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Some Things to Watch for Post-Snapchat IPO

Some Things to Watch for Post-Snapchat IPO

The Snapchat IPO is just around the corner, and there are a few key points to pay attention to once the company goes public.

I’ve been fairly vocal about my hesitations when it comes to Snapchat’s big move to go public. The company has done an amazing job building a loyal following, and it’s poised for a monster IPO when it goes public in a few weeks. By raising $3 billion, Snapchat will be worth over $25 billion, and it beat earnings expectations last year while boasting a loyal audience of over 150 million users. So what are some of the things I’m talking about when it comes to hesitations? That has a lot to do with mainstream viability with regards to advertising.

What’s Great About Snapchat

Snapchat has taken messaging and made it something fun and exciting. No matter how many times a user has received a snap, he or she is still happy to see one come in, and the anticipation of opening a snap up to see what someone has sent is as exciting as ever. But excitement does not a $25 billion company make; there needs to be a lasting, broadly-appealing revenue model in order to justify the company’s valuation and keep it going in the long run. There is hope, however.

Currently, Snapchat advertisers are spending more and more with each passing quarter. Snapchat, now Snap, FYI, has also expanded its product offering. The powers that be have seen the opportunity in making the selfie and sharing of everyday, often mundane experiences more lively. It’s not just about adding those filters, it’s about sharing experiences with through the use of things like comments, art, overlays and, yes, filters. I’ve done a lot of research while writing my new book (Marketing to Millennials for Dummies, which is slated to be on shelves this June – #bookplug) and if there is one thing that has become obnoxiously apparent it is that Millennials seek to both have and share experiences. Snapchat offers that, and it is one of the major reasons why the app has done (and continues to do) so phenomenally well with regards to activity and engagement.

But what is missing when it comes to Snap’s potential on the open market?

What’s Missing with Snap(chat)

The big missing piece when it comes to the long-term success of Snap is in its viability as a marketing platform/media buy for SMBs. There are far more small and medium sized businesses out there, and if they don’t see value in leveraging Snap’s products, then Snap is going to have a very hard time maintaining that $25 billion price tag.

Right now, marketers can take advantage of Snapchat’s custom filters for a pretty modest fee – not unlike the very affordable advertising options that exist on social platforms like Facebook or Twitter. The different is in the return generated from the use of these filters. On other social networks, members of a target audience can take some sort of action, like providing data or clicking through to a landing page. Unless you get very creative with Snapchat, like Domino’s did in the UK, you’re going to have a hard time leveraging the network to generate some sort of calculable return. Like Instagram (which has the added benefit of integrating with Facebook) Snapchat exists in the form of mobile application. The thing about mobile applications is that users do not want to have their experiences halted by leaving the app. Add to that the fact that content disappears and insights are limited for advertisers, and Snapchat is at a pretty tricky point with marketers that do not have extensive budgets that can be put towards brand exposure. Essentially, Snapchat needs to find a way to appeal to small and medium sized businesses that can’t afford the massive price tag that comes with Discover ad placements.

So What Should We Expect

The only other tech IPO that is of any interest to the world right now is Uber. Snapchat’s filing has been highly anticipated and the market adrenaline is very high. We can expect to see a similar soar like we did with Facebook when it first went public. (Or maybe the market will be a little more careful this time…) One thing Snapchat has going for it is that it is making a lot of money and has been growing considerably. While losses have shot up year over year, that is to be expected as the company expands into new markets. But will it be able to hit its targets for 2016 and over the course of 2017? That remains to be seen.

Snap is an exciting IPO and if it can find a way to reach audiences greater than Fortune 100s, it will do amazingly well. But just as we’ve seen with television, appealing only to the top 1% as a media buy will not last forever. Snap will need to do a lot of work in order to ensure that the $25 billion valuation is not simply related to the excitement the market feels about the company.

What do you think we can expect to see from Snap after it rings the bell?

Google Gboard: A Whole New Ad Platform

Google Gboard: A Whole New Ad Platform

Just when you thought Google had all its bases covered, a brand new advertising avenue has popped up in Google Gboard.

Back in May, Google announced its new keyboard application for iPhone, Google Gboard. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, take a look at the video below.

In Canada, I had to wait until recently to install the app (much to my dismay, as the video had me itching to download it right away) and within minutes of using it, I recognized the enormous opportunity that (I assume) Google is attempting to capitalize on here: in-message advertising.

