SEM is undoubtedly one of the most effective digital marketing channels that exist. When the right elements come together – a great product with good unit economics, relatively few competitors, and high search volumes – paid search scales very nicely.
But startups rarely have all these elements working in their favor at once, and they usually face a set of unique challenges when trying to build out SEM as a scalable channel. As a digital marketing agency that has worked with more than 100 startups of all shapes and sizes on SEM, we have seen and navigated these issues and want to share some insights about how to overcome them.
Startups have a set of unique challenges above and beyond the typical challenges faced by companies advertising on paid search channels like Google AdWords and Bing Ads.
The first big challenge is that many startups have unknown or unproven customer LTVs (lifetime values). Knowing your LTVs is the most important first step when considering doing any kind of paid advertising. If you don’t know how much money you’re making from a customer over their lifetime, you won’t know how much you can afford to spend to acquire them.
But for startups with relatively little operating history and low customer volumes, it becomes very difficult to accurately project LTV. A lack of LTV data is a bit of a chicken and an egg problem, since LTV can only be established once you have acquired customers. You have to expend some combination of time, effort, and money to acquire customers from any channel.
This is very important to understand – SEM can be used to help validate or establish LTVs, but if this is your goal then make sure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes a startup thinks they are trying to see if SEM is scalable for their business, but they realize they don’t have the right LTV data to assess the efficiency of the channel in the first place. It’s an important distinction that will change the approach and the resources needed to manage your SEM accounts.
One way to get around this catch-22 is to get industry comparisons by talking to VCs or people at similar companies who can augment any customer data you have. While customer LTVs for other companies will likely differ from yours, it’s a relatively good measure that can at minimum help you establish a benchmark for developing a target CPA.
How much you can afford to spend to acquire a customer (called a target CPA) is directly related to how much scale you can achieve from SEM. The higher your target CPA, the more scale you can achieve.The reason for this is diminishing returns. As you start increasing your SEM spend, CPAs also increase as you saturate the low-hanging, high-intent keywords that typically convert well and you reach for new keyword opportunities. Eventually your actual CPA will start bumping up against your CPA target and you will be forced to stop scaling spend until either you determine you can afford to pay a higher CPA or you are able to achieve lower CPAs with optimization.
Another challenge for startups using paid search is heavy competition from established companies. Because these incumbents know their LTVs and also typically have much larger budgets to work with, they can afford to be more aggressive with their bids on SEM and this can squeeze out startups trying to break in. In addition, sometimes these companies ensure they show up in a certain position – regardless of how inefficient it may be. This can make it very difficult for scrappy, unit-economics-driven startups to compete. This can be exacerbated for high-funnel keywords that are already very expensive and have relatively low conversions rates.
For an eCommerce startup selling subscription clothing boxes, a generic high-funnel keyword like “mens jackets” is unlikely to back out to a target CPA that’s based on their average customer LTV. However, when searching for this term you’ll notice Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom, and Michael Kors bidding aggressively:
Even for these companies, it’s unlikely that the CPA from these keywords backs out for them directly, but they continue to spend millions of dollars per year to show up in the top positions for these keywords. Such companies may be bidding on the belief that the brand exposure they receive from showing up for generic keywords makes up for CPA inefficiency, or they may be bidding on these keywords purely due to a fear of missing out since their competitors are bidding on them. Regardless, this is not a battle that a startup is going to win unless their LTV, and thus target CPA, allows them to compete.
The best way to get around this is to bid on a variety of long-tail keywords, which will have lower competition and likely higher intent, but will also be cheaper. The more extensive your list of long-tail generic keywords, the more traffic you can drive without relying on competitive, generic keywords. Google’s Keyword Planner and third-party tools like SpyFu can help you find long-tail keywords with low competition that are relevant to your business.
Another common obstacle for startups looking to leverage paid search is that they’re often operating in nascent or emerging markets, leading to low search interest. This can limit the amount of relevant search volume available, which is a critical aspect to scaling paid search.
People have to know something exists before they can search for it, or at least something closely related to it. If a startup is selling a whole new class of product or service, this poses a challenge. For example, in the early days of Uber and Lyft, no one knew what on-demand ride sharing was, so no one was searching for it. Only as the market matured did search interest start to skyrocket, as shown below:
How can you access search volume at scale when your industry is so new that people don’t even know it exists yet? This can be a daunting obstacle, and it takes some creativity to get past it.
