Count out loud to two. That's how fast users expect your site to load. Add just one second to that, and 40 percent of your visitors are gone. Most of the users who stick around will leave with a negative perception: 79 percent of shoppers who suffer through poor site performance say that it makes them less likely to buy again from that site.
But despite this, sites are getting slower and bigger: Over the past year, average load time for ecommerce sites jumped to 10.7 seconds -- a 49 percent increase -- while page size climbed 67 percent. First impressions are critical, and page load time plays a substantial role in how users perceive your site and your brand. Digital marketers can no longer afford sluggish sites -- it's time to reverse the trend and focus on speed.
Many in the industry have long ignored page load time, operating under the assumption that users could quickly engage thanks to speedy ethernet connections. The exponential rise of mobile computing has changed the game, and new research proves that 10ths of a second affect conversion rates. (For example, Google found that a half-second delay dropped traffic by 20 percent.) These changes are forcing brands to re-think the implications of page load time, and how it fundamentally affects the success of each digital experience.
Page load time affects your site even before a user has arrived: Pages that load slowly often have higher bounce rates, a metric search engines use to decrease ranking in search results. This is especially important for mobile sites, as poor mobile performance can also affect the ranking of corresponding desktop sites. Simply put: slower page load time means a lower ranking, which decreases your visibility and traffic, and provides an opportunity for your competitors. Some potential customers may never see your site at all.
Speed isn't just about raw numbers -- it's also about user perception. In one test on the psychology of waiting, a major airport found that moving its baggage carousels farther from each gate reduced customer complaints, because passengers spent eight minutes walking instead of waiting. Even though it took just as long to retrieve luggage, walking felt more satisfying because passengers were actively moving toward a goal rather than passively waiting. The airport found a clever way to alter their customers' perception of wait time, making something that used to be tedious feel quick and easy.
Much like the baggage example, users may feel a site is fast if they are able to quickly find their desired content, even if a page has not fully loaded. Google recommends that the visible portion of a site loads first -- so even if you have a heavy page, the user can start reading right away rather than waiting in front of a blank screen.
A smartly structured site also helps users find what they want faster, creating a sense of a speed and ease, by making their next steps intuitive. Building digital experiences with structure in mind forces designers to focus on the most important content, while eliminating or deprioritizing content that may slow down the user's experience -- avoiding both sluggish page load and the frustration of navigating a complex experience.
Today's consumers are impatient, more technologically savvy than ever, and often are on the go, with less-than-perfect connectivity. They also have copious experience using well-built websites, which reinforce already-high expectations. This poses both a challenge and an opportunity for digital marketers -- consumers are hard to please, but providing fast and easy experiences can set you above your competitors. You can achieve this by:
The bottom line: No one likes to wait, and waiting can cost you money. It's time for digital marketers to embrace this challenge and make site speed a priority for every project.
Michael Histen is associate director, experience design at DigitasLBi. Co-author Michael Gauld is associate director, SEO, and co-author Jill (St. Cyr) Baker is senior creative engineer, technology at DigitasLBI.
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When meeting consumer demands, Henry Ford's memorable lines: "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse" and, "you can have any color as long as it's black," serves as a reminder there was once a time when consumer expectations were simpler and options limited.
Fast forward into the 21st century, and consumers not only expect beloved brands to introduce innovative concepts on a regular basis -- Forbes' coveted list of The Most Innovative Companies was introduced in 2010 -- but also to cater to their personal interests and reach them across all their digital platforms. The ever-evolving advertising technology landscape has helped make that possible. However, the ecosystem is now in a flux, in determining how to do this in the most efficient and effective way. Here's why:
Consumers have come to expect bespoke ads and timely offers. Credit lies with the many milestones the advertising world has achieved and recognizing those that lie ahead -- namely, that advertisements can be more personalized and relevant offers can be done in real-time.
Technology has dramatically changed how the advertising ecosystem -- advertisers, brands and publishers -- views the development and dissemination of ad creative. Where once advertisers needed to use media buyers and planners to manage and target their ad inventory for a singular audience, real-time bidding (RTB) platforms -- which are set to reach $1.1 billion in ad spending globally by 2016 -- have now created many more choices for buyers in how they target the best audiences for their creative.
