Monthly Archives: August 2009

Digital media and the idiocy of the big number


Delivering the keynote lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Newscorp Europe and Asia boss James Murdoch came out with a good soundbite, namely that we have “analogue attitudes in a digital age.”   Murdoch
was obviously talking about TV and his speech involved taking aim at
the publicly funded BBC in particular, but it’s a nice line to describe
a lot of what goes on in this space. Take our continued obsession with
the big number for example.


Exhibit A, the other day Comscore released its latest Twitter stats. ‘Twitter more popular than the BBC!’ said Netimperative and TechRadar.
But, as I said on my home blog, saying you have 50 million monthly
visitors is not the same as saying you have 50 million users.

First you have to take away the duplicate accounts (for example I have registered four IDs, only two of which are active). And on that note, you then have to subtract the number that register but never participate – according to Hubspot 54.9% of tweeple have never tweeted, and I don’t buy the line that ‘they are all listening.’

Then you have to look at the % of power tweeple, the people who really do use it, and (according to Sysmos) you are left with 5% of the total. So just over 2.5 million.

‘Oh well, waste of time, very few people do use it then’ will say the nay-sayers (of which there are plenty),
but the whole point is that looking at the raw number is completely
pointless. What’s important is who they are and what they do.

Exhibit B – I’ve fallen into this particular trap of proclaiming that newspapers are more popular than ever thanks to the Internet.

- sure the basic stats show that the Guardian online gets a huge
audience compared to the web edition….yet (assuming I care about UK
consumers only), a high proportion of that audience comes from abroad.   And stats from Columbia Journalism Review show that 88% of newspaper reading time is in print, while Malcom Coles in the Online Journalism blog figured out that most online newspaper readers only look at one page.

The comparison is therefore completely artificial due to the fact that the way we read online and print is completely different.

Exhibit C – The other day there was chatter that ‘RSS’ might be ‘dead.’ Why? Asks Patricio Robles of eConsultancy.
“RSS may not be as popular as Twitter or Facebook but who says it has
to be?…not every technology has to achieve 90%+ adoption to be

The fact is we’re taking an offline metrics way of thinking and hauling it online. It doesn’t work that way.   And the problem with using the big number is that it’s very easy to puncture it.

Exhibit D, Twitter has in the past been unfavourably compared to the virtual world Second Life in terms of hype, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly.   The point is though that Second Life also in its heyday suffered from large user numbers being banded about.

mid 2007 there was talk of 10-15 million Second Life
residents…completely untrue when you took out duplicate accounts,
people who registered but never came back…sound familiar?   That number was so over inflated that it was easy to puncture, sparking a debate about the ‘real’ number of users (I gather it’s currently about 750k human beings).

thinking is that we like to see a big number so that we (in marketing)
can tick a box and say ‘job done, I reached X many people.’ Digital
thinking is we put the big number to one side and instead look at two
things that are more important: Engagement (does anyone care enough to
pass it on) and influence (who exactly are we reaching?)

Or as Norwegian brand strategist Helge Tenno says his latest blog post “traditional
media is a battle between stories…in social media, we are not
engaging in stories, we are engaging in the exchange of ideas.”
  Two completely different things.  As Kevin Slavin (quoted in Helge’s post) puts it:

relationship between media and social media is like the relationship
between egg and eggplant. They share a couple of the same letters, but
they are not in the same taxonomy.”

The end of the beginning for Google’s Content Network?

Amidst all the excited talk of Spotify iPhone apps and Apple tablet devices this week you just might have missed some interesting news from our friends at Google (and no, I’m not referring to the fire in their London office)…

On Tuesday Google quietly announced on their AdSense blog that they plan to open up their Google Content Network to third party networks as a way to maximize advertising revenues for those publishers using AdSense as a revenue stream. For publishers this is definitely a boon but from Google’s point of view this is a surprising move – on the one hand it will obviously generate incremental revenue as it effectively places a whole range of additional advertisers on the network without any work yet at the same time it weakens their position slightly. In effect they have taken some of that niche reach out into the long-tail that some of the other networks lacked and handed it straight over to them.  You could well ask then - given that any of these third party networks will have additional reach, why advertise on Google when you can simply advertise on one of these (yet to be announced) third-party networks?

