A media journo writes…

Where next for media and marketing?

Facebook: still bad at making money

leave a comment »

This blog post is based on the one I posted on www.warc.com

Deloitte has produced some great research into the UK TV market to coincide with the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

The study, entitled ‘Perspectives on Television in Words and Numbers’, is full of all sorts of stats about video-on-demand uptake, product placement and other TV goodies. But one statistic in particular caught my eye. Deloitte makes the point that television as an industry remains far far more effective at converting users into revenues. The report, which is based on UK data, states: “It takes 93 days to generate a pound of advertising revenue per Facebook user; this compares to 11 days for an ITV viewer [ITV is the UK’s leading commercial broadcaster]. Social network’s CPMs are estimated at between 30 and 40 pence, far lower than the average for television. YouTube’s CPM has been estimated at 72 pence.”

It’s not exactly comparing apples with apples (a Facebook user is not the equivalent of a TV viewer), but it’s an interesting point. Facebook may be making money, and its revenues may be growing quickly, but it’s still pretty ineffective at turning users into dollars.

A further illustration of this is in the Deloitte endnotes. ITV, a UK-only broadcaster that has had a torrid few years, pulled in £987 million (around $1.5 billion) of revenue in the year to 30 June 2010. Facebook, which has upwards of 500 million users around the world, is forecast to make $1 billion in the more optimistic forecasts.

I was recently asked whether I thought social media revenues were likely to follow the same growth trajectory as search revenues did a few years ago. To recap, here’s a reminder of just how quickly Google grew in the middle years of the last decade.

Despite the forecasts of some tech evangelists, on the current evidence, it would take an almighty shift in advertiser behaviour to push Facebook along the same path. Recent forecasts from eMarketer show solid growth in adspend on social networks over the next two years from $1.4 billion to $2 billion in the US. Good, but it’s no Google! It’s fair to say that Facebook et al are still seeking the ‘killer app’ when it comes to attracting marketing investment; the equivalent to Google’s AdWords.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that Google’s rise was driven as much by SMEs and direct-response advertisers as by big brand advertisers. It created a whole new direct-response channel.

Interestingly, there are social media companies out there already making large sums of money. China’s Tencent, owner of the QQ platform, is one of them – its revenues easily eclipse those of Facebook despite being a single-market operator. Tencent’s growth, however, has owed little to advertising. Online ad revenues make up less than 10% of its turnover. The bulk of its revenue comes from ‘internet value-added services’, mostly online gaming. It makes money, in other words, from its users.


Bookmark and Share

Written by davidtiltman

September 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Why shouldn’t an ethical business market itself?

with 3 comments

Jay Rayner, the Observer’s restaurant critic, reviewed the Riverford Cottage Field Farm, the restaurant spin-off of organic vegetable box scheme Riverford, in his latest piece. What’s this got to with marketing, you say? Well Rayner, who likes to appear outspoken, opens the piece with this:

Have you ever lifted an organic veg box and wondered why it was so damn heavy? It’s because it is weighed down by the hopes, fears and aspirations of the entirety of Britain’s guilt-sodden middle classes. That and the cannonball-like swede that always seems to end up in there. I cannot understand why a serious cook would allow a random collection of ingredients into the house, and hate the smug satisfaction that those who order them exude. They think they are doing something to save the planet. They aren’t. They are making affluent lifestyle choices and supporting apparently alternative business – but ones built entirely on conventional marketing strategies.’

This isn’t the place to debate the rights and wrongs of vegetable boxes (for what it’s worth, I get a vegetable box, but am well aware I’m not saving the planet; as I’m not a ‘serious cook’, I quite like the challenge of being sent whatever is in season and trying to work out what to do with it – kohlrabi, anyone?)

What I found interesting was his final comment – that an ‘alternative business’ is somehow undermined by using ‘conventional marketing strategies’.

I went to visit Riverford for a piece in Marketing mag nearly six years ago. It was a much smaller business at the time, but two things stood out: first, that it really was trying to achieve something (it wasn’t trying to save the world, just get people interested in cooking and eating fresh food); and second, that Guy Watson, the guy in charge, was a seriously talented businessman.

Is it a bad thing that Riverford has used a franchising strategy plus smart branding, online and word-of-mouth activity to build his business? Would it be better if Riverford were still a small collection of farms in Devon? That might suit some in the hairshirt brigade (and Rayner’s patrician outlook), but it isn’t going to help Watson achieve his goals.

