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Shutterstock Voted Best Royalty Free Stock Photos Site for Bloggers

Mar 15, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

Winner - TopRank Reader Poll A great photo can really add a lot of flavor to a blog post and in our own analysis at Online Marketing Blog as well as with clients, including quality images with a blog post can boost traffic and referrals 30-50%. To make posts more personal, I try to use my own photos as much as possible and do use imags from Flickr under Creative Commons from time to time. This is an area of significant impact for blogs as effective communication and marketing tools, so last week we ran a Reader Poll on the best site for royalty free, stock photos for bloggers.

We had the most comments from iStockphoto users and interestingly enough, the “Other” category came in second place with suggestions including: screenshots, stock.xchng, and Creative Commons imagies from Flickr.


The poll results are below, but as you can tell from the image, Shutterstock was the winner: Best Stock Photo Site for Bloggers.

Online Marketing Blog has been using iStockphoto for the past 3-4 years but after seeing this poll, we’ll check out Shutterstock.  In fact, I ran into the Shutterstock booth while at the SXSW Interactive conference and shared the good news in person. There was a photobooth within the exhibit booth (with props) that was very popular with conference attendees.

Congratulations to Shutterstock on winning Online Marketing Blog’s Best Royalty Free Stock Photo Poll.

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Can Businesses Learn from Lady Gaga’s Branding

Mar 12, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Brand Recognition, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Social Media  //  1 Comment

Gaga’s business model starts with an incongruous product.

Listen to Gaga’s Poker Face and you might imagine it’s Britney Spears  in a track suit. But watch the video and you’ll see a work of conceptual porn. Gaga, a 23-year-old blonde with bulletproof bangs and 3-inch lashes, slinks across stages in gleaming metal bustiers, smoked latex underwear and thigh-high stiletto boots. Performing Paparazzi at the Video Music Awards, she ended the set dangling above the stage in gauzy white La Perla lingerie, horrifying her audience as fake blood gushed from her bosom.

All this debauchery is purposeful fodder for social media and the mainstream press. "She’s a perv, but Lady Gaga understands viral marketing better than anyone on the pop scene today," says magazine industry veteran Simon Dumenco. By showing up wearing a bird’s nest or a model of the solar system on her head, every Gaga appearance becomes an item (11,500 mainstream media stories cite her this year). "She is directing every frame of her music and her life, imagining how clips will appear on YouTube and what people will tweet after she appears on the VMAs," says Dumenco.

She’s meticulous about imagery, especially the sets of her live shows. Preparing for a gig in Los Angeles, she discovered that a stage had been painted a radiant shade of white. "This isn’t the freakin’ ice capades!" she yelled at the crew. It was repainted.

On Gaga’s Twitter page, 1.6 million people track her outlandishness. They learn of Gaga’s problems with hairspray and get updates on her father’s recent heart surgery. Having that many followers can be perilous. Last month Gaga posted a link to one of her own videos on fashion icon Alexander McQueen’s Web site. After a single tweet by Gaga, her rabid fans streamed in and crashed the site’s servers.

Gaga leverages buzz by sharing the limelight with other, mightier entertainment brands than her own. "There’s an art to fame," Gaga once told Vancouver television. Performing with members of the Bolshoi ballet, she wore a hat designed by Frank Gehry that resembled a mini Bilbao and played a piano painted by Damien Hirst. This year she collaborated with Beyonce and Michael Bolton. In October she showed up onSaturday Night Live with Madonna, where the two of them, dressed in matching dominatrix gear, tussled in a mock catfight (and near kiss).

One surprise: Gaga’s outré sexuality hasn’t fazed corporate marketers. Branding guru Steve Stoute, who paired Jay-Z with Hewlett-Packard, is working on a handful of tie-ins for Gaga. This month he inked a deal for her with Mac cosmetics. Next will be Gaga-branded electronic sunglasses, he says, similar to the ones that often cover half her face in concert.

“ Telephone ” is choc-full-o Lady Gaga shock value, and at more than nine minutes in length, could probably classify as a short film. Dating site PlentyOfFish somehow managed to get prominent placement (fast forward to 4:27 if you’d rather skip the rest of it).

