Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Can't Search and Display Get in Tune?

I presented on this topic at the Search Insider Summit on Friday. I also blogged a short summary of my remarks on Mediapost the same day. There was some good press coverage, and also a couple of third party blog reviews on Mediapost written here and here. Additionally, there was a lot of positive feedback on Twitter (not sure for how long this link will yield relevant results), but one of the funniest tweets was from Chris Copeland:

Breaking: Yahoo keynote fails to drop F bomb, Bartz outraged

I'm so disappointed that I didn't live up to the high bar that Carol has set... :-)

Update: Streaming video of the presentation is available here!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Do-Not-Do Do-Not-Track

Do-Not-Track sounds great, doesn't it? Just like Do-Not-Call, imagine a world where marketers and tech companies can't track your activities online, where you can remain truly anonymous and do as you please with no prying eyes. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, this view is uninformed, confused and short-sighted:

It's uninformed, because the vast majority of the tracking that happens online is, for all practical purposes, anonymous. It is based on cookies, which are temporary text files that identify a specific browser program, not a person. Cookie-based tracking of users is FAR more anonymous then the tracking people put up with every day when they swipe a credit card and that purchase is permanently and inexorably linked to their name and postal address.

It's confused because the need for Do-Not-Call is based on the desire to avoid interruptions in the home by marketing calls. Joining a Do-Not-Call list removes these interruptions. The effect of Do-Not-Track will NOT be to stop online advertising. It will stop RELEVANT advertising.

Most importantly, it's short sighted because the reduction in advertising relevance will lead DIRECTLY to series of negative consequences for consumers:

==> It will kill off a class of companies whose sole purpose is to make advertising more relevant to consumers by offering better targeting (do we care about the innovation economy?).

==> It will lead DIRECTLY to lower ad spend by advertisers, who see online become a less effective channel to reach consumers. I've worked in online advertising for most of the last 15 years and I say with certainty that online ad spend is tied directly to performance. Reduce performance, and you will reduce spend.

==> Sadly, and ironically, it will result in MORE advertising online, not less. Publishers will be forced to introduce more advertising on their pages and applications to make up for the diminished performance of the existing ad inventory. This is akin to joining a Do-Not-Call list and having the marketing calls you get actually go UP!

==> It will result in LESS free content, not more. Those publishers that exist on the margins of profitability will see their revenues diminished as advertisers pull back. How in the world is this good for consumers?

==> Advertisers will slow their migration of ad spend to online channels, instead relying on more traditional media options, enhancing the support system for print (read: killing more trees), or for direct mail (read: killing trees AND using an advertising medium that really does track you right into your home). Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

So what do we do about all the worries around online tracking? First, government should feel to legislate away truly bad behavior, like spyware, malware, anything preying on children, etc, etc.

Second, there is a really simple solution for tracking that supports mainstream online advertising, but one that lacks the false veneer and high gloss that politicians typically look for: require universal adoption of industry self-regulation. What's wrong with requiring any company that does tracking of consumers online to join an industry self-regulatory body like the NAI? The NAI offers a simple opt-out mechanism for all its members, but doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And well over 95% of all ads served in the US are already delivered by companies who are members of NAI. All the big boys are there -- Google, Yahoo, Fox, AOL. The only problem has been that lots of smaller players haven't joined yet. If the government requires tracking companies to join a self-regulatory regime of this type or else face onerous government regulation, you'd have the universal adoption sought by privacy advocates.

I may be Don Quixote in this particular story, but I'd like to believe that our government can understand the issues well enough to avoid all the unintended consequences.

Update: A USA Today editorial agrees with me.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Yahoo! Network Plus Achieves Triple Crown

Today, Yahoo! announced a new name for the display ad network: Yahoo! Network Plus, or Net+. We did the rebranding to highlight the achievements of the network. Most stunningly, in the three years since BlueLithium and Right Media were acquired by Yahoo!, the network has completed the Triple Crown of display ad networks. Net+ is now the U.S. leader in reach, impressions served and media spend. These are the most meaningful measures for ad networks, and Net+ is the leader in all of them! You can read more on the Yahoo! advertising blog.

One of the things I love about this accomplishment is that it was done with a true team effort. You can't be the market leader in all these measures without fantastic performance by sales, marketing, optimization, targeting, and platform products, all working together. Every one of these things need to come together to out-execute every other network in the market. Honestly, I couldn't be more proud, especially since when I joined BlueLithium, we were a mere mouse dancing with elephants. Now we're a race horse, and we just won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont!

