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June 2006

DM News Essential Guide to SEM

Search engines continue to be a hot topic in marketing circles for three reasons:

  • their popularity: search engines are still one of the most common starting points for consumers looking for new information, products, and services
  • their cost effectiveness: because you're getting your brand name in front of the folks actively seeking out what you have to offer, conversion rates and ROI tend to be better than with other channels
  • their elusiveness: the algorithms search engines use for displaying natural search rankings and the advertising opportunities available through paid search marketing continually change, meaning marketers need to keep tweaking their strategies

Dm_news_sem_1 To shed some light on new and successful methods for search engine marketing, DM News has released a 60-page supplement to their June 26th issue, titled The Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing. It's full of insights from search engine marketing firms, agencies, and clients, ranging from basic articles on SEO and SEM to more advanced topics like the impact of emerging technologies.

The full guide may be downloaded here; be sure to check out my article on page 30, Using Blogs to Improve Search Engine Rankings, and let me know what you think!

[This post also appears on my company blog, SIMONsizing.]

BzzAgent's WOM Media Channel

[this post originally appeared on the PARTNERS+simons blog]

Bzzagent There's no question that word of mouth marketing (WOM) is a hot topic these days; it's a $40 million-$60 million industry according to AdAge and numerous marketers are trying to get in on the action.

While the concept of word of mouth has been around for ages (for as long as people could communicate!), it remains a difficult thing to create. However, today's technology advancements make it easier to organize, manage and measure WOM activities better than ever before. That's why local WOM/buzz marketing shop BzzAgent has seen a rapid uptake in its services since its inception three years ago. In fact, with 200,000 agents and 150,000 clients the firm has generated about 200 million word of mouth communications across 250 programs.

In order to do a little bzzing of its own, BzzAgent recently held a workshop for Agency folks to get their MBAs...or, Masters in Bzz Administration. Held at the Nine Zero Hotel, the full-day event included an overview of BzzAgent's services, case studies of past campaigns, a presentation by Northeastern University professor Dr. Walter Carl, and an open conversation with a panel of real BzzAgents...volunteer members of the "hive" that agree to participate in various WOM marketing programs and report back on their experiences.

BzzAgent's approach is simple: allow "everyday people" to experience your product; allow them to form their own opinions and share them; and ask them to report back so that you can understand their likes and dislikes. Along the way, participating Agents are likely to talk about (or 'bzz') your product to multiple other people in their personal networks, meaning you get the benefit of word of mouth (hopefully positive!) as well as feedback from a much larger pool than the original group of Agents.  The idea is to provide an immersive brand experience (through samples, coupons, etc.), because a credible product recommendation is more likely to come from first-hand knowledge and experience of that product.

BzzAgent has been coordinating such campaigns for some time now, recruiting participants, creating marketing collateral, executing campaigns and measuring results - all in house. But now they are seeking to grow their WOM network by reaching out to Agencies as well as marketers. Until now, WOM has had no media home: unlike traditional media and online advertsing which have well-established processes for buying and placing media, there was no formal channel or approach for distributing word of mouth (or consumer generated media) campaigns. Thus, BzzAgent is offering up its "people media platform" to Agencies that would like to harness the power of WOM and add another option to their client's media mix.

Here's how it works: Agencies define their target audience and tap into BzzAgent's database of program participants (which have fairly robust profiles thanks to ongoing surveying in the "hive"). Campaigns may also include an advertiser's house list, if available; participants from this list are recruited via email or direct mail. The Agency is responsible for defining the Agent experience component (the "BzzKit" which would explain the product/service and offer up free samples, coupons or rebates), and BzzAgent manages the technical infrastructure, agent interactions and data analysis. Campaigns typically run for 12 weeks using a slotting schedule similar to booking a tv spot. It's a relatively turn-key solution for executing a WOM campaign. There's even a private label option that offers a fully customizable brand experience.

Want to read more about WOM? Niesen BuzzMetrics has some great whitepapers on the subject, as does the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. In addition, Walter J. Carl, Ph.D from Northeastern University's Department of Communication Studies has been posting observations from his WOM communication studies on his blog.

DISCLAIMER: In the spirit of full transparency (which is part of the BzzAgent Code of Conduct), I am a registered BzzAgent and have been for about 3 years. It's funny that I now find myself bzzing BzzAgent itself, but please note that no one put me up to this...I sincerely find what they're doing interesting, and wanted to share it with the marketing community at large :)


Juicing the Orange

[this post originally appeared on the PARTNERS+simons blog]

Juicing_the_orange_2_1 The Ad Club hosted a breakfast this morning at which Fred Senn, co-founder of Fallon Worldwide and author of the upcoming new book Juicing the Orange, shared his experience in actively building creativity into the organizational culture (and equally important, how to get creativity into the business results column).