Early indications are that “Telephone” will be every bit as popular as recent Gaga hits, with the song, its participants, and even a string from its URL already dominating trending topics on Twitter ahead of its offical premier on E!. It also briefly took Vevo – YouTube and the record labels new music video website — offline.

So what can businesses learn from Gaga’s understanding of the social media sphere?

By now I am sure you are saying why would I ever want to learn something from a person that pushes the limits of pervocity, it is not what she does, it is why she does it, and what she is motivating by doing it. Businesses need to look at their products or services and truly looking into how you can motivate you customers with it.

Branding isn’t just for big companies any more. With the internet and search, it’s become easier and cheaper to for companies to brand their names in front of their target audience. It’s true that good branding efforts will always cost you some time, energy and even a little bit of money, but it’s not out of reach of small businesses with little extra cash on hand for what is traditionally considered a non-sales generating marketing strategy.

The benefits of branding yourself, your business, your products, or services…

A solid branding strategy is important for any business and should be a part of its online marketing efforts. So let’s talk first about some of the benefits of branding yourself. If you’re like most small businesses you’re more concerned about selling products or services than you are in establishing a name for yourself. Why go through the effort? Simply put, branding helps sales.

Let’s look at this in the smallest of cases. Say you create name recognition for your company with a single person. That’s right, one person knows your company and you’ve convinced them to trust you and the products or services you sell. Big deal, right? Well, it is.

This one person will choose to buy from you rather than your competitor. Your ability to brand your name, and make it synonymous with your quality, has just earned you a sale. But one sale? Big deal!

Well, yeah, it is. Because that one person may tell one other person. The trust you earned by one has just multiplied into two. You just got another sale. Another big deal? OK, by now you’re getting it. Branding is a big deal.

Let’s look at this from anther angle. What is the effect of branding on an unknown audience? The most effective branding is not in the number of people you reach, but in the number of times you’re able to reach any single person with your brand.

This is where Lady Gaga understands how to manage her customers in the social media sphere, she keeps them guessing for what comes next. She handles and motivates people to want to do something

Let’s say you want to buy the pair of headphones she uses (Yes, I want a pair!) Assume that want one but you don’t know who sells them or where to go to get one. Where do you turn? Your favorite search engine of course.

Do a search for Lady Gaga Headphones and you see a list of results all ranging around Monster Beats by Dre..

As my easy button would say, “that was easy.” Perhaps a bit too easy, who knows everyone might catch on.

The branding strategies employed by business will be similar to what we saw here. But you don’t have to be a pervotic rockstar or go after highly competitive keyword phrases to get similar branding power. All you need is research, an understanding  of your customers, and a branding strategy.

If you need help 4D Impressions is here, “Bringing Fresh Ideas for Your Growing Business”

10 Tips on Live Blogging & Content Marketing at SXSWi

Mar 12, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

So here I sit in the DFW airport hanging out with David Berkowitz waiting for my connection to Austin. What better way to spend that 45 min than to write a helpful blog post? A big part of my “mission” for SXSXi is to create content after all.

I have several other goals like networking (reconnecting and especially new contacts), competitive research, recruiting and potential client prospecting. But content marketing is our bread and butter. It can be an effective tactic for you too, especially if you can learn to be highly efficient at liveblogging conferences.

Here are a few tips that will not only give you a tested and proven guideline but should improve your efficiency and quality of output.