Targeting competitor keywords and tangential products is one way to do this. For example, in the early days Uber could have bid on competitor keywords like “avis car rental” and “yellow cab taxi”, or tangential products like “quick transportation” and “call a taxi” to build awareness of its product and drive conversions via SEM.
However, the relevancy of a keyword to the product at hand will determine the conversion rate and so again it comes down to what CPA you can afford to pay for these keywords. Waiting for your market to develop is sometimes necessary in order to truly achieve scale from SEM while hitting your CPA target.
We’ve addressed the challenges in making paid search a profitable and scalable channel for startups, but what about the light at the end of the tunnel for those companies that are able to overcome those challenges?
The most obvious and most important advantage of paid search is the value of intent. Users are telling you exactly what they’re looking for when they type in a search term, which usually indicate higher levels of purchase intent than indirect signals like audience targeting that are available for other paid acquisition channels. As a result, no paid advertising channels come close to paid search conversion rates.
Intent-based search ads allow you to capture the low hanging fruit. Someone searching for “ride sharing app” is already generally aware of your product and is probably deep enough in the marketing funnel to download the app and use it. Search ads let you maximize demand capture.
But intent is also valuable for capturing higher-funnel interest. Someone searching for “quick transportation” is sending a direct signal that they’re looking for a fast way to get around, even if they’re not aware of the existence of ride sharing. This goes to show that you can find conversion volume from keywords that are not directly related to your product or service offering, assuming the unit-economics work out when comparing LTV to CPA.
Brand keyword coverage plays an important role in all SEM programs, but it’s especially critical for startups who should be capturing everyone searching for them. All the effort and resources expended driving awareness of a startup can be wasted if a potential customer searches for your brand on Google and gets poached by a competitor’s search ad. Branded search ads can help you protect your investment in other channels.
Given how valuable these earned branded search queries are, it should come as no surprise that bidding on competitors’ keywords can be a very effective way to reach potential customers at the bottom of the funnel who are ready to make a decision. This can be especially beneficial for startups who are in markets with well-known incumbents (i.e. lots of customers searching for their branded keywords).
While established companies may have larger budgets and more brand name recognition working in their favor, startups also have some things working in their favor.
For one, startups are able to move very fast and learn quickly due to their small size and lack of red tape, allowing for high-tempo testing and optimization, which is for scaling a paid search program. For another, startups can prioritize growth over profitability in pursuit of capturing a market, allowing them to better compete with established companies in ad auctions.
Finally, startups tend to have new and refined product offerings compared to their older competitors, creating the potential for higher conversion rates and customer LTVs. This can make it easier to compete with established competitors.
A Word to the Wise – Don’t Ignore Paid Search
Startups eventually have to acquire new customers efficiently and at scale in order to become mainstay businesses. In the early days that’s no easy task, as even defining efficiency goals based on LTV benchmarks can be arduous. Succeeding with SEM as a startup requires being nimble with testing and learning, and it sometimes necessitates sacrificing short-term efficiency in favor of long-term growth.
There will always be established competitors with much larger budgets trying to box out startups trying to break into their market, but there’s a huge opportunity for the startups that are able to successfully overcome the challenges associated with SEM. People expressing their intent through a search query is arguably the most powerful marketing signal that exists. And tapping into that signal using paid search engine marketing can be the source of a highly scalable customer acquisition channel.
Programmatic has been one of the biggest buzzwords being thrown around the industry over the past couple of years. It is also an area of the industry that is growing rapidly, with 72% of all display ads expected to be bought programmatically this year.
But what do you understand about it? Do you know you know where to go to get started? How do I manage it? Why is it important?
The customer mindset is changing and marketers are having to change their approach to how they reach their audience and create an experience that attracts, convinces and retains customers. The strategy of a single brand message, pushed to the masses via perceived viable channels, is no longer a viable option.
Brands need to be able to tailor their message to their various market segments at scale, and still nurture relationships to continue to move potential customers through the funnel. Programmatic technology allows advertisers to take everything that they know about their own customers, as well as potential customers and deliver a unique experience at every step of the customer journey.
