Name Power

A bird soaked in oil. Smart naming sends "Bob", not "Robert", to the scene

Naming things is one of the most important things you’ll do in your small business.  Besides naming your company, each service and product is a unique opportunity to convey information without an explanation.

Three current examples show how much a simple name can convey.

BP today ousted beleaguered CEO Tony Hayward and installed a new boss. Meet Bob Dudley.

There is no doubt that the oil company executive has the knowledge to run the company.  Multibillion dollar companies don’t just choose people for their names.  But Dudley, who uses the name Robert in business and even on the BP site, has been introduced to the world as Bob.’

Bob, Bill and Tony sound a lot more accessible than Robert, William and Anthony.

The effect is subtle and usually only lasts beyond the first few actions, but BP’s message today is clear.  ”Bob, you know, from right down in the Gulf, is coming back home to look after things.  He’s ‘merican, just like you.”

The phenomenon doesn’t just extend to first names.

Think about Facebook and how the marketing team didn’t adjust the friendly, social lexicon throughout the site once the growth started outside colleges.

On LinkedIn, you have connections.
In email, you have contacts
But on Facebook, you have friends who you like.

Those were absolutely the proper words at the beginning of the company’s evolution, but when it announced business platforms and suggested connecting to people you knew at work, the word “friend” needed to be dumped.

And “like”?  Well, in an early iteration of Facebook Connect, I posted a link about a drug’s side effect that was on CNN.  The item appearing on my Facebook profile was that I “liked” the story.

Nope.

I was outraged, horrified and a little scared.

Words are powerful.  The power of the name we give things can’t be overstated.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is simple.  Examine every name in your company.  Look at how you refer to your processes and services–internal and external.  Listen to your team on the phone.  Write down unique words they use.  Then study those words.  What do they really mean?

For two years, I have toyed with an essay (not even a blog) called “I Am Not Your Friend”.    Look at your own Facebook profile.  Are the people you’ve called “friend” actually your friends or are they a mishmash of your personal and professional life scattered with people from places you’ve moved from and schoolmates.

Names have power.  If they were your friends, you probably would have contacted them well before Facebook appeared.

More Opportunity Than Ever in Back to School Sales

Back to school sales represent bigger opportunities than ever for merchants willing to discount and appeal to a broader market.

sale signThat projection from a Google Retail study says that school-type supplies are bought for more purposes than school supplies.  Every good office manager knows that.

What might not be as clear is that parents are using the opportunity to search for items for other family members and they are price sensitive.   How could they not be?

Google’s study found that 90% of back-to-school shoppers were influenced by price. That’s not the surprise.  Those are table stakes.  You have to know that. What you may not know is that 60% reported they would be influenced by coupons.

The macro economy is sluggishly grinding to a recovery.  The micro economy has tens of millions of folks out of work and struggling to stretch every dollar.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that multiple retailers with multi-million budgets are going to bombard consumer markets in a few weeks with coupons and discount pricing.  Even though you may not even sell back-to-school type items, even for college students, your marketing messages are going to be in the mix with the discounts.

Unless you’re a premium brand,  you might want to consider the global consumer mindset and ride the back-to-school discount wave.

Blowing Credibility When You Miss The Facts

I subscribe to a blog/newsletter via email.   I’ve learned a few tidbits over time and get some chuckles every so often.  My impression before Saturday was that it was an email I would regularly open.

They published a story last week about the big UFC match between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.  I forwarded a copy to my friend Roheblius who knows everything about boxing, MMA and other fighting sports.  Roheblius has been following this stuff for years and knows the fight game inside out.  His response floored me.

Some of the information in that newsletter was wrong!

I don’t mean disputed information like “Who discovered America?”, but factually inaccurate.   Not typos either.  I would be most forgiving of those.  I had suggested to Roheblius that he might want to subscribe.

Now I’m wondering if I put too much faith in a usually unsourced publication and if I’m comfortable ever sending a copy to anyone else or even reading the information.

