How well do you understand digital marketing ROI?


Digital is supposed to be the the most accountable of all marketing channels, but it turns out that measuring return on digital advertising spend isn’t so easy. Why? Because that most nimble and fast moving of creatures, the modern-day consumer, has a way of confounding the most determined marketer. We bounce from display ads to websites to Facebook brand pages as we make a purchase decision. We share opinions with each other on consumer review sites and through good-old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations. Our complex behavior has given rise to an entire profession of analytics experts who specialize in using tools and models to understand how and when consumers purchase goods and services. With insights gained from analytics, marketers can make better decisions about where to invest their marketing dollars — display ads, search marketing, social media, and the like. On February 22, through a webinar sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association, my iCrossing colleague Doug Bryan discussed some of the models that marketers can use to understand how consumers behave on the web. I provided live  coverage on the iCrossing Great Finds blog. You may read my post here and view Doug’s presentation via the link provided at the top of this post. Happy returns on your marketing investment.

How to write great headlines

You need to write a great headline to get anyone to read what you have to say – especially now, when your audience is probably reading your ad copy, website landing page, or blog post while multi-tasking with their mobile phones and laptops. But how do you write a compelling headline?Beth Fox, a copywriter with my employer iCrossing, has provided an answer through a newly published how-to article, “7 Ways to Write Eye-Popping Headlines.” The piece, which appeared on the Content Marketing Institute blog, offers practical tips, such as the importance of using numbers and lists and why it’s better to tease your audience with a little information.

“If you give away all of the important information in the headline, people won’t feel the need to read more,” she writes. “For example, the headline “High-Cholesterol Eggs May Lead to Heart Disease” gives away the entire story. Instead, something like “Breakfast Foods You Should Think Twice About” is more intriguing. It entices the reader to discover more.”

Writing effective headlines is so crucial – and challenging – that Copyblogger also offers an 11-part series (yes, 11 parts) on the topic. And popular blogger Jason Falls suggests tips from the perspective of someone who both writes and searches for compelling content.

Want to get practice with headline writing? One tip to get you started: go on Twitter each day and try to write something compelling in 140 characters or less. There’s no better way to get practice – and you can measure your success by how many retweets you get.

An update from 2016: since I wrote this post in 2012, the proliferation of content-writing resources continues to be a boon for bloggers everywhere, including those of us who sweat over the challenge of crafting the perfect headline. For instance, First Site Guide publishes a number of useful guides relevant to this blog post. More about First Site Guide here.

Life in the hip-hop underground with Symon G. Seyz

Hip-hop artist Symon G. Seyz lives not for record sales but for the passion of making music. The 28-year-old rapper is a member of the hip-hop underground – where unsigned musicians find audiences by giving away their own mixtapes on the streets, performing at clubs and private parties, and using Twitter as their de facto booking agents and PR support.

You won’t find the hip-hip underground in the pages of Hip Hop Weekly but on social community Global 14, where many hip-hop artists are connecting with audiences and others like them. In fact, Global 14 is where I met Symon G. Seyz, a resident of Hammond, Indiana, an industrial town just south of Chicago.

In the following interview, Symon G. Seyz, a teacher by day and rapper by night, provides an open assessment of what it’s like to create and share your music in the hip-hip underground. And he has a lot on his mind. He believes hip-hop has an image problem, and he worries that maybe he’s too clean to be cool for hip-hop – or at least what middle-class America wants to hear from the art form.

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How Twitter helped “The Grey” become a box-office champ on opening weekend

The Grey gets Twitter.

The new Open Road Films thriller starring Liam Neeson features on its website a brief trailer that caught my eye because of the way the movie title, cast, and production team are listed. All names of the principal cast – including Neeson’s – are listed via their Twitter handles and hashtags exclusively. You don’t even see the movie’s name listed in a conventional way (it’s listed as #THEGREY). And the movie incorporates critics’ tweets in its reviews, which is a marketing first, according to Variety.

Granted, movies incorporate social media into their marketing mix routinely. But I am intrigued by the trailer’s exclusive reliance on Twitter hashtags and handles to list crucial information, especially Liam Neeson’s name. Neeson has the most brand recognition of anyone in the cast and is a clear box office draw for the macho adventure tale set in the Alaskan wilderness. The idea of tinkering with the way his name appears (even adding a hashtag) must have raised a few eyebrows.

The trailer refers to @TheGreyMovie Twitter handle in quoting critics’ tweets (but I think the handle should have been called out more clearly as its hashtag was). The Grey website contains the handle and all the other ways you can learn more about the movie via social media, including a Google+ brand page. @TheGreyMovie has accumulated nearly 14,000 Twitter followers since launching with its first tweet on September 23, and it looks like filmgoers and promoters are making good use of the hashtag to discuss the movie.

