Advertising as a Service

When I started my digital marketing career in 1996, I was lucky enough to work for a company who was run by visionaries. The company was Modem Media, and one of the founders was a guy named GM O’Connell (well, he’s still named that!). One of the many things I learned from him was the idea that digital made possible the idea of “advertising as a service” and it seems that many brands are finally starting to figure out what that means now here in 2011, 15 years later.

How did Modem Media define “Advertising as a Service”? It’s advertising so useful that you are compelled to engage with it and in so doing, achieve the brands marketing objectives, whether brand awareness or lead generation, or real time customer service leading to loyalty. That said, GM’s take today is that AaaS has become all the more important and available to brands as Web Services and APIs continue to proliferate. Google Maps’ API being leveraged in a brand’s “store locator” is great advertising for Google as a whole, and all because they created a service and had it distributed to where it was most useful. Same as when you can track your package on a retailer’s website: great advertising for FedEx or UPS.

To quote GM O’Connell: “The idea of advertising as a service cam out of the fact that people back then (and probably still) don’t read or watch the web as much as they use it, and if you don’t create “useful” advertising, then it will tend to be out of place and ignored.  the problem is that useful advertising (or advertising so good people will embrace it as a service) can’t really ask for an immediate sale.  It has to serve the customer, create good will, help the customer figure something out or otherwise create this new notion of engagement through (most likely but not always) utility”

Bob Allen, past president of Modem says “AaaS can also be thought of as branded planning tools–living, breathing ads that allow people to interact with the brand, solve problems, etc” He suggests that the proliferation of apps today represents some of the best of Advertising as a Service, and for brands like Best Buy, this is certainly true. Unfortunately, many branded apps are lost in the hundreds of thousands of apps available.

Lots of brands of course figured it out years ago, but the idea that advertising could provide more than just message delivery is something that you still don’t see enough of. Instead what you see are more online interpretations of “above-the-line”, traditional advertising brought to life in online venues. What this results in are click through rates well below 1% and engagement rates with even rich media advertising that is only slightly higher.

So what does “advertising as a service” look like? The earliest memory of it that I have was work done by Modem Media in 1997 when it launched the first rich media banners for John Hancock insurance. It used HTML pull down menus to allow users to choose their income level and retirement year and the take them to a landing page which provided personalized recommendations and next steps. It was genius and got a 24% click through rate, unheard of today.

Ford does AaaSThe John Hancock example was right for 1997, as everyone who was online was looking for cool things to do online, and is an example of tactics common place today and no longer as engaging as it was then. However, when looking for examples of “Advertising as a Service” today, you typically have to look well beyond the banner to find it. For instance, I ran across this page on Mashable, pictured here, that they’ve created in partnership with Ford. It’s a predefined search index that helps build the idea of the Ford Explorer as a brand that can help you get places. The bet part is is that the banners that surround it are really service oriented, allowing you to ask questions and view videos of the product. The Mashable “explore” feature itself  is pure service, and the two together make a nice package of worthwhile engagement for the user.

Ford isn’t the only example, other brand who are excelling at this approach include technology companies, banks, car manufacturers, airlines, and even a few CPG companies who have put ecoupons right in their advertising banners. And beyond the banner, the best branded apps take Advertising as a Service to a whole new level. You just don’t see it as much as you should.

The question to ask is; why aren’t more brands putting forth “Advertising as a Service”? Do they not have anything interesting to engage users with? you’d think with Behavioral Targeting available today that you’d see nothing but advertising that speaks to the users needs directly.

Feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Google Versus Facebook: Messaging Battle in the Cloud

No one will be surprised to hear that Google and Facebook are in a war for our messaging attention. Of couse, it’s not about power, it’s about money, and the more eyeballs they attract and get typing and clicking, the more revenue they pull in. There are a few other players in this drama, such as Apple, but really, it feels as if the future of our digital lives is going to be most affected by the seemingly unstoppable behemoths that are Google and Facebook. And right now, Facebook seems to be winning from a hearts and minds perspective because it’s such a personalized tool for us, and the advancements they are making to their UX are so profound that many of us don’t even realize they are happening.