  • Create a schedule. Whether you’re blogging on your own or with a team, pick which sessions and related topics you plan on covering before the event. SXSWi has almost too many concurrent sessions and with such a large event, not planning will lead to getting to sessions late. That means a crappy seat in back and likely not anywhere near an outlet.It’s very easy to get distracted while at the conference and with live blogging, there’s no time to waste. If you know which sessions you’ll be covering, it can help to create draft blog posts ahead of time and include as much information in the draft as you can. This will make it easier to finish off the post as close to the session time as possible.
  • Plan ahead. When planning out which sessions, interviews or events you’ll cover, put together a grid showing session names, times and who should be covering (if you’re part of a blogging team). Coordinate sessions coverage avoids duplication and ensures the topical mix of content you plan on covering is properly represented.
  • Write the posts offline in an application like notepad. Then transfer the post to the blog. Many session rooms have poor if any internet connection at all. Make posts in an offline document and transfer them over to your blog software when you’re ready to publish.
  • Take photos. Photos of the panel or an individual speaker are great and can add a lot to what otherwise would be a text heavy post. Photos of the PowerPoint slides can be particularly useful if the presented goes fast or doesn’t follow a logical order. You can reference them later when finishing the blog post after the session ends. With photos, we’ve set up a TopRank Blog account at Flickr just for conferences. There, we create a “set” for each conference event and are sure to link to those collections of photos from within the blog posts.
  • Promotion tips for conference photos on Flickr: Be sure to add titles and descriptions to each photo. Include an anchor text link from the description back to the blog post it’s used with. With your Flickr account, be sure to network with other Flickr members that would be interested in conference photos. When we set up an account just for SES San Jose, we exported our 400+ network contacts from LinkedIn and used the feature in Flickr that allows you to invite 100 people at a time to our Flickr network. The more relevant people in your Flickr network, the more people that “see” what photos you’re posting. Images taken through out the day and eve should be uploaded, titled, tagged and commented/linked before the next morning.
  • Take videos. Just about ever digital camera can take web quality video. We added 4gb memory cards over an hour of video for each camera can be taken. Interviews with attendees, speakers and exhibitors are particularly popular. You must keep in mind that with large companies, employees can rarely do a video interview without approval from their Legal and/or PR departments, so you need to schedule those ahead of time. You also need to be aware of the video taping policy of the conference. Most events do not want you to take videos of the sessions themselves.
  • Add some flavor to your videos. You don’t necessarily need a pro level of post-video production to get good promotion value out of conference videos. You should however, be sure to use software like Windows Movie Maker (free) to add text to the video indicating the topic and your blog URL. Also, set up a channel on YouTube as a way to organize and promote your posts along with accounts at other video sharing sites.
  • Sit close to the panel AND the screen. Also, if there is just one large screen in the room, sit between that and the panel. That way you can get clear photos of both the panel and PPT slides. If you have one of the most common digital cameras, don’t bother with a flash if you’re not close to your subject.
  • Network with other bloggers. When in the sessions or in the press room (if your blogging on a press pass) be sure to connect with other bloggers. You have something in common – the formidable task of taking a mix of presentations, some great and some psychotically unorganized, and turning them into a story that makes sense to a savvy search marketing audience – all in real time. Connecting with other bloggers both offline and online can facilitate information sharing as well as links.
  • Promote your posts. Once your posts go live, then be sure to make an effort to promote the posts to your network and to interested social communities. For example, promote screen shots of your videos to Flickr with a link to the video post. Let interview subjects and other bloggers know when you’ve posted. Leverage your social community networks (StumbleUpon,, Facebook and niche/vertical specific sites) to draw attention to particularly “promotable” content.
  • Tag your posts and media. For some conferences, the organizer will advise the attendees to use a specific tag to make it easy for readers to find posts specific to that event. For example, the recent MediaPost event in Park City Utah used an image tag of: sisutah07. Generic tags are also useful. Use these tags not only with your blog posts and Technorati, but also with photos, video and social bookmark/news submissions.
  • Establish a few basic blogging guidelines or simple processes. Here are a few that we start with:
    • Create drafts of posts BEFORE the conference with notes.
    • After sessions posts are saved in draft form.
    • All posts must have images, ideally of the session panel.
    • All posts are associated with relevant categories and tags.
    • Alternate title tags with keywords are written.
    • Post titles start with a consistent naming convention along with a short description.
    • Once posts are edited, editor makes them live.
    • Better quality posts are vetted for promotion within blogger networks.
    • Round up posts are published at the end of each day or at the end of the conference.

The biggest takeaway for better liveblogging is to plan ahead and follow through with promoting your content once it’s live. What liveblogging tips have you found to be effective? Any tips or tricks on being more efficient?

5 Social Media Tips for Ecommerce Marketing

Mar 12, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing, Social Media, Twitter  //  No Comments

If you run an ecommerce business, chances are your customers – regardless of their age, gender or economic status – are active on social networks and social media sharing sites.