The movie has also garnered 145,000 Facebook Likes (as of January 29). By contrast, Man on a Ledge, which opened at the same time, has 77,000 Facebook Likes and no official Twitter presence (you need to follow its producer @SummitEnt to follow the movie on Twitter, which accumulates followers for Summit Entertainment – nearly 80,000 and counting – but makes the movie itself less visible).

Marketing tactics for The Grey also include screening the movie for bloggers in December, PR on the Weather Channel (owing to the movie’s setting in the rugged outdoors), and, reportedly, outreach to Christian groups because of the movie’s spiritual references.

Filmgoers are responding: The Grey has topped the weekend box-office charts. The movie’s $20 million take has surpassed the $12 million box office that Variety predicted. More movies will undoubtedly follow the example set by Open Road Films with its aggressive use of Twitter.

You’re a fine DJ, Mr. President

I’ve often said that brands are the new DJs because of the exposure they can give to musicians through the commercial use of their songs. And it turns out that the president of the United States can be one, too. Sales of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” have increased 490 percent since Barack Obama slipped a few verses of the classic 1972 love song in a fundraiser speech last week.According to Billboard, “Let’s Stay Together” has enjoyed the best sales week for a song since SoundScan began tracking downloads in 2003. On the other hand, Billboard reports that singer Kelly Clarkson has seen a 40-percent drop in sales for her album Stronger since she unofficially endorsed presidential candidate Ron Paul. Here’s why Al Green saw a sales bump:

  • Obama endorsed “Let’s Stay Together” onstage in a public venue (whereas Ron Paul did not endorse Stronger).
  • Obama actually did a passable job as a crooner, due to his charisma and a voice that did the song credit. A lame rendition could have had the opposite effect. Bill Clinton might have pulled it off in his day, too; George Bush, definitely not (although Bush might have been an intriguing choice for George Jones material).
  • The song was captured on YouTube. Multiple uploads of the video footage have been viewed millions of times, and it’s only a matter of time before more DIY remixes circulate, like this one:

Without YouTube’s influence, the impromptu Obama concert would have been, at best, a one-day phenomenon reported on the nightly news. It also helps that we now live in an always-on world, where conceivably consumers have been viewing the footage 24/7 since last week. (I’m writing this post at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday as a toggle between YouTube and sites like Global 14.)

The story brings to mind other instances of public figures acting as pitchmen, sometimes by their own natural habits, and other times in a more formal way. For instance, one-time legislator and presidential candidate Bob Dole became a pitchman for Viagra and even appeared in a Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears:

A few years ago, Obama himself famously voiced his support for his BlackBerry device, which prompted The New York Times to speculate that if Obama were to charge for his endorsements, he could probably earn $25 million. (Certainly BlackBerry’s manufacturer Research in Motion sorely needs his support now.) It is commonly believed that John F. Kennedy hurt the sale of men’s  hats by his own personal preference for going hatless — an assumption that has challenged, by the way.

For more insight into public figures and product endorsements, check out this Cracked article that covers some decidedly offbeat moments in the history of famous public figures endorsing products. And hum along with President Obama while you read it.

A slice of hip-hop: “Lounge Music” by Ha-Rih

Just when you think you’ve heard enough chill-out from Hed Kandi to last a lifetime, along comes a song like “Lounge Music” to make you feel like you’re discovering the genre all over again. With “Lounge Music,” Ha-Rih blends chill-out with hip-hip to create a pretty damned sexy and coy tribute to the joys of lounging, Ha-Rih style.

What makes the song for me is piano that really works as baseline anchoring the melody while Ha-Rih raps, “Listen up I’m your host just vibe/We on the road roll slow just ride out/blow smoke watch it go to the sky,” complemented by a gentle percussion. Here’s how Ha-Rih describes the song to me:

“Lounge Music” is a laid back type of song that was inspired and composed off of the daily, weekly and occasional routines of my crew, or group of friends as well as myself. The song basically describes things we like to do in our spare time as well as certain rules or mottos we may follow as a group.

The “Lounge Music” video was actually shot in my hometown Richmond, Virginia, inside an upscale hotel. The view from the suite’s window was very fitting for the song as well as the room’s decor and hotel’s amenities.

Ha-Rih also credits the work of friend and producer Smooth for the creation of the track.

The song is one of the highlights of Ha-Rih’s mixtape, Digital Vinyl, which is available for a free download here. The entire mixtape alternates between laid-back vibe of “Lounge Music” with the brash swagger of “Digital Vinyl (Intro)” and “Nostalgia.” Here’s another taste of Digital Vinyl via a new video Ha-Rih just released, “By the End of the Night”:

Ha-Rih raps about turning her on at the end of the night, but the song turned me on at 6:00 a.m. when I heard it.