The thing about conventional marketing strategies is that, by and large work, they work. If an alternative business is to remain in business, why shouldn’t it use marketing?

In fact, Rayner’s view is a little out-of-date – there are plenty of ‘alternative businesses’ building themselves into bona fide brands (eg Divine Chocolate), and even some general ‘good causes’ (Fairtrade, for example) using marketing principles to raise awareness of some of the issues around food. Maybe they do tap into middle-class guilt (why are only the middle classes guilty?), but as long as nobody thinks that they can change the world with a few purchases, isn’t it a good trade-off to pander to those feelings in return for a bit of consumer education? And given that the recession has allowed far fewer of us to make ‘affluent lifestyle choices’, those businesses that have used branding to build a relationship with consumers are more likely t0 survive the cull. That, surely, is a good thing.


Bookmark and Share

Written by davidtiltman

June 13, 2010 at 10:21 am

Cons-Lib coalition – the branding implications

leave a comment »

It’s been a very busy few weeks (freelancing, wedding preparations, even the odd weekend away), so I’ve not had chance to update this blog after the pretty astonishing traffic surge my last post created.

What’s more, I’ve been glued to the election coverage (on which point, it’s nice to see my earlier post questioning the role of social media in the election seems to have been on the money). It’s been an incredible few weeks in British politics, and from a branding perspective the creation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (ConDemNation, as it has quickly been tagged) throws up some huge issues.

First, what does it mean for the Tories? The interesting thing is that the coalition, though apparently a compromise born of necessity, may help David Cameron and the Tory brand in the long run. Cameron has been trying for years to reform the party’s image – he realised that a Conservative Party that appealed to the English shires could not win power on a national basis. But that message has not got through to huge swathes of the party. Cameron is unpopular in parts of the Conservative party because his leadership is based around a small clique; he does it that way because, frankly, he doesn’t trust lots of his own party. And you only have to look at what happened with Chris Grayling to see that he is probably right.

Cameron is a centrist that has tried to modernise the Tory brand with a new political positioning and a new ‘compassionate’ image (as well as that curious kids-drawing-of-a-tree logo). Yet he never quite managed to ‘seal the deal’ with the electorate because plenty of voters still didn’t trust the braying element of the party (or Cameron’s own posh-boy background).

So tying up with the Lib Dems, a centrist party with strong environmental and civil liberties credentials, is a masterstroke. It’s an astonishing attempt at partnership marketing, co-opting your partner’s brand strengths. If it works, it will detoxify the Tory brand, help make them a bit cuddlier, and make them far more electable whenever the next election takes place.

Then there’s the Lib Dems. It’s a much more complex situation for them. Arguably, part of their brand was their sheer powerlessness. They were the voters’ moral conscience, cash-strapped but high on principle, who could be employed as a protest vote either for fed-up middle class Labour voters or Conservative defectors. They were a way of reminding the big two parties that they couldn’t take their core vote for granted. A few years ago they veered to the left, and still have some pretty out-there policies, but for much of their existence they have sat neatly between Labour and the Tories.

Getting into power changes everything. Their left-wing credentials will be undermined by the fact they are propping up a Tory government. The hairshirt brigade, who previously could quite happily commit the Lib Dems to all sorts of crazy policies safe in the knowledge they’d never be put into practice, now find the party making compromises to get into power. This is a brave new world for the party, and one fraught with danger. There is a very real danger of a defection to Labour by some of its voters; to counter that, it must show voters of all persuasions who previously saw the Lib Dems as a wasted vote that the party has a role to play in power (and making that case will be easier if they push the Alternative Vote system through).

In short, what Nick Clegg needs to do is rebrand the Lib Dems. And the only way to do that is to be seen to deliver in government. If he fails, the Lib Dems could be wiped out at the next election, just as previous coalitions wiped out their predecessors, the Liberal Party. It’s a big risk – the Lib Dem brand could be completely undermined over the next few years.

Then there’s Labour. It actually polled better than many feared in the election, but it’s clear it needs a brand refresh. The departure of Brown and the end to the New Labour project means the party has to start again. For all its troubles, the New Labour machine proved one thing: to win elections convincingly it needs a credible, centrist vision. It took the Tories nearly a decade to work out it had to follow suit; can Labour now do it again more quickly? Bookies’ favourite David Miliband seems to recognise the scale of the challenge, but with the ConDemNation suddenly taking over the centre ground, Labour needs to find some new ideas. And it faces a core urban, working class vote the party has gradually alienated. For an intellectually and financially exhausted party, this rebuilding may take a while.

