Now I know why our search results are cluttered!

A few weeks ago, I discussed the efficiency of search engines and mentioned that something needed to be done so we do not see their demise in our near future.  I realize now that this is most likely the fault of paid inclusion and paid placement.  By allowing companies to “buy their way to the top” we are distorting the purity of our search results.

A search that once seemed to turn up quality results now is likely to have the first three options be an opportunity to purchase a product or service.  While many of these options are generally placed on the right hand side of the page, there are still those companies that manage to slip into the top ten search result listings.

Just as with any new media, we are seeing them become less effective but the fact is they still remain for the time being and as long as they do, people will click on them.  This benefits advertisers because they only end up paying for those who actually click through.  Marketers will argue that they are getting more for their advertising dollar because these consumers actually did a search for a similar product.  However, unless the consumer completes registration on a page they are not getting a good idea of who is being the viewing.

Companies can’t afford NOT to have a website

I become increasingly frustrated when I am looking for information about a company and they don’t have a website.  I often utilize Switchboard.com that will allow me to find the address and phone number of a company but I don’t usually expect to find a website link.  When I do, I am pleasantly surprised.

While it is important to have a nice layout and interesting content,  I think we overlook the importance of just having one at all.   A company can gain invaluable exposure just by having a presence with a little bit of information out there.  Consumers appreciate the anonymity of searching the web for information.  Once they are comfortable, they will likely visit or give them a call.

Small businesses can utilize simple programs such as Microsoft FrontPage.  Community colleges will often offer beginning courses for those who wish to just build a simple page.  However, the addition of a website can allow a small business owner to expand their territory and gain customers from all over who just may turn into their next raving fan.

Would Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood be lost on kids today?

These are some interesting facts that were presented to us in class this week, found through Kaiser studies:

  • The typical 8- to 18-year-old lives in a home with an average of 3.6 CD or tape players, 3.5 TVs, 3.3 radios, 2.9 VCRs/DVD players, 2.1 video game consoles and 1.5 computers.
  • Broken down even further, one in four (24%) 8- to 18- year-olds live in homes with five or more TVs, 53% have three or more VCRs/DVD players, 56% have two or more video game players and 34%)have a digital video recorder. Cable or satellite TV service is widely available (80% have one or the other), and a majority of youth (55%) get premium channels (e.g., HBO) at home.
  • About a quarter (26%) of the time young people are using one medium, they’re doing something else media-related at the same time (e.g., listening to music while using the computer, watching TV while reading a magazine).
  • 83% of young people have a video game console at home, and 56% have two or more. About half (49%) have one in their bedroom, and 55% have a handheld video game player.

We hear it time and time again, children now don’t seem to know how to use their imaginations and exist without some sort of electronic media.  When I was young, one of my favorite shows was Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood where in each episode, the trolley would lead us to a land of make believe.  The plotlines in the show existed free of TVs, videos, computers, and games.  The characters interacted with one another and played games that challenged them mentally and physically.

Imagination and creativity really need to start at home.  A recent visit to a visitation house for children with court-appointed visitation opened my eyes to the fact that some parents find it difficult to interact with their child without the use of television or video games.  There are several rooms set up in the house with toys, books, and art projects which encourage them for just that one hour to truly talk to their child and get away from just plopping them down in front of a TV.

While all of the media listed above can be educational, it is also important for us to realize children’s heavy exposure to media and take steps to ensure that their playtime is well-balanced.

Social Networking or Potential to Change the World?!

MySpace and Facebook are international but how many of us have actually noticed that?  I knew I remembered looking a name up on Facebook one time and getting results from other countries but I didn’t realize that they really did a lot to accommodate those users. 

On MySpace for example, Tom posted this message when you login under the Brazilian site,

“Hey folks

Welcome to the beta version of MySpace Brasil. We’re featuring more Brasilian music and some of the features should work better (such as Browse by region, etc.)

Now that MySpace is beginning to look more Brasilian, my lawyers told ME what I have to tell YOU: we are still running our site from the US, all your data still resides in the US, and that MySpace’s data management practices are still governed by US laws.

