Branding vs. Performance Campaigns

There seems to be a consensus that there are generally two categories or types of campaigns online.
In the branding case you don’t expect much to happen other than making sure as many people know about you or link a certain image to your brand. In the case of performance, you mainly worry about getting people to do something after they have interacted with your ads.

While this might be an ok way to categories these activities, I don’t think it’s useful or meaningful because it misses out on a few points.

When you are running a campaign for branding or raising awareness, the ads you run will generate results; views, clicks, interactions, engagements. These should be measured, and you should take action based on the results. You should be testing different creatives and messages to see what resonates with the audience more, this also should be measured. During the campaign, the engagement rates might go down, up, or remain stable. Again you should react by either changing the approach, or stopping the ads where users have clearly indicated with the lower engagement rates that they are fed up with those messages.

Every branding campaign is a performance campaign.

With so-called performance campaigns, people usually only focus on the results; clicks, conversions, conversion rates, etc. But just because you called it a performance campaign, doesn’t mean there isn’t a by-product of communication happening. More than 90% of people don’t click on your ads, but they still see them. More than 90% of people who click don’t convert, but they still see your site, logo, tone of voice, and general differentiation points. Even the most specific and intellectual ad, the text ad, has your domain name / brand name, and has a claim or two about why people should do business with you; great quality, free delivery, best-in-class service, etc.

Every performance campaign is a branding campaign.

So how do we classify campaign types and where do we draw the line between the different types?
We simply don’t. It’s not important what you call the campaign, as long as you have actionable, clear goals, and you set the expectations regarding what you can get out of them. There are always unintended consequences and side effects to any campaign and these should be measured, taken into consideration, and made use of.

Raising Brand Awareness

I find it strange when marketing and advertising people talk about raising awareness as one activity that has one outcome, which can be done simply by running ads for a period of time. Typically, a heavy initial campaign is recommended.

I believe there are levels or degrees of awareness, each of which has a different impact, and therefore, a different value.

Knowing the brand can be considered the first (entry) level of awareness, where people simply know about your existence. It’s generally good, and it’s the easiest awareness to generate and can be simply achieved by running the traditional heavy campaign.

The value of this level of awareness is not so high however. For awareness to be valuable, you need people to know more about your products, prices, how they work, what they taste like, and so on.

Recognizing your logo and brand name can be considered a higher level of awareness, where people can link that logo to your product and know vaguely what it is about. Still, we did not reach the awareness levels that result from interacting with your brand.

Visiting your site or your physical store is where people start to know more about the details of what you offer, and what exactly you stand for.

Sampling your product is when people start to know you experientially and not just on an intellectual level. Going to an electronics store and playing with a certain gadget, sampling small bites of the new sandwich you are offering, or signing up for a free trial of a software that you provide are examples of that.

Familiarity is the next level, which can only be achieved by people buying the product and living with it for a few months. This is when people start to know the details of your product or level of service. This is when the get surprises (the good and the bad). This is the most important level of awareness which allows people who tried it to become the promoters of your brand (or not).
People who bought a product of yours and tried it are going to be the authority in their circle of friends on whether or not your product is good. The reviews these people can give are detailed with specifics, and will make a huge difference on how many more people will give your product a try.

Basically, sales is the most important method of generating awareness, the kind of awareness that comes with customers’ commitment with their money, taking a chance on you and actually spending time living with your product.

Beyond familiarity, ultimately, there is addiction to your brand. This level of awareness comes with people having memorized the interface of your phone, starting to do things automatically on your website, getting personally familiar with the employees of your gym, knowing the waiter by name, etc. At this level, the loyalty grows new reasons, beyond the quality of your service and your cute logo. At this level, you are something that they are used to, a place where they feel at home, and you definitely want to build as much of this kind of awareness as you possibly can.

Based on this, getting one person to a certain level of awareness is worth getting tens of people to the previous lower level of awareness. Selling ten phones is much more important that having fifty people play with that phone for ten minutes each. Ideally, I think spending advertising money should be prioritized based on the deepest level of awareness, getting as many people there, then with extra money you go to the lower levels one by one.