Finally, there’s the issue of the forthcoming spending cuts, which as we all know will be brutal. Mervyn King recently predicted these would severely hurt the popularity of the party in power, and that of course is possible. Cameron’s cuddly image may be compromised by the resurgence of the ‘nasty party’ in voters’ minds, and the Lib Dems’ role in the cuts will be under heavy scrutiny. But actually, I think Labour’s brand may suffer here too. The great realignment of politics in the 90s was built on two factors: the loss of confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to manage the economy in the wake of Black Wednesday, and the ability of Tony Blair to convince voters that Labour had moved on from its former financial recklessness. And for a decade, it seemed like Labour had buried its reputation for economic incompetence.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will be hurt by having to make savage cuts. But if they make them competently and fairly, and if they actually show they can deal with the deficit, they may be given some ‘tough love’ credit. And assuming they spend the next couple of years blaming the situation on the former government, Labour may find it has a mountain to climb to convince the Middle England voters it needs of its economic competence.

The beauty about branding in politics is that it is always at the mercy of events and the foibles of individuals. That makes the next few years impossible to call, but fascinating to watch.


Bookmark and Share

Agencies – what one client really thinks of you

with 6 comments

Last night I went along to the Revolution Awards, celebrating all things digital. And I ended up chatting to one of Britain’s top marketers. I won’t divulge his name, but it’s safe to say he’s the man behind some of the best-known ads in the UK of the past few years and has a pretty formidable track record across the industry.

So naturally, I decided to probe him a bit for what he really thinks about the agencies that he’s worked with. And after a few glasses of wine, he was more than forthcoming. In no particular order:

1. The best you can hope for from an agency is a couple of good ideas a year. Often you won’t even get that. And he’s talking about some of the best agencies in London when he says that – BBH and Dare are two he mentioned.

2. BBH are ‘difficult to work with’, but obviously get results.

3. He really didn’t think much of Rapp – ‘you’ll be waiting a long time to get a good idea out of them’. They are ‘just a machine’.

3. Ogilvy are another agency he thinks are all mouth and no trousers. And they should never have moved to Canary Wharf.

4. JWT are now a very weak agency in his opinion. In fact, he questioned WPP’s takeover strategy, saying it seems to have created big, bland networks.

5. One of his biggest complaints was the sheer lack of talent within agencies. There are normally only a handful of people in an agency he’d actually want to work with. That’s a common complaint, and the reason agencies are such brittle businesses – a couple of important people moves and they can be in real trouble.

6. Media agencies could have cornered the digital space (a couple of Revolution Awards actually went to media shops). But they’re not smart enough to see the opportunity.

Pretty damning stuff, really.


Bookmark and Share

Written by davidtiltman

April 9, 2010 at 7:21 am

Nice paywall, Mr Murdoch; now what are you going to do about Google?

leave a comment »

So after all that talk and months of planning, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp has finally unveiled his grand scheme to make his newspaper websites turn a profit.

And it is, er, a paywall.

NewsCorp’s The Times will charge £1 a day or £2 a week for access.

Bit of a disappointment really. I was at least expecting some form of tiered charging system, a la the Financial Times. But on a global level, a micropayments system, similar to the ones used in online gaming, does seem to have traction.

Can it work? I asked that months ago on my old Media blog. And frankly, we’re no nearer any answers. It seems crazy to think that people will pay £1 to read a news story they can read anywhere else for free. The BBC is still out there, of course, and even if it goes through with plans to scale back its online content, there is still the Guardian, which has pledged itself to a free-access future. The Times is really going to have to show it can deliver value-add content, or rely on a very loyal minority. And let’s face it, Murdoch’s online track record isn’t exactly sparkling.

Still, the sums involved are pretty substantial, according to the Guardian:

Assuming that only 5% of daily users convert to the paywall system – a standard metric for paywalls – that would bring in £1.83m if they each buy a £1 daily pass. At a 10% conversion, it would net £3.66m per month for the two papers. If more people of those choose to buy the weekly pass, the revenues would be lower.

Compare that with the £40m made by The Guardian’s web division in the last financial year, according to outgoing CEO Carolyn McCall.