– Thanks Tom

Note: MySpace Brasil is available in Portuguese. However, MySpace remains a worldwide community. Your choice will not prevent you from making friends and viewing content from users in other countries or using another language.”

So that’s how it works for users in other countries in case you were interested.  Facebook on the other hand, has this linked picture on the very front page.  The portion at the bottom also lets you select your language.

While many of us are probably only interested in networking within the United States, this demonstrates that the possibilities are really endless.  One could educate/enlighten quite a large number of people just by starting a network on one of these websites.  I guess it’s just something to keep in mind for those of us who want to change the world!

When Looking for New Creative, Go to the Amateurs

Not only is it interesting for viewers to watch entries from short films, marketers at the company find that it can present a whole new point of view.  While YouTube lets everyone be a film director nowadays, these contests bring a bit more creativity to the table and may even help change the face of a product.

Filmaka is a unique community that promotes the uploading of short films and then has a panel of judges who vote on them.  They are not directly hired by companies such as Ford and Cisco have looked to them as the outlet for a competition for their newest commercials.

In their own words, because I think they explain it best, Filmaka is  “an on-line global creative community and marketplace, committed to inspiring, celebrating and rewarding creativity and talent by providing professional opportunities for directors and writers from all around the world. The unique mechanism is a series of competitions which are juried by industry leaders. Each month, Filmaka challenges its community to create original, professionally produced high-quality scripted and unscripted films and branded entertainment. Rewards range from cash prizes to the opportunity to create series for traditional and digital media. Filmaka will also produce at least one feature film and documentary directed by community members.”

Here is the newest commercial for Ford Mustang that appeared for the first time during the Knight Rider series.  The contest was facilitated through Filmaka and the creator was the winner chosen by Filmaka judges:

Attend Your Next Meeting in Your Pajamas

While at my last employer, we used a service called WebEx quite extensively.  This web-conferencing tool allowed our sales and support teams to demonstrate software applications to potential clients across the country right from the convenience of our offices in Ohio. 

Although nothing replaces human interaction and at least one face-to-face meeting was arranged, this tool allowed our company to save on travel costs as well as time.  All the important people could be present for several meetings with clients in very different locations all within a matter of hours.

WebEx presents numerous options to its users by allowing: a web conference to be completely one-sided as a presentation to 20 viewers, a one-on-one support session where the initiator can take control of the attendee’s computer, or even a collaborative session where all users can share and contribute to a common workspace.

In my personal experience, this service also allowed me to create sales guides with the help of salesmen in North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio all at one time.  While they were valuable sessions, it also made the most sense that this did not involve travel arrangements on anyone’s part.

Perhaps the most important component to any new technology is the opportunity for idea share.  Current users as well as visitors to the site will find many ways in which they can communicate with other WebEx users of every level: developer, marketer, rookie viewer, etc.  It is obvious to me that at least over the past four years this company has done quite a bit to keep up with emerging media.

The Information We are Willing to Give in the Name of a Contest

Who doesn’t like to win or at least get a shot at trying?!  That’s what marketers are hoping for when they create a sweepstakes that encourages consumers to go online to see if they won.  In the meantime, the company gets to gather their information that they probably don’t think twice about providing.

I will admit I have done it more times than I probably want to admit.  I felt silly the other day when I bought a pack of Oreo’s just because the Manning brothers were on the packaging but hey, I figured I will eat them anyway, and what if I win a chance to meet them in the meantime! 

 

The Double Stuf Racing League is “a fierce competition to see who is fastest to twist, lick, and dunk their Oreo cookie!”  The grand prize is a trip to the Bahamas for DSRL Training Camp.  Just for example, in this contest, I was willing to give up my birthdate, email, first and last name, address, and phone number.  I will definitely not but it tells me that I am eligible to register every day until December 1st.  For those dedicated to the cause, that means that consumers could potentially be exposed to Double Stuf’s marketing message every single day until the end of the year. 

