Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals


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Worth A Comeback?

Worth A Comeback?

I haven’t been looking at this blog for quite some time now.  I have been concentrating on the successful launch of Music Eyz and helping others with their approach to their content and social media.

Its been over two years since my last post and the world has come a long way, both the real world and the digital world.  The economy has gone through a recession and appears to be out the other side.  London has hosted a “really successful” Olympic Games and Man Utd aren’t the best football team in the country any more.  (Before anybody says it, yes I know Spurs aren’t either).

The things is, whilst there has been a lot of change in the real world, the digital world has evolved at an alarming rate.  The mainstays of digital marketing PPC and affiliates, whilst still important, are being rivaled.  The world of content, on-site merchandising and social media are massive tools in every digital professionals armoury.

Image of Word content made of dice

Content is King

Whilst their can be many explanations for the rise in importance of the newer disciplines, the two key ones for me are Google and customers.

Either way, one of the reasons I stopped blogging was because, in my view, there was little value to be added to the discussions around the main digital acquisition channels.  Yes my experience is extensive and some people may have found the insight interesting or even useful, but you could get that from anywhere.  My inspiration for a comeback is that very few people have produced great content relating to content, merchandising and genuine views on the commercial aspects or quality of Social Media.

Now this post isn’t meant to be self-idulgent.  This post is genuinely to get my thoughts and potential direction of the blog on a screen.  Just to see if this makes sense and is “Worth A Comeback”  If you are reading this, I would love to hear your views.  Do you think I should kick this off again?  Do you agree about my sentiment around a lack of quality resource in this space? Am I wasting my time and yours?

I may just do it anyway, but would be great to hear from you all.

But in the words of LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years”

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out


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My Time at Best Buy

As most of you are aware my time is now officially up at Best Buy.  After over two years at the US company (I can’t believe it is that long either) it is time to move on.  A lot has been achieved over my time there, some of which I will account for below and I have met a number of very good people.  Above all I joined Best Buy for two reasons.  One reason was to launch a brand from scratch, something most marketing professionals in th UK have yet to do, and fewer digital marketers have had that responsibility.  Secondly was because of the great people-based culture Best Buy had.

The second part of that has changed during my time in lovely North Acton and I suppose it had to change to a degree as the organisation comes to terms from being a start-up to becoming a dominant player in the UK CE space, something they should be well-equipped to become.

So what was achieved?

Launch of a Brand

We had a lot to do on this. Rather than just transmitting the US brand to the UK, we had to establish what the UK consumer wanted and needed and deliver propositions against that.  In the early days I was one of the key stakeholders in the process and we had some great debates on how to shape the brand and in turn the plans accordingly.  As the Marcomms team grow and we went from launch and branding to BAU this moved to the more traditional team.  We won an award for one of the service propositions we created ‘Walk Out Working’

Social Media

I may have been lucky in joining a brand that embraces Social Media more than some, at a time when social media was going from infancy to adolescence.  But, I feel this was one of our main success stories – recognised by being voted number 5 in the UK’s Top 100 Social Brands.  We did more than just build buzz around driving Facebook page numbers or Twitter followers.  We tracked behaviour and listened to conversations and reacted accordingly.

In addition we created content calendars to drive Social Media currency and providing worthwhile content for people to visit and engage with us on our platforms.  This included attending Trade and Consumer shows in addition to covering Entertainment events.

One of my brainchilds TechXpert did very well and given the right backing by the business will help differentiate Best Buy in both Social Media and through site usability.

Watch out for others on the horizon that have already been developed including TwelpForce and IdeaX.

Affiliates

Our affiliate programme grew from absolutely nothing to a roaring success over night.  We built very strong relationships with key affiliates including Quidco, MyVoucherCodes, Nectar and CoolKitchen as well as with some of the others you may not know.  We created a programme that was far more competitive than anybody in our sector and listened to affiliates and their needs.  This was recognised at this years A4U Forum where the Best Buy programme won ‘Best Newcomer’

Mobile

Although not launched officially as yet,  the work already put in means Best Buy is well-placed in terms of apps and m-Commerce.

Site

The site in my opinion is the cleanest and most customer-centric of all core-CE competitors.  It was built using a combination of best-practice and usability studies with our customers.  We also used Exit Surveys post-launch to see where we could change further.

Social Commerce

We were the first retailer in the UK to launch a Facebook store-front, allowing users to access the entire catalogue within Facebook, share or like with friends and go off and buy.  Other work in this area has been done, but it would be unfair to reveal what that is.

Viral

We produced a great viral to link Best Buy and our people with the World Cup.  That despite no link with the World Cup and no online presence.  The video which also featured a competition element, pitted two of our brilliant blueshirts from Merry Hill setting up the ultimate mancave featuring great tech but also a kebab oven, slush puppy machine and man nappies.  The video got c. 250k views and loads of comments within just two weeks.

