Keyword influences on paid search click-through rates

This research paper investigated how specific keyword characteristics affect click-through rates. By modeling a set of keywords in a pay-per-click environment, the researchers found that searches conducted by brand-loyal consumers, typified by “retailer-name” searches, had the highest predictive value relative to click-through rates. The researchers noted that when consumers searched for specific brand names, however, click-through rates on paid searches were not as easy to predict. The researchers surmised that this is because consumers were more likely conducting “competitive” searches–surveying the market–and were not swayed by clever calls to action but focused more on securing the lowest price.

Mitigating bad press through viral marketing

Here is an excellent thesis on how public relations professionals can use viral marketing tactics powered by social media to mitigate bad press. The author states that viral public relations campaigns “are less overt and therefore better received” because consumers perceive they are in control. (p56) Viral marketing tactics allow professionals to listen, build relationships with customers, and hopefully build brand ambassadors.

Yet despite proffering evidence that viral marketing–if deployed strategically–can yield a high gain return in managing and preserving a firm’s reputation, the author points out that public relations professionals are loathe to abandon traditional methodologies. The author does point out some tactics, however, that public relations professionals can adopt from the advertising world: target marketing, integrated communications plans, deft handling and understanding of niche marketing principles, and embracing consumer control over and transmogrification of brand identity and meaning.

Brand considerations in social media marketing

This paper argues that allowing consumers to “co-create” or “co-author” products–i.e., directly engaging and encouraging consumers to participate in new product development processes–taps vast wells of creativity while exploiting certain cost efficiencies in terms of labor. Similarly, this paper explores how Web 2.0 will fundamentally (has fundamentally) changed the manner by which companies must brand themselves. Gone is a command and control ethos. Emerging is an empowerment and transparency ethos:

  • engagement replaces interruption
  • diversity and self-expression replace conformism and unity
  • the media of the masses replace mass media
  • granular insights and rich data replaces generalisation
  • conversations in marketing replace control

As examples of this new paradigm, the paper points to Dove’s (note too the related contra-positive consumer-generated videos) and Nike’s strategic Web 2.0 marketing successes.

Revenue considerations of social networks

This paper points out that social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook have huge potential for high advertising revenue gains because “the cost of gaining new customers is practically nothing [since] users join voluntarily and provide their own content through their profiles. In addition, the cost of running the sites’ web servers is relatively low.”

The authors do point out, however, that significant revenue gains might be limited because these sites must constantly innovate to retain and attract new “customers”, it’s easy to launch rival social networks, and consumers have lots of choices as to which social networks to use.

Managing online “spillover” reputational crises

This paper includes an interesting analysis of online reputation management. It discusses “reputation spillover”, which is defined as a “reputational crisis that impacts a focal organization [and] spread[s] to others.”

Reputation crises are triggered by financial crises or accidents and spread virally because consumer “link” like firms together, even if one of the “linked” firms has nothing to do with the crisis. The paper limits its analysis to “within-industry effects”. For example, a large player in an industry can casts a wide reputational reverb:

In the mid-1980s, the FDA released the results of a study that showed an unusually strong link between a tampon manufactured by Procter & Gamble and toxic shock syndrome (TSS) – a rare, life-threatening bacterial infection (Behr, 1980). The cause of TSS seemed to stem from a unique and innovative material used by Procter & Gamble (but by none of its rivals). In response, Procter & Gamble began a recall of their product from store shelves. Interestingly however, Tampax, the next largest rival in the product category, also began to experience declining market valuation, even while their product was recording record revenues (Metz, 1980). Arguably, had the crisis struck not Procter & Gamble but a much smaller organization, rivals would probably not have faced the same generalized and negative reactions.

Behr, P. (1980) ‘Toxic shocks, tampons under scrutiny’, The Washington Post, L1, Washington, DC.
Metz, R. (1980) ‘Toxic shock and Tampax’, The New York Times, 8, New York.

The paper points out that “any organization is at risk for a negative impact aimed at its reputation due to the actions of others in its competitive environment.” In response, the paper suggests that managers should have response plans in place along “marketing and public relations, legal and technical considerations.”

Planning longtail media campaigns with Google AdPlanner

Google’s AdPlanner (need to register for the beta) has the potential to unleash the power of traditional demographic marketing analysis to long-tail search strategies. This is a great tool because it allows media planners to target niche sites in a highly effective manner while focusing on distinct consumer segments. For example, let’s say that I’m targeting cycling enthusiasts and want to know which niche sites appeal to a male demographic with a HHI between $100,000 and $125,000. By using Google AdPlanner I have good idea where to start: roadbikereview.com and cyclingnews.com (see screenshot below).

GoogleAdPlanner

Zip+4 Targeting: Online Advertiser Demographic Segmentation

Assume you’re a brokerage firm with a wide distribution of properties over several zip codes. Aside from basic syndication to online aggregators, what’s another strategy to market your listings? One fee-based option that many aggregators offer is enhanced listings. Before you pay, however, ask them to prove their merit.

Assume you cover these two zip codes 28226 and 28104. According to Claritas, homes in these zip codes have very different consumer attributes (you’ll have to enter the zip codes yourself to get the results).

Armed with the demographic information, you should ask your online aggregator to give you a demographic break-down, at the zip+4 level, of it’s user audience on the search patterns and niche pages/sections of its site. For example, assume a consumer is searching an aggregator’s site in your coverage area (indicated by the consumer entering city name or 5-digit zip code as search criteria). Based on these entries, relevant properties are returned to the consumer. It’s at this moment aggregators give you an opportunity to have an enhanced listing display to this consumer.