The journey of a customer purchase has changed. Consumers conduct their online activities across multiple devices daily. From Mobile, to home Desktop, to work device, to potentially a tablet. No longer are consumers are choosing a single path to purchase to buy a product or utilize a service.
Advantages of Programmatic Advertising
The increased reach and diversity of inventory available in the programmatic eco system is second to none. Demand Side Platforms and other Programmatic Vendors provide a centralized location for advertisers to plan, launch and optimize their media buys. And while you may be moving your display buys away from AdWords display to a programmatic strategy, you will still be able to target the Google Display network via Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange (Adx).
Both AdWords/GDN share much of the same targeting segments and optimization techniques such as Contexual targeting, day parting, remarketing etc. However, where programmatic really separates itself from the pack is the depth of advanced targeting options it provides.
- 1st & 3rd Party Data Integration – Advertisers can take advantage of the their internal sales and CRM Data for their display campaigns, a feature currently unavailable in the GDN.There is also the added option of using 3rd party audiences created by DMPs such as Oracle, BlueKai or Exelate, who have collected user cookies and segmented them into behavioral categories
- Programmatic Direct and Private MarketPlaces – Both the streamlining of processes and the increasing concern around brand safety are becoming more prominent topics in the industry right now. Private MarketPlaces and Programmatic Direct are the cross section of these ideas right now. Private MarketPlaces are premium auctions on major publishing networks that allow select brands access to premium inventory before it moves onto the open exchange. Programmatic direct is the modern evolution of the direct display buy. Brands can negotiate, plan and report immediate on their direct buys from the same platform as their direct response and RTB prospecting.
Not only can brands streamline their process by centralizing the coordination of their online media buys, but they can also be confident that their ads are showing up on brand safe inventory. (For the most part. Their are some exceptions to the rule)
What to Look For in A Programmatic Vendor
Pricing: Are there minimums?, Flat CPMs or Dynamic CPM?, Hidden fees?
Transparency: How deep is the reporting? Can you see the true cost of your media vs your platform fees? Can you see when and where your ads are showing?
Targeting Options: Can you utilize certain CRM data? Is there a variety of targeting options (Device, Local Geos/Zip Code, Reputable inventory sources.)
Support Tiers: Full Service/Managed Options if preferred. Is the self serve support good? Do you get an Account Manager or a generic support email or phone number?
Tech: What is the vendor’s unique selling point? Is it unique algorithms, or proprietary data or advanced tech partnerships.
Tracking: How much data can you track. Can you pull in revenue data? How much attribution technology can the vendor provide.
How Do I Get Started?
As the industry evolves, PPC Managers are going to find ways to grow their accounts beyond the traditional channels like AdWords, Bing, and Paid Social. While programmatic seems like this scary unknown thing, it is actually pretty simple. It carries many of the same philosophies that we as PPC Managers do. You Plan, Launch, Test, Analyze, Optimize and Repeat.
While Programmatic has great targeting features and advanced technology, it still requires a full funnel approach and mindset.
Before you start any campaign, define what success looks like and define the KPIs that will move the needle for you or your client.
It is also important to remember that Display/Video is still prospecting first channel. On average, 98% of visitors will not convert on their first visit. Like I mentioned earlier, they need to be exposed to the brand, convinced to consider, and then nurtured to the point of conversion.
A simple way to plan your funnel could look like this:
Step 1. Awareness
Let users know you are here and send them to a generic landing pages such as a homepage of informational page.
Some potential tactics for this stage of the funnel include: Page Category targeting, Broader 3rd Party Audiences potentially associated with your brand, Programmatic Direct and/or a Private Market Places
Step 2. Consideration
This is where an increased reach for remarketing can be utilized at its best. Segment audiences who have viewed certain products, solutions or certain content of your site. Utilizing specific messaging based on these activities can help create the 1:1 relationship that modern consumers want. From a prospecting perspective, it can also be useful to use focused 3rd Party Audiences, such as those “In-market” for your product or service.
Step 3. Decision Stage
This is where the utilization of CRM data and the tracking of deep in the funnel customers such as “Add to Cart” can be added into your strategy. This audience would usually consist of users who have potentially downloaded a white paper on the B2B side, or from a B2C perspective, Add To Cart, or started a checkout but did not convert. These data sets allow for subtle, but specific reminder messaging for the customer to take the next step in the funnel.