The doubt that entered my mind is the same kind of doubt you can unknowingly pass along to a prospect with misinformation in your marketing or on your website.  Your advertising claims, your website copy and your images need to be spot-on accurate.  Your takeaway as a small businessperson is that a lack of accuracy kills credibility.  You can’t guess or use folklore or street knowledge or any other guesswork.  If you print it, you have to know.

Without credibility, your small business won’t last long when there are plenty of alternative businesses that can do the same things and be factually accurate while doing so.

Yahoo, Microsoft Marriage Drawing Near

Yahoo! notified advertisers today that now would be a good time to start revamping ads.

The three major search advertising platforms all have different codes and different sizes.  As Yahoo!’s email points out, an ad’s headline can be 40 characters long on their site, but only 25 characters over at Microsoft.  Don’t think that’s a big deal?  You probably haven’t written a brilliant 27 character headline then.

And don’t get me started on Facebook, fast becoming a favorite place for me to advertise local businesses, but with its own rules.   Facebook hasn’t bought anyone yet so we only have to worry about the Yahoo-Microsoft “transition” this year.

If an agency is NOT running your Yahoo! ads, everything you need to know is at their “Transition Center“.

Here’s what I can tell you with certainty:

1.  There won’t be Yahoo! text search advertisements.  You’ll be migrated to Microsoft adCenter.

2.  If you have Excel, there are some awesome DIY tools at adCenter for anyone to use so make use of them.

3.  Put your transition plan in place now.   If you’re running on Yahoo, test ads with MSN lengths, or better, open an adCenter account and start learning their platform.

Your takeaway as a small businessperson is that Yahoo! search advertising is going away.  If that impacts your business, you need to plan for it now because Yahoo! says this change will happen before the 2010 holiday season.  That’s only weeks away.

Why Marketers Look For The Next Search

Phrases like first click, second click, attribution and others undoubtedly swirl around your head like gnats during a summer hike across a field.   You can brush them away all you want, but if you read about online marketing, you’re still going to hear a lot about them.

Today you’re going to learn about search query refinements.

Let’s pretend your business is a men’s apparel shop and an unimaginative someone looked for a tie as a Father’s Day.  They may have arrived at your site after typing the phrase “men’s tie” into Google.

As you can see, that’s a standard search for many people. But knowing whether the person then uses your own site’s search form to refine their search and look for “bow tie”, “silk tie” or some other tie can change your business.  Here’s how:

1.  Our visitor searched first for a generic term that an apparel retailer may not even use. After all, women’s ties are not exactly hot sellers.  So we know that someone is searching with an idea but without explicit regard for price, brand or even style of tie.  We know their intent, which is simply to learn about ties at this point.

2.   If our visitor then uses our search form to type the word “bow tie” or “wedding tie” or “silk tie”, we learn a lot more and can begin understanding the linkage between the searches.  If some big percentage of our bow tie sales start off as a search engine query for “men’s ties”, it doesn’t matter what we think the right words are.

The market is telling us the proper keyword phrases.  We only need to listen.

3.  If a tie ends up in a shopping cart and your user searches for something else, congratulations!  You’re on your way to building constructs–models of typical shoppers.  Imagine 80% of your bow tie customers also purchase cuff links.  You might be tempted to advertise on the phrase “cuff links”, but your typical customer may want to square away the tie issue first before looking at other items.

Your takeaway is to create a website with the least possible “friction”.  Don’t make visitors think–guide them based on your analysis of past visitors.

Of course you have to have the tools on site if someone wants to immediately flip from “men’s ties” to “cuff links”, but that’s a different shopper.

Google just did a similar analysis on its own primary business–its search engine–using World Cup search queries.  The search company analyzed what people searched for after searching for a World Cup participant.

Their three main findings:

1.  Search for one of the world’s most popular players, and you’re likely to search for another player of that caliber.  In our example, if you search for a designer tie, you may then search for cuff links or a pocket square before searching for sandals.

2.  Players from the same country are usually connected.   This makes sense too.  If you’re looking at “men’s ties” and shift to “designer ties”, you’re going to stay in the country of ties until you buy, find a substitute or choose not to buy at all.