Now it’s your turn to push back: ask for the historical demographic breakdown of the users who entered those search criteria: does the demographic base skew towards segment A (assume A is more likely to own an inexpensive American made car and have a household income below $50,000) or segment B (assume B is more likely to own an expensive foreign made car and belong to a country club)? Once you know, you will know which listings to enhance, while including appropriate imagery and content triggers that appeal to the lifestyle attributes of your targeted demographic segment.

For example, if the base skews towards segment B, perhaps you choose to only enhance listings that are 1) above $750,000, 2) close to a country club, and 3) have ample space for a boat.

Thus, you’re consolidating your advertising resources by focusing on high-gain marketing activities that give you a higher chance of getting a high quality click/lead. It’s a win for the advertiser too because they’re serving you better by giving you the opportunity to gain a high value click/lead (thus promoting retention of their services), while legitimately asking for a higher CPM or CPC for such.

Wikia Search versus Google Search: Round 2

After a couple of months, I decided to give Wikia another test. The theme this time is “golf course homes”:

“golf course homes for sale columbus ohio” Google Wikia Winner is Google because it lists relevant, real estate oriented blogs with posts focusing on the specific search query.

“golf course homes sanibel florida” Google Wikia Winner is Wikia because there were more real estate firm sites returned than on Google.

“villas for sale on golf courses valencia spain” Google Wikia Winner is Google because Wikia’s results did not center exclusively on property for sale, while Google’s results did.

“finger lakes ny real estate for sale on golf course” Google Wikia Winner is Google because many search results returned focused exclusively on Finger Lakes real estate firms, whereas Wikia’s results were limited to six results with the first talking about the Sopranos.

Zip+4 Coding for Real Estate Listings

What does The Filter have to do with real estate search? (NOTE: I went through the The Filter Q&A and have to say it was eerily prescient).

What if there was a site where a consumer would 1) define the location where they want to live (via natural language, drop down, or map search), 2) answer a simple set of “lifestyle-oriented” questions, the answers to which would bump up against Claritas’ Prizm database and 3) where a real estate broker would have performed a similar zip+4 coding of their listings? When the consumer presses the “Go” button, the answers to the lifestyle questions would peg a PRIZM code to them (via session cookie or registration ID) that would relate to the same PRIZM code tagged to the properties and deliver only those matched properties to the consumer.

The benefit to the consumer is they’ve cut through gobs of listings that may not fit their lifestyle and found the ones that do. The benefit to the broker is they’ve delivered a high value service to the client. If the broker then had live chat, IM, or showing appointment booking features on each listing, there’s a higher chance of getting a conversation started and higher quality inquiry on the listing.
Right result, right time, right for the consumer.

Expanding real estate sphere of influence online

This post on Transparent Real Estate offers a concise, easy-to-follow, tutorial on how to use Twitter and Friendfeed for real estate business development purposes. And this Owyang post further explores these concepts.

Taking Kitano’s and Owyang’s lead, your micro-memes would update your existing, new client, and prospective clients with your market knowledge, your insight, your new listings, etc. A network meme is useful because you can discern what’s important to your clients based on what they’re reading, posting, etc; it’s like taking a pulse, you may not know what makes a body tick or is ailing it, but the pulse helps you decide whether to further explore an issue. You can use macro memes to your advantage by looking at industry trends, topics, etc, and use such as fodder for your micro memes.

For example, let’s say you came across this article on FOX, you could write a micro meme to your network something like this

Just read FOXNews article http://tinyurl.com/5c5pe7 about home auctions & foreclosures & how they affect home prices. See analysis on [link to your blog]

What this does is reinforce to your network that you’re the expert. Second, it demonstrates leadership in that you are keeping them apprised of the market in terms of options. Third, you’re keeping yourself at the center of the equation showing no fear. Fourth, this reinforces that you’re a trusted advisor. Your blog is where you can demonstrate your market prowess.

Blog Sentiment and Traditional Media

eMarketer reports that a recent study on traditional media’s use of blogs shows that 57.7% of respondents–US journalists –use blogs to measure sentiment.

Identifying Expressions of Emotion in Text (core study found here, registration required) is an intriguing “blog sentiment” study that identified targeted, emotion-laden words–“seed words”–and retrieved 173 blog posts from the Web that contained such. What the researchers found was that you can algorithmically determine the “emotive pulse” of a blog, or individual blog entries.

Once a product is developed around this method, one practical application of this is that you could quickly cull blog posts that target a certain emotion pertaining to a brand so as to determine positive/neutral/negative sentiment relative to that brand. This is particularly useful for brands concerned about maintaining a “real time” knowledge base as to their status in the blogosphere; thus, enabling brand managers to anticipate/preempt potential public relations crises.

Managing Online Reputation on Search Engines

This post on the SEOMOZ.org site, is an excellent resource on tactics and considerations as it relates to managing your online reputation.

This post on the SEOMOZ.org site, is an excellent resource on tactics and considerations as it relates to managing your online reputation. I suggest reading the the SEOMOZ post before clicking on the additional resources listed below.

Wiki article

Interview with a person who specializes in online reputation management issues.

Two big take-aways from this article are use basic SEO tactic to systematically push negative comments of the first page of Google and respond and get involved immediately.

Blog Pay-Per-Click Advertising Opportunities

eMarketer issued a report that blogs are big business (or have the potential to be). According to the article, advertising opportunities abound for traditional advertisers in the blogosphere as the number of blogs grow and readership increases.

And this research paper from MicroSoft adCenterLabs discusses intriguing concepts in tracking blog information flows with an eye towards charging an appropriate fee for a PPC advertisement placed on a blog.

Classified Ads in the Trash

Epitaph of printed classified advertisements:

classifiedtrash2.jpg

classifiedadcut.JPG

And this commentary corroborates the physical evidence.