It's not the Quantity, it's the Quality

Watch out when you hear this from someone, because what it usually means is the quantity of quality that they are looking for. Someone talking of "higher" or "more" quality, is talking about having more quantities of quality. It's just a smarter and more efficient way of getting more of a certain thing.

Less is More... More or Less...

Let's say you are a person who doesn't use any technology and want to simplify your life by starting to use it. So you buy a mobile phone. Your life is immensely simplified by all the new options suddenly available; being reachable almost anywhere and any time, emergency calls, text messages, etc. Let's say this results in fifty units of simplicity to your life. At the same time, your life, because you started to use that new technology, is a little bit more complicated. You need charge the phone, keep checking your pocket every now and then, update numbers, worry about losing it, and paying bills. Let's say that this complication brings five units of complication to your life. Obviously, you would still get the phone, because fifty is clearly much more than five. You like the exercise, and decide to simplify your life even more. You get a computer. Your life gets seventy units of simplicity, and at the same time adds ten units of complexity. Complexity in your life (at fifteen points) is still bearable, manageable, and worth the simplicity it gets you. Then you foolishly assume that the great simplicity you are gaining will increase forever with every new device you get. So you buy several more devices, adding hundreds of points of simplicity. The problems is that your life can only tolerate a certain number of complexity units, after which your life becomes a nightmare of complexity, defeating the purpose of simplification. The simplest task of going to work becomes a complicated project that you need to manage. You need to have a big bag that has all your devices, with special places of chargers, make sure they are all charged, sync whatever you can sync, make sure all software is up-to-date, put the right wires in place, and not forget any piece of that symphony of difficulty you just created in your life. You cannot simplify without complicating, you cannot strengthen without weakening, and you cannot fortify something without making it more vulnerable. The above example is of something that produces value to your life at an acceptable cost. Most of what is done, though, doesn't event break even in terms of the intended value. More weekly meetings, more people and committees just add complexity and vulnerability and usually make things worse.Basically, when you want to improve something, you need to make sure that the improvement is in multiples and not just breaking even or with a measly 10-15%. You have been warned!

Online Marketing Skills: Business Thinking vs. Programming Thinking

online marketing skillsThere is a constant struggle in online businesses between business people and technology people. From each perspective, you always hear bad things about how the other guys (sorry, it's usually guys) don't get it. Both perspectives are right from their own side but the characteristics of online business necessitate something that includes both, very good business skills and a programming approach. You need to be analytical and intuitive at the same time. Extreme analysis of a fragmented market is essential, but you can easily get lost in so many details if you don't have a good overview of the big picture. Although the numbers can tell you that something is definitely wrong with a page, your judgment and sense will lead into a good diagnosis of what might be wrong, what to test, and what new options to creat. The business mind and the programming mind are both crucial, yet they are both flawed when it comes to having a complete grasp of the online business.

Doing campaigns online is somehow similar to writing a program. You are telling a computer to behave in certain way under certain conditions, and if something else happens, you tell the computer to do something else. The process runs on its own and you'd better 'program' it properly or you will get surprised with terrible results. For a programmer, this kind of program is easier than the easiest program they ever wrote. It's just a smal set of rules, and they are managed in a simple way. The granularity the programmer has allows him to manage much more complicated processes, and they find this one very easy. The flaw is in the business sense. Most programmers get lost in the details of the trees, and cannot see the forrest. This is their problem.

For a business person, conceptualizing the campaign, thinking of options, writing ads is extremely easy, because they know the business, know the language, and are familiar with marketing terms and language. Their flaw is the lack of granularity. They tend to be sloppy when it comes to details, and they tend to miss out on important 'small' things that can cause disaster.

The online marketer has to somehow be both, a little bit of a business person to know the big picture, strategy, marketing, and the human touch, at the same time, they need to be able to handle details and go granular in their approach and execution.

