Avid hiker, bicyclist, motorcyclist and long-time advertising pro. Founder of Skyworks Marketing, Nonprofit Fire and Our Ventura TV (cable TV). One career highlight was working on a small team that built a business from nothing to over $100 Million in 3 years. Skyworks Marketing provides video advertising and lead generation services. We create custom marketing funnels that provide the highest-quality leads and sales.
How do you determine the best price for your product or service?
How do you know what kind of sales or purchase incentives perform the best?
Which type of guarantee will generate more revenue?
Is it possible to find which target demographic generates the most sales?
How do you know if you have the best headlines for your ads and landing pages?
The answer is pay-per-click (PPC) TESTING, TESTING and more TESTING (including a healthy use of artificial intelligence).
Of course, there are a variety of ways to test pricing, sales incentives, guarantees, demographics and headlines and other marketing factors. Focus groups was how it was done in the past (think Mad Men). You could also survey prospects for their response on various marketing factors. And of course, changing the marketing variables on your own website is a productive way to learn about customer behavior.
But there’s nothing better than finding out what people think when they’re making current purchase decisions as opposed to hypothetical decisions. Especially, when the data is being derived from the exact same time period. (As opposed to seeing the response from website changes at different times of the year or different years).
You can certainly set up different landing pages that are focused on different sets of messaging, with different headlines, and different offers, and monitor organic performance metrics over time, such as “visitors,” and “sales,” and compare them over many months to see which perform the best and then continually optimize their performance. However, you can accomplish the same much faster using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
Write different PPC ads using the messages you want to test. Which ads get more visitors to click on them?
Write PPC ads using different combinations of headlines? Which headlines get clicked on the most?
Write different offers on your landing pages for your product or service, which are in harmony with your PPC ads. Which landing page offers convert the most visitors to sales?
Let the real-world interaction with prospects inform the best marketing opportunities for your products or services.
As an added bonus, with your testing results in hand, you can use this information to refine your long-term SEO strategy. Obviously, you want to keep the winners and get rid of the losers. But don’t stop there. After that, the game evolves into establishing new tests to beat the current “winner” (more technically referred to as the “control” item).
In essence, you’re trading money for time, so that you can generate higher performance and more profits.
The use of browser cookies and ad tracking, in general, are fundamental to our web experience. Ad tracking provides two fundamental advantages within the advertising landscape:
Ad tracking facilitates better-targeted ads to consumers (meaning that consumers should see ads that are more relevant).
Ad tracking provides feedback to the advertisers on the effectiveness of the ads, which means they can optimize the ad experience to be more profitable.
Ad tracking has attracted critics since the 90s when cookies were developed, shortly after the web started to explode in usage across the planet.
For myself, and others who have been following this trend since the beginning (particularly those in marketing and advertising professions), what’s more surprising is how much the general public has accepted tracking, as well as the real and potential privacy infringement. Having said that, “accepted” may not be the most apt term, even if that seems to be the case by virtue of the growth of ad tracking. In reality, the lack of understanding in the general public about the value and use of their personal data is likely the primary factor driving the monetization of personal data by tech giants against limited public friction.
Although Google, as the biggest advertiser, was the biggest target for criticism for years, they were surpassed by Facebook, which was more prominent in their flouting of privacy concerns. (And Facebook has even more private data on their users than Google).
Regardless that tech giants have been benefiting from the lack of consumer awareness about privacy concerns for so many years, the tide has been slowly changing.
ADVERTISING TIDAL SHIFT
In the past several years, as media about data hacking and data sharing has become more routine in the news cycle, three vectors of influence have started to change the landscape:
Tech companies themselves have become more proactive about protecting consumer privacy and have adopted more consumer-friendly policies.
Governments have started to mandate greater consumer privacy protection. Most prominent is The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is the European law regulating data protection and privacy.
And consumers themselves have started to become more interested in privacy protection, as evidenced by a slow migration to privacy-centric search engines and browsers, such as DuckDuckGo and Brave.
ADVERTISING IN A COOKIELESS WORLD
This will make for an interesting race in the coming years.
Will Brave win out as the best idea and early mover?
Or will the gradual shifts that are being adopted by the tech giants allow the big guys to maintain their dominance?