Step 4. Nurturing
Because someone has become a customer from being a lead, or bought an item from your store, it does not mean that they should be forgotten. Staggered retargeting or “custom prospecting” can be a valuable way to cross sell customer on other products and services. Not only will this increase the customer’s attention of your brand, it will also add to the Lifetime Value of your customer.
How To Optimize Programmatic Campaigns
While Programmatic shares much of the same philosophies as PPC, such as, bidding, device performance, creative performance etc. it is important to know that there are extra layers in the optimization process:
While we have access to placement reports in the GDN, with the greater reach offered in programmatic, comes greater risk of turning up on poor quality inventory. Monitor your placements regularly to ensure that you are showing up where you want to. These lists are also useful in the planning of potential Private Market Place or Programmatic Direct Deals with your top performing placements.
Within AdWords, you only have the GDN to contend with. Within Programmatic, you have up to 90 different networks or “exchanges” can all share the same publishers and inventory. Each exchange bids and matches ads to inventory in different ways. Monitor which exchanges are providing the best performance for your primary KPI.
Analytics is probably the most important tool that you can use, just like with your PPC campaigns. Campaign metrics can only give a snapshot of performance on the front-end. To ensure that you are reaching your goals and moving customers through the funnel efficiently, monitor your bounce rate, time on site, steps through the funnel and ultimately the conversion rate. If these metrics are performing poorly, you may be facing multiple issues, both campaign related and not, such as:
- Poor Landing Page choice
- Bad UX
- Irrelevant Targeting
Armed with data and insights, you can adjust your funnel, UX and targeting to effectively optimize your campaign.
PPC as we know it today may still be the King, however the competitive landscape and demands of customers has forced advertisers to think beyond AdWords. The advanced technology and targeting offers the opportunity for a better customer experience, which in turn increases revenue and ultimately brand loyalty.
Taking the jump from PPC to managing programmatic campaigns maybe scary. There is a lot to consider, there is a learning curve, but adaption is necessary, but can ultimately it can be an easy transition.
People are now watching an average of 1 billion hours a day on YouTube. Besides being an extremely effective branding channel, you can also work on getting direct revenue straight from YouTube. It’s all possible by creating TrueView shopping campaigns.
It’s hard to believe this campaign type is almost two years old, and in my opinion, underutilized. This post will show you some valuable tips to know about TrueView shopping campaigns before creating your first one.
Remember the Number 6
If you want to run TrueView shopping campaigns on YouTube’s six-second bumper ads, you’re going to be disappointed because it’s not an option. And I take Google’s side on this one. Think about it. Six seconds isn’t enough time for a user to engage with your video, connect with your message, and peruse your product line before the ad transitions to the hosting video.
The other reason the number 6 is important is because that is the maximum amount of Shopping cards that can appear on your YouTube ads. Even though you can select more products to use in your campaigns, only six products can show so choose your filtering wisely (coming up next).
And when those shopping cards show up on YouTube, they eliminate the possibility of any other cards (like call-to-action overlays) appearing on your videos.
Product is Selected at the Campaign Level
In a Search Network shopping campaign, advertisers are used to creating ad groups first before having to select their product. With TrueView shopping campaigns, you have to select your products a step earlier at the campaign level.
This may change your strategy of how you structure your TrueView shopping campaigns if only certain products would make sense to show alongside certain videos.
You have three options when selecting your products:
- Choose all products available in your chosen feed
- Select specific products by searching for titles, URLs or product IDs
- Create custom filters (one example seen below)
If you’re going to select specific products, it’s important to remember you only get to select a maximum of 10 products. If you want more than 10 products to show up for your campaign, try finding a custom filter that works or create a new feed to sync with your campaign.
Dynamic Remarketing Is Available for YouTube Shopping
What if your company has a great video to showcase, but the video content isn’t about any particular product line? What if you don’t have a big budget and only want to show products to previous visitors who are watching your videos? Dynamic remarketing is here for you.
In your Video campaign settings, make sure your product filter is set to all products. Then when you get to the section to add additional targeting, select the proper remarketing audiences to add to your campaign.