Overall

There was a lot covered in the two years and it was a great learning experience, not only for me but for all involved.  There is a lot more that we managed to do that is not in here, but I didn’t want to bore you all too much.  I joined Best Buy for a challenge and it certainly delivered in that respect.  It was a great time with its fair share of ups and downs but overall good.

Last word

I couldn’t write this post without acknowledging perhaps one of the best leaders I have ever worked with.  Now I don’t normally go for the cheesy American stuff or Raa Raa as most of you know.  But one of our original leaders at Best Buy was absolutely inspirational.  He believed in what we were doing and was absolutely passionate about Best Buy.  He treated every employee as a member of his family an he genuinely had the best interests of everybody at heart.  Paul Antoniadis sadly left Best Buy and in my humble opinion I still don’t think they have replaced his passion or enthusiasm.

I know Paul is off doing his own thing now and doing very well for himself (I imagine with much shorter days as well).  There were many other people within Best Buy who were good and helped make it a great place and they know who they are.

Now I move on to new things, which will be revealed very shortly.  Needless to say everything I have learned over the past two years will be utilised and built upon.  So watch my LinkedIn profile to see what’s next.


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Affiliate Marketing (for Merchants) – Part 1

Affiliate Marketing (For the Merchant)- Part 1

Long gone are the days when affiliates used to solely be one man in his bedroom, hacking about with some clever code.  In addition most merchants are more savvy to the opportunities affiliates can present when working in partnership.  Gone are the easy pickings of brand bidding and in the main, gone are the days when merchants used to treat affiliates as a second-class channel.

Affiliate Marketing is one of the most established online marketing channels.  Affiliation can provide everything from volume of clicks or UVs, e-Mail address collection and most commonly sales or leads.  Part One of my guide is centred around the more novice internet marketing professional, call it a beginners guide if you like.

Working out the commercials

The main benefit the channel provides merchants is a manageable approach to customers where costs can easily be controlled.  Merchants should know their margins and in turn know how much margin they can afford to give in terms of a commission (commission being the operative word, more later).  If the programme operates on a CPA basis the maths are straightforward.  If my product makes retails at £100 and I make 20% margin, my profit is £20.  I then know that if I want a 4:1 return on my spend my CPA would be set at £5.  Simple.  Remember if you are using an affiliate network you need to account for their over-ride (standard industry practice is 30% of commission.  In this case it would be an additional £1.50 (which already negatively effects your ROI.

Tip 1 – When working out your CPA to hit ROI targets, build in any network over-rides or additional costs to understand a true Net CPA and ROI.

Tip 2 – The networks will hate me for saying this, but the over-ride can normally be negotiated (if you are a merchant of either perceived value or revenue potential).

Choosing a network or going direct?

This is an age old debate within the sector.  The majority of merchants use an affiliate agency such as Affiliate Window or Commission Junction.  The benefits of using a network (even if you have an internal affiliate team) are numerous.  The major ones from my experience are the fact that payment to affiliates and expensive programme admin are taken care of.  Affiliates are a networks business and as such the platforms are built to take into account affiliate needs (much cheaper than merchants doing it from scratch).  Finally, the fact that the networks know all the affiliates and should be able to guide you on who to partner with.  They can also do some of the lengthy selling-in and negotiation with both established and up and coming affiliates, that direct merchants may not be aware of.

But what about Amazon?  Yes Amazon are one of the key success stories in terms of going direct.  However their entire model (as a vanilla pureplay) meant that they could set the system up from scratch.  The prices and range are so broad that affiliates fight to work with Amazon, rather than the opposite way round with a majority of merchants.

The main benefit of the Amazon approach is that they know their categories better than any network ever can.  They also know their stock and pricing in real-time rather than relying on a third party to update feeds.  They can speak passionately about promotions and campaigns and the affiliates hear it directly.

Tip 3 – Take the best of both approaches. Use the networks to manage and administer the account but work jointly on relationships with key affiliates

That leads me neatly on to the point I told you to keep an eye out for in the earlier post.

Commission

Affiliates will always want more as this is their bread and butter.  Merchants will inevitably want to pay less as it hits their margins.

My view is that if you treat the outlay as commission you should hit a fair level.  I have always considered my top revenue driving affiliates as a virtual sales force.  They are my sales people out on the road that can get people’s attention and drive them to my virtual shop window.

Like a physical sales force, this virtual salesforce will be motivated by money.  However the virtual sales force may be even more motivated by the commission they can earn.  This isn’t due to greed but related to the fact that the majority of this virtual salesforce has to place their own investment in.  That may be monetary through Google adwords or through effort and opportunity cost through the likes of SEO or social media.