For newspapers, these are the end times, or something very much like them. Every week provides a new marker on the road to apocalypse: hundreds of layoffs in Los Angeles, circulation scandals in Dallas

… and …

The rise of the Craigslist model has devastated classified advertising in newspapers, once the only place in a city to sell a used car or list a job opening…why should you spend $100 putting something up for sale in the paper when you can post it on Craigslist for free? Why list a job for $200 when you can list it for $10?

The NYTimes also agrees. And apparently it’s profitable to give consumers–and advertisers–a simple and easy to access, use, and understand forum.

Accordingly, unless you’re really targeting a niche demographic, go with an online vertical advertising venue rather than traditional print classifieds; this saves you money over the long-term, allows you to target your audience more effectively, and measure the performance of your advertising spend.

Competitive Intelligence Using TouchGraph

TouchGraph is an excellent tool that gives you “visual insight” into a site’s external linking structure and relationships, which is a good starting point for website competitive analysis.  Let’s compare Redfin, Zillow, and REALTOR.com.

Redfin’s linking relationships

RedfineTouchGraph

Zillow’s linking relationships

ZillowTouchGraph

REALTOR.com’s linking relationships

RealtorToughGraph

The visual representation of these relationships allows you to quickly explore the link structure of the “affiliated” sites much faster than conducting such an analysis using Google or Yahoo tools. Thus, you can better assess your weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities in cultivating or disabling the same or similar relationships.

Trulia Case Study in Online Reputation Management

Trulia’s response to this issue is an excellent case study in online reputation management.

This post generated 159 comments, and landed in Trulia’s lap on Tuesday, April 29th, 2008, 10:36 am MST. The subject hit at the heart of Trulia’s astounding SEO success. Trulia’s response to this issue is an excellent case study in online reputation management that began with a blog-flame and ended with this MarketWatch interview.

On April 29th, Trulia’s first response was to see how high the flames would go. BHB is a very popular real estate industry blog. If the issue dies on BHB, then it’s likely dead everywhere else too. However, if the issue lives and progresses from birth to adolescence to adulthood in record time, it’s time to respond. And on BHB, “adulthood” was reached in record time. Thus, Trulia responded.

Trulia’s first public response on BHB was April 30th, 2008 9:58 am from Rudy at Trulia. His post did not seem to stem the tide of negative commentary. Thus, Pete Flint, Trulia’s founder and CEO, got in on the action that afternoon. Rudy’s and Pete’s posts were debated, derided, and defended throughout the day and over the next several days, with the issue basically fizzling out on the eighth day–an eternity in the blogosphere. Additionally, in the midst of this, Trulia responded on its own blog; an appropriate tactic and response vehicle in addition to their comments mentioned above.

In analyzing their response tactics in view of a possible PR crisis, Trulia did an excellent job–they jumped into the controversy, debated and tried to clarify points they felt were inaccurate (i.e., through their comments they got their side of the story posted on the BHB blog), and responded in their own forum. This latter tactic get’s their blog post about the controversy a nifty Google search result. For example, the search phrase trulia pagerank debate gives them a higher position on Google than the original BHB posting, and the phrase trulia seo debate gives them a similar great position. Trulia’s final act in the midst of this blog-debate was to issue a press release about their foreclosure survey, which was also picked up by newswires like PR Newswire Eur at 15:47:00 on 5/7/08 and AP Alert – HiTech at 15:49:22 on 5/7/08.

From a PR perspective, what’s masterful about this latter tactic? PR channel management: managing the blog-tech channel as opposed to the traditional press-consumer channel.

Essentially, Trulia ceded the fact that they would not win the blog-tech battle, and appears fine with having their side of the story told. Yet, Trulia appears absolutely focused on maintaining its dominate position in the eyes of the traditional press as the authority on real estate. To this point, what’s some evidence that Trulia has maintained it’s dominance in the eyes of the traditional press? The MarketWatch interview seen above.

Storytelling in Web 2.0 marketing

Storytelling is one of the most important marketing concepts in our Web 2.0 world, argues this TrendWatching briefing paper. The key is helping consumers tell other consumers a version of the story that stays true to tenets of the brand.

As more brands (have to) go niche and therefore tell stories that aren’t known to the masses, and as experiences and non-consumption-related expenditures take over from physical (and more visible) status symbols, consumers will increasingly have to tell each other stories to achieve a status dividend from their purchases. Expect a shift from brands telling a story, to brands helping consumers tell status-yielding stories to other consumers.

The briefing paper argues that as niche marketing pressures increase, creating brands that are truly unique is a necessity; yet, these brands must increasingly rely on consumers to “market” the products (ala the Godin Purple Cow argument). Thus, experience marketing is a must have, with “status storytelling” acting as the catalyst, driving towards having consumers create and nurture status spheres:

  • Transient Spheres (consumers driven by experiences)
  • Online Spheres (social status as determined by who connects to whom)
  • Eco Sphere (i.e., praising Prius drivers while scorning SUV owners)
  • Giving Spheres (charitable giving)
  • Participative Sphere (participation is the new consumption

Other salient tidbits from the status storytelling paper are finding conversation starter icons (like t-shirt designs, weird pins, funky Kleenex boxes, etc) and “life caching” and “life casting” concepts (aligning your product with platforms like uStreamTV).

Here’s an example of ustream.tv, BJ Fogg’s Stanford class called “Psychology of Facebook.

Gender bias in e-Loyalty programs

An e-Marketer recent report shows that moms are a major power on the Internet.

eMarketer

Notice how FrontDoor.com leverages this fact. And this research article points out that women adopt e-Service loyalty programs at a higher rate if their enjoyment and perceived social presence of the site is high. Notably, the researchers point out that

In particular, online vendors that cater to females may experience more pronounced and positive impacts of conveying a sense of warmth and sociability on their websites.

Notice that on the FrontDoor.com site that “warmth” and “community” is high. Thus, I’d not be surprised if they have a high loyalty rate.