Some Background

SMS campaigns are not at all what I have in mind here; let me start by making that clear. Mobile campaigns have existed for some time, and they will continue to exist (and, of course, expand and evolve). But one area of our mobile existence that has been closed off for quite some time are our text messages (between friends). Sure, brands can leverage messaging services like SMS, Facebook Messenger, What’sApp and other services to communicate directly with customers and prospects, but sponsored content directly within our personal communications is something that (so far) is only available in certain apps (like Snapchat) and not in some of our most commonly used messaging software.

With Gboard, an entirely new opportunity has made itself available in what I would say is a very subtle (and, at least for me, welcome) way.

The Opportunity

Within minutes of using the keyboard, I rushed to my Settings on my iPhone and updated my default keyword for Google’s. Full disclosure, I much prefer Google software to Apple’s, but whether or not you prefer one product over another, there is no denying the superiority of Google Gboard over the standard iPhone keyboard.

As you saw in the video, there are plenty of fun integrations (plus a functional swipe as opposed to the disasters I’ve used with iPhone in the past) but what really caught my eye was the Google logo in the top left of the keyboard.

Google Gboard offers new ways to advertise

A friend sends you a message (in any messaging service, by the way, where the keyboard is set to the phone’s default) asking you to the movies. You enthusiastically respond, “Sure!” Then comes the difficult part: what movie, what time and what theater? This might sound like the pinnacle of Millennial struggles, but leaving the message to begin searching through your browser is a multi-step process that just got easier. Tapping the ‘G’ and either dictating, swiping or good ol’ fashioned typing out ‘movies playing near me tonight’ yields a series of results that can easily be clicked on and shared or viewed within the message. I know what you’re thinking: this is cool, but not the biggest deal in the world.

Actually, it is.

We spend a lot of time on our phones. Research from eMarketer has found that adults spend over 23 hours per week texting. In fact, since that research was conducted, the number has probably increased. Considering our heads are buried in some form of messaging for an aggregated one day per week, that is a day per week that ads, sponsored content or branded media is not being shown to consumers. As a consumer, I’m not complaining about that. As a marketer and advertiser, I want those hours.

With the ability to access the world’s premier information aggregator from within my text messages, some of those 23+ hours can now be monetized. I’m not suggesting immersive ads within our text messages. That’s going to turn a lot of (I would go so far as to say all) people off to the product. But to offer ad space within a highly coveted, engaging medium like messaging, where advertisers can bid for some of the most intent-driven searches that consumers will conduct, is a veritable goldmine for Google. When someone asks me where I want to go for dinner after seeing Matilda, and I click on the Google logo to search for ‘best post-show dinner near the Shubert Theatre in Manhattan’ that first card (and only displayed result in these searches, as cards display one at a time) can be a sponsored one.

Of course, there are plenty of other areas within Google Gboard that offer similar opportunities. Rich media is readily integrated into Gboard in the form of GIFs, images, emojis, etc. So when I say ‘opportunity’, I’m looking at it from the perspective of a grand, hugely popular medium that has yet to be tapped (at least not to its fullest).

Conclusion

Consumers are bombarded by ads and paid media everywhere they turn. Estimates suggest that we are exposed to ten times as much advertising today as we were exposed to in the 1970s. For this to work as a value-added to brands that does not anger consumers, it will need to be done elegantly and with a great deal of tact. This is a very personal space, and aggressive techniques simply won’t work. But there is clearly a world of potential here, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see some beta testing on these concepts in the near future.

Here’s How LinkedIn Can Save Itself

Here’s How LinkedIn Can Save Itself

There are a few important changes LinkedIn needs to make in order to save itself from a disastrous fate.

If you happened to catch a glimpse of LinkedIn’s stock price over the last week or so, you might have noticed a straight line downwards on Friday February 5th. That wasn’t a glitch; LinkedIn’s stock price has fallen by over 40% (at the time of writing) since it announced lower-than-expected earnings and lowered projections for the coming year. Investors are losing their patience.

LinkedIn Stock Price Feb 7 16

Despite having a great core product (which LinkedIn very much still does) many of the efforts of the professional network to expand have not yielded strong results. In fact, in a lot of respects, those expansion efforts have rather resulted in an almost ‘worst case scenario’ outcome.

This is not to say that LinkedIn has missed the mark every time it has done something; the acquisition of SlideShare in 2012, for example, was a brilliant move and continues to be among its best. But some of the more universal oversights have cost the network dearly, and there are a few pain points that need to be addressed as soon as possible in order to end the slide into penny stock status (though that’s still a long way off – we hope).