The coverage of the announcement is also already showing pick up against our key messages. Read my interview with John Ebbert from AdExchanger for more detail.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

What’s Wordnik Worth?

Words. In an era of real time social engagement and streaming video, the notion that words form the fundamental building blocks for the Internet seems quaint. But it’s never been truer. Never before have words been used in such volumes to create, connect and counsel. For many lifetime students of advertising, it’s still shocking that in a world of sight, sound and motion, words alone are also the basis for the fastest growing and most profitable advertising medium yet devised, search marketing.

One company trying to become the earth’s data store for words is Wordnik. They claim supremacy over, Webster and the like with what appear to be more comprehensive descriptions.

I tried Wordnik last week while preparing for a panel presentation alongside Josh Jacobs, SVP at Glam Media, at the RightMedia Open last week. I got curious about what “Glam” really meant. I knew it had something to do with a fashion movement from the 70s, but nothing more. So I turned to Wordnik, which not only gave me several definitions, it also supplied me with the raw material for a serious slam down if Josh had gotten cantankerous on the panel.

My slam would have been along these lines (with tongue firmly planted in cheek):

“I’ve always wondered what ‘Glam’ meant and how they came to pick that name. So I looked up the definition on Wordnik. It turns out there were few:

1. Loud talking; a noise; a cry; a shout; a call.

2. The clump or otter-shell, Lutraria elliptica, a bivalve mollusk.

3. A clamp used in the old method of castrating horses.

“I was wondering which one most closely fit when I found another definition on Urban Dictionary:

· A movement that which erupted in the 1970s promoting vanity, copiousness, surreality, narcissism, campness and hauteur.

“And I knew I wouldn’t find a more apt description for the people of Glam…”

I didn’t get to use the slam, but hopefully a future co-panelist of Josh’s will read this and find an opportunity to leverage it!

It turns out that I’ve always been interested in words. Words were at the heart of my work as founder and Editor of Politica, a monthly political journal at Tufts, as Co-Editor of The Reporter, the student newspaper of record for Stanford Business School (at The Reporter, we also published the first web site for a b-school newspaper, btw), and as VP Marketing & Product Management for Banter, an NLP company. I’ve just never thought of words as the currency by which these entities conducted business. Until I ran across Wordnik, that is.

My inner venture capitalist wonders whether Wordnik can find a business model for words as compelling as the role it could play in human discourse. In a consumer context, will Wordnik become the Google for search, improving the search experience just enough to create a franchise of historic value, or the equivalent of the for research, a pinnacle of edited content covering what was once considered a wide variety of subjects, only to be displaced in importance by Wikipedia because consumers valued breadth and volunteerism over a perceived gap in professionalism? I can’t wait to find out.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who's the #1 ad network?

For the last six years, comScore has been producing their ad network report, and the #1 player in reach has been Month in, month out, regardless of season or change in business fortune, they have been atop the rankings. And for nearly all of those six years, I’ve been working for an ad network and looking up at in the reach rankings, scheming up ways to catch them. First at BlueLithium, and now Yahoo!

Lo and behold, look what happened in comScore's May 2010 report, which just came out yesterday? The Y! Network is number 1! This is an incredibly rewarding result, especially because it "took a village" to get there. The network reach can be influenced on the margins by smart media acquisition to increase overall network reach, but reach is overwhelmingly influenced by network size. Adding demand leads to adding supply, which leads to greater reach. It's a simple equation, but it takes an army of people working on product, marketing, sales, account management, optimization, analysis, targeting, data utilization, etc, etc to grow a network. This is especially true when you are trying to become the #1 ad network in the land. So it is very gratifying to see a team execute in an effective cross-functional way well enough to achieve this milestone.

There are also so many people I've worked with along the way who moved on from BlueLithium and Yahoo, for whom this is still a big deal. I've definitely got those people in my thoughts, and hope they take a little pride in the accomplishment as well.

I'm not myopic enough to believe that getting to the Summit is the same as staying there. I'm sure there will be a competitive response from, once they pick themselves off the canvas, and the rankings have a lot of movement each month. The reality is, however, that all the movement and competitive pressure had never knocked from that perch, until now!

"The King is Dead. Long Live the King!"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Patent trolls

Boy, do I hate patent trolls. These are companies that produce nothing, but make money by suing companies that do produce things, over patent rights that probably should never have been issued in the first place. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with filing for or holding patents. In this litigious landscape, the best defense is to sit on a large and deep patent portfolio. But mutual assured destruction doesn't work if the litigious patent holder has nothing to be destroyed.