AdWords Tips For The Search Network

I'm constantly creating new campaigns for different businesses, and constantly in touch with people who do the same. Many times, I see a lot of money being wasted just because the client wants to "be everywhere", or the account manager wants more fun options in doing their AdWords campaign. In many cases the problem is not having a good business focus, and over complicating the campaign in the process.

Here are some tips that I think can help AdWords account managers with their search campaigns, and it can be fun if you have a good start, especially when the maintenance work becomes significantly less than the people who start clueless.

  • Always use [exact match]: this match type gives you maximum control, because you know exactly which keyword you are bidding on, so you don't have any bad surprises with match type. But the most important thing is that since it is the most specific, and therefore the most relevant to your users, you are more likely to get a better quality score, and therefore lower cost-per-click. This is especially crucial at the beginning of you campaigns, because the account history plays a role in determining the quality score of your new campaigns. Ideally, you should have all your keywords in exact match, but this is practically impossible, because you cannot possibly capture all the different variations that people can think of. And because you cannot capture all the different possibilities of keywords that your users might use. This is why you should utilize other match types.
  • "Phrase match" to discover new possibilities: this match type gives you less control and specificity. It helps you get much more reach than exact match, and more importantly it lets you discover new keywords that you didn't have in mind. This discovery happens when, after having accumulated some clicks, you can go to the keywords tab and click on the "see search terms" button and see which keywords users actually used to trigger your ads. You can do several things in this case:
  1. Use -negatives: you will definitely see some irrelevant or bad keywords that you didn't plan for, so you can add these as negative keywords to refine your keyword selection. For example, you might find that users use 'cheap' together with your brand products. If you are not a discount store you can use negative match type for 'cheap' 'discount' or 'free', to make sure you only target the right audience.
  2. Use [Exacts]: the top keywords that were searched for should be added as exact match. Learn an easy way to know where to draw the line when segmenting your numbers.
  3. Create new ad groups: With some of the keywords that were triggering your phrase match keywords it would make sense to create a special ad group for them, or move them to a different one, because they are more relevant in another place. For example, if you have 'technology news' as a keyword, and then discover that it is triggering 'android technology news' it might be better to place this keyword in the 'android' ad group.
  • Don't use broad match: Confession. I completely stopped using broad match. It just doesn't make sense for several reasons. First, you almost never have unlimited budget, so you are better off going with the more targeted options mentioned above. Second, Google's algorithm may go crazy in what it determines to be relevant for the broad match keywords. I once had a broad match term 'sports news' and my ad was triggered by searching for "iraq", which was definitely a 'news' keyword but not really a sports one. I recommend doing more extensive keyword research and gradually growing the account as opposed to getting some bad surprises. Broad match might be useful if yo have an extremely small niche you are targeting, and it would be really profitable to just capture one client. It can also make sense when you are in a completely new industry and keywords are not yet established. In any case, it should be used with care, starting with a small budget, keeping an eye on irrelevant keywords, and utilizing negative match to make sure you eliminate unnecessary impressions.
  • Use the broad match modifier: this is a very good option in an industry where you are totally new, and need to know more about keywords. It gives you more control and relevancy than broad match.
  • Start with analytics: Many advertisers start with the keywords then write ads and choose landing pages. I prefer starting with discovering what is already working and building on it. I like to look at the site's analytics and discover the best landing pages in terms of bounce rate, conversion rate, pages/visit, or whatever your metric is. Then, after identifying the best ones, I try to see what ads can attract users to this content, and then find the relevant keywords for it. This helps build your account's history, and you make sure you are sending users to pages that are the most likely to convert, compared to other pages on the site. The only case you can't do this is with brand new sites, where you will have to make your own judgment.
  • Do the campaigns with the objective of building an understanding: If you approach the campaign as a learning experience as opposed to just 'optimizing', your focus will be on discovering what works for your targeted audience and your website. Whatever you do in terms of keywords, ads, landing pages, will (should) be used to build on your understanding. Start with questions like, "are electronics shoppers more interested in free shipping, or better prices?", "what sells better for sports fans, deadlines that induce immediate action, or deals that are better than the competition?" If you go with this curiosity your mind will be looking for ways to answer these questions, and this will help guide your strategies and especially testing. Speaking of which...
  • Test, test, test: Never have one ad per ad group. Let the name "ad group" remind you that it has to be a group of ads. At least two. In order to answer the questions you are trying to answer, you need to be split testing your ads. This means you have two ads that are identical in everything but one element. This element could be the headline, call to action, benefit, feature, or anything you want to test. This way you can attribute any differences to that element. After you identify the better performing ad, you should pause the lower performing one, and create a new one hoping to 'beat' the one you already have, and so on.
  • Tightly group keywords: The more focused you ad groups are, the more relevant your ads would be for your audience. The ad group split is the most important element in your account structure, because this is where you decide that a certain group of keywords are relevant to a certain group of keywords, which show very similar user intent. There is no magical number to how many keywords you should have, but here is a way to group keywords for your campaigns. 

