran heavily at 3 a.m. in the morning instead of on a show that eventually climbed to number one. Why did I want the pilot? Psychographics suggested Home Improvement viewers might like big ham sandwiches.

The point is that every communication related service — advertising, public relations, marketing, etc. — needs to focus on maximizing impressions. Doing so leads to better decisions. Likewise, the same can be said for decisions related to the cost of production, e.g. if a $2 per piece brochure delivers the same outcomes as a $200 per piece brochure, how can someone justify the additional $198 per piece? Conversely, how can someone count impressions never made by brochures stuck in storage.

Cost analysis can also help companies make decisions about internal vs. external time too. Very often, outsourcing specific work makes more sense than allowing less experienced staff members to perform the same work for more money when you factor in benefits. This is especially true now for companies that have cut back staff, and continue to ask employees do more for less.

Another example that comes to mind was when one of our accounts hired an in-house team member, specially to write news releases, two years ago. While the account considered it a savings, the in-house position cost them four times the amount for diminished outcomes.

In short, more than ever, communication needs to be measured against the outcomes that companies hope to achieve. While not all of these outcomes are tied to direct sales, the practice of benchmarking, measuring, and determining return can free up budgets and maximize the impact of communication over the long term. At least, that is what we've seen for almost 20 years.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, March 27

Considering Impressions: Do They Count?

Anyone who has read more than a single post on this blog knows I'm outcome measurement oriented. So it was no surprise to come back from a presentation today to see a few inquisitive e-mails regarding my advertising impression post on Wednesday.

"Did you change your mind about measurement?"

No, but I do understand human behavior and human behavior suggests that impressions — frequency — do count across the entire spectrum of communication. They might not be outcomes, but they are an important part of the equation.

Specifically, no single source of communication — advertising, public relations, marketing, social media — exists in a vacuum. It works together. When communication messages across all media are aligned, the outcomes are generally more substantive than singular communication streams because it accounts for sensory capacity and orientation.


Sensory capacity and orientation are two factors that help determine how much influence a "cue" might have to a person. Or, in other words, each person's sensory capacity and orientation determines how the environment looks to that person. And, knowing this, we also know that any cue in that environment does not guarantee that the person will perceive the cues as we do nor does it guarantee the person will react the same way they perceive the cue depending on how they perceive it.

For example, some new parents become concerned when their babies do not react to animal mobiles over their cribs. But what they do not consider is that these babies see a mobile differently than their parents do. Babies see it differently because of their sensory capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the objects. Laying under the mobile, babies with developing eyesight (capacity) only see the bottoms of the animals (orientation), which diminishes their ability to recognize the animal shapes (familiarity).

Thus, babies (and people) are only influenced by a cue when they become sensitive to that cue. And one of the most important determinations of whether someone will be sensitive to a cue is dependent on past experience and familiarity. And now that this is understood, let's consider advertising and communication again.

Impressions count because they establish familiarity.

A cue, like an onsite product review, only has influence if the prospect has the capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the product to capture their attention. If someone has been exposed to several print advertisements, television advertisements, news stories, blog posts, direct friend referrals, etc., they will automatically gravitate toward reading the review of that product over the review of another product that they are being exposed to for the first time.

When you ask them what they attribute a product purchase to, they will most likely say the review because it was their last impression before the point of purchase. However, it was a collective number of positive impressions across all media and non-media that influenced their purchasing decision because without multiple exposures (capacity) during various activities (orientation) that established familiarity with the product. In some cases, a review might not have any influence at all because by the time a person is looking at a review, they might only be looking for a validation.

We even see this to be true in social media. Very often, it is not a blog alone that drives the traffic to top name social media bloggers. Rather, it's the in-person presentations, workshops, classes, books, articles (and in some cases, even advertisements), that establish enough familiarity from enough vantage points to engage and possibly influence people online.

So, in sum, I never changed my position. At the end of the day, it's all about outcomes. But outcomes cannot be achieved with a singular communication stream. We need advertising, public relations, marketing, and social media to work together, even if their various advocates have different capacities and orientations that cause them to debate the details.