This week I got a call from an attorney who represents a patent troll that is suing Google over some ridiculous patent based on click tracking. Apparently Google is claiming Focalink, a company I co-founded, as prior art. Now I'm no fan of Google's market dominance in search, and in my current role wouldn't mind seeing them face a patent challenge from an upstart in the industry, but patent trolls occupy a much lower ring of distain than budding monopolists. I probably was a little rude in explaining to this attorney that I wouldn't answer his questions or help his client, but I did offer up my opinion that his client's patent was absurd and would be invalidated so they ought to drop the suit or settle. Something tells me they won't heed my advice.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"How do you like your iPad?"

If I had a dime for every time someone asked me that in the past few weeks, I could buy another iPad!

In the month or so since I got the machine, my most visceral observation is that it has one capability that was not listed in Steve Jobs' launch presentation or any of the marketing materials or advertising. It is the ability for people who see someone with an iPad to ignore all social norms and interrupt the user with the same freaking question, "How do you like your iPad?" or the corollary, "Do you love your iPad?", or the metro version of same, "Love it or hate it?"

Let's get something straight. It's an awesome machine. But I don't know you, I'm busy, and buying this machine did not come with an "interrupt me when I'm busy" sign attached to it.

Now that I've gotten this rant out of the way, let's get down to the particulars. The iPad is revolutionary device for two key reasons:

1. Emotional connection. It provides a much more intimate and emotional connection to digital content. Even with an email program that is much weaker than Outlook and a keyboard that is almost impossible to touch type with speed, I prefer interacting with this machine than my laptop. Sure, when I've got serious email processing to do, I will chose the laptop, but for the quick scan, the quick read or the quick reply, the iPad wins hands down. Same with tweets, web, newspaper or magazine content.

2. Instant access. From thought to access is very quick. Just like the iPhone, if you think of something you want, from a Wikipedia entry to a box score to a weather forecast to a recipe, the iPad is so quick to use. And the screen size is large enough that you don't pine for the greater fidelity of a computer monitor. This is PC quality access, available instantly.

Example: I'm a lifelong subscriber to the print version of the NY Times. Since moving to California, I've just gotten it on Sundays (and pay $30 / month for it, so you know I'm committed), and I'm THIS CLOSE to cancelling my print subscription in favor of the iPad app. As soon as they release an app that provides more complete access to the paper's content, I will finally pull the plug. The iPad passed the bathroom test with flying colors and the app appears to download nearly all the content when it initially runs, so I can read later, even without an Internet connection.

Which brings me to describe what the iPad is NOT:

1. A replacement for the TV. No way. I downloaded the Netflix app on the day the iPad launched, but I have yet to watch more than five minutes of streaming content through it. Who would want to hold a device to watch long form video? This is not a light device either. It's heavier than it looks and you don't want to hold it upright for more than 30 minutes.

2. A better book reader than the Kindle. Viewing content outside is challenging. The heaviness of the device is also very limiting. If you want to curl up with a book for a couple of hours, you'll end up with carpel tunnel. The page turn is cute, but doesn't make up for these consequential shortcomings.

3. A carry everywhere device. It's too big for any pocket or small purse. Also, that outside viewing thing is a drag. Even with 3G, I think the iPad should be rooted to place. Right now, I'm using it at home, taking it to work during the day, and occasionally bringing it with me in specific instances where I'm going to be inside and forced to occupy myself for longer stretches (i.e. waiting at the DMV).

What people by and large don't understand yet is that this is a new form of digital device that will someday be common and viewed as necessary for living the digital lifestyle. As more of our lives are accessible online, we will need more than an all purpose computer to serve our needs. I want the deniers to read and heed. You will have a multi-touch tablet in your home and consider it essential.

Friday, March 26, 2010

OMMA Global SF - What makes a panel work?

OMMA Global was in SF last week. I was on two panels about display advertising, and one of them is available through a webcast link. Just click on the video entitled "Will Online Advertising Ever Live Up to the Promise of Precision?" It was one of the best panels on which I have participated, with a lively conversation across a range of topics.

There were a few things that came together to make the panel successful. First, we had a great moderator who focused the conversation. Second, the panel venue was during a private networking lunch where people were able to eat and listen. Eating became the secondary multi-tasking activity, instead of answering email on a smartphone or laptop, so the audience was more engaged. Third, the panelists were sitting in soft chairs without a table separating us from the audience. This created more intimacy and direct interaction with the audience. Finally, the panel was limited to a moderator and three panelists. Whenever you have too many panelists, and I've been on panels with five or six participants, then the audience doesn't get to hear enough from each member and commentary gets repetitive.