Spamalot Central

Facebook is consistently working on its algorithm in order to ensure that the content you see is what is most relevant to you. The result has been quarter-over-quarter growth in average session time, engagement per post, engagement per user, and more metrics that have come into existence since the advent of social media in the world of marketing.

LinkedIn has taken a slightly different approach.

In order to encourage engagement among its users, InMail exists (which guarantees a user will see the message). Of course, users pay for that privilege, but is accommodating the users who pay for mass (spam) messages like that really worth the detriment that does on the user experience as a whole?

How often do you receive unsolicited messages on LinkedIn offering to sell you traffic, invest in a business opportunity, or, in some cases, enlarge or enhance something? In the last month alone, I’ve been included on over a dozen chain-style message threads (another issue) from users (and including users) with whom I’ve never connected. I pay close attention to who I allow into my professional circle, but all that seems to factor into is my feed content, and has no influence on what kind of trash I’m sent from peddling affiliates.

A better spam filtration system needs to be put in place by LinkedIn and it needs to be put in place fast. More and more users (as exhibited by time on site and people I’ve spoken to) are using LinkedIn for little more than a place to host a resume and highlight some skills, rather than a network where actual business can get done. These filters don’t need to be all that complicated either for them to work (and improve the experience).

First, these kinds of promotional messages (and chain messages) should be restricted to second or third points of contact. Introductions (with character limits or standard content set by LinkedIn) should be the ONLY content that non-connections are allowed to send at the outset. If someone send me something along the lines of, “Thanks for connecting, I look forward to talking to you a little bit more about how we might be able to work together!” I’ll be significantly more likely to look through his or her profile, see what it is they do and, if I see potential, engage with the user and open up a professional dialogue.

I wonder what kind of horrific return these affiliates and marketers see when they purchase InMail packages and generate nothing. That might be a nice short term gain for the network, but as we have seen with this year’s earnings reports, it’s not a solution.

Improved Ad Dashboards

Advertising is any social network’s (even a professional one’s) bread and butter. So, as we’ve seen with Facebook – the shining example of social advertising that marketers love – constant improvements should be made to a dashboard in order to make it simpler, more effective and more evolved. This is an area where LinkedIn has really struggled.

As someone who has been involved in social advertising for years now, it is not hard to tell which network (of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) has seen the slowest evolution in its ads platform. As Facebook and Twitter have introduced new capabilities and made the management of campaigns and creative much more efficient, LinkedIn has done little to evolve its dashboard.

It has certain undergone some aesthetic changes, but ad campaigns function in an archaic fashion. It is almost as if marketers are publishing magazine ads and hoping that they work. Why do I say this? Well, ads can be created…but that’s about it. Editing is a nightmare (if not entirely non-existent) and as you create varieties of your creative, your campaign become overwhelmingly populated with different variations. For a network that is built on professionalism, the ads dashboard is far too disorganized.

A simpler, more tasteful segmentation, like that of Facebook’s setup (which modelled itself after Google) would make life much easier. Moreover, the ability to edit ads and feature proper creative to populate a link preview (as opposed to a tiny window with a fraction of what’s actually on the ad) would go a very long way in driving marketers to use LinkedIn ads more frequently.

Improved Ad Placements

And again with the ads.

Most marketers can agree that the age of the banner is dead. And yet, the right-hand side ad lives on. Granted it is a viable bit of real estate, and LinkedIn has done a better job than Facebook of optimizing the appearance of the RHS ad (instead of several ads scrolling, one appears in a noticeable box at a time) but for advertisers the value is in sharing content to a targeted user’s feed.

That can still be done on LinkedIn, but where both Facebook and Twitter have the network beat is in how to drive traffic from these ads. As noted above, the tiny image that populates a link is completely worthless. A large, eye-catching piece of creative with a clear call-to-action and a different visual structure than a regular post or update is what makes an ad worth the marketer’s budget. LinkedIn needs to make changes to how creative we can get with those ads.

There is no denying the viability of the audience on LinkedIn. Barring those users that are simply sharing spam (I’ll get to that again in a second) there is the most targeted group of people active on the network than any other social platform. So it would make sense that LinkedIn charges a little bit more than other networks for its ad space, but you’re paying five, ten even twenty times as much per click (trust me I’ve done the comparisons) for an ugly, boring ad that can’t be changed once you click ‘Start’.

Ads need to be more visually stimulating if marketers are to see results from them, and their placements need to be more apparent in the timeline than simply allowing users to create Sponsored Updates.

User Purge

LinkedIn has registered about 414 million users. Based on the content I mentioned above that floods my inbox, I wouldn’t flinch if you told me half of those were spam.