Thursday, March 26

Revealing Inconsistencies: Timothy Geithner

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner demonstrated why message consistency is important. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said the U.S. is "open" to a call for a new global currency to replace the U.S. dollar.

"We’re actually quite open to that suggestion — you should see it as rather evolutionary rather building on the current architecture rather than moving us to global monetary union," Geithner said, saying it deserved consideration.

Except, um, the U.S. is not.

"I don't believe there's a need for a global currency," said President Barrack Obama, rejecting a new global currency to replace the dollar at a press conference 24-hours before Geithner spoke.

The consequences of the Geithner gaffe led to the dollar immediately falling on world currency markets. In fact, it fell 1.3 percent against the euro within 10 minutes of his remarks.

It also opened a renewed flood of criticism over the Obama administration's plan to increase the budget deficit this year to 10 percent or more of the gross domestic product, with the most outspoken being Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. He described the current U.S. policy as "a road to hell." He has since tendered his resignation, but will retain the E.U. presidency through June.

China is not alone in alluding to an abandonment of the U.S. dollar as it expresses worry over higher budget deficits resulting from increased spending. Russia has been pressing G20 members for a single world currency for some time.

This is also not the first time Geithner and President Obama had directly contradicted each other. Nor is it the only time the new administration has sent mixed messages nationally and internationally.

In fact, the current U.S. policy seems to be a contradiction in itself. While Geithner plans to impose government control over financial markets to "decide how much risk to take in the pursuit of profit," President Obama's policy races toward extreme spending, which carries overwhelming risk.

All of it demonstrates a growing communication challenge exhibited by the new administration. While always reasonably adept during the campaign trail to deliver a unified message, the President seems incapable of delivering a consistent message with his administration. And you know what that usually means. If there isn't a consistent message, then there likely isn't a cohesive plan, at least one that everybody knows about or anyone can agree on.

It applies to business communication as well. Inconsistent communication is often a symptom of something else, much like that initial sniffle before you feel sick. Someone might want to pass the administration a tissue. It seems to be going around.

Wednesday, March 25

Failing Grade: Eric Clemons On Advertising

Eric Clemons, professor of operations and information management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, drew some fire with his argument that the Internet shatters all forms of advertising. Enough so that he updated his post in an attempt to quell the criticism (or perhaps fan the flames) on TechCrunch, telling people how to properly frame their rebuts, ridiculing them for how they chose to comment, and warning them that he was right one time back in 1989.

As much as the Clemons post provides an excellent example of how someone allowed a message to manage them as opposed to managing their message, it might be useful to explore his argument. And, in doing so, demonstrate why his message failed.

Clemons Argument 1: People don’t trust ads. There is vast literature to support this. Is it all wrong?

As evidence, Clemons offers Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational, which he says concludes that messages attributed to a commercial source have much lower credibility and impact on the perception of product quality than the same message attributed to a rating service. The argument fails, however, because effective advertising accounts for irrational behavior. Enough so that we consider it Rule 7 in The Real Nine Rules of Advertising.

But more importantly, it fails because messages do not take place in isolation. Clemons relies on Ariely's comparative model, which neglects that messages reach people from a variety of sources. It's more likely that a person who sees three advertisements AND a rating service confirmation is likely to be more impacted by that message than a message found only on a rating service. Why? Because the ad message is a promise, and the rating service is a confirmation of delivery on that promise.

He also backed up his argument citing Forrester Research's study that found 16 percent of consumers don't trust corporate blogs. Ironically, that study was flawed because it neglected to take into account that people don't trust blogs much like they don't trust hammers. People trust specific sources, not mediums or objects or industries. You can see the same phenomenon in banking today: people don't trust the financial industry, except for their own banks.

Clemons Argument 2: People don’t want ads. Again, there is a vast literature to support this.

Is there? Contrary to the self-validating statement Clemons without a source, there are some studies that suggest commercial interruptions can actually improve the television viewing experience.