The big question now is what to do about Google. We all know that if you paste a headline into Google you can bypass a paywall – just try it with the Wall Street Journal. Should The Times block Google and protect its paywall but hurt search traffic? Or should it be like the WSJ and just pretend nobody knows about that?

There’s been a lot of sabre-rattling toward Google from NewsCorp, suggesting it might seriously pull back from Google. Instinctively that feels like a mistake, and something that could seriously set The Times back years. From personal experience I know that news sites get more than half their traffic via search. What’s more, The Times seems to be looking for one-off payments rather than tying people in to annual subscriptions. That approach will require regular traffic through the site.

One thing’s for sure, though. If Murdoch starts making money from this, there will be a lot of others following him. And the more of them that do so, the less free competition there will be for The Times.


Bookmark and Share

Written by davidtiltman

March 26, 2010 at 11:32 am

Why social media will not win the election

with one comment

Back in January, I was asked by a marketing consultant how important I thought digital would be in the upcoming UK general election. He obviously expected me to gush about how important Twitter/Facebook/YouTube would be, and seemed slightly shocked when I suggested that for all the noise around social media, the election could be more traditional than we thought. And a recent lunch with an agency boss working on one of the party’s campaigns confirmed to me that the parties recognise that online engagement can only be the start.

So it was with interest that I read the piece in this week’s Economist that flagged the limitations of social media as a political tool. It makes a number of good points, including the argument that Twitter is good for reaching journalists, but email reaches the actual voters. The upshot is that developments such as myconservatives.com, WebCameron and the left-leaning blogs can have an impact (including galvanising activists), but are, for now, unlikely to win a party an election on their own (though all parties still have to engage in these channels, otherwise they lose share of voice to their rivals).

Here’s why:

1. British politics is not US politics. The Obama campaign in 2008 made everyone aware of the political implications of social media. But the UK political environment is very different. We have become more presidential, but we do not elect presidents; we elect parties. We do not have the intense build-up of primaries – party leaders are decided by their parties, and are not chosen as part of the campaign build-up. That means political discourse between parties and the general public is generally less focused on a single point in time (an election) and more focused on general points-scoring. Elections can be called any time within a five-year parliament by the prime minister, so the campaigns are shorter, sharper and often more tactical.

2. Even for Obama, social media was only the start. The Obama social media drive served to establish him as a candidate and gave him considerable resources to mount a challenge. It did not on its own win him the election. TV, print, radio, outdoor and email (the 21st century equivalent of shoe leather) were all major parts of his campaign. This blend of digital evangelising and old-school politicking was developed in the primaries and continued into the main election campaign.

3. Social media is great at knocking things, but it’s far harder to build political enthusiasm. The parties have shown pretty deft use of some social sites to respond instantly to their rivals’ moves and to discredit them. John Prescott has proved an ace Twitterer, and Labour’s activists have been pretty effective at mocking the Tories’ campaigns via spoof posters. Any slip by the parties, once magnified by the echo chamber of Twitter et al, could damage their reputation; but success can be far harder to shout about and publicise, especially given the levels of cynicism there already are around politicians. The TV debates featuring the three party leaders will be fascinating – we’ll see how the successes and failure on the night are reflected in cyberspace.

4. It’s easier to build enthusiasm around single issues than complex political messages. The Facebook campaign behind Rage Against the Machine at Christmas showed how single issues (such as ‘don’t let Simon Cowell be Christmas number one’) can thrive within social media. Arguably, Obama’s ‘Change’ message gained momentum like a single issue and only later had to concern itself with actual policies. In the US, of course, the campaign is focused on the president. British political parties remain strange coalitions of interests, and presenting them like a single issue is far harder. You might buy into David Cameron, for example, but still have your doubts about Nicholas Winterton. A British general election puts them both up for the vote simultaneously. It’s interesting that Cameron has attempted a ‘Change’ message without being able to build it into a cause the way Obama did. He’s not personally as engaging, and he’s held back by his party.

That said, Labour has shown signs of using a single-issue approach – for example, its recently launched campaign to save Sure Start children’s centres from spending cuts.

5. The election will be won in key marginals. Social media campaigns have been causing some interesting headlines at a national level, but actually British governments are made and broken in a relatively small number of marginal seats. And a vote in these seats goes not just to a national party, but to a local politician. That means local issues and local personalities can come into play, factors that are below the national radar but need actual on-the-ground campaigning to address.

6. Old people vote more. Fact. Purely on an age basis, the more likely you are to use social media, the less likely you are to vote. And for the reasons already stated, there’s no sign of a sudden rush of young voters into the polling stations a la Obama.

