Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How Marketers Can Make Dark Social Work for Them

People love sending links on social media. From skateboarding tree sloths to far more relevant topics, there are plenty of them to be sent. And experienced advertisers have taken advantage of this over the years.

Even so, dark social - such as IM, emails and texts - has quickly become the preferred method for sending links to one another. And by a pretty sizable margin. 

Yeah, Dark Social Is A Big Deal

Dark social is far more personal than its show-off cousin social media. That’s because when someone shares a link on dark social with someone they know, it’s typically about a common interest. Or possibly a link to something that will help them solve a problem. 

Where social media is a performance, dark social is an interaction. It’s genuine and real. And THIS is what users are demanding more of these days.

For example, let’s say you’re a purveyor of authentic scones. You know they’re authentic because British people say they’re the “dog’s bullocks” and, disturbing though this sounds, means they like them. 

Anyhow, you’ve recently started baking savory scones and are offering them BOGO free with a link to a coupon. You can post this on Facebook, Twitter and the like. And it will be cast to a broad audience - some of whom will be interested and many of whom who will not. Whatever the case, you’ll able to use analytics to measure this. 

In the mean time, dark social is all abuzz with discussion about your savory scones. And that’s not a euphemism. There were three chaps from jolly old London who came in two weeks ago who were thrilled when you told them you’d be offering savory scones soon. Now they’re texting and emailing fellow Brits - and even an Aussie - about your amazing scones.They’re talking about their experience at your bakery and sharing the coupon link with others who have a genuine love and appreciation for scones. One woman has been on a quest for the perfect scone at her weekly teas, and now she has the link too. 

And this is what makes dark social so important. It cuts through all the digital noise. It’s the private world where your customers share what truly interests them with others who share that interest. Or again, as in the case of the woman with afternoon teas, where a problem can be solved.

Gaining Insight into Dark Social Sharing Is Crucial

And yet, as of now, all of those analytics tools that measure direct traffic cannot measure traffic that comes from dark social.

It’s likely that in the future, all messaging apps will offer chat bots who, in all their artificially intelligent grandeur, will be able to track every interaction with customers to help you measure success. And bully for them. 

In the mean time, it’s not enough to just post your link, sprinkle it with fairy dust and then hope it moves through dark social networks. The key is to make those links as shareable and traceable as possible. 

Here’s how:

Start with A URL Shortener 

If you want your content to get a lot of exposure, you have to initially link to the pages to which you want to drive traffic.

So when savvy marketers start an online campaign, they typically include links to relevant landing pages or social profiles. And that sounds all fine and good. The problem is, the links are too long and can’t be traced without an analytics platform. And as we’ve said, most analytics programs are unable to directly account for click-backs that are coming from dark social.

Enter the URL shortener. This bad boy comes in and creates short, easy-to-share, trackable links. But wait, there’s more. Most link shorteners include real-time analytics on click-backs which gives you data without your needing to invest in a full-service analytics dashboard. They also allow for segmentation of the incoming data.

Plus, people have a real thing for sharing shortened URLs. Especially when they’re customized with campaign- or brand-specific keywords. This just makes them more trustworthy than those drawn-out links riddled with numbers, symbols and, frankly, suspicion. And seeing a link with the name of a familiar company enables people who really want to view your content to know exactly what they’re getting. Thus, short URLs receive more shares and click-backs. So less is more. 

Set Up Google Analytics to Get Estimates 

Another method to estimate dark social is through custom
segmentations in Google Analytics. You’ll notice we said estimate. Because, and we apparently can’t stress this enough, there’s no solid way to track dark social yet. 
But these estimates will at least give you a clearer understanding of the percentage of direct traffic that came from people who shared a URL versus those who typed in the URL directly.

Here’s how you set it up:

1. Start by creating a custom segment to view direct traffic only. Then select Apply.

2. In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You should see a list of your top visited pages via direct traffic.

3. Open an advanced filter to set up a series of dimensions that exclude pages that contain short subfolder names. (That’s the part of the URL after the domain, e.g., /contact.)

Once those pages are excluded, you’re left with only the long URL pages and it’s highly unlikely these were typed out when users came to your site.