3.  Players on the same professional team are linked.  Professional athletes often play for their home country in international competition.   The analysis cites Spaniard Fernando Torres who plays professionally for Liverpool.  People searching for Torres might be interested in his teammates from Spain (see #2), but they may also be looking for his Liverpool teammates like Steven Gerrard who is playing for England.

Picture your tie buyer one more time.  They’ve looked at designer ties by Prada.  They may next look for Burberry.  They likely are not going to search for Covington ties, which is a Sears house brand.  If they do, you’ve just defined another shopper type–someone who is looking to move upmarket, but doesn’t close.

If you use Google Analytics, setting up your internal search forms to capture data as easy.  If you use clickstream analytics or otherwise look at individual visitors, this is going to be easy.

But starting now means that your website can be more profitable as you design pages that give customers what they want instead of making them search.

Headline Fail – VP is Safe

More blunders as mainstream media attempts to copy what makes web players successful.  This major headline fail occurred on a slow spring Saturday night.  The oil spill was consuming the world, but somehow CNN forgot to mention that the US was fighting wars in two countries and that the US and Europe had massive economic issues.  In fact, the Dow had cratered 300 points just 24 hours before this was the main section on CNN.com

We had the missing blonde girl again, a sex scandal in the NFL (yes, I read that one),  a porn actor who maybe committed suicide, a car crash, a plane crash and general interest news.  Take a look at the stories (click to make the image bigger)

Besides CNN lacking any sort of credibility that goes with gravitas, look at the circled link.  I was frustrated the second I saw the words, “vice president” and “attack”.  I knew it wasn’t anything major, but I immediately begin thinking of minor things that would warrant a story.

Did someone get close enough to Vice President Biden to throw a liquid on him?

How did the Secret Service allow that person to get close?

Oh man, I sure hope no one threw oil at him.

Because only CNN can do justice to their over-the-top headline, I’ll quote the first two sentences of their article.

Joe Biden came under friendy fire during a summer-kickoff barbeque at the vice president’s residence Saturday.

During the event for White House reporters and their families, the president’s No. 2 was attacked with sqiurt guns by his grandchildren and by children of members of the press corps.

Wait–some grandkids squirted their grandpa with a water gun?   And CNN has the gall to put that in a link with the terms “Vice President” and “attack”?   Writing compelling copy for the web is hard.  The audiences are different, the styles are different and the reading (more often scanning) is far more difficult.

CNN .com’s headline failed because they tried a direct response trick of writing an outrageous headline that generates a click.  Except when we do that in advertising, we anger the prospect unless we deliver the actual event.  They leave the advertiser’s site and the advertiser has paid for the click.   CNN did the same thing and paid not with a 50 cent click, but with continuing erosion of their ability to be reliable and relevant online.

Your takeaway as a small business is to not use wild over-promises to generate web traffic.  At best, you’ll simply waste money.  But you might take brand damage.  And that’s not damage from a water gun, even if you end up all wet.

Seasonality Also Means Events

If you’re an American small business leader, you can probably rattle off the major events impacting seasonality. Let’s try it together:

Don't rely on fireworks by others. Make your own.

January  - New Year, winter weather much of the country, Dr. King’s Birthday, post Christmas blahs

February – Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, still winter weather much of the country.

March – Spring is coming, pre-Easter and Passover for much of the country

April – Likely Easter and/or Passover, spring in full bloom

May –  Memorial Day, gateway to summer, Mother’s Day, college grads

and so on.  You know this drill.  There was a florist in our family, and I can tell you now, decades later, when those flowers were going to be flying out of that store.

But events make up seasonality just as much as the calendar, and you ignore their potential to your own detriment.

This idea comes hot on the hot on the heels of Hitwise’s Heather Doughty writing that Word Cup searches are starting to spike.  Of course they are, you grumble.  That sports thing is really big now.

But read Heather’s piece in its entirety and learn a couple of things about this event that apply to many similar events.   She writes that there are 68 different queries related to the word “schedule”.  There are also many queries related to the top 50 players.