This is truly a David and Goliath struggle that will play out with consumer privacy being the biggest beneficiary.
As advertisers, some of us might feel threatened by the prospects of losing cookies. However, as an old-timer in the marketing and advertising universe, I’ve come to expect constant change. And not only that, the acceleration of the rate of change.
I, for one, am pleased to see the tidal shift finally occurring, even if it’s been surprising that it’s taken so long.
How do you make purchase decisions? It may be similar to others, even if it’s not an identical process.
Surely, you’ll use the internet for research. You may look up articles, user reviews, product or service comparisons and visit brand websites. You may find useful info on shopping platforms and perhaps recommendations on social media. And once you begin this process, you may start seeing ads following you around the internet that relate to your recent search history. And let’s not forget about discussions you might have with friends, family, coworkers, etc., as well as telephone or text conversations with brand representatives.
The “Messy Middle” refers to all the various decision inputs and paths we take from the moment we consider a purchase decision to the final purchase itself.
Although the specific paths in the messy middle will vary for each person, the above video presentation from a Google researcher breaks all these possibilities down into two categories of decision-making: exploration and evaluation.
Exploration represents an expansive activity of seeking more information.
Evaluation represents a reductive activity of narrowing down potential choices.
These two modes of processing information are not linear. Consumers often go back and forth between both modes and may execute both modes simultaneously.
SIX TYPES OF PURCHASE DECISION TRIGGERS
There are many ways we, as consumers, make purchase decisions. The above video focuses only on the following six factors that influence our choices.
Category heuristics: The term heuristics means, “a way of solving problems by finding solutions based on your own experiences.” This represents how online consumers will find what they’re looking for on the internet. The process is facilitated by marketers using online descriptions of products or services that relate to consumer search habits. This boils down to the use of keywords that convey the features and benefits of the product or service which are most meaningful to searchers. As one type of example, if you sell red sneakers, and consumers are searching for red sneakers, but you have your sneakers described as scarlet shoes, fewer of those searchers may find their way to your product.
Power of now: The speed of response to consumer needs informs consumer purchase decisions. Fast delivery influences purchase decisions, even when there’s no clear need for instant service. In other words, if there is any way you can speed up the way you can serve consumers, it should benefit your sales.
Social proof: This may be old hat for many of us, but recommendations and reviews from others can be very persuasive. Wherever possible, add testimonials from satisfied customers.
Scarcity bias: As one of the oldest purchase triggers we encounter, some of us may like to believe we aren’t influenced by this. But research confirms that as the availability of a product decreases, the more desirable the product becomes to buyers.
Authority bias: Persuading consumers to buy your products can be bolstered by an expert or trusted source supporting your brand. This is another oldie but goodie in the marketing world. As one common example, to this day celebrity endorsement are still a workable way to boost sales. What’s newer in today’s connected world is the use of online “influencers” to recommend products. Your mileage may vary, but it’s worth testing.
Power of free: As part of eCommerce best practices, the use of “free” is so ubiquitous that in some cases it’s become expected. As an example, for those of us over a certain age, “Free Shipping” used to be unique. Now, many consumers have grown to consider it a right. Regardless, a free gift with a purchase, even if unrelated, can be a powerful purchase motivator.
Again, these are not a representation of all purchase triggers, and not everyone will be influenced in the same way by the above points: but they are common. More importantly, these are points that we can control, as marketers.
The above video presents the results of experiments that statistically identify the weight these factors can exert on purchase decisions. Watch the video for the full report, but here are some practical takeaways.
The experiments showed that even the least effective (make-believe) brand, still won 28% of shopper preference from the established favorite when the marketing presentation amped up the decision triggers. In the most extreme case, a (fictional) car insurer won 87% share of consumer preference when reinforced with advantages across all six decision triggers.
SUMMARY OF INFLUENCING PURCHASE DECISIONS
Ensure Brand Presence. The data supporting this point alone may be encouraging to those who feel balked when competing against formidable and well-entrenched brands. Yes, they have clear advantages, but the fact is, just showing up to the marketing party can be productive. New competitors routinely take business away from well-known brands, including from consumers who have built-in biases towards their first choice.