In reality, as always, things are a little bit more complicated than that. Firstly publisher sites have to opt-in to these third party networks so Google won’t exactly be handing over the keys to the kingdom. As an agency we would also generally point out Google’s advantages, since their network gives advertisers complete transparency and control over where they appear, where conversions come from and what the costs are. This generally means that a well managed campaign on Google probably trumps a campaign run through a third-party network (at least in terms of like-for-like performance on the same sites). The networks also have the ever growing challenge of assuring quality environments for advertisers and this move certainly won’t make IASH accreditation any easier to achieve.

What makes this move interesting though is that it positions Google one step closer to taking a role as an ad-exchange, since they are now able to broker out your advertising space much more widely (and obviously place ads too should you want).  As most other ad-exchanges seem to fail to effectively communicate their position this puts Google in a very strong position, particularly with their reach into the longtail… I can’t help but wonder if the next move will be for them to flip this around on its head and open up the third party networks to advertisers for management through their interface.

My World is Pink

Its official. Ladies, get your pink handbags out. The new ad from PC World and Dell is officially the most patronising ever. It starts with the line

“My world is fashion. I just have to colour co-ordinate everything. Even my laptop. That’s why I love the new Dell laptop.”

Pass me the barf bag. Please. It just gets worse. Should I get pink to match my shoes…. Must I go on? I am sure you get the picture. This is an example of 2 companies who have money to waste. 2 companies who have no idea of how to talk to women and most importantly, no idea of the role that technology plays in a women’s life. I thought that Dell would have learnt from their latest Della ‘for women’ website which seems to have such bad press that they have renamed it. This is disappointing as the Dell Inspiron and 10 are fantastic pieces of kit. I also thought PC world had made some progress with their latest work. But alas, it seems a group of middle aged balding in marketing (sorry but it has to be) decided that “women are the answer.”

Here’s the logic.

Women like shoes.

Women like pink.

So to make women like technology, we need to pink it up and dumb it down and make it match her shoes.

Do me a favour. None of the professional women I know (which is where the biggest financial opportunity is) would be seen dead with a pink laptop. For most women over the age of 12, pink is definitely not their world. And even more offensive is not the colour, but the positioning. The women I speak to love technology.

The creativity and human interaction it adds to their life. Not because it matches their shoes. On the positive side, it confirms how much technology brands need specialists like Lady Geek to put an end to patronising ads like this.

3am and everyones asleep

On from the launch of the relatively impressive if not entirely unique Mirror Football website earlier this month, recently launched is the digital version of the “famous3am Girls - Trinity Mirror’s latest attempt at a vertical for which they possibly hope to charge in the foreseeable future in order to help stave off the UK’s largest newspaper publisher’s plummeting share price avoid laying off more journalists and closing down more newspapers:

What can we say about the SEO of this site by looking at it for 2 minutes? The URL structure looks ok, they seem to have a hierarchical system that uses hyphen to separate words. But I can’t say the actual words they want Google to spider are too impressive. I am not sure what they will make of “Ooh”, “Gasp!” and “Phwaor!” as the links on the main navigation. All the page titles are the same as well and there is no RSS feed, but I don’t want to be too picky. Does it have any meta data then? What are those CTRs going to be like?

Let’s Google [3am] … here they are down at number 6. Well, I don’t know about you but to me the snippet’s not exactly an incentive to learn more. But we all know newspaper companies hate Google so maybe they’re not interested in traffic from search engines, which might start 80% of internet journeys but let’s not let facts get in the way of the truth.

Oh but hold on. Trinity are paying for PPC rankings for both [3am] and [celebrity gossip] so they are at least acknowledging that search exists in some form. Oh dear.

To be fair, it is early days for this site. With a decent amount of marketing more people will come and visit what is an established brand in the celebrity world and as a result the site will attract some high quality links that will push it up the rankings to a point, despite Trinity making it as hard as possible for Google to understand what the site is about. But if they want to rank for [celebrity] (450,000 exact match searches on average per month) or [celebrity gossip] (368,000 exact match searches on average per month), which I am pretty sure they do as they are bidding on PPC for both, and compete with Heat, Perez Hilton, Spike and *whisper it* The Sun then they had better smarten up their act. Because currently they are, sensibly, not charging for content so all cash will come from ad revenue which is reliant on traffic and impressions and as far as Google, the biggest traffic driver of them all, is concerned they are merely a blip on the horizon.