Just consider the statistics from social media monitoring site Pingdom:

  • Males and females almost equally use social sites (47% vs. 53%)
  • 61% of Facebook users are middle aged or older, with the average age being 37
  • 18- to 24-year-olds don’t dominate any particular social networking site; they’re spread out all over

The bottom line: If you aren’t discovering which in social networking channels your customers spend time and include them in your ecommerce marketing mix, you’re probably  missing out on building relationships, community and increasing new customer acquisition through online word of mouth.

Leverage these five social media marketing tips for ecommerce to either get started with more social digital marketing or take your current social strategy to the next level:

1. Go Where Your Customers Are

Very few things in life promise endless options – digital and social media marketing being one exception. From Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn to YouTube, there’s no limit to the number of social networking channels available for your business to leverage. Key to successful social media marketing for ecommerce is choosing the right channels to reach customers.

Find out where your customers are congregating by:

  • Asking them. Sounds overly simplistic, but sending a formal survey to customers or more informally polling them on your website can provide a wealth of knowledge.
  • Monitoring social sites. Use a free tool like Social Mention or Trackur. For something far more robust use tools like Radian6 to discover how and where customers are talking about your brand, your competitors or target keywords.
  • Leveraging the stats. Some sites like Facebook are transparent when it comes to user statistics. Or leverage research conducted by third-party firms like eMarketer.
  • Revivew backlinks, job postings, news announcements and keyword rankings of competitors on a regular basis to get a glimpse into their online marketing health.

2. Monitor What Your Competitors Are Doing

Whether your ecommerce business is new to social media marketing, or just need to take your efforts up a notch, competitive intelligence can be very useful. Spend some time by conducting a competitive audit of your top five competitors on the social web. Include:

  • The social sites in which they are active
  • The type of content they publish on the social web
  • The number of followers/fans/views they have on each site
  • How they promote specific products, programs or events via social media

For even more inspiration and insight into what works well on the social web, look to ecommerce sites in other industries or even successful B2B social media examples.

3. Promote Exclusive Offers Through Social Media

In order for your ecommerce business to gain a following on whatever social channel you choose, entice customers with something they can’t get anywhere else.

For example, promote a contest via social media. Last fall, TopRank® Online Marketing leveraged this tactic for one of its ecommerce clients. TopRank used the client’s blog and Facebook fan page to promote a Halloween contest to name the best costume. This initiative not only drove additional traffic to the client’s website, but also helped increase the number of Facebook fans.

Alternately, offer an exclusive item to social media followers or fans, such as free shipping or a weekly coupon. You can also offer “breaking news” that does not appear anywhere else, like pre-product release announcements or an inside look at your company’s inter-workings.

4. Don’t Just Push Products and Promotions

The primary goal of your ecommerce site may be to sell products, but your social media marketing strategy should encompass a wider range of tactics that simply promoting offerings. With too much product pushing and not enough engagement, you’re unlikely to experience optimal success.

Incorporate some of these ideas into your ecommerce social media marketing strategy:

  • Share messages or news stories from external sources
  • Create a blog on your website and feed blog content to your social accounts
  • Ask questions, participate in discussions or poll your customers via social media
  • Post pictures from company events or videos from your CEO’s speaking engagements

1-800-Flowers maximizes the use of social media for its marketing efforts.

5. Sell Products Through Social Networks

Many ecommerce sites leverage social channels to make it even simpler for customers to purchase their products. 1-800-Flowers has taken this idea to the max (see image above). It was the first ecommerce site to launch a Facebook store, allowing customers to browse and purchase its products directly through Facebook.

1-800-Flowers may be an extreme case, but ecommerce sites large and small can still indirectly sell products through their social profiles. For example, highlight new products or best-sellers and provide a link to the order page on your website. It may not be quite as simple as purchasing directly from the social profile, but it can be just as effective.

The five ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ecommerce social media marketing. What social media tactics have you found to be successful?

BIGLIST Social SEO Blogs Update 031110

Mar 11, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments


Welcome to the post-Winter/pre-Spring version of the BIGLIST review of SEO blogs.  Snow is starting to melt and you can actually walk around outside (in Minnesota) without your eyelashes freezing together. We have a nice group for you to review so fire up your RSS reader and subscribe.