More importantly, newer evidence suggests that while 60 percent of DVR users and 90 percent of TiVo users specifically skip through commercials "some of the time," Integrated Media Measurement found that 35 percent of people who have a DVR watched prime time programming online, where they could not fast-forward commercials. Hulu viewership grew 42 percent last month alone, obviously unhindered by advertising embedded in the programs.

Ergo, people want more choices. Online, the best models remain clear. There is a segment of the population that is willing to pay for commercial-free content, and a segment that is willing to watch commercials in order to enjoy that content for free. The only downside to this model is that offering commercial-free content for those willing to pay for uninterrupted programming reduces the the number of impressions for advertisers. However, it's becoming increasingly clear that CPM decisions are often overrated as they are only a small part of communication measurement.

Clemons Argument 3: People don’t need ads. There is a vast amount of trusted content on the net.

After admitting there is no literature to cite, Clemons asks individuals to think about how they form opinions of a product, from online ads or online reviews.

However, Clemons neglects that most online advertising isn't designed to form opinion. Banner ads, featuring a company name and logo only, do not shape opinion. By design, it can only do two things — build familiarity or lead people to a site where the opinion may be shaped. In other words, Clemons has asked an erroneous question in order to lead people to a suspect conclusion. He didn't need to.

Banner advertising rates are falling as click-through rates tend to be less than one percent. However, the challenge isn't the advertising, it's the execution. As long as online banner advertisements are designed to look like wallpaper, I think it's fair to assume that they will have about the same impact — a little less than one percent might say "Huh, nice wallpaper."

Clemons Truth 1: You cannot ridicule everything you do not like off the net.

One of the most striking comments proposed by Clemons was in his update that challenged people to construct better arguments. "You cannot ridicule everything you do not like off the net," Clemons said.

What struck me about his comment was that he might have considered it prior to writing a piece that aims to do exactly that. He attempted to ridicule online advertising, which he does not like, off the net. And then, even more perplexing, didn't anticipate that a largely unsupported opinion piece might be met with the "like" ridicule, which seems to demonstrate that he really doesn't understand the net at all, let alone advertising. (To be clear: the observation is not meant to diminish his credentials, but rather highlight the flaws in his approach.)

While some of the challenges to online advertising presented are notable, the problem — "the car won't go" — cannot be proclaimed to be the "car" when you haven't bothered to check the gas gauge. And in those cases, the problem is temporary.

As traditional mediums continue to shrink and converge, it stands to reason that online advertising will continue to grow in ways that most people have yet to imagine, especially mobile advertising and interactive proximity advertising. So, in other words, it's not advertising that fails right now. It's ineffective advertising that fails right now.

As an interesting side note to conclude upon, Jason Falls recently asked "Would advertising offend you?" if his blog, social media explorer (SME), began to accept paid advertising. While most people offered up it wouldn't bother them any more than his Alltop or AdAge Power150 badges, which are non-paid ads, Falls correctly points out the obvious: "I don’t make money from my blog. I make money because of it."

Therefore, it might be safe to conclude that the blog IS the ad. Everything else, from being sourced or cited to network participation or paid/unpaid ads (like a widget), attracts people to it. And while I don't know how long people spend on SME, I do know they spend 3-5 minutes visiting this one because we don't demand informed debate, but deliver it with hope for the future.

Tuesday, March 24

Ghosting Content: Guy Kawasaki

Dave Fleet, a communications professional with a passion for social media, has been writing about the ethics of ghost writing online content for some time. So it was no surprise to see another excellent write up about Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, who has three other people writing for his Twitter account. The post includes a direct response from Kawasaki.

Fleet: Do you feel it is misleading to have other people write under your name on Twitter?

Kawasaki: Nope–especially because I don’t hide the fact.

Whether or not it is ethical to ghost write online content is a conversation that continues to sweep across the surface like a tsunami. It often has more power on the back end than the front end. It's one of those topics that I've been meaning to tackle for some time, but my motivation to address what amounts to "no win" discussion frequently wanes with the realization that it seems more futile than fortuitous to do so.

