Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Trademark Trouble

On 5th May, the effects of Google's trademark policy revision will take effect. This has caused a certain level of hysteria within certain verticals that believe that they will have to dramatically increase their PPC budget in order to ensure protection of their brand.

Already businesses are scrambling to come to gentlemans agreements in order to ensure that they enter bidding war on brand terms and litigation threats are rife. Perhaps the timing of this amendment, just as Google announces massive Q1 profits, is what really irks some businesses.

Many of this concern comes from the changing of the trademark rule in the US where a organisations saw immediate rises to PPC costs. As I have covered in a previous post, online markets vary significantly across the globe. The number of trademark complaints that have gone to court in the UK is tiny compared to America.

Bidding on trademarks has always caused a lot of hot debate within SEM with opinions completely divided. The brands rules I have employed are fairly simple. If no other company is bidding on your brand term and your site is dominant in the organic listings then is no requirement to bid on it. However, eBay and Expedia are examples of large brands that bid on their brand.

I believe this move was inevitable. Currently, SEM agencies are required to invest significant resource into monitoring and chasing Google to uphold existing trademark policies. Additionally, lot of time was spent at Google, trying to decipher how some PPC experts were able to manipulate AdWords rules to appear on trademark terms. These tactics include using special characters, misspellings, ad-scheduling and geographic targeting to ensure that infringements remained undetected.

It will still remain difficult for brands to pass themselves off as other organisations, which is surely one of the main infringements of trademark rules. It is not possible for brands to use a trademark term within their advertising copy, even using dynamic keyword insertion.

For advertisers, the amendments to the trademark policy as well as the withdrawal of BPF for agencies means that driving a better ROI from SEM is going to become far more challenging moving forwards. PPC can no longer be used as a short term solution to fill the gaps in an online strategy.

Perhaps organisations should put more time and resource into building their brand to ensure that they do not have to be in the top positions for branded search terms. If a user searches on your brand but does not click on your listing, online marketers should be asking why rather than blaming competition. The following questions need to be asked:
  • Is the brand clearly identifiable from the advert?
  • Is the advert creative not compelling enough?
  • Has the landing page / site not fulfilled the users requirements?
  • Perhaps prices are out of line with competitors?
A recent Travolution headline read that "User Experience is King". The inevitable cost increases to online campaigns amplify the significance of online conversion. If the average visitor cost grows, the importance of gaining a return on investment grows in proportion. In an age with rapidly increasing broadband penetration and a growing proportion of business carried out online, it is a paramount that businesses employ the correct online marketing mix to maximise ROI. Complaining about Google policy changes is never going to bring success.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Lake Tahoe Ski Challenge

Every year I use my annual leave to work in America, looking after after British children on school skiing trips. This has allowed me to visit some fantastic ski resorts, my favourite being Lake Tahoe in California. There are 13 resorts surrounding the lake, each with an individual character, specatacular views and always nearly perfect skiing conditions. This photo is of me overlooking the lake from the North West shore.

One of my ambitions is to ski the hardest ski runs in the world. When I say ski, I mean complete from top to bottom without seriously injuring myself. From the resorts around Lake Tahoe, I have previously completed GunBarrel in Heavenly, home of Glen Plake's Gunbarrel25 endurance challenge and KT-22 in the infamous resort of Squaw Valley. This year, I decided to take on Our Father in Alpine Meadows and The Wall in Kirkwood.

I tend to snowboard when there is a lot of powder. However on the day I visited Alpine Meadows the conditions were ideal for skiing. Blue skies meant for near perfect visibility and although it had not snowed for a while, the snow was soft enough to have an enjoyable day.

This picture shows the view out over Our Father, a narrow couloir expanding into a steep and icy mogul field. The access to the run is from just beneath the top tree line on the left hand side of this image. There is not a lot of room for error with a risk of sliding all the way to the bottom. There are plenty of signs warning of the dangers of skiing this particular run but in a bid to fulfill my ambitions, I chose to ignore them.

This picture does not capture the fact that each mogul was about three foot high. Once on the slope I became acutely aware that there was no-one else in sight. The skiers code states that you should never ski alone, but for me sometimes this is unavoidable. At this point fear and apprehension tends to take control but realising there was no way back I began to edge my way down. I got to the bottom in a less than graceful manner but without falling and relieved to be able to tick another one off my list.

Again, The Wall in Kirkwood had so many warning posts. The chairlift was marked with a skull and crossbones and "Expert Skiers Only" as well as risks of an "uncontrolallable slide" and "Risk of Death". They even sold T-Shirts in the ski shops with "I Survived the Wall" slogans. Needless to say, given my experiences with Our Father, by the time I had made the 20 minute ascent, I was absolutely petrified.

The Wall however turned out to be a very different experience. Once you had "jumped in" from the four foot ledge, it turned out to be a relatively passive slope, continually shallowing and expanding in width. I could perhaps have skiied it better, if my legs weren't shaking from fear installed in me by the warning signs.

The lawsuit culture in America makes ski resorts compliated places. All visitors must sign an official waiver declaring that they will not take any action against the ski resort in the case of negligence.

There is a popular myth that all american ski resorts removed the restraining bars from their chairlifts after a parent successfully sued a ski resort after their child seriously injured themselves falling from a lift. Their case revolved around the fact that by installing security bars, the ski resort was offering security measures that were ineffective.

Still on the list to ski are Courbet's Couloir in Jackson Hole and Delirium Dive in Sunshine Village.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

An American Tail

Chris Anderson's widely acclaimed book "The Long Tail", takes a look at how the the reduced costs of selling on the internet has changed the dynamics of business by enabling businesses to sell an expanded high profit product set.

The Boston Consulting Matrix can be used to explain this principal. Traditionally, a businesses product mix focuses on selling their mainstay product, their cash cow whilst selling as many 'star' products as possible.

The effect of the long tail has allowed online retailers to alter their product mix and concentrate on selling star products as the majority.

As I have recently spent a month working in California, it is interesting to note some of the differences of the interpretation of the long tail in America.

In my opinion, the American long tail is far longer than that in the UK. The level of choice exceeds that of the UK and the level of available customisation available is far greater.

There are numerous examples of this in action but perhaps one of the simplest that can be compared across the pacific is Subway sandwich. Anyone familiar with Subway in the UK will know that the level of customisation offered to a customer is significant. You can choose your bread, cheese, toppings, salads and dressings and even if you wish your sandwich to be toasted or not. This level of choice was a relatively new thing when it first arrived in the UK and signifies the effect of the long tail of sandwiches.

America has become comfortable with this degree of customisation. So comfortable in fact, that they continually strive to move beyond it.
It is rare for a customer to simply order a coffee or a basic menu item from Subway or Starbucks. Indeed, I sat working in Starbucks for an entire morning and was amazed at the detailed orders taken by staff who must have been relieved at my request for a large latté.

As a result the American public has become used to personalisation and expects to have the ability to customise anything and everything they want
. In effect, the cash cow is no more.

Transfer this effect to the online experience and it is easy to see how American sites are continually focused on personalisation whereas UK sites behind, offering a more functional, practical experience to allow users to complete routine tasks.

Anderson's book is certainly one of the defining books of the current internet generation (his latest effort has been less well received).
However, the origins of the author need to be remembered. Most of the examples cited refer to the American market. Although many of the same principles apply, the severity of the long tail effect is dramatically different depending on geographical location.