How can you use this information?

Be imaginative.

You don’t need to run a sporting good store or bar to capitalize on this kind of intelligence.

If your website includes hours, include a World Cup schedule.  Better yet, include a World Cup schedule with some value added property like when games are on in your area and on what channel.

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If your site has anything to do with books, run the same schedule, but include nice beautiful links to books about the players.  Promise overnight shipping for nominal fees.  Would you rather have a lower margin customer on a sale and a new name on your house list or stick to your guns for $5.95 shipping?

Brainstorm the World Cup.  There are geography applications, television schedules (different from game schedules), cultural pride issues and countless others.

Your takeaway for today is that the World Cup is a huge global event and traffic surrounding that event impacts your seasonality perhaps more than the thermometer.  Think about the other events in the next two years just like we did with seasonality to start:

The Summer Olympics start in London in July 2012.  That’s just about 2 years.    It’s still too early to plan, but not too early to put on your seasonality calendar.  Start planning July 2011.

The Academy Award nominees are announced at the beginning of the calendar year and the show takes place in late winter.   Count on tens of millions of American viewers plus international audiences.    Figure out what applies to your business as we did the World Cup and start planning.  But remember that the event is when the focus happens.  Maybe you’re doing your own event in the buildup to to the event.

March Madness–the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament–should be on your calendar every year.  Bookend the festivities with St. Patrick’s Day and either spring or a religious holiday depending on your business.

Super Bowl Sunday is February 6, 2011.  Start before the NFL season.  Let your customers pick their favorite teams to go all the way and have a drawing based on who picks the game’s winners.  If you run a local business, the extensions are endless:  house cleaning, catering, babysitting, lawn care and appliance sales come immediately to mind.  There are dozens of others.

The issue here is not to say as one client recently told me that “This is our low season.”   Sure, there are seasons that are better, but by engaging in the world’s events, the water cooler events, you can catapult your small busines into relevance year ’round.

But these aren’t events that you should plan as they’re happening. Get them on your calendar now.  Buy a pizza or three and brainstorm later this week.

How can your business participate in four major events in the next 12 months?

Now what time does Greece open against Korea in the World Cup?

Exposure to Pharma Advertising Drives Patient Demand

Prescription medicine bottleSpeaking with some young entrepreneurs last week, I kept circling back to the point that thinking something was far different from knowing something. The issue for these really smart guys was how they could leverage smart analytics analysis to better understand their business.

Today, they are in thinking something mode.

Also today, I believed that big pharma DTCA (direct to consumer advertising) must have at least a branding impact because big pharma is great at two things:  marketing and its lobbying sibling.

I was in thinking something mode too.  Thanks to a study of DTCA pharma campaigns in the current issue of The Canadian Pharmacists Journal, I know at least one study that corroborates my assumption.  The work by Dr. Michelle van den Engh and pharmacist Lori Bonertz shows that exposure to advertising creates patients who ask more often for medications.’

Some numbers that jump out at me from their study:

  • Almost 40% of subjects had recall on at least 10 pharmaceutical ads in the past year.  Go ahead and test yourself now. Can you name ten? Twenty?  Even more?
  • The study was conducted in a remote Canadian area.
  • People under the age of 50 were more susceptible to pharma ads.
  • The “low exposure” group that had recall of less than 4 ads did not ask for any advertised medications by name or type during the study.
  • The “high exposure” group asked for medicine by name in 1.6% of cases.

Pause here.

Going from zero to a measurable percentage in anything is huge.  To put a number on the notion, there were about 157 million adults in the US between the ages of 18 and 55 in 2008.   If the 1.6% number in the Canadian study held for the US, the incremental number of people asking for a medicine by name grows to more than 2 million.

That’s worth some advertising spend, isn’t it?

The researchers’ biggest finding in my opinion is that low exposure individuals asked for a medication just under 5% of the time in the study.  Those in the high exposure group asked for a prescription medication 10.2% of the time –even if the medication wasn’t one they had seen advertised.