Intelligently (and Responsibly) Leverage Purchase Triggers. Even the most experienced marketers can fall into a pattern of using what has worked well in the past, at the risk of excluding fundamental factors that may work well in the present. The above purchase triggers should be continually revisited with new marketing tests for your specific products and services as an ongoing process of marketing and advertising optimization.
Respect the Messy Middle. Ask questions. Listen to your prospects and customers. Analyze any available data that pertains to how your specific customers make decisions. Use that information to better support those types of customer journeys. For example, are your customers commenting favorably on your product demonstration videos? Which of your videos are generating the most views? Which website articles generate the most readers? Why did customers or clients choose your product or service versus the competition? The point is to reinforce every opportunity at your disposal to help customers find and select your brand.
The advent of the internet and technology has opened up your products and services to a broader market than ever before. But of course, it has also opened up the same opportunities for your competitors. It’s easier than ever for consumers to find what they need and want to make purchases. It’s up to marketers to ensure their products and services are favorably considered by those same buyers.
Which of the three phases of lead generation represents your business? Although the phases are relative between any company and its respective industry, this article is intended to provide a simplified categorization of lead gen potential.
Starting out with Phase One, it could be stated that most struggling small businesses or languishing salespersons are in this category.
A business with a predictable flow of leads to sustain themselves sufficiently would be in Phase Two.
Phase Three represents an absolute abundance of leads, facilitating significant expansion or even market dominance.
Following is additional context for the three phases of lead generation.
LEAD GENERATION: PHASE ONE – THE STRUGGLE
This phase represents a low- to minimally-viable volume of lead generation. It can barely sustain a business or a salesperson and includes those businesses or sales reps that may be on the verge of failing. Although a minimally viable amount of lead generation may reflect an insufficient amount of labor in terms of prospecting, it can just as well represent a significant volume of labor that is not paying off. For example, someone in a position to make cold calls all day would represent a lot of labor; but also an unfulfilling level of satisfaction when no meaningful prospects are uncovered.
Phase One can include doing what may have been successful in the past, even though it’s simply not as effective anymore, due to rising ad costs or shifting dynamics in a specific marketplace. Shifting dynamics can include the increasing challenge of getting decision-makers on the phone. Although this is not a new challenge, it illustrates a reality that any salesperson or small business encounters when attempting to drum up new business when it’s becoming even more challenging than it was at an earlier time. Shifting dynamics can also include reduced demand and/or increased competition. Even so, these are not an excuse for not generating more leads through more effective means; it’s merely an acknowledgment of market reality.
Phase One lead generation might include salespersons or small business owners who review LinkedIn profiles and send out personal emails to prospects in the hopes of engaging some communication. This is workable for some, but it becomes less workable over time as the target recipients become less and less inclined to even read such messages, let alone respond to them.
Don’t get me wrong, if this type of lead-gen practice — or any type at all — is working for you, then, by all means, it should be continued. But for many, this type of prospecting constitutes an uphill battle of increasing costs and labor with reduced effectiveness.
By the way, Phase One also includes persons or companies that are new to the practice and as they get better over time, they can become more effective.
Regardless, the main point about the struggle of this first phase of lead generation is that if you don’t move to Phase Two as quickly as possible, you’ll either go away due to frustration and exhaustion, or you’ll be destined to endure an unenviable career.
LEAD GENERATION: PHASE TWO – RELATIVE SUCCESS
Although many businesses or salespersons complain about not enough leads or not a high enough quality of leads, the reality of Phase Two lead generation represents a relative success. The lead flow and resulting sales correspond well to the existing production level of your product or service. And more to the point, enough revenue and especially enough profit is being generated to keep the notion of “struggle” as a distant memory.
Bear in mind that Phase Two does not represent a specific type of lead generation; it can be any method that works well. However, it’s likely that there would be more than one type of lead gen production in operation.
If your business has strong competitors in the industry, then your lead generation efforts are likely tuned and optimized enough to enjoy the market share you’ve achieved. You are likely a stable competitor in your industry.
Alternatively, you might also be a small player that has carved out a profitable niche.
Another representation of Phase Two lead generation could be a business that has no strong competitors. In which case, it’s possible that your lead generation efforts are simply “good enough” relative to the lack of strong competition. Regardless, this can make for a successful business — for now.