Phishing and Social Media

The semantic nature of social networking has hit, head-first, the issue of phishing. A research paper by Peter Mika, discusses the semantic and colloquial nature of social networks, the findings of which offer savvy marketers unprecedented opportunities to understand how to incorporate social network folksonomies into their brand strategies. Yet this fundamental tenet–i.e., semantic relationships–that underpins social networks is vulnerable to phishing. Indiana University follows this phishing expedition via this website, which also has this great slide presentation.

Indeed, on Facebook I’ve been poked by phishing’s less sophisticated step-cousin, spam. Spam can occur in several different forms within a social network’s “gated community.” The form that’s arguably the most prevalent is an unsolicited message from a “friend”. In my case, I confirmed a “friend” who referenced a friend whom I trusted. Immediately, my new “friend” sent me an unsolicited offer to buy a new product that he/she was selling. Not a big deal in the scheme of life’s more important moments, but irritating nevertheless.

On the other hand, I welcome messages from Rohit Bhargava promoting his new book Personality Not Included. On Facebook, I joined Rohit’s
Personality Not Included – The Official Reader’s Group and expected to receive such messages, given the fact that he set up the group as a quasi-commercial network. Further, by following Rohit, I’m gaining tips on how to use Facebook groups responsibly so as not to offend anyone who decides to join any groups I create.

Launching a Web 2.0 campaign

How do you launch a Web 2.0 media campaign? You don’t. If you’re thinking of “launching” “campaigns” in the Web 2.0 media space, you’ve broken your legs out of the starting gate.

How does a corporate brand manager “launch” a Web 2.0 “campaign” to counter (or embrace) a consumer-generated product review like Dirt Devil vs Electrolux found via the “dirt devil mvp comparison to electrolux” Google search (clicking the page 1, position 1 result takes you to the video product review). Let me repeat this: for the search phrase “dirt devil mvp comparison to electrolux”, the first organic result on Google is a consumer-generated YouTube video. How does one forecast for this eventuality, and account for this within the deliberative, plodding, and corporate-controlled product development and roll-out plan? All the push-marketing tactics cannot totally devalue the kitschy product review from a real consumer who’s having a good time making a video. Will “I” trust the brand, or the consumer?

Here are some considerations while pondering the the concept that brands are no longer in control:

Step 1: Educate yourself on new ways of thinking about business (notice I did not suggest topics confined to “Web 2.0”, which is a simple moniker to encapsulate a new way of thinking about business). Here’s a list of books to read to get going: The Black Swan, The Art of the Start, The Four Hour Work Week, Competing on Analytics, Crossing the Chasm, The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you have other books to add, suggest them an I’ll start a formal book list.

Step 2: Step into the abyss. Yes…join a social network. I started with FaceBook. To follow the progress of building a community from the ground up on FaceBook, follow/join the Mighty Tour de Nez FaceBook Group I started about one of the country’s most exciting, innovative, and competitive cycling events. The key take-away with respect to the TDN is that even though this event has been going for over a decade, draws record crowds and record pro cyclists, building a community on the Web does not happen overnight. To see the power of an established Group, look at the Ironman FaceBook Group. Also, while you’re on FaceBook, add me as a friend and I’ll add you back.

Step 3: Go create a mission statement and have a good laugh.

Step 4: Trust yourself to make mistakes and not care that you’ve done so.

Wikia Search versus Google Search: Round 1

Test of which service gives a more relevant result for typical real estate searches (of course, relevancy is subjective). For this test, I am defining relevancy as routing me to the local market expert real estate firm or agent in the most expeditious manner.

  • “columbia south carolina real estate for sale” : Wikia Google : Winner is Google. The top search results on Google take me to South Carolina.
  • “60647 condos for sale” : Wikia Google : Winner is Google since the top search results take me directly to that zip code. Wikia delivered one result.
  • “lincoln park luxury homes” : Wikia Google : Tie. Both services presented me with similar results. Wikia was a little scattered in that it showed “lincoln park” results from around the country. Whereas Google directed me mostly to Chicago websites (which was my intent). Interesting note: When I added “illinois” to Wikia, it did not change the results much, and doing so on Google muddied the results (on Google, lots of optimization going on for the combo “lincoln park” in conjunction with “illinois)

Semantic web optimization?

With social networking sites surpassing search engines in terms of popularity, will the marketing value of search engine optimization diminish over time? This article makes a great case that the usefulness of organic search for consumers may eventually wane.

Interesting question: when a social network community provides answers–as opposed to an algorithm–can anyone really “optimize” their website for social networks? In fact, in this context, one can argue that the concept of “optimization” is a legacy marketing principle more akin to “push” marketing concepts as opposed to “engagement” or “Web 2.0” marketing concepts.

Let’s consider this phrase “semantic social network”. Via Google, I get this result, and via Wikia Search I get this result; as of this post, I am awaiting help from my FaceBook community.

Obviously, Google and Wikia will return a faster result than the community, and arguably the time I am waiting for the community to respond to my request (if it responds) I can peruse the myriad results via the two search engines. What I am hoping for, though, is that the community will point me in a direction that’s more pointed and vetted via its collective consciousness.

SXSW: Marketing without marketing

Summary of Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing:

Panelists:

Tara Hunt www.horsepigcow.com
Chris Heuer www.theconversationgroup.com
Jeremiah Owyang www.web-strategist.com
Deborah Schultz www.deborahschultz.com
Hugh MacLeod www.gapingvoid.com
David Parmet www.marketingbeginsathome.com

Key take-aways:
Passion for people. Put passion into product.
Let go to gain more.
Social objects are the future marketing.
Technology changes, human behavior does not; nothing replaces listening, nothing.
A story without love is not worth telling

Hunt (horsepigcow.com): Way of looking at customers rather than product; process not not product (MY COMMENT: product is the message). Conversations are about marketing, customer service, product development. Dont be afraid, it’s an open opportunity. Art more than a science. Get out of the ivory tower, don’t push, weave (network weaving). Look for customers that love you. Put up a FAQ, marketing, customer service. Go local, keep it local, use global reach to distribute locally. Short term strategy: tell the story. Cultural DNA shift, tactics are great; we are in a relationship economy (exchange of free and sometimes exchange currency); marketing is now a mosaic or a puzzle…the payback is long time in coming.