Pay Attention to How You Interact

All of the tech tricks aside, this is really the best thing you can do in making dark social work for you right now.

And it’s part of the reason that “permission based” apps like Snapchat have become so popular. Rather than the willy-nilly broadcasting that has defined social media until recently, Snapchat requires you to engage and interact rather than just spew out post after post about your kids or what you ate for dinner. (Or worse, what your kids ate for dinner.)

Make The Most of Dark Social

To gain loyalty to your brand, you have to be willing to discuss, chat, dialog and be involved. You have to interact. Then once you have that interaction, you can directly provide a benefit (a game, wanted information, the solution to a problem) to the user.

Offering people incredible experiences at the right time is the power behind dark social. 

And, lack of analytics aside, it shouldn’t be ignored.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Advertising Question of the Week: What Are Some Design Essentials for Effective Online Ads?

We could spit out a hackneyed laundry list of how to use color, graphics, images and selective accents to make online ads that are engaging, relevant and well-timed. 

But rather than induce catatonia with yet another design tutorial, we’ll attempt to answer this question from a broader perspective. 

So here goes:

1. Keep It Simple

The wildly expressive creative type never wants this directive.

Ah, if only advertising were as gorgeous, dynamic and beautiful as a Pride Parade. Then writers and designers could openly and freely express themselves. But the sad truth in advertising is that when everything stands out, nothing stands out. As it turns out, simple advertisements are just easier to understand than those that are complex. 

So think more Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and less Pythagoras from…um, his theorem. 

Ease up on the excess verbiage. Ads should be designed to ultimately drive traffic to other places - namely one’s website where verbosity rules. When viewers are given TMI in a short amount of time, they can become disinterested, distracted, unable to later recall the information, and possibly develop a need to draw blood.

Plus, if there’s too much stuff gumming up the works - and not just excess content, but also lots of showy images - the page will take a long time to load. People won’t like you if you do that.   

2. Remember to Whom Your CTA Is Calling

You need a call to action (CTA). That much you know.

But for your CTA to be effective, it should be visually appealing and focused on value. Now obviously, what’s visually appealing and of value is going to differ vastly for a 24-year-old versus a 77-year-old. For example (and to completely stereotype), fidget spinners versus tchotchkes. 

The fidget spinners will likely benefit from some flash and whiz-poppery, while the Hummel lovers will fare better with a more subdued CTA.

No matter the demographic though, the CTA should be brief and direct. Try to stick with fewer than five words. It should also be action-oriented. Be completely clear about what the click will accomplish. “Click here” isn’t gonna cut it. Especially if someone thinks he or she might get blown up.  

But “download your free ebook” sets an expectation and expresses value.

3. Strike A Balance 

Balance = harmony and order. 

Imbalance = chaos and tension. 

This isn't to say that a balanced composition is always better. Just as there are times when you benefit from the antics of an imbalanced friend (like when trying to steal a grocery cart), there are times in a campaign where it may be necessary to stress some chaos. But generally speaking, if stirring the pot with the giant spoon is not the goal, then balance is typically a good rule of thumb.

“Balanced” does not denote some boring symmetrical milquetoast design. There are many factors that contribute to balance. The main idea though is to create a harmonious and balanced experience for your customer.

4. Stay Visually Consistent

A designer may pour his or her soul into crafting the perfect ad, only to be reminded (once again) that most people are only going to casually glance at it for a few seconds. If at all. Yes, it’s demoralizing at times. 

So the talented online ad designer has learned to employ a specific image or display repeatedly across numerous ads and exposures. It’s a way of taking those numerous short term viewings and connecting them. This creates visual consistency to help move the message from short-term to long-term memory, while simultaneously giving the designer’s life a purpose. Again.

And it’s not just images. Taglines need to be a part of that visual consistency too. Part of what makes this approach so effective is that even if the ad changes in some way, consumers will still identify the brand with the tagline and imagery that’s been ever so gently and lovingly hammered into their consciousness.

In A Nutshell?

People are always going to process visuals and read subheads long before they get to the body text. That’s because people are busy. And simple.