Ha-Rih, a rapper, producer, and business executive from Richmond, considers music his calling. He has been involved in music production since he was 14, composing tracks in high school. He continued developing his career while attending Full Sail University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in entertainment business and developed relationships with artists, producers, fashion designers, and engineers.

He released Digital Vinyl (his first mixtape) in 2011 and will soon release a new mixtape, The Syndication.

I first heard about Ha-Rih and “Lounge Music” on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out Ha-Rih on Global 14, follow him on Twitter @Ha_Rih, and Like his page on Facebook here.

A slice of hip-hop: “Put My Mack Down” by Aye-P

Aye-P performs some sweet alchemy with “Put My Mack Down.” He takes a familiar scenario – a guy coming on to a woman in a club – and creates a funky rap built on top of his own beats and samples of Isaac Hayes’s version of “Look of Love” and Lil Wayne’s “Fireman” (a line from the latter being the inspiration for the title).

This song moves. After the soulful Hayes intro, Aye-P and fellow rapper Rell trade verses about a guy making the move on a woman with “Bright red skin/Light Brown eyes/Slim in the waist/Thick in the thighs.”

What makes the song for me is the interplay between the bass and tenor rap of Aye-P and Rell combined with the steady mix groove. The pace of their rap picks up gradually as they repeat their pick-up line, creating a sense of urgency before the song drops you with a brief burst of whammy guitar.

Aye-P, a music student in Jacksonville, Florida, says he first got serious about hip-hop in 2007. He cites Pimp C and Scarface as his musical influences. He created “Put My Mack Down” in a garage.

“I felt like writing a club song about how dudes might approach girls in a club,” he told me. “I made the beat first by sampling Isaac Hayes and then built on top of it.”

He said he started writing the song about a year ago. “I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “If it doesn’t sound exactly like I want it to sound, I won’t put it out.”

I think the song was worth the wait.

I first heard about Aye-P and “Put My Mack Down” on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out Aye-P on Global 14 and follow him on Twitter @dopetracks904.

Co-creation is the future of marketing

I recently wrote a blog post for the iCrossing Content Lab regarding the Raytheon Sum of All Thrills ride — an intriguing experience in which you build your own virtual ride using computer design tools provided by Raytheon. I was excited to see Doug Williams of Forrester Research comment on my post through one of this own, “Co-creating Value at Disney World.” Doug goes beyond what I wrote to describe some other ways Disney World guests can create their own entertainment content. I hope you take a moment to read his post as well as this one by Joe Chernov on content co-creation.

Co-creation is the future of marketing. As my colleagues at iCrossing discussed in a white paper last year, both brands and consumers are acting like their own media now, with access to the same tools to publish their own ideas year-round. So it’s only natural that those two worlds would converge. Content co-creation occurs in a few important ways:

A slice of hip hop: “Wait for Me” by ILL Son


Wait for Me” by ILL Son requires a close listen to appreciate. When I first heard the sweet female chorus and the gentle chimes that open the song, I thought ILL Son had shared with me another love song like his lush production of “Get 2 You.” But then ILL Son’s voice kicks in with a rap that reveals a man in torment over a girl who is with the wrong guy.

“Fast track marter rail/on your way to excel,” he raps. “But you want to give it up/say that you feeling him/Wrong step your life is full of wages minimum/that’s your world when you live with a criminal.”

And at the same time, I sense that the narrator isn’t so sure he’s the right choice, either (“I can’t keep putting you thu this hell”).

What else tells me this song is not all sweetness and light? The fuzzy guitar line, which provides some extra sting to the rap.

I got to know ILL Son, who is based in Atlanta, on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out ILL Son on Global 14 and follow him on Twitter @ill_son.

Spice Merchants: “a rockin’ cool place that smells good”

If Starbucks has taught us anything, it’s that people are willing to pay a lot more for an experience — even for a product like coffee, which many retailers perceived to be little more than human fuel until Starbucks came along. The difference between a $1.85 cup of garden-variety coffee at Denny’s and a $14 Venti White Chocolate Mocha with 12 shots of espresso, two shots of soy, extra whipped cream, toffee syrup, hazelnut syrup, extra Mocha drizzle and extra Caramel drizzle at Starbucks comes down the luxurious experience of enjoying  gourmet coffee customized the way you want it and the typically hip Starbucks environment. Spice Merchants, a new store in Downers Grove, Illinois, is counting on a sensory experience to attract the kind of people who want to indulge themselves in exotic spice flavors like Thai Coconut Rub instead of picking up a jar of Mrs. Dash at a grocery store.

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