This information will be useful to marketers long after the contest is over.  In my case, I will probably grow tired of receiving messages from them but what they are betting on is that will take me a few times before I decide to unsubscribe.  It is important for marketers to use these types of games to get people excited and create buzz around their product.

Are we putting our blinders on too often?

While there is more news and information available to us nowadays, it seems that we are actually more likely to live in our own little bubbles.  This is thanks to proximity marketing and RSS feeds.  Although it is a time saver to customize news and marketing alerts that we receive, it is also preventing us to being exposed to more general information, making us more well-rounded individuals.

It wasn’t long ago that when we wanted to catch up on the news, we would watch an entire newscast or skim through the paper.  We can now request to only see information that we are interested when visiting our news source on the web or through our phone.  We can even DVR the news and skip to the parts that look interesting!

So, I worry that this is really making us more out of touch with the world around us.  In college, I would marvel at the number of my friends that had no clue what was going on beyond campus.  Perhaps it was my constant exposure as a media studies major, but I still find it interesting and think of it as my responsibility to stay informed.

A local website that has a lot of example of RSS feeds for me is Valley24.com.  When visiting the site and scrolling to the bottom of the page, one will find that they can sign up to receive updates in five areas (music, words, events, food, and flix).  Each of these is even broken down into several more categories. 

What types of feeds are you subscribed to or did you even realize that was possible?  I bet you will find that there are a lot more websites with that capability than you think!

Organized email forwarding

All of us have at least one friend who will consistently send us those annoying forwards.  By the time the email gets to us, it includes all kinds of other picture files and attachments, not to mention the plethora of stranger’s emails that we have access to.  Essentially emails like these could be a spammer’s dream.  So how do we get around this when we want to get a message out but don’t want to wind up looking like spam?

Utilize a new technology called forward-to-a-friend (FTAF).  When placed in an email, it allows the end-user to easily forward email to one or several e-mail addresses and attach a small note that lets the receiver know why their friend sent this to them. 

For marketers, this is a much cleaner way of spreading a message and provides very valuable information.  FTAF technology tracks the number of times a message is forwarded as well as the number of resulting subscribers originating from the recipient.

So, maybe you’re still asking yourself how this would be helpful.  I am part of a young professionals group called Mahoning Valley Professional 20/30 Club.  We send out emails to all of our members as well as those in the Regional Chamber announcing our monthly mixers. 

I always try to forward them on to at least a couple of friends who are not currently involved, but that I think might enjoy attending and meeting new people.  Rather than just forwarding it from my Hotmail account, I scroll down to the bottom of the message and click on the link that says “Forward email.”  Using a service called Constant Contact, I am then able to forward the message to five friends and add a personal message. 

 

On the side of the club, we pay a monthly fee but are then able to track who opens our email, how many times they look at it, whether they click on the links, and how many friends they pass it along to.  With all of this information, this tool seems essential to anyone communicating with its audiences primarily through email.

Trying to sell Barbie in 1987

Without websites and so much TV, how were we marketed to when we were children?    Obviously I was not aware of it at the time, but the way I remember hearing about new toys was through catalogs or other friends.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we did not get a computer until I was at least in junior high so that means I spent a lot of time just playing outside and using my imagination.  It’s really difficult to think that just twenty years ago we were without so much technology.

How many of us composed our Christmas list from the JcPenney catalog and then were disappointed when Santa didn’t bring those products that were specific to Penney’s?  We still got plenty of things though and we left it up to our parents to present us with even a few surprises.

Now children could go onto a website like Amazon, compose an entire wish list, and then email it out to family and friends.  While it doesn’t seem appropriate, it is simply characteristic of the way things are today.  We want things when we want them and are now willing to wait.  

By exposing our children to so many marketing messages, we are providing them with the options of anything they could have ever possibly imagined.  The question has come up many times whether or not marketing to children is ethical.  In this case, I don’t think it is a matter of ethics, it’s just kind of sad that children can become so overwhelmed with marketing messages.

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