The general principle is not to get lost in the features of keywords, ad groups, and landing pages, and simply focus on the business needs of the website, the users who can benefit from them, and how to connect the two together. If you get that figured out, choosing which technique to use become a much easier and fun process.

Online Marketing vs. Digital Media

What's in a name?
A lot. It shows in a word how you think, and shows your perspective and approach. It crystallizes in one small sound bite the your approach, and tells something about you and me.
When people call it "digital" they immediately lose me. It shows that they miss the point. It shows that they think of it as just another form of media. There is print media, broadcast media, outdoor media, and digital media. As if this is just another way to display a message. The same message that we have on a newspaper, only in digital form. That's the thinking, and that's the problem.
Most probably the TV that you watch is "digital", it is not analog anymore, and of course, it is "media". But it is not "digital media".
The main differentiator between online and offline marketing and media is the internet connection that allows response, intereactity, tracking, and post-click actions when they come to your site. It is not simply a new form of advertising that is digital.
These characteristics of online marketing necessitate a different way of dealing with your campaigns. Because you can interact and track, the process needs to take into sonsideration all the cycle from impression to click to funnel to conversion. You can't simply just put banners out there. That's why it necessarily becomes marketing and not just media management. Understanding the consumers, analyzing their behavior, and helping make the campaign more effective is an essential aspect of online marketing, which is what many people miss when they simply call it "digital media".

Web 3.0 is Official With

We now finally have an agreement among the three main search engines on a standard for structured data, and how to mark it up. was released and it documents how publishers can standardize the structure of their content.

The potential effect can be huge on users, where machines now are getting a huge boost of intelligence simply by us feeding them with knowledge instead of having them become so intelligent that they can understand things the way a human being can.

None of this is actually new, and there is no technology breakthrough. It is simply a human system that we agree upon, and feed the computers with data and "meanings" about these data. Hence, the name 'semantic web'

Imagine how much process and statistics a computer or a search engine needs to do in order to understand when to treat apple as a fruit and when to treat it as a computer company. Imagine something more dramatic like "banana republic", two unrelated words, each in a different field, and yet the phrase is something completely different.

What will happen now is that when someone writes an article, they will mark it up with the related meta tags, so that the computer understands how to treat this string of letters. The users reading, will see the same content, but the computer will see structured data.

The effect can easily be seen on search engine results, and this where search engines graduate to the next level of usefulness and become, as Bing claimed to want to be, decision engines.

They will give us meaningful information about the search queries we are looking for in order to better decide where to go.

A big category of content is recipes:


Structured Data Search Results

Traditionally search engines would try to figure out what part of the page is the most relevant to your search query, and then provide the closest thing in the search results' snippets.This required the search engine to understand what you meant by that query, and accordingly provide you with something useful. With semantic markup, and if the user includes in the query something helpful like "recipe", this tremendously helps the search engine, and gives the users relevant results in two ways:

  1. Displaying relevant information: this is usually presented in gray, right under the headline or title of each result. Because the search engine figured out the relevant pages you might be interested in, it gives you information from that page that would help you better decide which result is the best for you. In the above case, you are probably interested to know about the calorie value and preparation time to select which option is the best for you.
  2. Special search options: Since each type of content has its own set of attributes and uses, we need a different set of tools to refine results for each type of information. In a different example, after Google figured out that "laptop" is probably a shopping query, it gave me different options for shopping. It asked for my location, so it can give results "nearby", and it also presented me with a whole bunch of attributes, based on which I can filter the right laptop for me.