LyndiT blog gets our attention for great design and user experience in this BIGLIST update. Lyndi Thompson is a Social Media and Online Marketing Specialist and like me, is addicted to peanut M&Ms.  Besides writing about a mix of social media, SEO, web design and online marketing topics, you might be interested to know Lyndi lives on a mini farm, owns several animals including a donkey and supports some great causes in the Northwest.

  • Frank Thinking About Internet Marketing – Frank Reed blogs on several sites including Marketing Pilgrim and Biznology. Here, he shares is talented writing skills to tell stories about SMB internet marketing topics. This isn’t a how to blog, it’s a broader topic and things to think about blog as the name implies about Search, Mobile, Social and Local.
  • State of Search – What’s going on in the search and social media marketing space?  This new blog from Dutch internet marketer, Bas van den Beld of Search Cowboys fame, and friends promises to be a source for what’s happening in the world of search and social.  It also compliments a weekly radio show on of the same name.
  • ezlocal blog – If you’re in search of great advice on local search marketing, this might be your lucky day. You can expect detailed how to posts including those about Google Maps and Local Business Center and local marketing topics. ezlocal itself is a local business search resource and directory.
  • Digital Marketing Zen – David Wells is a digital marketing strategist for an agency in Charlotte, SC and publishes a blog that documents his observations via posts, podcasts and a curated collection of videos on topics that include everything from Augmented Reality to SEO and Social Media to Web Analytics.
  • Single Grain Blog – This agency blog is written by Sujan Patel and Ross Hudgens on SEO, PPC, Design, Link Building and some social media.
  • Website WorkshopBuzzhound Learning Lab is a St. Louis, MO based agency with a newer blog that has started writing posts again about SEO and topics that support the SEO training courses offered.  Hopefully they continue.
  • Aussie Internet Marketing Blog – Sean Rasmussen writes “down under” about practical tips on a variety of online marketing topics including SEO, blogging, social media and general web 2.0.

Did your SEO or SEM blog make the cut? Share the good news with your readers using the badge and link below or choose one from the badges page.

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Blogging for Organic Visibility vs PPC Campaigns

Dec 7, 2009   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Uncategorized  //  No Comments

Acording to James Lamberti of comScore, AOL gets the highest percentage of paid clicks at 24%, followed by Google at 13%, Yahoo at 11%, and MSN at 8%.

I have always advised clients to balance their organic search strategies with PPC campaigns. I never had any data on the subject and I hadn’treally given much thought to the question of balance until recently.

My general advice on this subject reveals my hunch that the sum of reaching the two parts of search results (organic and paid) is greater than top visibility in either section separately. I believe that some folks are more inclined to select


PPC ads because they see the same domain represented in high organic positioning and vice-versa. Perhaps this increases trust or it’s just a Blink-like reaction. I haven’t found much research on this subject, but I’ll bet it’s important. I’ve also seen data (in passing) that indicate organic results are 80% more likely to attract a click than PPC ads; this is a generalization of course – there are many search engines and many PPC systems. If this is even slightly the case, anyone that performs an ROI calculation for PPC versus blogging/long-tail organic results is likely to be missing this very important factor.

Imagine you were trying to decide where to spend your online marketing budget – do you spend 100% of it on a PPC campaign (arguably predictable, more measurable, and guaranteed) or do you balance it with alternative SEO expenditures to create organic results. Marketing decisions rarely involve a choice between just two methods so my assertions are far from advanced or scientific. However, each approach provides search engine visibility that appeal to [ostensibly] two different types of users; those that are more inclined to select PPC links or those that are inclined to trust organic links.

One mistake that we often make when making decisions based on data is failing to see the hidden side of that data; Levitt and Dubner provided insight into these common mistakes in the book Freakonomics (The Hidden Side of Everything). I suspect there are some hidden elements in the analysis at hand – one that interests me most is the known attraction advantage that organic results have over AdWords and other PPC link systems.

One thing seems clear though – the attraction advantage is real and clearly weighted in the organic column. Acording to James Lamberti of comScore, AOL gets the highest percentage of paid clicks at 24%, followed by Google at 13%, Yahoo at 11%, and MSN at 8%. From this basic data, a high ranking for any given query in Google is worth roughly four times that of a visible AdWord link for the same query. Stated another way –

You have to show four PPC links to create click-through opportunities equal to one organic ranking.