Overall, this election promises to be the most fascinating since 1997, and the marketing tactics at its heart have become far more sophisticated. The rise of social media has made the national-level PR battle far more interesting, but the eventual incumbent of Downing Street will have to use more old-fashioned tactics as well.


Bookmark and Share

Written by davidtiltman

March 22, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Six reasons internet measurement is rubbish

with one comment

The greatest fallacy in digital marketing is that the internet is the most measurable medium. It’s not. Yes, it’s the medium with the most data (absolutely phenomenal amounts), but making sense of that data to get a true picture of what consumers are actually doing (ie measuring it) is still far from an exact science.

Last week I journeyed into the heart of data geekery, spending two days at the biennial I-com conference in Lisbon, a conference dedicated solely to online measurement. I’d be lying if I pretended my brain didn’t hurt by the end of it. But several themes emerged over the course of the conference that deserve recognition outside this specialist world. For marketers (precious few of whom actually attended the conference), sorting this stuff out will be vital if they’re ever going to spend serious money online. And for publishers, this stuff is key to the way they will sell online performance.

1. Even the things you think you know, you don’t. One of the key problems with measuring online activity is that the data comes from machines, not humans. Linking up what we know from humans (ie panels) with the data deluge from the internet is tricky. The result is that we often assume the machine data tells us things it doesn’t.

Take unique users for example. Sounds like a pretty basic piece of information, and something most campaign metrics seem to look at these days. But as one speaker pointed out, measurement of unique users is usually based on cookies. Now people use multiple devices to access the web (mobile, home computer, work computer etc etc), and each has a different cookie. Also, they are increasingly using multiple browsers on single device, adding even more cookies. Some users, said the speaker, had around seven separate cookies. So what does that make a unique user?

2. Clicks are pointless. This isn’t new news, but that doesn’t stop click-through rates being used as a measure of campaign success. Yes they’re easy, but they mean absolutely nothing unless an ad is purely a direct-response piece. What’s more, click-through rates are declining fast; that means campaign measures based on clicks are looking at a diminishing audience. Also, there are, said one panellist at the conference, no correlations between click-through rates and other brand scores.

3. The last click tells you little. All the action is still around the last click – this particularly applies to search, where search engines make their money from people clicking on links. But much of the hard work in terms of taking people through the purchase funnel comes much earlier – and this bit is really hard to measure. Doron Wesley from Cheil/Samsung admitted at the conference that the brand had not even started to look at so-called ‘attribution’ – working out where and when a consumer interacted with a brand online and what the influences on purchase were. If a brand like Samsung can’t do this, not many others can either.

Search is an interesting one, because on the surface it is so measurable. But in truth it is still extremely difficult to measure search’s total impact. How do you measure ROPO (research online, purchase offline)? Or even the branding impact of search activity?

4. People can’t even agree what needs measuring. Many years ago, when I first started writing about online marketing, an agency boss told me that the medium needed reach and frequency measures like TV to get marketers interested. Imagine my surprise when I find the exact same argument is raging in 2010. In Lisbon it was the GRP system that holds such sway in the US that caused debate – does the internet need to adopt GRPs to be able to get marketers interested? There’s no consensus here – everyone knows the internet needs some sort of standard measurement currency, but nobody can agree on what that should be.

5. Increasingly the action is in social, but that’s even less measurable. Social media is increasingly used as a PR tool. Terms such as ‘engagement’ and ‘conversation’ abound. But what does that mean and how do you work it’s delivering.

The last couple of years have seen all sorts of buzz-tracking services launch, and some were at the conference. But they didn’t really have an answer when one delegate asked why, when he asked five different word-of-mouth measurement companies to track his Superbowl ad, he got five different responses. These services sell themselves as tracking tools, but actually they are hugely reliant on human input to categorise brand mentions on social media. They’re better than nothing, but they’re still flawed.

6. Don’t even start on mobile. The mobile expert that appeared on stage simply described mobile measurement as ‘icky’. Nuff said.

As Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer, put it:  “Right now, we’re in the dark ages.” And as one of the few clients at the conference told me, without a proper currency online that allows some sort of comparison between media, he cannot advise heavy spend in digital.

So next time you hear an agency lazily praise the measurability of online media, it’s time to ask a few hard questions.


Bookmark and Share

Written by davidtiltman

March 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 238 other followers