Baby Geek

If Microsoft can do it then I can go one better: My three year old son is reviewing the latest touch-screen laptop sent to me by HP: The HP Touchsmart TX2. I had reservations about a touch smart screen as why would you need a touch screen on a laptop when you have a keyboard, but my son really loved it. So did his favourite toy Serena…

Shopping cart abandonment emails

According to a study by my favourite research hub Marketing Sherpa, shopping carts abandonment rates are at around 59% (at the time of the study). This doesn’t come as a surprise to us in the business of Ecommerce but it is staggering how high the numbers are. Even a small decrease in this number could mean a huge increase in revenues.

Further studies have identified that the number 1 reason for people abandoning baskets is delivery charges. I’ll write a separate post on this soon.

One way of reducing the abandonment figure is by auto sending emails to customers who’ve abandoned their basket with a handy link they can use to continue where they left off. Results for the success rates of this tactic vary from 5% going up to 35% of people clicking through and completing the sale. Those etailers that incentivise the return visit tend to achieve the higher numbers.

What’s interesting however is that such a minority of etailers actually implement this on their sites. A US survey by Listrak indicated that out of the fortune 500 retailers they were able to conduct the test on, only 10.55% used this on their sites. The report doesn’t detail the reasons why etailers had not implemented this type of solution, but implies that they considered the cost of the set-up and infrastructure limitations as the primary barriers.

It only takes a very simple equation for ecommerce managers to decide if this is worth it for them. Take 5% of your abandoned baskets over a 12 month period, apply your AOV to it and see how quickly you’ll be making your money back.

I think this low-hanging fruit is a must have for any ecommerce operation. Low risk with a potential for very high rewards.

So why aren’t more of you doing it?

It is as if the whole of Birmingham suddenly stopped reading newspapers


Paidcontent summarises the latest ABC newspaper circulation figures from the UK (US and Australian comparisons follow below) in a single paragraph.   All
you need to know, says Paidcontent’s Patrick Smith, is that 465,895
less national newspaper copies were being sold – and given away – in
July 2009 compared to July 2008.


If we work on the principle of 2-3 readers per paper that would mean at least a million people – the equivalent to the population of Birmignham – have stopped reading a national newspaper over the past year.   If you added in regionals, the figure would almost certainly be much higher with Enders Analysis telling
the House of Commons culture, media and sports committee that 50% of
regional papers are at risk of closure in the next five years.

In the US, the equivalent of Wisconsin has stopped reading papers

The last US figures I could find were the ABC ones that came out at the end of April
(I believe new ones are out soon). Daily average circulation for 395 US
newspapers dropped from 37.1 million in March 2008 to 34.4 million this
year, so a total loss of 2.7 million sales.    Again, if we apply the parallel above, that means 5.5+ million plus US readers have deserted the industry – call it the equivalent of a medium sized (in population) US State like Wisconsin.

Better news from Australia

The latest ABC figures
from Australia imply that the country is bucking the trend. Sales of
all daily newspapers in Australia stand at 20.9 million, down only
0.7%. However, national newspapers fared worse showing a drop of 3.4%
on weekdays.Commenting in The Australian, Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy said that “the trend line for newspapers in Australia (is) really probably the best in the world.”


Is the news getting less bad?

the same time, it’s worth paying attention to some media commentators
who are predicting that the slump in the newspaper market may be
bottoming out – at least in the US.  Borrell Associates predicts a
rebound in newspaper advertising next year, however to put that into
context, even in 2014 predicted newspaper advertising ($30 billion)
will still be far below the $55 billion the industry managed earlier
this decade.


Like a number of other pundits in this
space, Borrell Associates doesn’t feel that newspapers are dead, just
that their future is to be leaner and “more interesting, more relative to their audiences”a view I share.

the overall trend is still very much in one direction as newspapers
battle for a future in a digital world, but it is a process of
evolution rather than a today / tomorrow thing. After all, 88% of newspaper reading time is still in print and not online.


Image – Birmingham, UK, by Paul Tomlins

Are you PCI compliant?

Ok, so it’s a bit of a dull subject, so i’ll keep it brief, but it’s a very serious one for anyone that’s transacting online:

For those not aware, PCI DSS stands for the ‘Payment Card Industry Security Standard’. It was set up by Visa and Mastercard and compliance ensures the security and protection of sensitive customer information (like credit cards).