OK – maybe not half. But you get my point.

It’s time for LinkedIn to clean up its network. Hitting that critical mass is exciting, and it means charging more for advertising, but as more bots and tactless affiliates join the network, the value of that ad space goes down. Now, the cat is out of the bag as far as how people are using the network. Several are using the online space to store a resume. Others are using it to share content and find a new job. Recruiters are using it to find those users. And so, so, SO many are using it to tell me about an amazing business opportunity that I need to act on or sell me traffic.

To rebound from this devastating hit, LinkedIn may need to sacrifice a huge portion of its user base. That might seem counterintuitive, but one theme that has been apparent in a lot of what LinkedIn has done has been short-term thinking. This is looking at the value to marketers in the long-run.

Conclusion

Nothing here is vastly complex. I’m not suggesting a paradigm shift in how the network functions or what it offers. These are existing models that simply need a tweak.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight. It will take time and it will take just as much (if not more) time to see the effects of this working. But I really do believe that in order for LinkedIn to survive this downward spiral, it needs to look towards simplification, rather than expansion.

As Wall Street begins to shake and the memories of 2000 start to creep back up in their minds, they are taking good hard looks at what is working and what is not. Right now, there is a lot about LinkedIn that scares them. But the potential is certainly there and the product is fantastic. Taking heed of a few of these suggestions might just help it get back into the good graces of the powers that be (and drive up active advertiser numbers as well).

What do you think LinkedIn needs to do to come out of this mess?

Why Wanamaker’s Advertising Paradox No Longer Holds Up

Why Wanamaker’s Advertising Paradox No Longer Holds Up

wanamaker's advertising paradox

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” – John Wanamaker (Attributed, 1838-1922)

But is that still the case? Roughly a century ago, John Wanamaker (to whom many attribute the quote) made this claim. This has been a longstanding reality. Sure, there have been studies, and focus groups, and surveys, and reports, and market analyses and a whole host of other techniques implemented to try and do away with this reality. The problem is that for every one person you talk to, no matter how well they fit one of your intended demographics, or societal paradigms, there are tens of thousands if not millions (depending on your scale) whom you will never hear from. Thus, you will never truly know just how effective every dollar is, and how your operation can be running at optimal efficiency. Well, until now.

A lot of people claim that the Golden Age for advertising was the 60s. After all, they wouldn’t have made a (fantastic) TV show about the worst years of an industry. (I don’t see a made-for-TV movie about the housing bubble burst coming out any time soon.) I have to disagree. Maybe from a drink-all-night-do-nothing-all-day-and-fall-into-a-pile-money perspective the 60s were the bee’s knees for advertisers, but from a business perspective, we’ve just entered the Golden Age of Marketing and Advertising.

Unlimited Data

And when I say unlimited, I don’t mean ‘virtually’ unlimited. I mean it literally. A recent MIT study concluded that the average American office worker produces roughly 1.8 million megabytes of data every year. That’s roughly five gigabytes per day. And that’s personal data. There is also corporate data, amalgamated data, and much more. And all that can be used in order to optimize modern advertising campaigns.

Big data concept in word tag cloud on black background

While working with t2, I and other members of my team have devised the concept of ResponsiveBranding. Essentially, it is the idea of leveraging personal and amalgamated data in order to create branding initiatives that are geared towards the tastes and preferences of your audience. Thus, when a campaign is launched, ad spends are entirely optimized to ensure that it resonates with the exact audience you hoped to capture. This is an entirely new opportunity made possible by this major paradigm shift.

Real-Time Optimization

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that you are not using any of the data that is available to you (though, for the record, I wouldn’t recommend it). You start a digital ad campaign – whether it be an AdWords campaign, banner ad campaign or social ad campaign – and set a budget for yourself. Admittedly, this is a case where, initially, Wanamaker’s paradox would hold up. At the outset you have no idea what will work and what part of your investment will disappear. The difference is that now this is a short-term dilemma.

Modern marketing and advertising capabilities make it possible to optimize your campaign as it is taking place. The responsiveness to your campaign by your audience is indicative of how well it is optimized. As you make changes (before too much of your investment is lost) you can begin to see increased results and get more bang for your buck, so to speak.

New Age of Ad Spend (Sort Of)

The cost-per-acquisition (CPA) model has been in place for a long time; long before the age of digital advertising. But now, your CPA (or even your CPC) means that the budget you assign to a campaign (digital) will only be spent as you reach goals or acquire prospects.