Of course, even the concept of “success” itself is relative. For some business owners, having a profitable business with happy customer and employees is a model of success.
Yet, nothing stays the same for long in the business world. New competitors come into the industry. Old competitors get more aggressive. People in your own business may retire or move on to other careers or even to other competitors. Cultural changes, such as pandemics, artificial intelligence, or other major technological progress, can alter the very foundation of entire industries.
Success today should be enjoyed. But the hard reality is that it can go away.
Hence, the surest way to achieve long-term success for any business is continual expansion, which is an apt segue into Phase Three of lead generation.
LEAD GENERATION: PHASE THREE – MARKET DOMINANCE
Phase Three represents such an abundance of continuous new prospects, that you’re either the #1 company in your industry or you’re in the small handful of the top businesses that dominate your market.
The use of lead generation systems, automation and technology is by no means limited to Phase Three of lead generation. However, in Phase Three, it’s hard to imagine achieving this level of success without implementing such systems.
As part of Phase Three (or Phase Two), it’s important to appreciate that any abundance of leads from a single source, no matter how productive it may be, represents a risky foundation for your long-term business expansion.
In Phase Three, typically a business would have multiple streams of optimized and coordinated lead streams including offline lead gen (direct mail, radio, TV, etc), in addition to a number of online sources. This would also be an example of a multi-touch, custom marketing funnel, specifically tuned to your product and services.
A mature marketing funnel in Phase Three would likely include some or all of the following types of lead generation.
LEAD GENERATION METHODS
The following types of lead gen outreach are not limited to Phase Three. Yet, Phase Three implies multiple types of lead generation activities to provide a stable source of ongoing abundance of prospects and sales.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. Whether through Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon or any other platform, PPC represents a foundational type of paid lead gen. And once you’ve built a workable campaign, it can be readily scaled up.
Search PPC focuses on keyword and geographic targeting.
Display PPC features demographic and geotargeting.
Social media paid advertising would fall under the display aspect of PPC, which again is primarily demographic and geographic targeting.
Retargeting is arguable the most productive part of PPC, which provides the opportunity to show the same or new ads to earlier prospects who did not convert. If you’re aware that prospects need to touch your brand a number of times before they’ll make a purchase, you’ll appreciate why retargeting is vital.
The trick is to make PPC profitable, which can be more challenging in hyper-competitive markets or for low-cost products (which requires that you lose money on the first sale, and rely on follow-up sales to make a profit).
Furthermore, PPC can be a useful tool for uncovering high-converting keywords, which can (and should) be used to inform your SEO and content marketing.
Content Marketing. In brief, content marketing is about creating value for potential prospects of your products or services. Content marketing includes creating articles, videos, courses, infographics, reports or any educational materials that can help people learn about topics related to your products or services. The idea is to create enough valuable content that search engines will direct people to your website, who will simultaneously be engaging with your brand. It’s common to share content on social media and even use PPC to connect with prospects (and then retarget those who visited your content with ads about your products or services).
SEO. Some would categorize content marketing as a subset of search engine optimization (SEO), which is intended to attract prospects organically without paying for their visit. Although SEO should be integrated into any website, positioning SEO as a subcategory of content marketing represents a more predictable way to generate higher search rankings, which is the end goal of SEO. Regardless, this does not suggest that making your web pages friendly to search engines should be ignored, but it’s a longer-term runway towards creating leads today.
Social Media Marketing. Social media paid advertising (see PPC above) is a predictable way to generate leads. On the other hand, small scale prospecting can be accomplished, one-by-one, via LinkedIn or other more specific industry platforms. This method requires labor instead of cash. Nevertheless, if your business can gain social traction organically, this can be a productive source of lead generation.
Automated Email Marketing. In contrast to emailing prospects one at a time, automated email marketing includes inviting visitors (via PPC, content marketing or social media) into your email database where they will receive automated messages featuring content they need or want, sprinkled with offers to become a customer. Automated email marketing includes numerous personalization possibilities and offers high ROI relative to other channels. Compared to internet technologies in general, this may seem old-fashioned — because it has been around since the beginning of email — but it works. It’s not as effective as it was back in the 90s, but it’s still a tried and true form of lead gen in the 2020s.