His talk was a timely one, as marketers are struggling to quantify their expenditures and verify ROI. Gone are the days when you simply need a brilliant creative concept to get attention. Today, creative must be smarter and must work harder; it must be strategically grounded and aligned with business goals.

Senn spoke at length about the notion of creative leverage, or the practice of using rigorous, defined creativity to solve a business problem (think return on imagination instead of return on investment). The idea is really grounded in traditional account planning; if you develop raw creativity that's not strategically grounded, it's probably not going to work. Likewise, a strategically sound concept needs brilliant execution to work. The strategy and the creative execution go hand-in-hand.

Senn outlines the seven key principles of creative leverage in his book, and shares case studies of accounts he's worked on over the years to illustrate each. In many ways it's a back-to-basics conversation, but the message is an important one that is well worth revisiting.

P+s: Sovereign Bank

Images_2 Read about the new campaign we developed with Sovereign Bank in the latest edition of the Boston Business Journal.

Our clients are increasingly looking for ways to segment their audiences and deliver highly-targeted creative and messaging. In this case, we worked with New England Sports Network to develop a localized media buy in which the Sovereign Bank employees appearing in the ads will be specific to the region where each spot is shown.

As Tom mentions in the article, "What we're trying to do in this campaign is to strip away some of the veneer of what's immediately recognized as advertising and make sure we put real people in pivotal roles in the ads...NESN has the capability to drop these spots in the different regions and localize the message and create a real, addressable ad experience."

Buddha Bar

The last time I was in Paris I visited the legendary Buddha Bar, a trendy night spot on the Rue Boissy d' Anglais M. Concorde.

While often criticized for its high prices and marginal cuisine, the real draw is the exotic decor (complete with a giant Buddha statue presiding over the dining room) and fantastic music. There is even an eponymous music cd series showcasing tracks from resident DJs Claude Challe and David Visan. Buddha_bar

Now American club goers don't need to cross the Atlantic to get a taste of Buddha Bar; George V Entertainment (the same team responsible for the Paris location) have opened Buddha Bar New York City at 25 Little W. 12th Street, which promises to deliver the same alluring night life as its namesake.

20 Bryant Street

There is a neighborhood near mine in which I love to walk, because it is populated with gorgeous old homes surrounded by majestic trees and lush gardens (neither of which are seen often in the city). It's an area about a half-mile outside of Harvard Square, and it has its share of history (e.e. cummings and Julia Child both lived there).

But there's one house in particular that has captured my imagination since the first day I saw it. It is an enormous stucco structure, sitting close to the road with a stone wall around the perimeter of its sizable yard. It's quite run-down and as has sat empty for years, but you can tell that it was once a glorious residence.

It reminds me of a manor home you would find in the French or English countryside...like so many I had stumbled upon in my travels through Europe, when you'd peek through iron gates on the side of the road and see a beautiful mansion set back at the end of a windy drive.


So I started to daydream about owning this house and restoring it to its former glory. I even went through the back gate to peek in the windows one time, and I saw the small cottage in the back yard that looked like someone's work room (there was an old table with a sewing machine still sitting on it), and a beautiful old sunroom on the back of the main house, with a black and white tiled floor. The kitchen had all kinds of custom cabinetry built into the walls. But for the most part the house sat empty, as it had for years, slowly deteriorating and literally falling apart (the garage doors hung off their frames).

I Googled the place a couple of years ago and found an old real estate listing showing it at around $4 million (if I remember correctly). Clearly not a place I'd be buying anytime soon, especially since it looked like it needed about another million worth of work! But two years passed and it sat untouched...for awhile a For Sale sign stood out front, and it saddened me a bit to think that someone else was going to buy "my house." A more recent Google search listed the property at $2.7 million, and noted it has 4,541 square feet, including 6+ bedrooms and 4.5 baths.

Ultimately, the sign came down and I thought the owners had just taken it off the market for a bit, since it hadn't sold for so long. But now I see a work crew has come in and completely gutted the house, so I guess there is a new owner in town. Dsc01307_2

I'll be anxious to see the improvements progress. I never did find any historical info on the house, and am still curious as to who lived there and how it fell into such a sorry state. If anyone who comes across this post has any info, please leave me a comment.

