What Retail Apocalypse? Holiday Shopping Is Surging

What Retail Apocalypse? Holiday Shopping Is Surging

Marketing

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are bigger than ever. The so-called retail apocalypse might not be so apocalyptic after all – especially for retailers that have beefed up their online presence.

According to Adobe Analytics, Americans spent $19.62 billion online over the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday — 15 percent more than they spent during the same time frame in 2016. The top two days for online shopping were Cyber Monday (more than 81 million visitors) and Black Friday (more than 66 million). What can retailers learn from this explosive growth? Plenty:

  • Black Friday is more than a day. Black Friday is no longer a day, but a multi-day phenomenon, with retailers promoting online deals the entire week of Thanksgiving. In fact, major retailers were hosting Black Friday deals online before Thanksgiving week. Retailers are making Black Friday an element of a broader shopping experience.
  • Thanksgiving is becoming a big shopping day. As Adobe reported, Thanksgiving Day saw an 18.3 percent increase in online spending to $2.87 billion. In addition, a Foursquare report suggested that brick-and-mortar stores open on Thanksgiving – and open earlier in the day – would have an advantage over stores that were closed. Stores that promoted Thanksgiving Day sales, both online and offline, were likely to benefit as consumers combine shopping with eating on Turkey Day.

We expect a robust consumer spend during the holidays. Note that with Christmas Day occurring on a Monday, shoppers will accelerate their spend to avoid the problem of having to ship last-minute purchases over the weekend. Meanwhile there is still plenty of shopping to be done. Businesses that have planned ahead will win. It’s never too early to start planning for the 2018 holiday shopping season. To optimize your online spend all-year round, contact KeywordFirst. We’re here to help.

Image source: https://stocksnap.io/photo/RZWM4T2UAD

It’s Always Black Friday

It’s Always Black Friday

Marketing

If the holiday shopping season seems to be starting earlier, you are not imagining things. When I look at our digital advertising spend for retail clients, I see an larger-than-usual uptick going back to the first full week of November – more so than we expect to see for that time period. It’s not just that we are spending more. Consumer search volume for holiday-related content is spiking by as much as 30 percent higher than normal for early November. Why?

I see two factors at play:

  • Consumers remain confident in the economy. According to Deloitte, “With disposable personal income climbing and consumer confidence staying elevated across the U.S., the holiday shopping season could bring healthier sales for retailers to cap off a tumultuous year.” Deloitte made this prediction in September. The reasoning is sound, and so far consumer behavior is bearing out the prediction.
  • Thanksgiving is happening earlier. We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving Day Thursday, November 23, the earliest since 2012, when Thanksgiving was celebrated on November 22. An earlier Thanksgiving means an earlier start to the holiday shopping season. Retailers launch their pre-Black Friday promotions earlier, putting consumers in shopping mode earlier.

As a result, we’re busier than ever as we manage holiday-related online advertising for our clients. But there’s a catch: the season is going to end sooner, too. Here’s why: Christmas lands on a Monday. Consequently, carriers will not deliver on Christmas Eve (Sunday), and they’ll charge a premium for a Saturday delivery December 23.

As a result, we’re prepared to decrease our digital advertising spend sooner than we might do so normally. Why? Because we don’t want to create a spike in demand for retailers’ products too close to Christmas Day, when a retailer is unable to fulfill the order by December 25.

If you manage digital advertising for a business that caters to holiday shoppers, make sure that you:

  • Do a gut check on search traffic now. Are you seeing a spike in demand as we did for our clients? If so, is your budget set up to handle the increase?
  • Be ready to decrease your holiday ad spend sooner than you normally would to avoid putting too much stress on your fulfillment services with Christmas deliveries being complicated by December 25 landing on a Monday as noted.
  • Monitor your Google AdWords account very closely. As my colleague Mark Smith recently wrote, Google has empowered itself to increase your AdWords budget by twice the amount you had planned. Consequently, if you experience unusual spikes in demand (as might be happening already), your monthly budget could be spent much sooner in the month than you had planned – which could jeopardize Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertising. As Mark notes in his blog post, for shorter-term campaigns, you may need to set your spend levels lower to have some level of protection, especially if you know you’re going to get high-volume traffic within that time period.