Heuer (theconversationgroup.com): Idea of community (traditional marketing is now saying “Build me a community I want one tomorrow”; this is not the way to think of this). Interpersonal connections make the community, not the tool. Social media is not new marketing, it simply changes how we relate; i.e., company to customer relationship. Attitudinal shift, stop trying to sell, help me want to buy. Make the service the product when there is an expensive product to market and cannot give away for free (e.g., Audi has WiFi, cleaning services). Share knowledge and facilitate interpersonal communications. SHORT TERM: depends on the quality story; “the brands with the best storytellers win” (said by iProspect guy). How do we give an experience of our product away for free. You are giving away a connection, cultivate a feeling, get away from selling a message.

Owyang (Web-strategist.com): conducts research on this market; online community best practices, clear that companies that let go and let customers take charge have thriving communities, for example, grant private access to an brand “embassy”, let them (evangelists) have access to private data, advocates in the embassy go out and evangelize. HOW DID THEY SELECT THE PASSIONATE ADVOCATES? Blog roles, Technorati rankings, who’s talking most about product, can also use brand monitoring companies, buzz metrics, symphony, buzz logic; the main point is that you can find your “brand lovers”. While at Hitachi, created industry-wide Wiki, let anyone in the community to add to it; became starting points to searches for data storage devices; still in use today.

Schultz (deborahschultz.com) the more one gives away the more business one gets. Social capital is basically the value of the relationships and reputation. But how much do you give away without going broke? Traditional marketing aims to promote a generic spread of a message; whereas Hugh saw great opp in the market of bloggers and geek friends to promote wine; read book BLUE OCEAN STRATEGIES.

Macleod (gapingvoid.com): let them say what they want, no preconditions on reviews, gave out the product (wine) with no conditions aside from asking for FLIKR photos; contextual conversations around the wine (ie., product), create Kula, social object within this group; make social gestures, which beget social objects, which begets social markers (demarking the territory); iPhone is a social marker (i.e., SAMSUNG blackjack is not a marker); come “FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES” is not a marker (MY COMMENT: the tagline is a lie the first time a flight attendant is rude). What matters is not the iPhone but that we’re friends and that we have objects (iPhone) as a way for social communications; the object is our conversation binding; technology is only a facilitator of communications; go in Apple store, they’ve done lots of little things well; little things inform the big things. Create social objects that are cheap if you have an expensive product.

Parmet (marketingbeginsathome.com): It’s not the message, it’s not the logo, using such is missing the human, and missing the opp to service our fellow humans. “YOU DONT GO VIRAL; THE PRODUCT GOES VIRAL”. You’re not going through an intermediary, why not go to the customers themselves? Put it in the hands of the people who actually use it.

SXSW output

SXSW update: Since this is my first SXSW since 1990, I’ve had to re-orient myself to the pace and orgiastic creativity of the scene. Thus, no long posts on the relevancy of this year’s SXSW to the real estate industry until I’ve had a chance to digest properly. Nevertheless, here are the salient take-aways, as I see it:

10 Things We’ve Learned at 37signals: make tiny decisions, tiny decisions are easy to roll-back, easy to make forward progress. Break down problems to their “atomic” levels, which allows one to tackle a whole set of issues in a rational manner. Focus on non-consumers; that is, find the consumers that are not using a specific product but need the salient points of that product (why do I need MS Project, when BaseCamp works just fine, b/c I interested in quick iteration, team collaboration, and forward progress, not a status update using a GANTT chart).

The Science of Designing Interactions: Great conversation between an entrepreneur Ming Yeow Ng and Andreas Weigend, Stanford professor. Quote from Mr. Ng “Discovery is the new cocaine.” Brilliant. As social media hounds, many of us have a bit of Lewis & Clark in us. Discussion focused on how to set up metrics to gauge engagement and use metrics to determine what motivates behavior and how to motivate behavior. Glad I read Owyang here and here as well as Peterson here before this session. Here’s a quick search result from my site for more info.

Core Conversation: 10 Easy Ways To Piss Off A Blogger (And Other Mistakes Marketers Make): Go to Jonny Goldstein’s post on this session, he not only summarized the top 10, he adds relevancy.

Designing for Freedom: Anil Dash added great perspective that “freedom” in a vacuum is not “freedom”; sometimes constraints on user “freedom” actually promotes freedom (e.g., he analogized that the constraints of marriage freed him from the pressure to pursue women). My thoughts: Although the pace and iterative necessities dictated by Silicon Valley pressures force most early-stage companies to focus on product features over customer behavior analytics; it’s the analytics side of the equation that will really allow a company like Ning to create a better product than it already is.

Scoop the Story on Your Blog: This was the most interactive session I attended. What was a brilliant move by the panelists is that all five broke into separate groups and had hallway conversations, which delved deep into the many business applications of Utterz. Owyang challenged my group to focus on weaknesses of the product.

SEO 3.0: Optimizing Search & Social for 2008 and Beyond: For a competitor to beat Google, Google will have to 1) faceplant and 2) the product will have to be better than Google. Not likely to happen anytime soon. Google’s the search engine of choice in much of the world, except for China. Well-written content is the key over the next one to two years, as Google is beginning to “understand” contextual attributes in the penumbra of a site’s content. Online reputation management is important to focus on from a brand perspective (i.e., blogger digs and accolades, trademark infringement, etc).