One important takeaway from the study is that pharama DTCA effort grew direct sales and the industry as a whole.  That number is big.   Simply advertising the category helps all boats rise together sometimes even if the payoff isn’t in direct sales.

Photo: Dani Simmonds

William Shatner Wants To Punch My Friend

An email hit my box this weekend that was written by someone so livid that steam was still visible.

My correspondent had received a salvage email from priceline.  You know what a salvage email is.   “We know you haven’t been a customer, but let us entice you…”  The company personalized the graphic and showed a picture of William Shatner with his right fist drawn back in a punching stance.

This is that picture.

William Shatner in priceline ad

The copy was punched-up too with a specific call-to-action.  It’s been a while since you booked a trip on priceline. Claim your $50 Bonus Cash coupon below and I’ll remove you from my “people I’m going to judo-chop for paying full price” list.

My correspondent didn’t care to be threatened despite any campaigns priceline is running.   I talked with some people who thought my email complainer was being sensitive.  But this is just bad marketing all around.  A nice aside came from 22 year old son who is majoring in sociology at George Mason University.  ”If the ad were for wrestling or MMA, then they might pretend to be violent,” he said.  But even he agreed that pretending to be violent would be along the lines of threatening to make you watch the show, not specifying how the fighter would beat you up to do so.  And he understood that without context, the ad could be offensive.

Priceline missed here because their copy was too descriptive and their ad was too assumptive.   And because like my kid said, “There was no context” and no permission to add the former customer to the context.  Priceline thought my friend was following their series of Shatner broadcast ads.   They guessed horribly wrong, and they’ve lost a customer for life.

Meanwhile, it’s been years since I studied martial arts, and I never studied judo, but I always thought that hand strikes such as a “judo chop” were not part of the technique.  So besides being threatening, the copy is lazy and substitutes “judo” for “karate” because I guess all those things kind of look alike.

Next: I’ve been blacklisted!  It’s amazing.  I got the notice yesterday.  Subscribe to the blog below or in the upper right to learn who blacklisted me and what I’m going to do about it.

How Much Webmasters Make From Ads

coins with clock

Pennies and dimes add up over time

This morning’s announcement that websites keep 68 cents of every dollar spent when visitors click Google ads is the latest salvo in the company’s scramble to woo webmasters.    Google has a seemingly insurmountable lead in search.  We’ve written before that Google’s lead mirrors Microsoft’s software lead a decade ago and IBM’s hardware lead a decade before that.

Something will come along.  There’s already a shift led by Facebook which provides entertainment and Google which provides utility via search.   That’s not to say that Google is going anywhere… yet.   And I’m certainly not ready to proclaim this the Facebook Decade.

But Google VP Neil Mohan writing in what he calls the interest of transparency disclosed a number that has been hotly debated for years.  Even if the number isn’t exact or there are extenuating circumstances, one has to look at the intent behind the disclosure and ask what has changed.

The difference is the fragmentation in ancillary markets.   As a small business, you may choose to earn money on certain pages of your site (please don’t do this on your pre-sales pages!) with Google’s AdSense program.  As Mohan points out, you’ll get 68% of the earnings and if someone promises you 80%, how much more are you going to get from the trust created by the industry leader and its partner companies?

Mohan’s argument is compelling, and the number is important.  Because here is the math he hopes that you do:

Assume you have ads running on your website and that those ads generates $4.00  for every thousand pageviews.   Google’s announcement today would tell you that its advertising network receives $5.88 in advertising for those thousand views.   At 100,000 pageviews, the number is $588.  So if those pages are generating that much, couldn’t you just sell them for $600 at that level?

Sure.  But you can’t find a buyer at that level because you’re a small business and those 100,000 pageviews are your week or even your month.  That’s why there are other advertising networks:  AOL’s Advertising.com, Chitika (which works with Google and Yahoo!) and niche marketplaces like Glam Media.  In all, there are more than four dozen active ad networks.

Google’s announcement today of its revenue sharing percentages just may be the company’s recognition that this area of the business needs to be protected.