Free Products are Online Marketing

freeJohn Battelle has got a series of very good articles on online marketing on his blog. Check them out here and here. A third post is yet to be published.

Both articles are on building brands online. Basically what John is saying is that online advertising works well where you have very strong brands that attract a particular type of user that can then be marketed to. These brands can command higher CPMs that generic publishers, for example. The yet to be solved problem (solution probably to be revelead in his third article) is about the fact that online formats for marketing don’t really work that well, or not as well as online formats (he uses TV ads and magazine ads as examples). An example might be that car ads on TV or in a magazine leave a much bigger impact with the viewer than banner ads do.

Two things came to my mind when I read this.

The first one was that it is logical (and actually obvious) that when you attract a certain type of viewer to a site you can command high CPMs. After all, it simply means that one can target ads better to a more relevent audience. The key problem is that one actually doesn’t know who is looking at what on generic sites, making targeting difficult.

My second thought was that at least one format that works extremly well for advertising online has already been invented. It is called free products. Why do you tink does Google have some 50-100 free products out there? Just for fun? Or because the revenue avalanche is going to hit them via these products? No, the reason is much simpler. It attracts users. Google embeds their brand in their brains every day. They then go out and use Google search. This is a great way to build a brand online.

I believe there are many ways in which publishers, manufacturing, and service companies can build their brand online. One way to do it is via free services. I am sure people will come up with other ways. I think John is right to say that the classic online banner ads won’t do the trick. But look at the bright side: if it was that easy, what would you need great marketers for?

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The Role of Internet Marketing

Internet marketing has obviously been talked and written about a lot over the last ten years and more.

One of the aspects of most of these discussions that fascinates me is that Internet Marketing is usually talked about as if it is just a further marketing and sales channel, in line with TV, Radio, Print media etc. This is very intriguing, because I think this is both right and wrong at the same time. Here is why.

The Internet obviously enables a company to advertise and sell its products and services. For advertising, think banner ads (very reminiscent of print ads, by the way). Obviously, you can also buy things online, Amazon and others come to mind. But that is not all.

Let me put it like this. These days, before I make any meaningful purchase decision, I go on the Internet to check out my options and to become informed. This is true for both personal and professional puchases. So, for example, before I buy a computer, I will spend a certain period of time on the Internet to check out all the options, read the reviews, got the the manufacturers’ websites, etc. After I have done this, I will go to the place where I will purchase, this place can either be offline or online. To me, this means the following:

All roads lead to the Internet

What does that mean? Let me explain it by example. I hear a radio ad on a product, I go on the Internet to check it out. I see a TV spot, I go on the Internet. I see a print ad, I go on the Internet. A friend tells me about something, I go on the Internet. I see a banner ad online, I go further on the Internet.

This fundamentally changes the role of marketing and of advertising

In the old days, you would advertise, so that either people went out of their way (they called, they went to the shop) to go and get the product or that when they chance encountered it (had to select one soap in the supermarket, chose one soap over the other) they selected the product they felt better about. Yes, you could read magazines and reviews and try to form an opinion, but this was a difficult and laborious process.

Today, people go and check things out online (I admit, buying a burger, ie impulse purchases are somewhat different than considered purchases, like buying a PC). This means that the conection between advertising and product purchase is broken in many industries. This means that regardless of where you advertise, the next step for the buyer is very likely to go online, become informed and THEN to go and purchase the product: All roads lead to the Internet.
Internet Marketing

I think this has some pretty substantial implications for marketers: Whatever the messages are that you send via traditional and more modern channel, they will get modified and changed by whatever your buyers find online. This means that the messages that can be found on your company and on your products online are at least as important, if not more important than the messages that you send out via channels. This becomes even more important, when the majority of content on your company that can be found on the Internet origniates not from you, but from 3rd parties.

An additional consideration is that the role of advertising has partially changed. Ads lead to online visits. This means that you cannot design any advertising campaigns anymore, without knowing exactly how they integrate with the Internet, because they will invariably lead to it.

A practical example: I watch a TV spot on a new car. It talks about some new cool features that it has. I think: this is pretty cool, I should check this out on the carmaker’s homepage. I go to the homepage, but all I find is a ton of videos (some of which I had already seen on TV), but it is impossible to find the information on the new features that they talked about. I give up, being frustrated.

I think one could think this through even further and start with the needs of the buyer, develop an online programme that meets those needs and then to develop TV ads, for example, that drive people online. This is the new role of Internet marketing as I see it: providing the linkage between advertising and the company itself.

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Pragmatic Webinars

WebinarOne of the most interesting sources of content covering product management and product marketing topics is a webinar series by Pragmatic Marketing. The series covers a myriad of topics related to product management on marketing more generally. One of my favourites is a recent Webinar held by David Meerman Scott on the ‘New Rules of Marketing and PR’. Scott has also published a book of the same title which I haven’t had the chance to read, yet.

Scott’s view on Internet marketing in general can be summarised with his belief that ‘You are what you publish’. So, for example, if you have a website that takes a long time to load just to show you TV commercials of the company, then you are slow and boring. If, however, you have a website that has cool content on racing bicycles, then you are cool and know your stuff about racing bicycles. Overall, the argument makes a lot of sense to me. Scott then gave the hilarious example of how IBM market their mainframe computers using YouTube: great stuff.

This general approach pervades much of Scott’s thinking. He extends it to areas such as press releases. For example, let’s say you publish one press release a month that contains a lot of marketing jargon. This means that a buyer has a low probability of finding this release accidentally via, say, Google and even if he found it, he would have a hard time understanding it. You are what you publish: can’t be found, can’t be understood. The opposite example was to publish releases much more frequently and to use actual buyer language in the release. This would then lead to a much better chance of somebody finding the article and then actually being able to understand it, too.

As an aside, Scott has also done some statistical analysis of the words used by PR/marketing specialists so frequently that they are essentially devoid of meaning. Top of the list of the words frequently used in press releases were: “next generation, flexible, robust, world class, scalable, easy to use” you get the gist. My personal favourite in that list is “enterprise class”.

Overall, I suggest you check out both the Pragmatic Marketing webinar series and Scott’s work, both are very intriguing.

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