Video Marketing. You already know from your own experience that in so many circumstances, videos do a better job of conveying a message than plain text or even photos. Videos can and should be integrated into every category of lead-gen campaigns. They can be featured via PPC, they are certainly a foundational part of content marketing, they can be the primary content on landing pages and they should be promoted via email. The very fact of their importance to all parts of lead generation is why it’s designated here as its own category of lead-gen.
Regardless of which phase of lead generation you might be in, no phase allows you to be complacent. It’s imperative to continually optimize and expand your lead gen initiatives — at least if you want to continue to grow.
The above video illustrates the evolution of advertising from early newspaper ads in colonial times to today’s online advertising.
The video is hosted by Jared Bauer, who explores the topic of “Why Our Ads Are Different Now,” referencing the history of advertising from the book: Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes by Juliann Sivulka.
The book’s description on Amazon describes it as an examination of “How American advertising both mirrors society and creates it.”
It highlights the growth of advertising in America, the promotion of brands and products and how advertisements and agencies reflect and introduce cultural trends and issues.
The video notes the difference between “hard sell” advertising and “soft sell” advertising. In brief, hard-sell ads focus on specific features and benefits that inform the message and visual components while attempting to promote reasoned self-interest.
Soft-sell advertising is more subtle. Instead of emphasizing rational benefits, this type of advertising attempts to establish positive emotional connections from the viewer to the brand or product. These types of ad messages tend to be warm and fuzzy. Think of most modern big-brand TV commercials.
Whether advertising is becoming better, or not, is debatable. Certainly, most consumers are generally not enthusiastic about being subject to advertising. However, what has been understood by surveys is that consumers are less resistant to ads about products or services that are relevant to them. And of course, the modern advertising industry is getting better at individual targeting, although that also introduces privacy issues.
One key takeaway is that advertising is not only a prominent driver for business promotion, but it’s a part of our cultural heritage.
This video outlines how cookies work and how they’re being used, along with some context from Lou Montulli, who invented cookies in the summer of 1994 while working at Netscape.
Cookies do improve our online experience. In fact, without cookies, the internet we know couldn’t exist. But they impose privacy concerns, as well, which has become even more of a topic in recent years, although even in the 90s it was a concern among a smaller segment of the overall population.
A browser cookie is a small piece of code stored on a user’s computer by your web browser to access websites. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past).
Cookies perform essential functions. Perhaps most importantly, authentication cookies are the most common method used by web servers to know whether the user is logged in or not, and which account they are logged in with. Without such a mechanism, the site would not know whether to send a page containing sensitive information, or require the user to authenticate themselves by logging in.
The security of an authentication cookie generally depends on the security of the issuing website and the user’s web browser, and on whether the cookie data is encrypted.
Security vulnerabilities may allow a cookie’s data to be read by a hacker, used to gain access to user data, or used to gain access (with the user’s credentials) to the website to which the cookie belongs.
Furthermore, and most pertinent to this article, revenue from advertising is a strong incentive for companies to track online behavior. Brands want to sell products by serving ads. Publishers, who create content, want to make money by serving ads when visitors are on their site. And middlemen are in the business of ensuring the ads from the brands are delivered to the right people.
In other words, there’s a lot of vested interest in maintaining cookies. So, expect ongoing tension between privacy concerns and the big business of online advertising.
Google video partners are additional websites and mobile apps where you can show your video ads, beyond YouTube. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when you set up a Google Ads video campaign, the partner sites are default-enabled. Now, it’s not a problem to disable them — and generally you should — but if you’re still learning the ropes around Google Ads, and particularly their video ads, it’s a setting that could be missed, among the many settings that require decisions for every campaign.
Now, to be clear, it’s not that the video partners should never be used.
It’s just that if you are doing any advertising (video or otherwise) you should be testing and optimizing the settings as well as the video and messaging themselves. Hence, the basic idea is to minimize the variables to begin with and then test them when you’re ready.
In other words, the video partners should be tested separately than presenting your videos directly on YouTube. Find out for yourself if the video partners are increasing or decreasing your ad performance. Don’t just take Google’s suggestions, when their goals are different than your own.