How is your holiday spend going? Are you seeing an unexpected spike, and how are you responding? If you need help managing digital advertising (during the holidays or otherwise), contact KeywordFirst. We’re here to help.

Image source: https://static.pexels.com/photos/291762/

Two Surprising Ways Google Creates Great Content

Two Surprising Ways Google Creates Great Content

Branding

One of the essential attributes of successful content marketing is usefulness. Great content marketers create a win-win for themselves and their audience by sharing branded content that educates and sometimes entertains. Recently, we blogged about how one business, the NFL, provides useful content by acting as a news service about football. Now let’s take a look at two lesser-known ways one of the world’s most valuable brands, Google, makes itself useful.

For context: as we’ve stated before, a business practices content marketing by publishing useful information that supports its own brand. The definition breaks down this way:

  • Content marketing builds the credibility of a brand (hence the “marketing” part of content marketing) . . .
  • . . . by sharing useful information (content), such as how-to tips, news, commentary, and visual stories.

Through content marketing, brands act as publishers, sharing news, editorial commentary, and other forms of insight you typically associate with a third-party information source. Content marketing is not “look at me” advertising or PR. Both those forms of marketing are valuable and have their place, but they are not content marketing.

Google has a vested interest in giving people reasons to stay on Google. More eyeballs on Google means more businesses will pay Google to help them reach those eyeballs through advertising. Google does its own share of advertising to promote its brand. But the most powerful way Google maintains an audience is by offering free tools that will compel people to keep using Google to manage their lives.

I’m not talking about well-known utilities such as Google Analytics to measure how people interact with your own digital properties such as your website or Google Docs and Google Drive to collaborate on document creation, editing, and storing. I mean some of the ways Google helps you learn about the world around you, such as:

  • Think with Google. The Think with Google site is mandatory for anyone who wants free insights into marketing, technology, and consumer behavior. Think with Google offers downloadable white papers and short-form commentary on topics such as the impact of artificial intelligence on marketing and the influence of mobile devices on the customer experience journey. Think with Google elevates Google to the role of thought leader, publishing data-rich information that pushes forward our understanding of marketing. Of course, you’ll have to look elsewhere for insights critical of Google and for non-Google perspectives. Even still, Google is such a large, influential brand that even Google-centric points of view have gravitas.
  • Google Arts & Culture is a site dedicated to enriching our understanding of art. Here is an experience devoted to pure learning and personal growth. Whereas Think with Google educates you, Google Arts & Culture engages you on topics such as a visual celebration of the Lunar New Year. The site features an ongoing set of topics on rotation. One of its current featured sections, Latino Arts & Culture, provides an immersive look at the contributions of Latino artists in the United States. A featured artist section gives you a chance to take a deep dive into the works of famous names such as Vincent van Gogh. Through Google Street View, you can explore cultural landmarks around the world such as Machu Piccu.

Google offers several other resources for learning and self-development. The above two might be lesser known to you.

Google’s motives are not entirely altruistic. The more Google influences our thinking and worldview, the more Google becomes an essential part of our lives. I get it. But what Google does it does very, very well. By providing useful content that educates and enriches our lives, Google masters the art of content marketing. Contact KeywordFirst for help with your content marketing needs.

Apple Event Underscores Popularity of Emoji

Apple Event Underscores Popularity of Emoji

Branding

One of the more interesting announcements from Apple’s September 12 special event was the unveiling of the animoji. The animoji is a new type of emoji in which your facial expressions animate an emoji. The iPhone X, when available in November, will track your facial expressions and make your favorite emoji, whether unicorns or aliens, become even more dynamic through your personality.

According to Apple Vice President of Software Craig Federighi, who demonstrated animoji onstage, animoji will make it possible for you to record an audio message, resulting in your animoji becoming synced with sound. He said that with animoji, users can “breathe our own personality” into your favorite emoji, which evoked reactions such as “fun and maybe a little creepy” from Anthony Ha at TechCrunch.

My take: the unveiling of animoji is another sign of how emoji have rapidly taken hold as a legitimate way for people and businesses to communicate. Consider these usage statistics, aggregated by DMR:

  • Nearly eight out of ten women online consider themselves frequent emoji users, and 60 percent of men online do as well.
  • About half of Instagram comments contain emoji.
  • Nearly six out of 10 of the top 500 brands have tweeted an emoji.