On a single platform, advertisers can select from millions of ad opportunities every second across a variety of channels. With minimal effort, advertisers can also layer data across their creative, enhancing its inherent value, making it fully customizable and targeted for multiple audiences and market segments. The end result -- ad buyers have more choices, and sellers have access to user behaviour, and an opportunity to address more demand than ever before.
However, this newfound freedom of choice has created a new set of issues. Arguably the most daunting, is determining the most profitable channel for targeting potential customers.
Forget the Ford Model T wow factor of the 1900s. In today's world, the smartphone has reached the can't-live-without factor for consumers. Forbes reported on a survey of smartphone owners by Braun Research on behalf of Bank of America, and found 91 percent consider their mobile phone to be just as important as their car (and deodorant). With a smartphone serving as "man's" always-with-you, always-connected device to online, social, and video platforms, the advertising world is now trying to master each of these platforms, or rather windows, into a consumer's heart, mind, and purchasing potential.
Mobile, social, and video platforms have gained in popularity and are now an integral portion of an advertiser's marketing mix. According to the researchers at ZenithOptimedia, "Mobile will leapfrog radio, magazines, and outdoor to become the world's fourth-largest media by the end of our forecast period," as noted by TechCrunch. Also noteworthy, is the rise of social media advertising, growing at 29 percent each year.
Online video is nothing to scoff at either. BI Intelligence recently published report, "The Pulse of Digital," notes that online video ad revenue will reach nearly $5 billion in 2016, up from $2.8 billion in 2013, while TV ad revenue will decline by nearly 3 percent per year during the same time period. Additionally, online video ads have the highest click-through rate of all digital ad formats (1.84 percent).
Collectively, digital ad spend alone is expected to grow 71 percent over the period from 2012-2017, according to a report from eMarketer, presenting the advertising ecosystem with the conundrum to find the right balance.
With consumers simultaneously plugged in across multiple platforms and devices, and holding brands to higher expectations, the creation of responsive ads remains a challenge every agency is trying to master. The ability to adapt a creative message across multiple platforms has been, and continues to be, the bigger challenge for brands and advertisers alike.
As users access digital content across devices, ads have to be consistent across all screens and platforms. While this adds time to the creative ad planning process -- ensuring that the same ad created for TV is appropriately edited for mobile or social platforms without losing any merit of the creative message -- the pay-off is worth it. It means greater brand recall and higher scope of conversion.
While the process of cross-platform adaption is challenging, technology has again been the catalyst for change.
Spearheaded by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the industry as a whole is in the process of developing new standardized digital formats that will provide further opportunities for creative development across the most popular platforms. One new area being considered is the rise of the second screen and connected TV. According to a survey conducted by Yume & Frank Magid, 70 percent of connected TV users said they interact with the ads.
While media channels and the distribution of creative continue to evolve, the one constant that remains is the need to deliver an engaging experience for consumers. Brands recognize that today's connected consumers want engaging experiences across mobile, social, and online platforms. This need for unobtrusive engagement will only heighten as the digital deluge grows.
By leveraging the wealth of consumer data available with new technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and programmatic advertising technology solutions, there is an opportunity to enhance user engagement experience in ways that make creative more impactful and accessible across multiple touch points. And for the advertising ecosystem, there is a way to make the process more cost efficient and effective with advanced ad tech solutions.
As consumers continue to embrace more technologies into their lives -- perhaps wearables are the next big screen -- the advertising ecosystem too is turning to advanced ad tech products to better, and pre-emptively deliver personalized ads and offers to consumers in a more cost efficient manner. Just as the Model T was so 20th century, will wearables someday be "so 21st century?" The advertising ecosystem is not waiting to find out. Rather, it is figuring out ways to engage consumers across any and all devices.
This is fantastic. We love a good mashup parody video, and this one definitely doesn't disappoint.
