ETF’s… and I don’t mean Exchange Traded Funds

Early Termination Fees – Why do company’s use them?

With few company exceptions, what ever happened to the days when companies believed in “have a good product, provide good service” and customers will keep coming back. With all the hoopla about early termination fees (ETF’s) surrounding the cable/telecom industry, it’s starting to make consumers really think before they “commit” to purchase.

Much like dating, people need to test the waters to find their right mate. Both parties know going in, that in order to make it work, both sides need to put forth effort. But in the end if it doesn’t work out, each partner takes whatever experience they learned into the next relationship. No penalties, no hard feelings and all is good.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand there are hard costs that companies incur with each “sign on”, but lets be serious, they pale in comparison to the penalties/fees associated with breaking a contract early.

This begs the question – If consumers are more hesitant to jump into a relationship with a company, does this create a potential missed opportunity? If so, I hope the penalties/fees companies receive are worth it, because in my opinion, the long-term satisfaction of one happy customer is worth its weight in gold.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Changing Face of Search

Fact: Growth in the number of U.S. “core search queries*” is slowing down dramatically. According to the latest numbers from comScore’s qSearch, overall search volume growth slowed down to 7.6% in March, 2010 from 10.4% growth in February, 2010 and 33.1 % growth in March, 2009.

Here are the annual growth rates for select months going back a year, which really shows the drop-off:

* Core Search queries is defined as a search conducted on one of the five major search engines: Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, and Ask, which includes partner searches and cross-channel searches. Searches for mapping, local directory, and user-generated video sites that are not on the core domain of the five search engines are not included in the core search numbers.

While the above graph still illustrates growth, it clearly shows that search, as we know it, (via standard search engines) is leveling off. In addition, this data is also supported by a recent show of Google market share starting to plateau (graph below).

All this is not to say that fewer searches are being conducted, in fact the opposite is true – and its supported by the data below. The numbers of searches are actually up, it’s just that they are being conducted across different venues – social venues to be specific, are taking a big chunk. Search habits are changing, and fast. Social venues have clearly become a major channel for people looking for information.

According to comScore qSearch, Americans conducted 15.4 billion “core searches” in March 2010, with Google accounting for 65.1 percent search market share.
Why is this distinction of “core searches” significant?

If you look at core searches in March ‘10, then Google accounted for 10.0 billion searches, followed by Yahoo! (2.6 billion), Microsoft (1.8 billion), Ask (593 million), and AOL (380 million).

Get it? Got it? Good.

However, when you look at ALL or “expanded searches,” then you get a very different picture of the search market.

What is an expanded search? It is a search on the top properties where search activity is observed. What are these top properties? Oh, small sites like YouTube, craigslist, eBay, Facebook.com, MapQuest, MySpace, Amazon etc.

If you look at these top properties, Americans conducted 23.9 billion search queries in March 2010. That’s right. About 8.5 billion searches were conducted in March on properties that generally aren’t considered “search engines”. Of those, 3.7 billion of these expanded searches were conducted on YouTube, which is less than the 10.5 billion conducted on Google, but more than the 2.7 billion conducted on Yahoo!, or the 1.6 billion conducted on Bing. And the 647 million conducted on Facebook.com are more than the 594 million conducted on Ask or the 380 million on AOL.

So, definitions do matter, and this data supports the strength of search. However, as marketers and consumers, we need to be mindful of the changing landscape, and be prepared to embrace what lies ahead – a new search, a social search, a more meaningful and personable way to find results most relevant to our individual needs.

To Geo or not to Geo?

There in lies the question. As mobile devices and geo-location services such as foursquare and gowalla swarm the scene, many folks are asking…what’s the point? The point is…regardless of whether your “check-in happy” or “don’t want to be found”, these services provide value. BUT like most social platforms – they are only as helpful as the people who use them, and the businesses who are willing to accept them as yet another venue to connect with consumers.

As Foursquare approaches nearly 1.0MM users, with significant growth coming from the last 6 months, I think its safe to assume, that consumers (in general) believe in the vision and the value being provided. Take it one step further, if professional content can be added to the value chain by way of partners such as Zaggat, Fandango etc, it will only strengthen the value proposition.

Your thoughts???

PR Firms – Learn from History

Rewind 15 years, when traditional ad agencies attempted to integrate digital services by creating “digital shops” housed under the traditional agency umbrella. Those of us in the space knew this was approach was destined to fall short, and that true integration would only occur when all sides had an equal seat at the table and worked toward accomplishing a unified goal.

Fast forward to today – Social media has quickly become the “digital service” of choice for todays PR firms. Most PR firms today are quickly scrambling to try and incorporate social into their overall capability by creating “shops” made up of “social/digital specialists”.

If history has taught us anything, integration its not about creating an offshoot capability/shop that can offer specialized services to clients, its about offering a seamless integration between marketing, advertising, PR etc so that earned, paid, and owned media call all work seamlessly. Its the ability to consistently leverage all elements in a campaign (or simply just a communication) to ensure that they all align – its this approach that will ultimately lead to success.

Social Media Predictions 2010

1. Monitoring platforms become even more commoditized, opportunity emerges for niche vertical offerings as a means of differentiation.

2. Listening platforms become more closely integrated with other data sources: mail databases, web analytics, marketing data, etc.

3. Integration of social media tools with web analytics, CRM, Search Query data etc.

4. Social Media “Teams” formed: tied to creative, media, technology, and analytics people.

5. Social Media ROI will begin to be “Cracked” – DASHBOARDS.