The popularity of emoji has certainly increased since the data was reported in 2015. In fact, according to a report published by platform provider Emogi, in 2016 people sent to each other 2.3 trillion mobile messages that incorporate emoji.

Brands have taken notice and are incorporating emoji into their digital marketing. For example, Toyota recently launched an ad campaign that incorporates users’ tweeted emoji into short-form video content. General Electric famously created an #EmojiScience campaign consisting of a website, emojiscience.com, which contains emoji as a periodic table of the elements. By clicking on each emoji, site visitors learn more about science, a topic that is at the core of the GE brand.

Meanwhile, Emogi is among the companies developing tools to help businesses incorporate emoji into their branding. For instance, Emogi introduced a way for businesses to embed branded emoji into text messages, which is important because texting is a huge vehicle for emoji sharing.

Our advice to you is to first know how emoji-centric your audience is. Use tools such as social monitoring to understand how your audience uses emoji, when, and why. Then start experimenting with emoji. Test ads and organic content with and without emoji and determine which are most effective. But don’t ignore emoji. As the Apple special event demonstrated, emoji are not going away. They’re becoming more and more sophisticated and common. Contact KeywordFirst to understand how to incorporate content such as emoji into your marketing. 😀

Lead image source: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

How to Put Google to Work for You

How to Put Google to Work for You

Search

Too often, businesses treat the Google algorithm as a necessary evil (“What do I need to do to deal with the latest algorithm change?”). But you can put the Google algorithm to work for you if you’re willing to exercise some creativity. A recent KeywordFirst client experience is a case in point.

The Backstory

Optimum provides cable service to millions of subscribers in the northeast United States. In the New York tri-state area, the company offers digital cable television, high-speed Internet, voice services and Optimum WiFi.

Not long ago, Optimum wanted to improve the effectiveness of its paid search. Through merger/acquisition, the company had become part of a larger family of brands along with cable provider Suddenlink, a KeywordFirst client that provides service throughout the south and west U.S.

The company noticed that KeywordFirst was getting better results from paid search for Suddenlink than Optimum was getting from its own agency. So Optimum decided to do an A/B test: both KeywordFirst and Optimum’s legacy agency were challenged to test paid search campaigns over a three-month period.

Optimum assigned half the zip codes in one market to KeywordFirst. Our charge was to build from the ground up a paid search campaign including keyword management, creation of ad copy, and all other elements of paid search. The competing agency was given a market of similar size.

KeywordFirst was at a disadvantage because we needed to start a campaign from scratch whereas the legacy agency simply needed to continue performing in an already-established market.

How We Put the Google Algorithm to Work

We knew that Optimum was the dominant cable company in the area, especially in Google’s eyes. Optimum was competing against several smaller third-party firms and dish providers that do not capture as much attention from Google in the cable provider category — because unlike Optimum, they are not cable specialists.

Here’s where thinking out of the box came into play. It was tempting to play catchup by trying to bid for the top search position – and, to be sure, conventional wisdom often results in such a tactic. But we needed to think differently to show the client we understand the nuances of paid search.

We understood that Optimum dominates its the category in the New York area. We knew that Optimum’s market ownership made the company name more relevant than any other player in the eyes of Google. So, in fact, we avoided overbidding in Google search results. There simply was no need to outbid other companies when the Google algorithm was already rewarding Optimum with high-quality scores and higher positions in search results. In other words, we knew how to put the Google algorithm to work in our favor.

Rather than waste money overbidding, we actually lowered our bid for keywords and focused on driving qualified traffic to the Optimum website with effective ad copy and bidding smartly. Meanwhile, Optimum’s legacy agency pursued a strategy of bidding to achieve the highest possible position in search results. The strategy resulted in the agency paying more per click than KeywordFirst to attract customers.

Results

Within 60 days, KeywordFirst had attracted 40 percent more customers for 60 percent less money. Optimum halted the three-month test and awarded KeywordFirst its business.

The secret to our success was putting the Google algorithm to work for our client. We knew Google was going to favor Optimum in search results for non-branded words such as “cable provider” because the name held such strong authority with Google relative to the dish and aggregators in the area. We captured more clicks at a much lower CPC by simply allowing the algorithm to work in our favor.

Because KeywordFirst ran a cost-effective campaign focused on reducing CPC’s while retaining strong positions, rather than a “top position at all cost” strategy, we won the business.