The issue is not about having a secure website with an SSL certificate (you need one of those too), it’s the availability of sensitive information that could be used for fraudulent activity. This includes anyone who has access to the data; from the web agency that maintains the website (that can access the database) to the customer service rep that’s taken a telephone order! An example we sometimes cite is when ordering over the telephone, and the conversation is recorded ‘for training purposes’. That tape contains your confidential information and can be accessed by your data can be used by an unauthorised person.

As you can imagine, when looked at in granular detail, it’s a minefield. The key points of the PCI DSS require merchants and service providers to:

- build and maintain a secure network

- protect card holder data

- maintain a vulnerability management programme

- implement access control measures

- maintain an information security policy

The deadline has come and gone and merchants who are not compliant face hefty fines , but will also not be able to accept Visa or Mastercard (the two organisations behind this standard).

So if you run an ecommerce website (or indeed any retail operation), get yourself audited ( and make sure that your agency/ecommerce provider is also PCI compliant.

An email, by proxy

I started to write a blog post yesterday about the ethics of signing an eCRM email personally, even though the signer would have been on holiday at the time of broadcast. It was an interesting question, scuppered a little by the vagueness of the ethical dilemma, and thoroughly undermined by the fact I’m off on holiday myself later today with no guarantee it would be published before I go.

This week I read about a new service that’s caused a bit of a stir, that will send emails on your behalf to loved ones after your demise. Very little different to what a Will can do, though I suppose more easily distributed and less focused on a fusty solicitor’s office and family tantrums, and more to do with being able to say things in death not possible due to location, fear or convention in life. In the meantime you can also, of course, have someone pretend to be you on your behalf – though a big brand hiring a PR company to write the CEO’s blog is clearly beyond the pale (and doesn’t achieve the Groundswell thing anyway). It’s much, much more effective and engaging to just be yourself, something which, for example, Jane Fonda does so disarmingly on her blog.

Next week it will be Natalie pushing the button on Underwired’s monthly news email (so if you want to read a few thoughts on the Payment-by-Results zeitgeist then drop her an email to join the list – And then of course while I’m away I’ll be vicariously sending correspondents my out of office autoreply… the realisation of which finally spiked yesterday’s blog draft.

Forget Twitter it’s Google Facebook are after


With the $50million purchase of Friendfeed, Facebook has
just bought itselfs a seat at one of the hottest tables on the internet – real
time search. Friendfeed arguably has better technology then anyone else right
now for real time and it is this and the talent pool Friendfeed has are the big
prize here.


For some time now Twitter has been stealing a lot of
headlines that Facebook may well feel should have belonged to it. Just look at
The Iranian election for example everything was about real time search and
publishing and twitter was there. Facebook whilst being used for similar
purposes just couldn’t compete.


Facebook’s Purchase of Friendfeed will allow it to compete
head on with twitter and it has a number of advantages. Firstly its sheer size
twitter can’t even get close to Facebook’s users number According to in July Twitter had just over 23 million uniques users, that’s not
a small number until you put it up against Facebook. In the same month Facebook
had over 122 Million nearly 6 times the amount.


The next big advantage facebook has is financial, whether it
makes money right now, Facebook does actually have revenue streams some $300
million or so is predicted for 2009, Twitter doesn’t. Facebook has also just
had an invest of over $200 million by Russian company Digital Sky.


Finally, there is infrastructure; from the very start,
twitter has had problems with its infrastructure. Being able to scale efficiently
when you are dealing with millions of conversations is not easy. Facebook not
only have much bigger server architecture than twitter they also have the
engineers who are used to dealing with an entity the size of Facebook. 


Twitter though only looks like the first of Facebook’s
targets and not the biggest. The big one for Facebook has to be Google.


Search is still the biggest area of online spend, just take
a look at Google’s  Q2 results a
staggering $4.07 billion. That’s over $4 billion in one quarter in the middle
of the worst recession in living memory.


So what does Facebook’s purchase of Friendfeed have to do
with Google and its search business?    


Real time search will become the next battleground as more
user want to search for the best offers right now, news of what’s happening in Iran
minute by minute or real time sports scores


Larry Paige one of the founders of Google admitted back in May
that Google are behind with real time search.


Friend feed on the other hand were also very good at real
time search and as an added bonus their founders are ex Google developers.  


Google are now stepping up their real tie search capability
and their latest release “caffeine” certainly is more focused. This time it is
Google who are on the back foot when it comes to search technology and in Facebook
there is a platform with Money and critical mass that could now threaten the
multi billion dollar revenues of Google.