Whilst your virtual sales force will be reactive to the commission structures you put in place and any additional incentives, the majority are also pragmatic enough to realise that you can only reach a certain level, before it becomes impossible for you to maintain.

As with physical sales forces, incentives can prove extremely motivational.  A push to go the extra mile.  Whether that is by taking advantage of a sponsorship property you have and offering tickets.  Inviting affiliates to attend a bespoke event or cold hard cash.  All can influence an affiliate.  However with the more experiential incentives, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a parallel increase in revenue.

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force. Reward them and the commission negotiations are normally easier and fairer all round.

Types of affiliates

As I said in the intro of the post, gone are the days of one man in his bedroom trying to earn a quick buck.  Nowadays, affiliates are some of the brightest online marketers or smartest developers.  You must define your strategy and decide what affiliates you should work with and to what level and on what basis.  Below are a few examples of different types of affiliates

Cashback – this is possibly the biggest area of growth within affiliate marketing.  Sometimes thought of as the pariah within the affiliate community, the growth is in part due to the economic climate.  Essentially, these affiliates pass on all or part of the commission you give them, directly back to the customer.  Sites such as Quidco and TopCashBack fit into this category

Loyalty – the name is slightly misleading in terms of the loyalty is normally with the affiliate and little loyalty will be passed on to the merchant.  Essentially working in the same way as Cashback, except rather than cold hard cash being placed into a customers bank account, points are awarded.  Examples of these are Nectar and Airmiles.

Voucher Codes – if Cashback sites are though of by some affiliates as pariahs, then voucher codes are seen as bandits.  Essentially these sites provide details of all the codes available, people click on a link to reveal the code and generally a cookie is placed on the customer’s PC, meaning that affiliate gets the commission.  Its at this point I feel compelled to say that these views are not my own.  Both Cashback and voucher code sites perform specific roles within a merchants mix.  Whilst I accept some cannibalisation will take place, there are a number of customers that wouldn’t buy without this bargain mechanic.  Examples of this type of affiliate include MyVoucherCodes and VoucherCodes.co.uk

PPC – there are some affiliates that specialise in PPC (sponsored terms in the search engines).  PPC can be a grey area in affiliates and you need to have strict control over who can bid and on what terms.  If you don’t have a PPC agency or any internal expertise, these affiliates can provide great top-up resource to your own PPC activity

Tip 5 – Understand your PPC strategy and place clear T&Cs in your programme on PPC restrictions, such as brand bidding, using your brand name in the URL, direct linking etc

Content – this is potentially where affiliates started out.  People generally with a personally interest, creating great content that they just want people to read.  These sites then realised that they could potentially make money from their sites and started selling advertising.  This could be anything from one person with their site on a topic of personal interest such as making orange food, to more established content sites such as The Sun.  Although blogs are rightly considered social media, I would place them in this section.  Nowadays blogs seem to be more geared towards providing useful content and information as opposed to the web log (diary) approach that was intended.

Price Comparison – another type of affiliate that isn’t normally relevant to all merchants is Price Comparison.  The standard of these types of sites are varied.  Some use bespoke software that allows them to scrape the web for up to date prices and deals.  The others (more akin to traditional price comparison engines) take a feed once a day and produce pricing information.  Networks have developed increasingly sophisticated tools to simplify the process for affiliates to add Price Comparison functionality to their content (the best example being Affiliate Window’s, Shop Window).  There are some broad price comparison engines available through affiliate networks, however the more successful ones for merchants tend to be the more focussed engines such as Whiteboxdeals, a Price Comparison engine specialising in large domestic appliances such as washing machines and ovens.

Social Media – with the low cost of entry of social media and the advances in affiliate technology from networks means a new wave of affiliates are emerging.  These are the ones that have embraced the newer technologies such as Twitter and Facebook.  Whilst all the research indicates that recommendation by a friend, either in person or online, is the most powerful tool, please be aware.  Some people using social media tools are not just making recommendations to their network but creating brand accounts.  This is especially true in Twitter where minimal dev work is needed.  That being said, there are a number of affiliates that have made social media work and come up with creative solutions or use an established network.

Tip 6 – If you consider using Social Media affiliates, ensure your T&Cs are very clear in terms of people using your brand name.  Also, vet applications very carefully.  Some people end up spamming contacts, which reflects badly on the merchant.

OK, so that’s it for Part 1.  In part 2 I get a bit more practical, rather than just an introduction.  I will look at what types of affiliates different sectors/merchants could be best placed using.  I will look at which affiliates and approaches you could use for different stages of a business of product lifecycle and I will also review the methods of building relationships and rapport with affiliates either directly or through the networks.  I may even explore the age-old debate about single Vs multiple network.  If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.