You've seen them littering your screens from big to small as smiling sales zombies. And for some reason, no matter how irrelevant we now find them, no matter if you can even remember the brand they shill for, they refuse to die. Behold, the cloyingly annoying persistence of "The Brand Spokesperson." Sometimes celebrity, other times a spirited nobody thrust into shill stardom. For these sucker-fish on a free ride, is it the brand clinging to them, or the spokesperson clinging to the brand? Well, that all depends on whether those who create these campaigns understand marketing, or are merely hucksters themselves, impersonating talent like a 13-year-old belting Katy Perry off-tune into her hairbrush.
There are rules to this game of attaching your brand to a personality, and yet somehow no one has written them down to prevent brands from going down the path of saying, "Sure, let's get Kobe Bryant to be a spokesperson for Nutella" or "Let's start a pre-paid debit card with the Kardashians called the 'Kardashian Kard'" or "Holly Madison's marriage to the Travelocity gnome." Honestly, that last one is so disturbing it's actually true. Correction, they are all true. Seriously. What the frak are some of these people thinking, let alone the brand managers at these companies? Anyway, as I said, there are rules to marketing and advertising when attaching your brand to a personality.
Here are six rules that all brands should follow, and the spokespeople that need to go away.
We all crave reviews. Whether it's a new movie, a chic hotel, or a restaurant people today rarely make a purchase or take an excursion without first reading reviews. I know I would never make a reservation for a client dinner before first checking the restaurant's reviews. Not to mention that to any filmmaker, hotel owner, curator, or restaurateur, reviews are treasured gems that represent how the public feels about them. Just like all other types of reviews, talent reviews hold a great value for employers as well as employees.
Typically, the phrase "talent review" incites goose bumps in employees and major anxiety in employers. In fact, there is an old saying in human resources: Talent reviews are like fruitcakes -- they come once a year whether you want them or not. I can point out a handful of things wrong with this negative mentality toward talent reviews. This process should not be a dreaded one -- talent reviews are an excellent way to stay aware of what is going on in your business and to help cultivate its growth.
The first problem with the fruitcake metaphor is the assumption that talent reviews should only come once a year. As an employer, if you only conduct talent reviews once a year, you are missing out on a great deal of intelligence into how your company is running. Holding off on talent reviews until the end of the year has two more negative consequences. Firstly, if you wait until the end of the year, you risk conflating an important discussion about progress and goals with another necessary end-of-year chat: the compensation and bonus conversation. It's a good idea to keep these conversations separate so that your employees are open to discussion about their work, rather than defensively negotiating for a raise. Another reason to do talent reviews as often as possible is that they are extremely beneficial, both to employers and employees.
For employers, talent reviews function as a way to identify, reward, develop, and retain top talent. As you know, good people are the most valuable asset of any business. Identifying talented members of your team is a great way to develop your business and make sure you are relegating your most important tasks to the most capable people. This process is an essential one, and not one that should be left to the last minute or considered an afterthought. Supervisors should take their time when conducting these reviews as they have major repercussions on their business.
Talent reviews are not only helpful in identifying top achievers -- typically those are already evident before reviews. They can be especially helpful in identifying team members with high potential: those who aren't yet achieving to their highest capability, but those who are worth the extra effort to help get to that high-achieving point.
On the flipside, talent reviews are beneficial to employers in identifying weak team members. It is equally important to keep an eye on weak performance as it is to identify strong performance. By keeping track of who isn't performing up to par, you can make necessary cuts and replacements to keep your business running smoothly. When employers only hold talent reviews once a year, they risk letting weak performers with low potential fall under the radar, thereby weakening their business.
As you can see, the main categories an employee review helps evaluate are performance and potential. One way to stay organized in your talent reviews is to utilize the nine-box method: nine boxes, with performance on the X-axis and potential on the Y-axis. After an employee review, it can be helpful to place each team member in one of the nine boxes to determine their strength in the company.
Talent reviews are not only helpful for the employer -- they can be immensely beneficial to the employee as well. However, in order for the employee to reap the benefits of these conversations, it is essential for the employer to be completely transparent about their thoughts regarding the review. If the employer conducts the review and then gives the employee no feedback on how it went, they are missing out on an excellent opportunity to help a member of their team grow and start achieving to their highest potential. The talent review process should be a two-way street -- more of a problem-solving discussion rather than a graded rubric.