Your TrueView shopping remarketing campaigns will use the same data as your dynamic remarketing for Display ads. So make sure your dynamic remarketing is set up properly.
Give TrueView for Shopping a Try
YouTube is a fantastic channel to show users the full spectrum of capabilities and features your products offer. Make users fall in love with your products with great visual content, then encourage them to buy it using TrueView shopping campaigns.
It might take some time to figure out the best targeting and campaign structure that works best for you. But once you find the sweet spot, you can be pulling in revenue from an unexpected channel.
It is no secret that marketing is one of the driving forces in any business, and that success often comes down to how well your communications are conceived and executed. If you’re a business that currently runs its own in-house marketing and PR, but are looking to outsource this to an agency, you will no doubt dedicate a great deal of time to setting the budget and building a team capable of engaging with customers. It’s important to ensure that your company’s reputation remains strong and, ultimately, helps to increase sales and profits.
Of course, it is easy to see why so many firms, especially larger ones, opt for an in-house marketing department. Working for just one organization, the press officer or social media expert has more time to spend on campaigns, a better grasp of internal processes and can be on hand for those impromptu meetings.
While it makes sense to have at least one marketing professional within your organization, many benefit from a multi-agency approach. At Creditfix, our team works with a number of different consultancies to deliver press campaigns, advertising and SEO strategy.
Benefits of Multi-Agency Marketing
Multitude of Skills – Multi-agency marketing allows us to tap into the skills and experience of an agency, and the creative ideas of a wide range of talented individuals, who are all specialists in their field. Dynamic and agile, they are comfortable with targets, tight deadlines, and thrive on creating exciting and innovative campaigns.
Tried and tested methods – It is almost a certainty that at an agency your business will be one client among many. Ideas that have been tried and tested and that have proved a success can be adapted and catered to your campaign; something that, in theory, is risk-free.
Experts in a field – Rather than just having one agency or in-house departments, with a multi-agency model you can get the benefit of the single disciplines of the experts. It allows you to have agencies devoted purely to their single specialisms to help deliver an all-encompassing and successful marketing strategy.
It is not uncommon for businesses to lean on just one agency, even though there is a danger it cannot deliver everything to the standards required. Employing multiple teams might sound like a logistical nightmare – but with a little joined-up thinking, and a robust system in place, you will soon be reaping the rewards.
So how do you successfully manage relationships with different partners and ensure their goals are aligned with yours?
Incorporate the agencies into your marketing department – You should work with them to set out your aims. Good internal communications are paramount, so set-up regular inter-agency meetings and conference calls – and it always helps if they can share knowledge and best practices. Our PR agency, for example, might have more leverage for placing content in a publication if the ad buying agency has already bought space in it.
Keep track of your success – Setting targets is all well and good, but the last thing you want is for your marketing manager to lose track of what is going on. This is where regular audits and reporting comes in. Consistent and transparent processes will ensure projects remain on track and can be scrutinized by the board, CEO or shareholders.
One ‘port-of-call’ – It’s often a good idea to have a single point of contact within your organization – someone who can co-ordinate activity with all your agencies and relay feedback between internal departments. There are numerous online tools that automate the reporting process, and ensure that everyone is kept in the loop. AdStage, for example, allows teams in different locations to run and monitor campaigns across Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Bing, simply by accessing the shared online account.
A company’s needs change at different points, and the advantage of tapping into multiple specialisms means you can create flexible marketing campaigns, whether it is a short blast of TV advertising or long-term SEO strategy. You can pick the services you want at any given time, and with a little forward planning, agency teams can become your most innovative and trusted colleagues.
Preparing and presenting a Quarterly Business Report brings the same stress as that college thesis paper that counted for 75% of your grade. Except this particular assignment happens four times per year. The agency has worked its tail off meeting and exceeding KPIs, and diligently tracking everything for reporting purposes.
But if the presentation is full of disorganized data and a narrative that jumps around, your clients are liable to think you don’t know what you’re doing. We’ve covered the most effective types of PPC reports to pull, but the way you present the reports is just as important. Here’s how to create a cohesive story that’s easy for clients to follow and will ultimately earn you trust and authority.