So determine the relative importance of the various areas of content in your message. Give your CTA precedence. Then make use of simplicity, consistency and balance (along with the color, graphics, images and selective accents we mentioned in the first paragraph) to allow the viewer to scan the page and get drawn in by the most important information. 

If you’re doing it well, or if you’re lucky, they’ll be interested enough to read the entire text. From there, they’ll hit your website. 

Then you’ll just need to be sure you’ve got stellar content there…

Monday, April 9, 2018

Advertising Question of the Week: What Is Dark Social?

It sounds sinister. Like someone lurking in a corner talking smack about you. (Popularly known as high school.)

But dark social refers to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what web analytics programs are able to measure. And it often gets a bad rap. Especially from seasoned marketers

Dark Social Is Traffic That Comes from the Share of a URL 

Yet analytics tools like Google view it as direct traffic. So companies that are measuring their web traffic solely through old-school web analytics are missing key insights about how folks are really discovering their content and products.

Back in the dark ages of the internet, arriving at a site was predominantly a straight shot. If you wanted shoes, you went to Zappo’s site. If you wanted to start raising chickens or alligators (or both because you have issues), you went… to some other site. 

But now there are multiple ways one lands on a site:

Native Mobile Apps 

Mobile apps either fire up a browser instance in-app (such as Twitter), or force your current browser to open a new browser window with the URL in question in the browser. Either way, the browser goes directly to the site and looks like direct traffic to Google.


For the (perceived, at least) sake of privacy and security, most email-providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook don’t pass a referrer when a user clicks the link.


Whether it’s web/desktop based chat, or through chat-based native mobile apps, chat clients of all kinds don’t pass referrers either, leaving Google in the dark about their true origin. 

Even texting is considered dark social.

Many estimates state that 84% of social shares are dark. And this is precisely why it falls out of favor with those of the marketing ilk who rely on analytical insights to structure their social media strategies.

As such, dark social is often given labels such as ‘challenging’,  ‘worrisome’ and ‘terrifyingly horrible’. The last one is an exaggeration. And frankly, all of these words are restrictive in their scope.  

Marketers who want to achieve success with their social media marketing are approaching dark social from a new - and necessary - angle. And it’s this:  

Dark Social Is An Opportunity

Dark social has a huge impact on traffic. It reaches unique demographics; particularly the 55+ crowd, over 40% of whom share only through dark social. Dark social is
everywhere. And we mean, everywhere. It’s especially prevalent in industries like personal finance, food and drink, travel and executive searches. 

It’s an amazing marketing opportunity in that its data gives a detailed representation of consumers’ genuine interests. Getting familiar with this information allows marketers to access a targeted audience of connections for their clients.

“How do I get the data though?” you might be asking. “Didn’t you just say that dark social can’t be measured by web analytics?”

Settle down. 

Dark Social Is Getting Integrated into Digital Marketing Tactics

So far it’s slow-going, because it’s relatively restricted. And it should be. Sharing is often private for a reason and it would be rather callous of brands to hunt for insights among private conversations between friends. Or alligator and chicken breeders. 

But there are some tactics and tools marketers are employing to tap into some of this valuable information. For instance, they’re:

  • Shortening URLs for outbound links in content and emails, then tracking how many clicks those links receive.

  • Making sharing easier with thoughtfully placed, sophisticated share buttons that match the quality of content. 

  • Watching other social platforms by checking for a simultaneous spike in link traffic coming from sites like Reddit or Facebook.

And as time marches on, the tools and tactics will become more defined and elaborate. But dark social will probably always defy algorithms. And as long as ethics are in play, there will be no way to game email or people’s instant messages or texts. 

Which, even as marketers, we see as a good thing. There really is such a thing as too much information. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Creating Impactful Advertising in a World of Distractions

Terence Winter, the guy behind Boardwalk Empire, once said, “Any distraction tends to get in the way of being an effective gangster.”

So why are we citing Mr. Winter? 

Mostly because it sounds cool. But it’s also true. And not just for gangsters. While the wild world of digital has opened multiple doors for marketers and advertisers, the countless distractions that are part and parcel with this medium have made it more difficult to create impactful advertising. 