Social media marketing campaign?

Contemplating a social media campaign? Don’t go about it in the “traditional” media planning sense. BuzzMarketing has a titillating thought on this concept. And this social media slide show gives an entertaining and educating primer on why traditional media planning will not work well in a social media context.

Innovation, John Kao’s insights

With respect to new product development initiatives, he challenges us to embrace a dexterous and daring approach rather than a artless and timid one; a paradigm especially relevant in a Web 2.0 marketing environment.

John Kao, author of Innovation Nation, offers a great perspective on innovation (one hour interview). His analogy to jazz performance and composition is especially compelling. With respect to new product development initiatives, he challenges us to embrace a dexterous and daring approach rather than an artless and timid one; a paradigm especially relevant in a Web 2.0 marketing environment.

Social networks, marketing choices

Social networks will change the way real estate professionals interact with their clients. Terms like engagement, conversation, and community underpin social networks. And in “off-line” environments real estate professionals have likely “engaged” in meaningful and relevant “conversations” while building a “community” of long-term clients.

Yet many real estate professionals are reluctant to embrace social networks as a new marketing channel. One refrain I often hear is “it’s hard to get going and sustain my ‘involvement'”. Aside from asking the question, “So when has it ever been easy to earn a client’s trust and payment?”, one also senses a certain fear of not making a mistake, or in not taking the time to fully grasp the profound change that’s occuring.

As to the former issue, fear is, indeed, a legitimate emotion to overcome, but can be overcome with a step-by-step approach to getting involved; and the Social Community section of this Web2.0 map is a great place to begin. With respect to the latter issue, Charlene Li of Forrester Research presents an informative road map of the future of social networks.

Privacy and social networks

Research papers:

Identifying inherent privacy conflicts in social network sites

Assessing the privacy risk of sharing anonymized network data

Proposed algorithm for automatically extracting social hierarchy data from electronic communication behavior

Discusses how rumors, viruses, and ideas propagate over social social networks

Web 2.0 communities, declining home prices

There will be no online real estate revolution. No tipping point. No tidal wave of change. Just a slow rising tide that swells almost imperceptibly, carrying upon it those who seek, in time, the higher ground. citation 

This viewpoint has some synergy to Yale finance professor Robert Shiller’s comments Feb 25, 2008 that lower home prices operate as a net benefit for society. I also agree with Brian that there really is no “killer app”.

But researchers and entrepreneurs are doing great work in creating applications to exploit Web 2.0 communication mediums. For example, this lecture proposes a system for automatically defining communities in social networks, and this lecture details how messaging and surveys could be analyzed to define communities.

Why are these studies important to real estate professionals? Because in about 18 to 24 months the viable models derived from this type of research will see market application. In turn, this means you can then use those models to communicate more effectively with a Web 2.0 audience when the housing market rebounds and consumers–who’ve been feasting on Facebook, MySpace, etc, in the interim–will expect you to communicate with them in a “Web 2.0 savvy” manner.

Asserting expertise and authority with a blog

You either have high home prices or lower home prices and lower home prices are what we want, and people shouldn’t be afraid of that,” said Robert Shiller, Yale finance professor, in a Reuters interview. Most of us care about our children and grandchildren, and these people have to buy houses so why would we want high home prices. We want economic growth, we don’t want high home prices. 

So, as the slow ride down continues, what’s happening in the realm of social media that will help you when the ride hits bottom and the ascent begins anew? For starters, Business Week Online in its Feb 21, 2008 issue, is a great source for ideas.

Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they’re simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they’re going to shake up just about every business—including yours. It doesn’t matter whether you’re shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They’re a prerequisite. citation

Here’s a tip elite athletes adhere to: remember your competition is yourself and those out there who take the time to do one little extra thing, whether it’s one more hand-eye coordination exercise, or 55 more stairs to run, and it’s that one little extra thing that can separate a winner from a loser.

Ideas circulate as fast as scandal. Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to. citation

Yes, social media will change the way real estate practices are conducted. One way–for the better–is simply to allow you to engage in a more meaningful discussions with clients and potential clients. As a real estate professional, blogs operate as your authority imprimatur. As mainstream media begins to gobble up the blog premise and “commoditize” this presence you will look out-of-date and “old school” if you similarly don’t innovate your mode(s) of communication.

Mainstream media companies will master blogs as an advertising tool and take over vast commercial stretches of the blogosphere. Over the next five years, this could well divide winners and losers in media. And in the process, mainstream media will start to look more and more like—you guessed it—blogs.” citation

Maximum Ride multi-channel marketing tactics

Here’s a great example of multi-channel marketing: the Maximum Ride literary series. The first book in the series refers readers to this blog, which refers readers to this YouTube video.

Real estate professionals can use similar tactics. For example, on listing presentation collateral, refer prospective clients to your blog, from your blog refer clients to your listings. Why the blog first and not your listings?

Your blog operates as an authority imprimatur where your clients and prospective clients can read about your expertise; thus, your blog operates as a 24/7 testimonial as to WHY you’re an expert. Prospective clients want to know “why” they should retain you. Current clients want a reason “why” they should refer you. Past clients need a reason “why” they should reengage you.

Trulia top 10 most used real estate website

This post argues that an online real estate search leader has not emerged since 2005, given that the recent Inman Connect attendees “still talked about them last week as if they were launched yesterday.” Interesting argument. But consider the Inman audience: real estate centric folks like sales associates, consultants, media, pundits, etc. Where were the consumers at Inman Connect? On Trulia it seems; they’re now one of the top 10 most visited real estate websites according to ComScore. Data and results tell a story better than anything spun at a conference. Consumer-focused product development processes combined with talented leadership combined with strategic decisions regarding raising equity combined with a positive entrepreneurial environment equates to proven success (pages nine and 28 of this paper delineates a correlation between optimism and success). Can any one entity knock off the big dog REALTOR.com? If I were betting, I’d double up on Trulia.