Thinking about talent reviews as more of a two-way problem-solving discussion makes the process less like an audition and more like a mutually beneficial conversation, which is what it should be! One technique some supervisors use when conducting talent reviews is to flip the script and start the conversation by asking the employee to answer questions about themselves. Asking the employee to answer questions such as "how have you done," "what are your goals," or "what is your greatest accomplishment so far this quarter," not only gives the supervisor a better idea of where the employee is at but helps the employee assess themselves. Also, talent reviews can serve to help employers understand the strengths and weaknesses in their own businesses. By asking questions like "what problems have you faced and how did you solve them," you can consider ways for both the employee and the company to grow together.
Self-assessment is an extremely important process for anyone, in both the professional and personal spheres. The only way any individual can improve themselves is by identifying their strengths and weaknesses honestly. It can be hard to gain clarity on your own, so it is helpful to have a supervisor's outside perspective to help you understand what your strengths and weaknesses really are. Clearly, the talent review process is far preferable to, and much more beneficial than, the average fruitcake.
Talent reviews are an immensely valuable process, both for the reviewer and the reviewee. Employers, don't be afraid to conduct them as often as possible. And employees, don't be afraid to be honest with yourself and with your employer. The goal of a talent review is to do what's best for the business and for the employer. Everyone should come out of the process with some wisdom on how to be a better teammate and how to better run your business.
A new era is upon us. As Forrester contends, a 20-year business cycle began in 2010 in which "the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers." Referred to as the "Age of the Customer," this period of time will inevitably force brands out of their comfort zones to embrace risk in efforts to reach consumers with the most innovative and relevant marketing and products. Just think about the sheer amount of power consumers have today compared to their age-old counterparts, whose circles of influence grew only as large as their non-digital lives allowed. Even though it has been estimated that roughly 30 percent of web reviews are fake, one can't argue that online review sites and the surplus of social media networks hasn't increased the control consumers have over companies -- which is great if you're a customer-obsessed marketer who truly understands your audience.
As brands reinvent themselves to meet the needs and desires of modern consumers, stagnant companies are falling victim to more agile and innovative organizations. In an interview with Ad Age, Kyle Nel, the executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, highlighted the need for brand innovation as a weapon against market competition of the "unknown," referencing Blockbuster's demise at the hands of Netflix to support his position. As Nel explains, Netflix seemingly emerged from nowhere to annihilate Blockbuster because Blockbuster didn't understand that its business "wasn't in owning stores" but in "selling content to people in the easiest fashion." In other words, Blockbuster failed to foresee, thus effectively compete against, a threat like Netflix -- a company that certainly understands us binge-loving modern consumers of video content. However, the main point is not to prepare in order to combat more innovative competition but to adapt and continuously evolve so that your brand is the most innovative competition. According to Nel, "The only strategy right now is an offensive strategy."
At the heart of some major brands' offensive strategies are innovation or tech labs. These labs are corporate workshops where new technology, marketing strategies, and product development collide to create the consumer product experiences of the future -- or at least that's the goal. On behalf of their brands, these labs are devoted to speeding up innovation by using new technology, partnering with startups, and levering consumer insights to create new products, services, and experiences that reach consumers through relevant marketing efforts.
Here's a look at a few brands that are setting the digital curve with bold efforts from their innovation labs. Are their ideas good or bad? You be the judge.
Facebook is clearly the 800-pound gorilla of social media, and Twentieth Century Fox has a surprising place for it in its marketing strategies. Instead of using the platform as the base from which to throw out a multitude of marketing messages with different tones, Facebook pages are used as introductory overview hubs to get people familiar with the content it puts out into the market. The pages are more of "about us" sections for film and TV, and are used to spark interest and gin up initial appeal. Facebook pages are also utilized as content headquarters.