Your Target Market Is Surrounded By Distractions 

Some studies suggest that the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages per day. And that’s today. As marketers have increasing numbers of channels to reach their customers, that number will keep climbing.

Add to that how often people switch between screens. That figure currently stands at around 21 times. No, not per day. Per hour. Short attention spans are seriously trending. #WaitWhat

And it turns out that the short attention span is the perfect petri dish for growing that marketing bacteria strain known as click bait. Honestly, click bait is gross. Like bacteria. Plus it rarely offers any real value. Like bacteria. It’s a desperate attempt to get attention and is devoid of anything of value to a potential customer.

So Consider What the Customer Needs Vs. What You Wish to Achieve

When marketers understand precisely who the customer is, they are better equipped to create attention-grabbing campaigns that also add value. A tall order these days.

To shoot through the distractions, companies need to create simpler messages. And they need to communicate them in a sharper way. But not in the repeated stabbing manner of click bait. Rather, companies should be sharpening their focus on what we’ll call the Three Es of Impactful Advertising: 

  • Entertain
  • Emote
  • Engage

(Humor helps too. But the "Three Es and An H of Impactful Advertising" doesn’t deliver the same punch. So we’ll blend it in with Emote.)

That’s why it’s essential that your company understands its customers. For example, let’s say you run a funeral home. Most see this as a somber business. You don’t agree because, well, you went into the business. And it doesn’t seem all that dark to you. So in an effort to make things more light-hearted, you decide your advertising needs to be humorous. Put the “fun” back in funeral.  

Super bad idea. It would be akin to running a toy company
and employing a knife-wielding clown as your spokesperson. Or any clown. Because they’re just plain frightening. To nutshell it, marketing will have more impact if it elicits the right emotions for your target market. 

Once you’ve got some solid content that’s entertaining, emotional and/or engaging, consider this:

You Can Also Take Advantage of the Distractions

Though this applies across all forms of advertising, it’s particularly relevant to advertising on social. 

Once again, using distractions to your advantage requires you to know, first and foremost, the specific audience segment you wish to target. Of course, there will be multiple segments. But trying to go for all of them at once is a waste of resources. So focus on audience that’s most likely to be moved by your message and then blanket the social sites they frequent with advertising that doesn’t look or feel like advertising. This is also known as native advertising. 

Native advertising isn’t about earning clicks. Rather, it serves to provide value through the above-mentioned relevant content. Now, pay attention. Ask yourself, what’s catching your audience’s attention while they’re crawling around online with 13 tabs open at the same time? What, pray tell, is the buzz?

Know What’s Trending 

Get familiar with what’s relevant on every platform and channel your audience is reading. Then adjust your campaign to focus on what’s in demand. Most platforms offer some sort of tool that indicates what’s trending. Some can even give you measurements of the engagement levels of certain articles and topics. 

Check in with Reddit, who brand themselves “the front page of the internet.” Cuz they sorta are. You’re bound to get some juicy trending nuggets there. You can also use tools that are devoted specifically to scouring and sharing top headlines - some of which are free, while others charge a fee.

Streamline Your Execution

Trends happen fast. So forget about over-planning. You have to take action. 

That means if your spirit animal is a manatee or a sloth, then turn things over to those guided by the hummingbird or the ferret. Start streamlining that execution. Set some ground rules - like avoiding any topics of a political or traumatic nature. That’s just good practice. And be sure everyone’s on board with a brand persona that defines how your brand positions itself and why. Be clear about your values. 

Then get on it. While using trends to your advantage, it’s best to tweak timely campaigns in motion and learn as you go. Consider outsourcing the ad buy portion so you can keep
your focus on creative reworking as needed. And plan on having someone specifically monitoring your campaigns regularly so they can keep pace with trends rather than just analyzing the facts and watching your competitors grab your audience. 

The ultimate goal? Your company is trending. Or course, for all the right reasons… 

Is Your Content up to Snuff?

Whether you’re cutting through the distractions or using them to your advantage, it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing. And that swing is content.