50 People Who Matter Now

Business 2.0 has in interesting article in which it names the 50 People Who Matter Now...or, the most influential people changing the face of business today. They were selected not based on wealth or fame (although many of them qualify on both counts), but for bringing new products, services and ideas to market that are drastically changing the business landscape. As the magazine puts it, they are "those who are reshaping our future by inventing important new technologies, exploiting emerging opportunities, or throwing their weight around in ways that are sure to make everyone else take notice."

Not surprisingly, the list is full of so-called "new economy" executives, like those from Google, Flickr, Brightcove, and 37signals. But the winner of first place is the biggest indicator of the face of business today: consumers are in control like never before.

Below are the top 10 on the list; read about the rest here.

50_who_matter_1PS: Business 2.0 also boldly named the 10 People Who Don't Matter...a list of wealthy & famous executives who - the magazine thinks - are past their prime.

Sephora leaves a mark

[originally posted on the PARTNERS+simons blog]

AdAge points out a unique campaign from beauty retailer Sephora, which has seeded New York street vendors with paper cups that look like they've already been used!

Each cup includes red lipstick marks on the lip, designed to capture your attention long enough to see the branding and new store opening message on the cup itself. Hopefully they also considered adding a drive-to-retail component (e.g., a coupon or discount imprinted on the cup as well).

SephoraSome think the "ick" factor isn't good for the brand, or that the tactic itself is off-brand because Sephora's mission is to "make things beautiful."

I think it generated attention, which was what Sephora was seeking. And they did it in a sassy way, which I think is very much on brand.

What do you think?

The Red House

Red_houseI finally dined at the Red House in Harvard Square, a charming restaurant that occupies a former residence built circa 1802.

It still has the original wood floors stooped architecture (read: low ceilings and doorways), and fireplaces in what are now a series of private dining rooms, as well as a more modern bar area, outdoor patio, and main dining room. I dined in the Delft Room, so named because it is adorned with authentic Delft Blue ceramic ware from owner Paul Overgaag's hometown of Delft, Holland.

Delft_room_1 From their web site:

First built c. 1802, this modest four-room cottage was home to the widow Susannah Cox, changing hands just a few years later to the widow Elizabeth Hicks. Since then, the house has been known as the Cox-Hicks house. Located in the earliest settled section of Old Cambridge, the red house is situated atop an ancient stone retaining wall that dates back to c. 1634. In its initial years, as now, the house sat at the heart of a bustling neighborhood which included the nearby Marekt Place, the Jail House, several shops, taverns, and a blacksmith shop.

Over the last two centuries, the house has changed hands several times. In the most recent years, Harvard University utilized it as office space before selling it in the early nineties. Five years ago, the house was purchased by its present owner, Paul Overgaag. Paul, a long time restaurateur in Harvard Square, dreamed of restoring the house and transforming it into a European style restaurant with historic charm.

Paul has since restored both the interior and exterior of the original structure to its former beauty & simplicity. The original rooms of the cottage at 98 Winthrop Street are now used as space for private dining. Each room features authentic period detail, working fireplaces & original wood work. Paul has also built a contemporary addition on to the rear of the structure. The addition houses a small bar area, a 55-seat dining room, and a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen.

Red_house_exteriorThe food was excellent; described as "European," the menu boasts a wide array of salads, hot and cold appetizers, and entrees. I enjoyed a duck salad to start, followed by a linguini and bacon dish.

P+s: perfect balance awards

Perfect_balance_1 PARTNERS+simons, along with seven other local companies and individuals, was awarded a Perfect Balance Award last week at a breakfast ceremony held at the Westin Copley Place.

Presented by The Ad Club and Fitcorp, and sponsored by the Bostonian Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA and Prevention Magazine, the awards recognize both employers and employees that have successfully integrated health & fitness programs into their daily lives.

P+s was highlighted for its twice-weekly, mid-day workouts that are provided on site, as well as a slew of other great benefits like investment classes, CPR instruction, discounts on local healthcare providers, gyms, and commuter programs, tuition reimbursement, and more.

Our very own Trudy Almquist accepted the award on the firm's behalf; here, she's pictured with Kathryn Murphy of The Bostonian Group (top) and Kathy Kiely, President of The Ad Club (bottom).

Trudy_ad_club_1 Kathy_and_trudy

Kelly MacFarland, stand up comedian and recent star of NBC's The Biggest Loser, was the guest speaker.