Now, what if Optimum had been competing in an undifferentiated market saturated with other cable providers? Well, our approach would not have been so successful. We knew our approach would work because in the eyes of Google, there were few choices in our client’s market.

The lesson here is to understand your clients, their competitive market, and how the Google algorithm works. How have you put Google to work for you?

New Research Report Underscores Importance of Partnering

New Research Report Underscores Importance of Partnering

Marketing

The Chicago area is a fast growing and vibrant source of digital marketing agencies beyond some of the well-known giant firms. A new report by research firm Clutch sheds a spotlight on the diversity and excitement of the Chicago-based digital marketing agency industry. And I’m pleased to announce that KeywordFirst is ranked as a market leader in the report.

Clutch evaluated and ranked Chicago-based digital marketing agencies using a proprietary research methodology that incorporated factors such as client reviews. The reviews covered agency attributes such as quality of work performed and project management skills. KeywordFirst was ranked in the top-tier Market Leaders category in the Clutch digital agency matrix.

Naturally we were excited to be ranked so strongly especially because client feedback figured large in the ranking criterion. As one client told Clutch, “It’s hard to argue with what the numbers tell us. Last year, KeywordFirst helped us to nearly double the amount of leads which we were able to acquire.”

Another client said, “Their work has been successful. We always want results to be better, but KeywordFirst are knowledgeable and are very easy to work with. Unlike the people in many other agencies, they’re humble.”

To be cited for our humility is important. On our website, we talk about the importance of being honest, uncomplicated, and transparent. We believe that agencies need to do more that provide great advice and do successful work. They need to be partners that companies like to work with.

I urge you to take time to review the Clutch report here. And use it to vet your agency as you decide whom to work with. You’ll find a nice variety of options in the report. We’re pleased to be one of the leading choices.

Mobile Advertising: Let Your Customer Be Your Guide

Mobile Advertising: Let Your Customer Be Your Guide

Mobile

Mobile is a shining star of performance marketing. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), for the first time, mobile ads account for the majority of digital ad spend. The IAB 2016 Internet Advertising Revenue report says that mobile ad revenues increased 77 percent to $36.6 billion in 2016, or 51 percent of total digital ad spend. Desktop search, the next biggest category, accounted for 24 percent of the total.

The IAB also says that the $36.6 billion spent on mobile ads included $17.2 billion for mobile search and $18.1 billion for mobile display.

I’m not surprised by the growth in mobile ad revenue. The ad spend reflects changing consumer behavior and the power of major publishers such as Google. The number of mobile searches on Google surpassed desktop searches two years ago. And Google has been changing its algorithms to force brands to respect the power of mobile. For instance, Google’s 2015 “mobilegeddon” algorithm rewarded mobile-friendly web pages with higher rankings for searches done on Google.

And yet, as important as mobile has become, mobile is still a contextual experience. To me, the real excitement and long-lasting value for advertisers comes from creating meaningful online advertising that appeals to omnichannel consumers.

Omnichannel consumers interact with brands through a variety of devices and channels, including social media, your website, display ads on other sites, and search results – on mobile phones, desktops, tablets, in games, on television, and through voice-activated assistants, to cite just a few of the proliferating channels and devices that shape the consumer-brand experience.

You get a better picture of how complex the advertising landscape really is when you dig into the IAB report and sift through the variety of ad formats that account for digital spend. (The report’s appendix alone, which details the pricing models and ad formats, is instructive.)

It’s important that businesses understand the nuances of advertising through different channels and devices. For instance, Tim Colucci at KeywordFirst has been blogging lately about the distinct challenges and opportunities of video advertising. (Here is an example.) At the same time, I believe it’s more important to coordinate mobile in context of the understanding your consumers’ journeys from awareness to purchase to loyalty. Yes, mobile advertising is probably going to be important to just about any brand, but how and when you spend on mobile advertising may differ dramatically by channel (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram) and device depending factors such as what stage a customer is in the buying decision and the time of day they’re interacting with your brand.

So let’s celebrate and appreciate the rise of mobile ad spending. But even more importantly, let’s keep our focus on the broader consumer journey and invest into experiences that create and retain customer relationships throughout the journey, one impression, channel, and device at a time.

Image source: Startup Stock Photos