Using prediction markets in real estate

Many posts have been written on this paper, Using Prediction Markets to Track Information Flows: Evidence from Google. What’s interesting is the influence of proximity on predictive markets. According to the paper, sharing an office had the highest influence (as opposed, for instance, communicating exclusively via email) and part of cultivating an innovative culture is to optimize physical locations to promote idea sharing, collaboration, etc. Microsoft also experimented with predictive markets to anticipate product deliverables. Innovative real estate firms could employ similar tactics amongst their real estate agent base to predict market changes, buyer behavior respective to such, and use these insights to better manage operations.

Web 2.0 Digest 2008/1/2

When bloggers attack, has some great tips on how to respond to blogger swarm attacks. Many real estate firms are leery of bloggers and allowing their agents to blog; this post has some thought-provoking ideas on how to respond.

Interview with Jordan Behan explains how Web2.0 consumers are more informed in real estate search.

Another great post by MineThatData describes the difference basic differences between web analytics and multichannel analysis. The latter analysis lends itself to looking at the life time value of real estate consumers under the multi-generational marketing rubric rather than as one-off buyers that are forgotten as soon as a deal closes.

Here is a great post on how to build / support brands using Web 2.0 tools.

Engagement is the heart of any website. Occam’s Razor has an excellent post on the issues pertaining to creating a viable engagement metric or index.

(repost of 10/07/2007 entry)

Facebook history lesson

Youth, sometimes, needs to embrace history. Anyone remember DoubleClick’s privacy fiasco in 2000, the resulting state and federal government investigation, and the apex of it’s resolution? Seems like Facebook could have learned a few things from tech-bubble-run-up-history–at least with respect to how to manage a blow-up from a PR perspective (DoubleClick is still around, after all). And speaking of bubble-run-up, check out this vid.

UPDATE: Obviously FaceBook backed off on this approach. Personally, I’ve experienced less interruptive advertising lately on FaceBook.

Trulia Revenue Model, Part 2

At its core Trulia applies intense competitive pressure to traditional media firms that historically–in the collective sense–bilked real estate firms out of millions–if not billions–of dollars for essentially non-measureable advertising. Sure there’s the one-off case of a person who walks in the front door of a branch office clutching a Sunday advert who actually purchases a home. However, it’s much more likely that a buyer nowadays will visit a firm’s most important branch office–that firm’s website–when beginning a home search. Thus, with its launch, Trulia’s model filled a gaping advertising chasm essentially ignored by traditional media firms (i.e., sending targeted traffic to real estate websites), and these traditional media firms have since been scrambling to catch up (what’s wonderful to observe is that Trulia likely has around 100 employees and it’s seriously challenging traditional media firms for online advertising market-share dominance–REALTOR.com included–that collectively employ tens of thousands of employees. Such is the power of elegant code and focused leadership).

So where does Trulia reside in a modern media mix? As an advertising replacement to traditional media and / or REALTOR.com? For some firms absolutely. For other firms decidedly not. For some real estate firms the decision to go or not go with Trulia (or REALTOR.com, New York Times, etc) has been based on evidence. What evidence? Evidence derived from analyzing the quality of traffic / lead sources: in some cases it makes sense to stay with REALTOR.com, and in other cases to have Trulia replace both REALTOR.com and the New York Times as primary sources of traffic / leads. For the firms described, decisions were made based on data: traffic-source-to-agent-placement ratios, traffic-source-to-showing-appointment ratios, etc. In some cases Trulia won, in other cases it was REALTOR.com that won, and in still other cases it was the New York Times, etc. Nevertheless, it all netted down to what the data showed.

Accordingly, real estate firms looking for marketing solutions should find a set of tools that measures, quantifies, and interprets the data. What this means is that real estate firms need to wipe off the muck of data analytics myopia and embrace the basics: segment prospective consumers based on demographics and decide which set of demographics to serve (recite the old adage “You can’t be all things to all people” when doing this), apply the same analysis for each traffic / lead source (for example, Trulia may deliver higher quantities of urban young professionals, whereas REALTOR.com may deliver higher quantities of suburban soccer moms), determine what traffic / lead sources “convert” at the highest ratio per each segment targeted, apply these findings to the respective traffic / lead sources, and make an informed decision to stay with or abandon such as they apply to the targeted demographic.

Trulia Revenue Model

UPDATE: Since I posted this in Dec ’07, I’ve interviewed numerous brokers and agents who’ve said that Trulia’s delivered lots of real business to them (i.e., high quality traffic that resulted in leads that closed), and that their clients are extremely pleased with the exposure their listings get via the Trulia vertical. Further, several interviewees informed me that Trulia is their number one or number two source of traffic, with one interviewee telling me that Trulia beats all other sources including paid traffic sources.

“Was anyone surprised with Trulia’s business model?,” wonders this post. For industry watchers? Not really. For real estate firms that shared listings content? Not really (at least the 30+ firms I’ve spoken with). But then again Trulia essentially repeats an earlier model: TV GUIDE.

UPDATE: Many of firms interviewed informed me that the Trulia relationship allows them to manage their advertising costs more efficiently for more effective results.

TV GUIDE used data provided by television programming companies to create a profitable company. It was the early years of broadcasting and broadcast companies were searching for new and creative ways to advertise their shows. TV GUIDE employed creative editing and advertising services (e.g., enhanced listings) to generate revenue and expand its reach (into broadcasting services); so much so Rupert Murdoch purchased it in 1988 (along with Seventeen Magazine and The Daily Racing Form) for $2.8 billion.