But is this really true? There are easily ten organic things that users can choose from when your content appears in a high organic SERP. How many PPC ads might be visible? This is not easily determined, but it’s safe to say that popular terms (i.e., short-tail terms) are likely to have dozens of companies competing for dominance in the right column. On the other hand, long-tail terms elicit very little activity in the right column. So at the very least, we have a couple of fuzzy issues to consider. But imagine that we could safely say there’s a balance – generally there are as many organic options as there are PPC options for any given search result. If true, the impact of this when determining how you spend your marketing budget is pretty straight forward – you’re well advised to spend dollars on both strategies.

Imagine though you could create tens of thousands of unique key phrases that rank organically high. Could you achieve the same in a PPC campaing? Probably not, and if you could, what would be the true cost of such a plan? Blogs tend to create tremendous visibility in the long-tail by helping authors focus on specific subjects for each post. Indeed, they are one of the best solutions to creating organic visbility. And for every way that your blog posts can be found (and are found), they are roughly four times more valuable than PPC equivalents.

At the heart of this rant is the question – “How do I determine the right balance?“. I suspect there are some clever mathematics gurus that could tell me the answer.


Google Caffine Update – What does it mean to You?

Nov 20, 2009   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Uncategorized  //  No Comments

I have been reading a lot about the “Google Caffeine” update that will be taking place soon after the holiday season. We receive a majority of our traffic from Google so I have been reading up on this and what is going to be changing in the “Search Algorithm”. It sounds like the interface will not be changing, this update is primarily under the hood: Google is rewriting the foundation of some of its infrastructure. If this pans out well, it is intended to replace Google as we know it today. It seems like Google’s goal is to be more thorough and comprehensive in their crawling of the web. Vanessa Fox reported the following, over at SearchEngineLand: “The newest infrastructure may include ways of crawling the web more comprehensively, determining reputation and authority (possibly beyond the link graph and what’s typically thought of as PageRank), and returning more relevant results more quickly, although Google’s Matt Cutts told me that the changes are “primarily in how we index”.

Impact on keywords:  “SEO professionals, your job just got a lot harder. The algorithm’s definitely different. It has more reliance on keyword strings to produce better results.” Quote from Ben Parr over at

What It Means To You:

  • Google will be crawling and indexing more pages – make sure your site is well optimized so you can
    benefit from this.
  • They are focusing on accuracy – which means the sites that get ranked on top will be the ones that best
    match the searchers query (which means you need to do comprehensive keyword research and make
    sure your site is well optimized for your important phrases that searchers will use).
  • Google indicates they will be looking at not only what sites people click on from the SERPs but also how
    they interact with the site after they land on it. Making sure your site has a lot of relevant content will be more important than ever.
  • Organization of your site and clean code structure will also become more crucial than ever.
  • Content appears to remain king and Google Caffeine seems to favor larger sites with more meaty
  • Quality continues to become more important, especially when it comes to links. Quality over quantity. So
    many people have lots of links that are just their URL hyperlinked – those are thought to be devalued.
  • Getting a higher quality link from a Blog post, article or social media site that actually uses keywords from within body text to link to your site will be valued higher and fewer high quality links will likely win out over more lower quality links.

For Companies, a Tweet in Time Can Avert PR Mess

Oct 12, 2009   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Social Media  //  No Comments

Sarah Needleman from the Wall Street Journal writes an interesting article defining how Twitter and PR can work hand in hand. It shows how a well defined social marketing campaign can help redefine how a company markets itself.

Here is the Link to the article:

I would love to hear you comments on this.

The Gen Y Guide to Web 2.0 at Work

Sep 18, 2009   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Social Media  //  No Comments

This is the Greatest example of the Next Marketing Generation.

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Why Marketing Is Like Making Martinis

Sep 9, 2009   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Thought Leadership  //  No Comments

CMO Calculus
Why Marketing Is Like Making Martinis
Mike Linton, 04.28.09, 11:31 AM ET

Let’s say you own a bar with a good clientele that has remained loyal over the years because your barkeeps make excellent cocktails. Your bar’s reputation and its margins are based on your delicious mixed drinks. Up until now, that is, when sales are falling and the pressure is on for you to maintain profits.