Finally, here is a recap of the tips

Tip 1 – Build in all costs to determine CPA (inc network over-ride)

Tip 2 – Negotiate your network over-ride

Tip 3 – Take a collaborative approach with your network to managing affiliate relationships

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force

Tip 5 – Understand your own PPC strategy and reflect this in your PPC T&Cs

Tip 6 – Have clear T&Cs on affiliate use of Social Media and tightly manage applications

If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.


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Google Adwords for Dummies – Pt.2

Understanding Adwords

Google for Dummies – The ad copy

So as with any advertising campaign the quality of message , its standout, relevance and content are all drivers of success.  Adwords campaigns are no exception.  In fact due to Google’s algorithm the quality of adcopy is even more important as not only will it assist in conversion it also has an impact on the money spent.

Simple Tip 1 – Keywords

Where possible include the keyword you are bidding on in your adcopy.  If you can include it in both your title and body copy your relevance should (in theory) be higher.  If you also have it or a derivative of in the destination URL, it should be even better.  The other added benefit is that your ads should be relevant to what searchers are looking for.

Simple Tip 2 – Multiple Ad Groups

Use multiple adgroups.  This will allow maximum flexibility in terms of keyword insertion/management in addition to managing if the product/service you are promoting is open to numerous changes of availability and price.

Simple Tip 3 – Dynamic Keyword Insertion

In theory this advanced Adwords technique cannot fail.  The ads are set up to insert the keyword into the ad, defaults can also be set if the keywords exceeds body copy limits.  This technique is done by including the following {keyword:}, the deafult keyword has to appear after the colon and before the bracket.  I would advise you keep on top of any activity using this technique.  We have had inconsistent results some really good, some no better than normal.

Remember to not use this technique when you have mis-spells in your campaign.

Simple Tip 4 – Test Creative

The good thing about Google adwords is that you can test ad copy side-by-side and optimise automatically based on performance.  Subtle differences can really change ad behaviour.  I would recommend having at least a rolling stable of two ads, although I would normally run three.

Simple Tip 5 – Don’t bid for top

A common failing for PPC beginners is the desire to aim for top spot.  This is fuelled sometimes by naivity and sometimes by senior management.  You may get higher CTR from bidding top, however it is unlikely your ROI will be any greater, in fact you generally lower ROI from being in top spot.  That is a very simplistic view and if you have the budget you should test your ads by targetting different positions to see your optimum point. 

When looking at defensive campaigns, e.g. your brand with extensions (Best Buy vouchers) you may want to bid up to ensure affiliates or other competitors aren’t trumping you.  If your sector is particularly aggresive and your rivals bid on your core brand terms, you obviously need to aim for top spot, especially if their proposition is better than your own.

Remember these tips are for beginners.  I am not trying to teach PPC specialists to suck eggs.  In further parts to this series I will look at bidding strategies, budgets, tracking and content.


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Affiliates – One Network or more

More the Merrier?

One of the questions I am regularly asked is “Should merchants partner with more than one network?”  I have been on both sides of the fence.  At Nationwide I ran with both single and multiple networks at different times.  For the majority of DSG brands we run exclusively with Affiliate Window

Competition and Loyalty

A common argument for running more then one programme is:

The networks are just virtual sales forces.  Surely an element of competition will improve performance as the networks try to beat their rivals.

On the face of it, that is a sound argument.  In certain circumstances that is true.  However wherever there is competition, there are generally winners and losers.  Whilst in the initial stages, competition is rife, often the losers motivation deteriorates.  This results in more work for the merchants and less focus on those affiliates.

In addition, some affiliates do have preferences with certain networks.  This could be down to personal relationships or the technology the network provides.  Whilst very few affiliates do work exclusively with one network, they often prioritise merchants based on the network they are with.

So do merchants on exclusive agreements miss out?

Management

Merchants on single affiliate networks benefit from a number of efficiencies.  The de-duping becomes less of an issue.  You don’t have to worry about double paying through affiliates or integrating two tracking technologies.

Processing of payments, affiliate approval and communication is streamlined.  The main benefit is the fact that relationship building with the networks become easier and more focussed.  In turn the network can talk in much more depth about your programme and sell the benefits to affiliates.

Affiliate Choice

So does one network reduce affiliate choice?  Well in one sense yes, if an affiliate really wants to work with Currys for instance, then there would only be one network.  However it does make choice easier for the affiliates and they know exactly who they need to speak with  in order to resolve issues or to negotiate incentives and optimisation.

Decision

The end game has to be based on your objectives.  If you are meeting your KPIs with one network do you need the additional work of two networks?  There is not one single answer, different approaches work for different brands with different objectives.  For me Affiliate Window offer great technology for retailers and affiliates alike.  For that reason sole networks could be the way forward.