Both Google and Facebook realize, as few others do, that our future is indeed, as Microsoft so lamely puts it in their advertising “to the cloud!” Unfortunately for Microsoft, most of my friends who don’t work in the digital realm ask me frequently “what is this cloud I keep hearing about?” Let me give you some examples of why Microsoft has already lost this war in the clouds when it comes to one of the mot ubiquitous practices online: messaging.

Facebook’s latest rollout of it’s message feature is remarkable. It’s remarkable in that it allows all 500MM+ of it’s users to actively communicate through like 5 different written channels (Facebook chat, Facebook messages, Facebook email address, your other associated email address and text messaging to boot) all assembled on the fly. And, they’ve given you your own facebook email address that is feeding into the same centralized thread, all stored in your inbox at Facebook in perpetuity. And they are storing all your messaging, in perpetuity as well, all up in their large portion of the cloud.

Did you already know all that? Probably if you’ve been on Faceook in the last few weeks. What you may not have recognized though, is just what a remarkable feat of engineering they’ve pulled off to get us all eventually funneled into a deeper relationship with that site platform. more eyeballs going to FB to read their mail = more eyeballs to sell to advertisers. Something David Armano over at Edelman has likened to boiling a frog.

And it isn’t just that they’ve done it, but that they are the first to do it, at this scale, and without needing plugins, new software downloaded, and sort of registration or alternate forms of T&Cs. and no cost to the user. And they’ve kind of rolled in out quietly.

Then there’s Google. While they’re busy collecting all the world’s information, the amount of data about me they store in “the cloud” is immense. It gets scary to think that they might use that data for ill will someday, and i am sure no one in the US government is qualified to watch over that juggernaut. But what Google hasn’t yet cracked, is communications. They have Gmail, and they have the Blogger platform, and of course they own YouTube….wait a minute! They damn well have cracked communications, just not lately. Remember Google Wave? I think that got Google an article in Time magazine, but now it’s been killed due to a terrible greeting in the marketplace. Remember Google Buzz? Goggle Talk? etc, etc coming out of Google Labs. What has succeeded for Google seems very distant, primarily due to the lack of social and human connections between their communications hubs.

What Google hasn’t built yet is Facebook’s interwoven messaging platform, and so as of today,  Facebook seems to be driving closer to what Google wanted in the first place, which is total world domination of the internet (for now) personal communications environment. And make no mistake, Voice communications domination will follow. No wonder those conspiracy nuts are so scared of both these companies.

What will the future bring? Will it be one where all our messaging is channeled via Facebook? consider this: you never get spam on Facebook, you never get calls from timeshare operators on Facebook, and you usually get a good response from a close friend on Facebook. Google can’t match that yet, and until they catch up, the world will continue to let  Facebook capture their time and attention, and ultimately, their precious eyeballs.

Do you have a different opinion? Let me know with a comment!

What the F@#$ is Next?

My first post to my new blog, let’s see how this goes, shall we?

I will be writing about digital marketing, and curating some of the most interesting digital marketing Digital to the Rescue!news and trends i run across. I look forward to building this, and hope that each of you who visit are inspired just a little bit, as I am, by the revolution that’s taking place in marketing and communications through the changes in consumer behavior brought on by digital tools and networks.

What this will also be is long(er) form than the microblogging i have gotten most familiar with. I have a twitter feed at @hewsonb, and I have a tumblr site at here, but neither of those present the type of palette i need in order to describe the type of in depth exploration of an issue I can imagine I’ll want to put here.

Not just for daily updates, but for weekly thought pieces.

Not just for random thoughts but for meaningful descriptions of trends I’m seeing in the marketplace.

Not for the feint of heart. :) Wish me luck!