Yes, you’ll need to fine-tune your strategy to find the most timely placement so you’ll be popping up multiple times. But what’s the point of getting premium real estate if you don’t have anything to to put on it? Or, even worse, populating it with false or misleading content. 

Know your audience. Know what they want and what they need. Know those important touch points so you - and NOTHING else - will be at the top of the their minds when the time comes to make a purchase. Distractions be damned.

Or just maybe, blessed. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Advertising Question of the Week: How Has Digital Changed the Way Manufacturers Market?

Unless you’re in the manufacturing industry, you may not give much thought to manufacturing and manufacturers. Most of us outside the industry aren’t pondering hydraulic cylinders or contemplating press pit foundations.

But manufacturing is a business. And like all businesses, manufacturers need clients and customers to survive. So says Captain Obvious. 

In the past, manufacturers stuck to marketing within the confines of their industry - trade magazines, conferences, things of that nature. And these are still effective. But the digital world - and mobile technology in particular - has really changed the way manufacturers market

The Manufacturing Sector Was Once Largely Invisible

And as far as television and magazine ads are concerned, it still is. 

Nobody wants to see Matthew Mcconaughey staring off into the distant lamenting programmable logic controllers in order to promote new technology. (Or course it could be argued that nobody wants to see him ever.) 

By the same token, Aveeno knows that promoting Jennifer Aniston’s glowing skin in a full-page glossy rag ad is going to be far more effective toward selling their lotion than highlighting the benefits of their extruder as it systematically squirts lotion into jars. That’s more centerfold material for Extrusion Magazine. And Aveeno wouldn’t have much success advertising their lotion there anyhow. 

Which brings us back to our point. The majority of what people have known about manufacturing companies is the products they produce. John Deere is a mower. General Motors is a car. Trane is HVAC. In other words, the manufacturing process has always fallen secondary to the retail side of the industry. But that’s changing.

Digital Technology Has Impacted Both Manufacturing and Marketing

Current trends in the digital world are changing the way that manufacturers interact with customers. And labor laws, location and politics have increasingly made the manufacturing process part of a company’s marketing focus.

Here are some of the ways digital has changed manufacturer marketing:

Quick Response Codes (QRC)

Think of the QRC as the next generation of bar code. 

Manufacturers have long been using bar codes to organize
products and streamline operations. But the QRC brings the customer smack dab into the supply chain by giving them the option to receive a large amount of information that can be easily read on their smartphone. They’re also capable of opening websites and interfacing with the database management software of your contact system. 

Another big plus? You can get clever with a QRC. (And it won’t smack you.) The code doesn’t have to be square so it can be designed into logos, images, art or even innovative message generators. Maybe a tattoo?

Manufacturers As Educational Leaders

Websites as a form of marketing have been of tremendous value to manufacturers - even if they’d rather be operating a heavy press than a keyboard. Their website allows them to set themselves as leaders in their specific industry. 

More and more manufacturers are incorporating blogs into their websites to provide information and set themselves as an authority in their industry. When an uninformed potential customer sets out to learn about a specific manufacturing sector, having access to informational articles, guides, and links to technical journals is a valuable resource. They’re more likely to trust a manufacturer who takes this extra time to educate their customers.  

Plus, it’s helpful for SEO and pretty easy on the marketing budget.

Apps, Apps and More Apps

The simplicity of developing apps, along with their unbridled popularity, has made them a hugely effective way for manufacturers to interact with consumers. 

They’re digitally renewable, so they’re always up-to-date. In manufacturing, this is a big deal. Being able to supply a customer with reliable, accurate and current product information is critical. And since updating is done electronically, it’s cost effective. Try updating a print ad every month. 

Manufacturers Are Just More Connected 

The internet of things (IoT) has undeniably brought more people together - even if simultaneously tearing people apart at the dinner table. 

Websites and apps are connecting manufacturing businesses with customers in ways never before imagined. A customer can even use company templates on their smartphone or computer to customize a product that will then be 3-D printed. And from anywhere in the world. 

Yeah. Digital has definitely changed the way manufacturers are marketing. And it looks like that evolution will continue.