Structured Data Search Results

The really important thing here, is that the search engine doesn't really need to deeply know the different options a laptop has, and figure out how to display them. That would require a lot of processing and intelligence.

The content publishers, the sellers of laptops in this case already did the homework for google and when they published their products, they semantically tagged each attribute. Now all the search engine has to do is pick up these attributes and display them for the user in a structured way, where the filter is a useful one for the user.

Instead going to ten different pages, going back, refining your query and finding the best way to phrase it, you can do much of the filtering and choice before you go to the page, and this dramatically increases your chances of finding what you are looking for. 

This is a crucial step in how we find information.

The Product as The Logo

There are few brands that have the courage not to put their logo on their products. This is a great reminder that the brand is the offering, the product experience, and the value you get that make distinctive. They don't need to even put the logo on the face because they are more focused on providing a design and an experience that you will definitely notice.

Let's see if you can figure which brands these products are. Mouseover if you don't know :)


iPod Shuffle


iPhone 4


chrome browser


Why You Should Not Advertise on Home Pages

It all stems from offline thinking. Many people think that the home page is just like the cover of a magazine, and therefore it gets the most "exposure", and therefore you achieve "reach".

One of the worst places to place your ads on is the home page, especially if it's a portal.

Here's why:

  1. Targeting: Since the home page is usually the most general page on a website, you have no idea what kind of user is visiting it. Let's take an example of one big portal, MSN. Currently the navigation bar includes the following links: news, entertainment, sports, money, lifestyle, locals, autos. The purpose of that page is to route users to other pages. Even if they don't know it, there is nothing to do or read on the home page but links and very short teasers of articles, so the user will quickly end up going to another page to continue whatever task they came to do.
    A full discussion of the categorization of the different types of pages can be found on Semphonic's Functionalism, and in a more specific white paper.
  2. Mental State: Since this is a spring board kind of page, and the user in a browsing mode, their hand is still on the mouse, and their eyes are moving quickly, scanning, and evaluating the different options. They are trying to find something interesting, and as mentioned in point 1, you cannot know what that content is, because it varies from cars to sports, and from entertainment to money. If you take a look at the submenus, you will easily realize that this page can be interesting to anyone on Earth!

Since the user is not identified to be interested in anything in particular, and since they are in a scanning state of mind, the home page is not where they would be most receptive.

The best place to be on is what some people call "deep pages", which are pages of articles, videos, or any content where the user sits back, releases their mouse and start reading. A quick correction, there is no such thing as a deep page. The web is a flat place, and since most traffic starts from a search engine or social media, you are usually sent directly to that article page or video page to immediately view and many times you continue on a journey in the website without even seeing the home page.

I previously wrote about the power of contextual targeting to inform us about the user reading the content, and following that logic, the home page is not effective at all.

Going back to our offline magazine advertising friend, I would argue that even in magazines, advertising on the cover would not be as effective as advertising a product next to articles related to that industry. The cover will definitely give you more reach, but at a much higher cost. Most of that reach is irrelevant audience, because everyone reading the magazine will have to start at the cover. The reduction in price, appearing next to your article, and using the remaining budget to advertise on more publications with a more focused reach would get you much better results, because you are reaching people who are in the market for your product vs. reaching the masses. Of course there is no way to prove it offline, but when done online and the cost-per-acquisition is calculated it is clear that the targeted option performs much better.

When might being on the home page work? Very rare cases where your brand is highly known, used by almost everyone, and depends on impulse. Carbonated drinks for example want to just remind you how thirsty you are, how hot it is, and how much you need that extra coke. Most brands are not like that, and you usually have a limited budget and you are much better off spending it based on performance.