There's no better or more popular place online to immerse an audience in video than on YouTube. Twentieth Century Fox uses this platform to inspire engagement through trailers, teasers, clips, and behind-the-scenes content. It's perhaps the best place for Hollywood to market its products in a natural environment. YouTube -- and other various video outlets -- are as native as it comes for promoting video material on a digital platform.
Twitter is used to create a persona for content and bring characters to life. Since this platform is so agile, not only can a movie or TV show take on a distinct personality through the network, the characters within them can be brought to life and interact with users. Twitter is perfect for short-form content that is meant to be delivered quickly and is simple. It's easy to respond in real-time and create quick, fun marketing messages to engage viewers.
Finally, Pinterest is used by Twentieth Century Fox only in instances when it works. Because the main Pinterest demographic is female, it doesn't make sense to promote X-Men on the social network. However, the company did a very compelling Pinterest campaign for "The Other Woman" because it made sense given the main demographic of Pinterest users. The company uses it for campaigns that resonate with a niche female audience.
Katie Lavin, VP of digital marketing for Twentieth Century Fox speaks with iMedia at the ThinkLA Social Breakfast about how the company utilizes social and employs a specific strategy to reach audiences.
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Video edited by associate media producer Brian Waters.
"Photo of an old movie projector" image via Shutterstock.
There is an inherent flaw in the way businesses approach their social media strategy today. Thanks to the glorification of what I call the "Buzzfeed-syndrome," businesses measure their social media success by the number of shares and likes they get and not by the actual conversions that such social media engagements bring.
But the trouble does not start there. Most businesses initiate their social media strategies by asking, "We have created a Facebook and a Twitter page -- now what?" And this is where the problem lies. A lot of businesses are on Facebook because their competitors are already using the platform, and there is a feeling of being left out or being too late in the game. This results in a half-baked social strategy where you are on Facebook and Twitter for the heck of it -- not because you find potential in the platform.
This problem is exacerbated in a B2B industry where sales cycles are longer and the typical consumer is not watching cat videos on Facebook. Unless you run a B2B service targeting the tech savvy younger customer, your memes and fun graphics will be lost on your customer. You need to be professional and straight-forward, even if the platform is fun.
A lot of marketers do get this, and that is why they end up making boring, redundant Facebook posts about how good their service is every second day. That is not a social media strategy. Rather, it's just wasteful expense of your resource bandwidth. Every campaign you run must either help get the word out, or help your customers get one step closer to initiating a discussion with you. It's no different for social media campaigns. The objective should always be: Have I either reached out to more prospects, or helped existing prospects arrive at a better decision through this Facebook post? If not, rethink your strategy.
Let us take an example of a B2B industry like invoice management. The typical customer is the CFO of a mid-sized firm that deals with thousands of invoices every year. At the outset, there is not much scope for targeting prospects via Facebook posts. How many CFOs regularly check their Facebook pages, let alone make purchasing decisions from them?
The trick is to create helpful content that can be distributed socially. Take the example of ADP.com, a pretty well-known resource management solutions builder that includes invoice management. Their strategy revolves around creating success stories, case studies and how-to videos for YouTube, and presentations on Slideshare. Facebook and Twitter, in this case, are mere channels that complement their outreach strategy.
Another great example to consider is CrazyEgg. This is a company that offers heat map analysis for business websites looking for enhancing conversion rates. Instead of promoting their tool in their social media posts, the company chooses to solve the other problems their prospect faces. Since their customers are typically those with an online business, the typical problems include search engine outreach, social media growth, increasing conversion rates, content marketing, etc. CrazyEgg addresses all these problems through high-quality blog posts, which are then shared over Facebook and Twitter for additional outreach. As more and more prospects are funneled in to the blog, the word about the core offering increases, which helps increase sales.
The take-away is this -- Facebook and Twitter cannot operate in a silo. By design, these channels only help users share content that exists already. The success of these platforms for your B2B business depends on the kind of compelling content you can build over other platforms like YouTube and Slideshare, which are designed to host such content. If you are a B2B business that does not have too many new things to talk about every day, choose a strategy similar to CrazyEgg, where you can target the host of problems faced by your typical customer. When you do this, you help your customer. You offer them an incentive to like and share your content. And when this reaches out to more prospects, your sales funnel fills up and ultimately leads to more customers. And this, is the ultimate criteria to measure your success.