In traditional advertising, you are casting out a net and hoping a few fish with disposable income are dragged in. What’s spent is spent and you simply have to hope your investment is recouped in the form of new customers. With digital, however, you’re simply showing your product to the fish and seeing if any bite. (I figured I’d keep with the fish metaphor.) Only then is any of your budget being spent.

There is a reason why we are seeing the slow disappearance of the CPM model – it is not very attractive nor effective. Numbers are superficially a nice measurement. But if you’re looking to get away from that trap in which Wanamaker found himself – where he didn’t know what half of his ad dollars were wasted – you’ll have to look far beyond the top-level numbers.

Conclusion

Was John Wanamaker wrong? No – not entirely. He had a point, and that point still holds up with traditional forms of advertising. Even with all of the relevant information in your hands, and even after running all of the surveys and studies on the statistically significant, randomly selected populations you can think of, there is still no way to know what will work and what will not.

With new forms of advertising, this simply is not the case. There are several ways to go about optimizing your budgets. Whether it is by leveraging big data or making real-time modifications, you can rest assured that if half of your money is being wasted on advertising, you’ll be sure to know exactly which half it is and how to fix it.

The Demise of Facebook Organic Reach and What to Do Now

The Demise of Facebook Organic Reach and What to Do Now

What do you do now that your Facebook organic reach is about to hit zero?

OK, maybe not totally zero, but virtually zero. Facebook organic reach is on its way out. There has been speculation for some time, but it is now all but plastered on our Facebook Page: organic reach is out. And to replace it, the 96% of brands that are not yet advertisers are going to have to reach into their wallets.

End of Facebook Organic Reach

Why Facebook Organic Reach is Disappearing

As a company, Facebook boasts a price tag of over $150 billion. At the end of 2013, Facebook’s assets sat at roughly $18 billion. That’s quite a discrepancy. This is not unusual, however. Is Facebook’s stock price inflated? Maybe slightly. But that does not take away from the huge potential it has with regards to revenues.

As I noted above, only 4% of brands are currently advertising on the network. With roughly 25 million brands on the network, that leaves an untapped market of 21 million potential customers. Facebook needs to make to start making real money somehow, and this is their best bet. (And a pretty safe one, at that.)

Why Brands Won’t Leave

You might be saying to yourself, “Well, if brands need to pay-to-play, they’ll just leave the network.” Unfortunately for the brand, Facebook has reached that critical mass every company hopes to hit. Sometimes bad for Average Joe and Joanne (i.e. any bank that’s ‘Too Big to Fail’) great for the brand at critical mass (i.e. I return to the ‘Too Big to Fail’ example).

With its current active user base, the fact that WhatsApp has completely devoured the SMS market overseas and the numbers that show the value in using networks like Facebook for business development, brands will not have much of a choice but to buy into the advertising model on Facebook. Luckily, there is so much potential there, so it’s not all bad.

The Good News

Brands need not fear when it comes to advertising on Facebook. By phasing out Facebook organic reach, the network is going to have to entice brands to advertise on the platform. That means a very attractive pricing model.

Contrary to established digital advertising platforms – namely Google’s Search and Display Networks – Facebook is trying to attract new advertisers with a sensationally pricing model. Take the term, ‘social media’ for instance. Using the AdWords Keyword Planner, estimates show that to run an effective campaign that reaches as many of the 60K+ users searching for the term (in the United States) you would need to set a bid at close to $6.00. That’s six dollars per click.

Based on suggested bids per click on Facebook, six dollars can get you over 10 clicks – and that’s on the more expensive end. Here, we’re looking at a ten fold price discrepancy. It won’t be like this for long, but right now, marketers are looking at huge potential when they invest in Facebook advertising.

More good news comes in the ability to narrow your targeting down to the exact audience you’re looking for. Don’t get me wrong: Google has some extremely intelligent software when it comes to behavioural targeting. That said, social networks are filled with people that are explicitly telling you what they are interested in. Here, you know who you’re reaching and the more targeted your ads the more likely it is that the clicks result in some sort of action.

The Prognosis

Historically, these kinds of moves tend to happen much faster in the social world than they do in conventional business. If you look at your clients and tell them that you will be introducing a new pricing model, you’ll likely grandfather it in over time. Take the recent announcement by the government, for example, that they plan on raising minimum wage…over the next three years. In the socialsphere, things tend to happen much faster.

We’ve already seen sharp declines in our pages’ organic reach. It won’t be long before our content reaches a mere handful of fans before its halflife is hit. My recommendation is to make the move to the ad platform sooner rather than later. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs and start setting ad spends for your brands. Now, no longer will every individual be a publisher, but an advertiser as well.