It takes a village to put a comprehensive QBR together, but the final document should look like it’s coming from one entity. It’s easiest to create one template at the beginning into which teammates can drop information, but you also need to have a visual gatekeeper who’s responsible for going back through with a fine tooth comb and revising anything that feels off.
By pulling reports from one place, i.e. Adstage, you’ve already done half the work for yourself, since the reports will all have the same look and feel.
Get Your Slides in Order
Just because your data prints out in a certain sequence doesn’t mean you should present it that way. In fact, shuffle everything up to force yourself and the team to think through the strongest narrative.
You should always start with your KPIs since that’s the reason for the QBR in the first place, but figure out where you can slide in more data, where the story should go after you review numbers, the best place to bring up new ideas, etc.
If your slides are out of order, your story is going to be off. It could sound like someone trying to tell the tale of the Goldilocks, but the opening chapter is Goldilocks jumping out of baby bear’s bed when the homeowners return. Your audience is going to be confused about what’s going on.
Watch Your Length
Have you heard of the nine-minute rule? It’s based on the fact humans have short attention spans, namely the ability to concentrate on one subject for no more than 10 minutes at a time. The Forbes Agency Council suggests sticking close to it for the presentation.
Make sure all the most important information comes at the beginning (and that you can cover all of it within 9 minutes), and use the remaining time for additional, but not crucial, details.
That means you’ll have to determine how deep into each report you should go. But if you present the data in a clear, beautiful manner in the first place, you won’t need to spend time explaining every little piece.
Translate the Data
Your graphs might look like a spider’s web of data and require 8 point type to fit everything in, but you should be able to sum it up in one sentence. For example, “Site traffic increased 8x as a result of shifting dollars to the PPC ad budget.”
Remember, many people in your client’s office will likely take a look at the QBR, so make sure each slide includes a simple explanation of the data. Don’t rely on the people in the room to turn around and give the same presentation you did to the people who weren’t in the meeting.
Use the Past to Talk About the Future
Treat your PPC reports as a guidepost and springboard for recommendations on where to direct business. Don’t just deliver the results. As a true agency partner, you should have a strong enough understanding of what worked, what needs tweaks, and what to ditch.
Be able to make recommendations based on that information and your unique knowledge of the marketplace in which your client’s business competes. The fact that your reporting is streamlined and clear will give your client confidence you have a vision for the future and know what you’re talking about.
Check Your Work with a Run-Through
Grab a few people in the office who have never worked on the account and ask them to sit through a practice presentation. They should look for data that’s confusing, slides that seem out of order, holes in the narrative, and ask questions clients might ask.
Run-throughs are invaluable before a big presentation for the reasons mentioned, but also to help time everything out. If it’s taking 20 minutes to get through the major points, you need to go back to the presentation deck and figure out how to shuffle and cut until you’re closer to the 9-minute mark.
If you haven’t been doing this already, send regular updates to clients to avoid surprises. It may be called a Quarterly Business Review, but don’t let that be the only time you’re sharing out info. Talking often means clients feel more involved in what’s going on, issues can be flagged and talked through before anything blows up, and you have the opportunity to share good news when it’s happening.
AdStage offers the ability to have PPC reports automatically sent to clients at a customized cadence and with whatever metrics they want, so mini-QBRs take just a few minutes to prepare.
QBRs may be the biggest project you work on every three months, but at least they don’t count for 75% of your salary! Make the most of them with easy-to-pull PPC reports and a strong presentation that’ll knock their socks off.
I feel sorry for millennials; they get bad press. Perhaps the worst thing about being a millennial is that they are so typecast, but it may just appear to be that way due to the heaps of content they are all ‘supposedly’ producing about themselves!
At the tender age of 43, I am of “Generation X”, but before I get shot down for being too old to comment on this (or anything at all if you believe the millennial hype), millennials should, if stereotypes are to be believed, love and want to be me, as I own a successful digital PR agency. As we know, “all” millennials work or at least (should) want to work in this sector.
Wikipedia (where else would I look for this piece) states that there is no precise start/stop date for being a millennial, but sort of suggests that to qualify, births range from the early-80’s to early 00’s. For the purposes of this piece then – folk between say 22-34.
(Millennial members of the Tank team.)