Frank Gothmann is a marketing consultant.
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When Facebook announced last week that it will soon become more difficult for brands' page posts to appear in the news feeds of their friends, fans, and followers, the outcry was predictable. This was the latest move, many brands asserted, in Facebook "forcing" them to buy ads to reach their rightful audiences.
After all, the thinking goes, news feed post appear only the in the feeds of people who hand-raised to follow the brands. So any incidence of Facebook filtering, editing, or otherwise controlling which posts are seen, and by extension, which are not, is pay-to-play statement.
On the one hand, that's true, in part. Facebook is a business. Its monetization model is ad sales, and that's the way it works. Of course it wants brands to buy ads.
But what Facebook also wants and needs even more than it needs ad revenues is users. Facebook researched user complaints that their news feeds were ringing too commercial and promotional. Upon probing deeper, the company learned users weren't complaining about actual ads so much as they were complaining about the brands that they follow on the platform. Posts were too click-here-buy-now, and loaded with promotional calls to action.
So Facebook will now institute a system that requires actual humans to check the quality of brands' news feed posts for overtly commercial, promotional content. If the human factor deems posts to be to promotional, they'll plummet like stones in organic results.
Quality score. Organic feeds versus paid placement. If this vocabulary sounds familiar, it should. By checking feeds for quality and determining whether or not they appear prominently (or at all) in users' feeds, Facebook has just taken a page from Google's playbook. Google, as you'll recall, applies this selfsame human evaluation technique not to organic search, but to ads. Actual human beings evaluate search ads based on a number of criteria such as copy, landing page, call-to-action, etc. The ads that Google deems higher in quality are positioned more prominently (i.e., higher) on the search results page.
And of course, Google famously has algorithms to determine the relevance and ranking of organic search results. In no small part, these criteria center around content that is well-crafted and well-written, relevant, useful, shared (i.e., linked to), and credible.
There's something fascinating about Facebook doing for organic what Google is doing for ads, isn't there?
There's also a lesson being reinforced here, namely, there's a difference between organic content and advertising copy. Between owned and earned media (content and social) and paid media (advertising).
Media are converging, but the medium also determines the message. It's fallacious to blindly accuse Facebook of trying only to sell more ads because they are trying to up the quality of the news feed. The same accusation was (and continues to be) lobbed at Google when brands' organic search results suffer: "They're just trying to make us buy ads."
Both Facebook and Google aren't going to turn away your money. But the fundamental reason brands are prepared to pay money to advertise on both these very different platforms is because of the size and breath of the audiences they can deliver to advertisers; audiences they wouldn't be able to build or maintain without a steady stream of content those audiences are eager to return to consume again and again.
The takeaway from Facebook's adoption of a quality score (let's just use Google's term for it) is that brands must learn to distinguish between advertising content and content marketing content. The latter is never overtly commercial in nature. It's pull marketing -- the marketing of attraction, rather than push, the marketing of interruption. Content requires very different skill sets and strategies than does advertising.
Facebook's decision in this arena doesn't just do its users a service. Ultimately, it's doing a favor for brands, too, by helping them to make this important distinction.
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Digital media is a young, dynamic industry filled with powerful executive women, many of whom have spoken out quite publicly about the tradeoffs they make in juggling a demanding work and home life. C-suite executives like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg are portrayed as glossy, Gucci-toting examples of progress for women in corporate leadership, and specifically mothers.
And yet, throughout the ranks at ad agencies, marketing, and ad tech firms, being a mother in media is as much a challenge today as ever, and perhaps more so. With pressure on margins at agencies and increasing revenue goals for companies striving to go public, it's not an easy career for anyone, let alone those with a hectic family life. The struggles are common, but those who stay in this industry after their post-collegiate bar-hopping years are inspiring a new generation of moms to lead this industry to its maturity.
Here are the biggest challenges our industry moms are facing, as well as the emerging opportunities that allow them to shine on the job and still be home for bath time.
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