For discussion purposes, let’s assume you’ve done everything you can with the lease and labor. What you have left is the drinks, and a martini could, metaphorically, be viewed as your marketing plan. How do you keep the brand moving forward in tough times and still make money?

Let’s take the cosmopolitan: four parts vodka, two parts cranberry juice, two parts Triple Sec, one part lime juice, a lime rind and a swizzle stick. These symbolize your marketing mix–with vodka as the basic, proven sales ingredient (say direct mail, Internet marketing), cranberry juice as your long-term branding and advertising efforts, triple sec as promotions, lime juice as PR and the lime rind and swizzle stick as experimental efforts (like mobile marketing). What should you do to keep serving martinis in a way that lets you make money today while keeping your clientele coming back for more?

This is a difficult situation and I don’t know the right answer, though I do know the wrong one. The wrong answer is to slash costs by cutting back on the ingredients that make your drinks great, meaning you start thinking about your value proposition instead of the consumers’. In other words, choosing to risk your brand (Cosmo) integrity by forgetting what made customers choose your brand over competition in the first place.

The first step is to cut out all of the martini components that aren’t mandatory, like the lime rind and the swizzle stick. I mean, who needs a swizzle stick, really? It is completely impractical. And a lime rind is labor intensive and gets thrown away! We can just dispense with the whole fresh lime thing and save a ton.

Let’s replace fresh limes with packaged lime juice and use the savings to make the quarter. In marketing, this is the equivalent of stopping all sponsorships and social media experiments. The martini is still essentially the same, it just looks–and tastes–less interesting.

Oh my, business isn’t responding. Hmmm. Triple Sec is expensive. We only use a little in each drink, and it sits on the shelf collecting dust and taking up inventory dollars. The ROI on Triple Sec is low and far less efficient than the return on vodka. In fact, vodka returns three times as much since we buy it in bulk and use it for so many other drinks.

While we’re at it, let’s lose Cointreau since it’s just another orange liqueur and the consumer is really in it for the vodka. We can replace Triple Sec with vodka! Think of the efficiency! This is the equivalent of replacing all of your television with search and couponing efforts resulting in a high alcoholic content, but a lot less flavor.

Traffic is still declining in spite of everything. What to do? Cranberry juice is so overrated! In fact, with drink sales tailing off we have excess juice and it returns less than vodka. My God, that’s the answer! We’ll replace cranberry juice, which can spoil and needs refrigeration, with vodka, which has an infinite shelf life. Twice as much vodka at the same price and our margins are intact! The customers will love it!

You can see where I’m going. In the end, what you end up serving is pure vodka and customers move on to a place that serves the cosmopolitans or the martinis–or whatever–they want to buy. If they wanted vodka shots, they’d probably stay at home in the first place. This is the marketing equivalent of putting all of your efforts into one glass and hoping you can relaunch the “genuine martini” once the recession is over.

We’ll just dust off the old marketing competencies and tell consumers that our martinis “Now taste as good as before and look even better!” Problem is, consumer value is based on their terms–not yours. You can’t be inconsistent–cutting-edge and interesting in boom times, become an “efficient” brand when the going gets tough–and expect customers will put up with shabby drinks until you can afford to mix the cocktails they like.

In my opinion, there’s probably a better martini answer that might include special pricing on weekdays, happy hour extensions, a recession special, mini-martinis with mini pricing, lower margins in the short run to maintain sales, a martini loyalty program … but always things that keep your “martini integrity” intact.

So do what you have to do to survive, but don’t assume you can just “turn on” marketing when you are ready and can afford it. Marketing is like a martini in that people remember the drink quality and the place a lot longer than they remember the vodka buzz.

No martinis were harmed in the writing of this article.

Mike Linton was, until recently, CMO at eBay. Previously, he was the first CMO at Best Buy. He joined the electronics retailer in 1999 from James River Corp., where he worked as a vice president and general manager. Linton started his career in brand management at Procter & Gamble.

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