The entire topic seems futile because its based on a perceptional ethical high ground that dismisses a virtual flood of reality. And that reality is a tremendous portion of all communication from individuals was written by someone else. From single line quotes in news releases and brochures to legislative bills and speeches delivered by heads of state.

My personal position is simple enough. I discourage it, but without any of the fervor that sometimes accompanies my colleagues' comments on the subject. I find it too difficult and even hypocritical to judge those who would ghostwrite posts given that my words have fallen under the byline of thousands (except posts and social media accounts), and even people who know me well would be hard pressed to find similarities between this one or that one or that one or this one. But never mind me for a moment. It might be more useful to establish an understanding.

The Three Most Common Positions On Ghosting Posts.

Rampant Acceptance. While it was written almost three years ago, the comment section of a post written by Debbie Weil for the IAOC is pretty revealing. Several writers chimed in with a sympathetic tone for ghostwriting, though several mentioned some expectation that they would be squashed with ridicule and shame based on references from 2005 and earlier (just to show you how long this dusty old topic has been kicked around).

Qualified Acceptance. Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, says, with the exception of Twitter and rigid guidelines, that "only the purist assumes ghostwriting is wrong."

Genuinely Unacceptable. Beth Harte warns writers away from the practice because of the presumption that consumers will consider it a fake blog upon discovery. She's not alone. Plenty of people consider it unethical.

The Long And Tired History Of Debate

No one can move forward in a discussion that doesn't account for history. The simple explanation is that early blogging was considered spontaneous broadcast over transplanted professional print, with the earliest participants being regular people rather than professionals.

In some cases, these regular people have since surpassed early adopters with backing of the extensive professional networks, speaking engagement promotions, and ability to game most measurements under the guise that their memes were somehow more important than those originally cooked up by regular people. (I might also note that many of these early personal pioneers consider the very ideal of professional blogging unethical on its face too.)

As such, it's not surprising that regular people set the tone for online presentation. And there decisions were adopted, in part, by the earliest professional participants who decided that it was okay to use blogging as a professional communication platform while accepting the concept that the communication remains pure, unedited, and raw. Of course, the reality is that for most non-communicator professionals, pure, unedited, and raw is a recipe for disaster. After all, it is primary reason there are multiple professions built around communication — marketing, advertising, public relations, real time, whatever.

In other words, it's not necessarily practical for every online participant to craft their own message or pen their posts on their own. Thus, the medium became less associated with spontaneous broadcast and more associated with planned communication, enough so that some people consider every post to be critical to personal and corporate branding. So, allowances were made to have professionals vet the content, edit the copy, and otherwise polish it up much like many letters, emails, press release quotes, and other collateral.

As soon as these editing allowances came into play, so too did the many shades of gray that encompass what is often presented as a black and white issue that asks "is ghostwriting posts ethical or not, pick one."

It's impossible to pick one with any moral and ethical certainty, given that "ghostwriting" has been defined as everything from casual edits and complete rewrites to written with review and unapologetic adoptions of an entire persona a la C.D. 'Charlie' Bales. And that said, I recognize that no one will ever agree on where to draw the line and it's likely most lines are situational.

The Bottom Line On Ghostwriting Posts.

Personally, I discourage ghostwriting posts, specifically the "written with review" or "unapologetic adoption of an entire persona" solutions, and consider it a step down from that to think ghostwriters are working for people on Twitter, which is even closer to a broadcast medium and often solicits representative conversation much like comments. However, I see it this way not because it's unethical as much as it's not needed, when the only apparent benefit to do so is being ever present.

However, I am not surprised Kawasaki uses ghostwriters. His social media strategy is a system and has always been a system. So while it would be bothersome if one of his ghostwriters was singing the praises of authenticity, disclaimer or not; I'm not in a position to question his intent. Only he (and Bales) can do that.

So, is that the bottom line? Not exactly.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.“ — William Shakespeare

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