You, of course, want to optimize your advertising so that it benefits your business the most with the least cost. And of course, Google wants you to spend more of your money with them.
They will tell you that it’s in their best interest to provide you a good experience so that you’ll continue to spend money with them. But the truth is, most new advertisers are not going to do a good job, which means you won’t be continuing your advertising, which also means they would like to generate as much revenue from you as possible, while they can.
The professional way to approach Google Video Ads or any advertising, is to test different messages, demographics, geographical zones and other targeting options, as well as the messaging, and test them all discretely and one at a time, so you can find out for yourself what is supporting your goals and what is not.
Don’t get me wrong, Google Ads and Google Video Ads are worthy of testing and for many businesses, Google can be an important channel for business growth.
But you’re better off going through a strategic, step-by-step testing process which will give you a stronger opportunity for winning.
YouTube has a number of video advertising options. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Some have intuitive applications, such as Outstream Ads which are specifically for mobile. Ad Sequence videos are unique in that you can show a predetermined series of ads to individual viewers in the order that you define.
Others have length limitations, such as Non-Skippable In-Stream ads (15 seconds or less) and Bumper Ads, which are 6 seconds or less.
Here are the primary YouTube video ad formats:
Skippable in-stream ads
Non-skippable in-stream ad
Video Discovery ads
Ad Sequence (This one is unique in that you can use a combination of the first three formats above to present a series of messages).
Using square and vertical video formats for mobile provides more screen real-estate, which is a plus for making a bigger viewer impact, although the standard horizontal format is best for desktop and can also be shown on mobile.
One point not mentioned in the above video is the benefits of testing different ad formats to find which works best for your product or service, as well as your overall industry.
You’ve probably read a few marketing books in the past.
But how many ‘old’ marketing books have you read?
I’ve gobbled up a bunch over the years and continue to do so as much as possible. And although I have a few favorites, in my opinion, the most important one is not a new one. In fact, it may very well be the oldest:
Scientific Advertising was written by Claude C. Hopkins in 1923 and is truly a seminal book for the world of direct response marketing. The principles of testing and measuring that Hopkins established are as important today as back then. The difference being that what took months to test back then through newspapers, magazines, and direct mail, can be tested nowadays with extraordinary speed online.
The uninformed would be staggered to know the amount of work involved in a single ad. Weeks of work sometimes. The ad seems so simple, and it must be simple to appeal to simple people. But back of that ad may lie reams of data, volumes of information, months of research.
So this is no lazy man’s field.
Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins, 1923
The mantra of 21st century marketing is the same as back then: Test, Test and More Testing!
Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. And that’s the way to answer them—not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort—the buyers of your product. (1923)
Marketing used to be about shouting at people loud enough and often enough with a message so they’ll be influenced by what you have to sell. (And there’s no shortage of this type of advertising nowadays).
Although the delivery of the “Big Brand” message became more subtle through the latter part of the 20th century, the concept of “frequency,” and hitting the public repetitively with the same message did not change.
For example, if you think of “Big Brand” marketing messages, such as the large soft drink manufacturers, fast food chains or car companies, the message may be designed to position their product, in your mind, with the concepts of “youth,” or “happiness,” or “luxury,” or “wealth,” and/or “family.” However, the real power has been in pushing that message out, over and over and over and over to imbue it within the public psyche.
HUGE amounts of money are invested every year to forward this model – because it works.
But if you or I don’t have multiple millions to invest in marketing the old way, we can not only gain a tremendous cost advantage by using 21st century technologies and methods, we can also achieve a greater degree of effectiveness by engaging with, and interacting with the types of prospects that are interested in our products or services!
In fact, new media marketing (which is changing and evolving as you read this) is so effective, that even the big brand advertisers are moving a larger percentage of their overall advertising budget to the internet and new media technologies.
New media marketing represents digital media native to computers and the internet for distribution. Some examples include social media, virtual worlds, website games, computer animation, interactive computer installations and digital advertising in general.
New media are often contrasted to “old media”, such as television, radio, and print media, although the distinction may be moot, since for years, these, too, have been in the process of becoming digitized.
The question is not whether 21st century marketing technologies are effective, or whether your business should avail itself of the same; the question is HOW MUCH are you taking advantage of new media and new technology marketing right now?