Social network marketing corporate forays

Here’s a reason why Microsoft invested over $200 million in Facebook. It’s all about the data Facebook has compiled on its user base and the time this user base spends on Facebook. What’s the “veracity index” for this data? One assumes it’s higher than other data sources, since users’ incentives to enter data honestly is relatively high (why lie to my friends?, why lie about what interests I share with my friends?, etc). Accordingly, some companies are stumbling into this space, and getting ripped because of their stumbles. On the other hand, some other companies are “getting it” (looks like Target’s winning).
Obviously, these companies want to tap Facebook’s rich data stores and its users’ apparent nonchalance concerning how marketers will use such data within the Facebook community (read the comments in this post). Real estate firms (or agents or agent teams) interested in establishing a viable Facebook presence should follow Target’s model, rather than the seeming corporate topdown foray employed by Coke. This is not to say there are no strategy considerations; rather Coke’s plight is a cautionary tale that militates against myopically stumbling into the social networking space.

11/12/2007 Research

The link-prediction problem for social networks

Link prediction and link detection in sequences of large social networks using temporal and local metrics.

Multiplicative latent factor models for description and prediction of social networks

Modeling Trust and Influence on Blogosphere using Link Polarity

Detecting invisible relevant persons in a homogeneous social network (.ppt here)

Real estate firms adopting “Southwest” consumer service ideals

For the past couple of years, pundits of “real estate data transparency” have loudly argued that real estate firms must “accept the inevitable” and allow property listing aggregators to scrape their firm’s real estate listings, or for these firms to post their property listings “everywhere” a consumer will search online.

The analogous situation, claimed by these pundits, is the benefits the travel and airline industries have enjoyed since data transparency largely eviscerated the travel agent livelihood–it’s now easier for consumers to find flights. And once the airline gets the traveler, they can focus on customer service.

Southwest Airlines, however, presents itself as a glaring–or galling–retort to this argument. Southwest does not participate in Expedia, Travelocity, etc. It “forces” consumers to look on Southwest.com for flight information. Has this hurt it’s business? Arguably not. According to this report, Southwest Airlines consistently has the lowest customer complaint rate in the industry. Further, by “forcing” consumers to actually visit Southwest.com to get schedules, Southwest controls it’s own brand experience. This gives Southwest the opportunity to introduce its service ethos to consumers on its own turf, following its own quirky, yet stunningly successful, business model.

Nevertheless, Southwest has crafted strategic partnerships as a way to expand it’s brand and it’s travel schedule. One example is its partnership with ATA. This implies that Southwest is crafting partnerships based around brand extension and synergy as opposed to just looking for leads.

What this short Southwest case study above calls into question is the whole model of lead acquisition strategies currently pursued by many real estate firms. Brand saturation does not always equate to leads with higher conversion rates. There is a break even point where the time spent triaging too many non-viable leads stresses infrastructure to the point where it cannot adequately service viable leads. Lead acquisition strategies should focus on capturing viable leads, i.e., leads sourced from credible sources and partnerships. Sure, Southwest has national brand penetration, but many real estate firms have similar brand penetration on the local level. Thus, these firms can model their out-of-market lead acquisition strategies on the Southwest model–quality partnerships, quality relationships, quality service, quality leads, and quality retention equates to a quality brand.

Ranking professional real estate services

Consumers will now have the opportunity to rank doctors. Will real estate firms feel similar pressure in the near future to allow consumers to rank their real estate agents? The real estate industry will no longer be able to hide behind the argument that “professional services” is not a product and, thus, inherently “unrankable.” If doctors are subject to consumer whim and assessment, real estate agents certainly should be too.

A licensed M.D. attends four years of medical school and does at least two years post-graduation residency. A real estate agent attends a two month class, passes a test, gets licensed and similarly calls herself a “professional.” And some real estate agents deserve this moniker.

The real estate agent I used three times over the last five years certainly deserves to be called a professional. She’s always prepared, thorough, in control, a good negotiator, timely, engaged in the process, and embraces follow-through as a personal point of pride. She’s also an expert in my community, a trusted advisor when it comes to real estate decisions.

But not all agents are like her. And considering this fact, what does she have to worry about if consumers (like me) rate her service and professionalism? Or her past clients rate her service and professionalism? Likely, she would not have much to fear because she’s likely treated them similar to how she’s treated me. Thus, she could use these rankings to build her personal sphere of influence. Conversely, her competitor agents who are not as professional, not as engaged in ensuring above par client satisfaction would have lots to fear from transparent consumer ratings of their sub-par service.

On the negative side of this issue, a real estate firm would have to build in controls to ensure honesty and ensure that competitor agents could not sabotage the ratings system by bombarding it with a false negative evaluations. And such a system would add administrative overhead to already over-burdened staff. And there is a valid argument that consumers would inherently mistrust a rating system managed by a firm for its own agents.

These issues can be overcome. For instance, all clients who bought or sold a home with a firm’s agents could be contacted and asked to confidentially rate their experience with an agent. This, of course, is already done by many firms. Great. Firms just now have to ask clients to go to a webform, select their agent, and answer some questions. And instantly their feedback could be displayed on the firm’s website. And so long as not every agent gets an A+ rating on the firm’s website (i.e., there were some Cs and Ds and maybe some Fs) consumers would see that the firm’s rating system is honest. And to wrap this up, commentator from an earlier post also address important issues.

Social network data mining research 10-17-2007

This paper, Inferring Social Network Structure using Mobile Phone Data, explores how to use social network analysis to predict individual behavior indicators.

Privacy considerations are explored in this paper, Wherefore Art Thou R3579X? Anonymized Social Networks, Hidden Patterns, and Structural Steganography.

Here are some Videos of social network data analysis, and here is a presentation on the same

This paper, Social Network and Genre Emergence in Amateur Flash Multimedia, explores the concept of predicting emergent genres by mining social network data sets, which could be applied to trend-spotting.