Demand Generation Professionals Need…?
Demand generation is all about developing relationships with prospect customers, existing customers and evangelists at all stages of the purchase process to create a stronger sales funnel. This, in the main, is achieved by identifying targets and then creating a marketing strategy to engage with them. In other words, feeding targets with excellent, relevant content and creating relationships that, one way or another, make them feel better and more informed about a brand.
In addition to sourcing, creating and delivering factual information and advice, agencies create stories. We judge a story by asking whether someone could feasibly tell that story to their friend in the pub. If they can, it passes the test. I believe that anything that passes that test should then theoretically be content that someone would like to read (audience), publish (journalist or influencer), or share (anyone on their own personal channels).
So given that the essential hub of all content is some kind of story or genuinely useful and targeted information – is this something that can only be created by a youngish person – a millennial? Of course it isn’t.
The ability to write with empathy, cultural understanding and persuasion perhaps should improve with age. Good writing, I believe, is a combination of technical excellence and life experience. Whilst experience is not the preserve of the middle aged and beyond, the odds of having more of it are definitely on their side.
The most electrifying poets may have been teenagers and twenty somethings, but a person who can excite pet owners about buying a tin of cat food with a blog, probably has a few decades of actual cat ownership under their belt. Put it another way – given that the majority of the people with the most money are (much) older than millennials, as are most of the people that procure for businesses – are millennials always best people to understand and engage with these people?
Age Diversity in Agencies
It’s a shame that there isn’t more age diversity in agencies. The first decade of my career was spent with inspirational ad creatives and copywriters who were big in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’d like to say that when I worked with them, what made them great was that they cut their teeth in the hard drinking, no rules creative environments of the late 70’s, when they were the millennials in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t. It was actually that they just knew rules of engagement backwards and could create outcomes with words and pictures – as they knew what the customer wanted and needed. Talent, age, experience and training gave them this.
(The entire Tank team.)
One argument for a complete millennial team is their natural affinity with the tools of technology, both social and digital. Then I remember that I, and most of my agency, were taught 90 percent of everything we know about social media and to some extent search, by a man who is at the door of 50. He in turn learnt from someone older than him, and on it goes.
I work with lots of talented millennials, or as I call them, talented people. They make up much of my team, some clients and supply partners. They are not the only people who are required in the demand generation mix, though. Whilst some agencies will obviously have a totally millennial team, there is so much need for age and experience, too. The industry does have a hell of a lot of young people in it, and some people say it’s a young person’s game, due to the energy required to keep up in this fast-moving industry. That said, most of the good agencies that I know (our own being one of them) are staffed with a fair percentage of people over 34.
So, for me at least, demand generation teams should certainly not be solely made up of millennials.
Peter Levitan knows agencies. He ran Business development at Saatchi & Saatchi in Europe and North America, owned his own Portland agency and was a founder and CEO of two Internet companies. We were lucky enough to have him as our guest on Episode 38 of The PPC Show.
While we recommend giving the entire episode a listen, here are the top seven pieces of wisdom Peter Levitan shared with us while on the show:
- “We’re in a world where specialization wins.” If you’re looking to start your own agency, know that clients are looking for specialists. We’re no longer in the grand old days where agencies were either television, print, or radio. Know your specialty and make sure clients know it, too.
- “The more you blog, and the more you stick to a specific subject, then the more people will find you and love you.” Sticking to the theme of specialization, make sure your company blog follows this wisdom as well. People will seek out and enjoy your content if they know what to look for and what they’re getting once they find it.
- “How are you making money?” Whether you’re starting your own agency or work in an established one, make sure you can answer that important question. What’s your business plan? What is it that you’re selling? To whom? How much will they pay you? How much will you keep? About half of agencies don’t have consistent answers when faced with these topics.
- Run SWOT analysis with your team and then do something about it. Firstly, the exercise alone focuses the mind and can help you answer the questions in number 3. Secondly, make sure you set aside time to actually act on your findings from the analysis. Many agencies have a plan but they don’t run it. Make a plan for your business development and then be consistent about executing it.
- “Your website HAS to be a sales tool.” So many agencies fall into the trap of turning their websites into fun, creative projects or brochures. While that’s all well and good, if your website is not set up to make a sale, then it’s not doing much for you. Sales is a 24-7 game now and your website is doing a lot of that work for you. Make sure it’s set up that way.
- “PPC works. The more you can use it, the better.” If you want to get more clients, try running PPC ads. Test the major networks – Facebook, LinkedIn – and see what works best for you. If they work, are easy, and can fit into your schedule then you have your answer. If they don’t fit in your schedule, find someone at your agency who can be in charge of them. That’s really key. If no one is assigned to be in charge of PPC, you’re not going to get a lot out of that money.
- “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” Peter is a seasoned agency professional who now runs a completely internet-based business out of his house in Mexico and is thoroughly enjoying life. You can, too!
Not enough agency wisdom? Listen to the entire episode here:
Want to hear more from Peter Levitan? Check out his blog (nearing 600 posts), buy his book, and follow him on Twitter.
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I learned about Net Promoter Score in business school and, when I joined AdStage a few years ago as VP of Product, I thought this would be a great chance to put that skill to use. After all, Net Promoter Score is known as a universal measure for customer experience management. Once I went through the process of actually attempting to measure customer experience, however, it became clear that while the score might not be universally useful, the lessons learned in the process can be.
Getting to Know Your Users
When I first joined AdStage, step one was to make sure I truly understood our user base. Why do they use our product? What pain do we cure? How do they feel when they use it? That meant doing my best impression of a journalist delving into the complexities of a story. By the end of step one I had developed a true sense of empathy for our customers.
Step two was to go to the game film. This meant watching users as they attempted to use our product. I did this by combing through event data, user logs and even spending some time in our customers’ offices doing physical user shadow sessions. It doesn’t take long to realize users say they do one thing but actually do something very different. Ask a user if they like a feature and they’ll confidently say, “yes.” Yet you then watch them awkwardly scan the page and it’s pretty obvious they have never used that feature before.
Once I logged enough hours I felt like I had a great grasp of their workflows, mindset and behavior.
When Companies Should Employ Net Promoter Score Surveys
Like many B2B companies, we started with a handful of customers that used our product. It didn’t take long to connect with almost all of our users to learn their stories. Fortunately, that handful of customers grew to thousands. That meant I was no longer able to personally know every single customer and their challenges. I needed to put something in place to formally collect feedback.
How to Set Up Your Net Promoter Score Survey
There are lots of tools to automate your NPS survey (we use AskNicely) so it is sent to the right people at the right time. We wait 60 days after a customer has started paying for our product. This gives our customers enough time to use the product and give meaningful feedback. Remember: you want complete honesty, not a vanity metric. We then check in with another survey every 6 months.
With a little work you can also rig your customer communication tools (we use Intercom) to generate automated responses so you message Promoters, Passives and Detractors with a relevant and timely message. In my experience about 50% of people respond to my automated email asking for more detailed feedback. You can learn how to set up the Intercom Asknice.ly integration here.
The Question Itself:
A lot of people recommend changing the wording of your NPS survey question beyond the classic “How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?” However, in my experience, it seems like customers ignore the actual question text and just think of the 0–10 rating as a way to express general satisfaction. If there’s one thing NPS has done, it’s created a standard feedback mechanism that users complete at a higher rate than traditional satisfaction surveys. So I feel it is better to leave the standard question so users quickly and honestly respond. Rewording the question forces people to read and think. Both things they hate to do.
Why Companies Should Employ Net Promoter Score Surveys
The classic Net Promoter Score survey is calculated using the answer to the survey question regarding likelihood of recommending your product and a 10-point scale. Many believe this to be the core measurement for customer experience management programs worldwide and it can work if you’re a B2C company with tons of engaged users and a huge sample size.
However, we’re a B2B platform and we simply don’t have the same scale as a consumer app. And we don’t like touting data that we don’t have a high enough sample size to back. As a result, we use the Net Promoter Score survey as a means to collect qualitative feedback and as an early warning system to discover if a user is unhappy.
In the end, we don’t use the actual “score” in Net Promoter Score. However the survey and automated messaging we set up to send and manage NPS turned into a efficient way to illicit quick and honest sentiment from our users on a regular basis. To go back to my journalist analogy, it is the tip-line that points me in the direction of a user that I need to sit down with and interview.