Paid Search and Social During Critical Times – Fireside Chat

Business people working generating ideas to hit targets.

Every Friday our AIMCLEARians host a discussion about what’s on our minds, what we are hearing in the industry, and more.  In this Friday Fireside chat we discuss paid search and paid social strategies. Join the fun with Vice President of Marketing Strategy Susan Wenograd, Account Services Manager Tim Halloran, and AIMCLEAR Founder Marty Weintraub. It is not okay to proceed as if it is business as usual. Join us as we discuss how to be mindful and avoid ignoring the people on the other end of your ads.

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Susan: Hi everybody. Thanks so much for joining us today. I am here with Marty Weintraub, our founder, and my crazy, amazingly smart and fun coworker, Tim Halloran. We are here today to talk about paid search and paid social during critical times, which obviously counts right now. We thought we’d put together some thoughts and have a discussion around how to handle certain aspects of your paid ads while all of this stuff is going on. Thank you guys for joining.

Marty: You’re welcome.

Susan: I mean, you kind of didn’t have any choice. You can’t go anywhere. I’ve got you held captive. You’re stuck in a house or at the office, so you have to join it.

What I will kick off with is kind of where we’re seeing the most angst right now. And it’s really across all advertising, not just paid search and paid social, but the idea around the messaging for what is it we need to be paying attention to about how we address what’s happening? How do you pivot message to address what’s happening? Do you acknowledge it? Do you not acknowledge it? Should you run ads? Should you not? I think that would be a good place to start because that affects all kinds of advertising no matter what. Marty, what are your thoughts on that? Just from like a PR and messaging standpoint about acknowledging versus not acknowledging and how you do that effectively?

Marty: Well, the number one thing to do is to dun dun dun dun, not be tone deaf! I’m reminded of this one Star Tribune culture ad that continually is running in Facebook where they lament the 20 top Twin Cities restaurants that have passed that we missed the most, which of course is amazingly tone deaf in an era when restaurants are facing some very troubled times. The number one thing to do is not be completely insensitive to other people’s pain. The next thing to remember is that customers are still there. In some capacity it’s likely they long to be your customer and they’re held back the same way you are. Keeping in mind that your audience wants realism, don’t pull punches. You can acknowledge what’s there: hope and direction as to what will be next. To answer your question: yes, it’s okay to acknowledge it. Yes, it’s okay to say what’s happening. No, it’s not okay just to proceed as if it’s business as usual. And, most importantly, remember that it’s people on the other end, humans just like you. Sensitivity is the most important thing.

Susan: Can you give an example, Marty, not to put you on the spot, of how messaging might have existed before and how you could change it? Like, it’s honestly [not] that the offer or anything has changed, but how you’re delivering it is different.

Marty: Sure. First of all, keeping in mind that many forms of advertising are a lot less expensive right now. It’s a great opportunity for brands. This morning I saw a roofing company ad on television on the local morning show. It’s the same ad that I’ve seen for them on the internet. Before COVID19 they said, “Free quotes, invite us over, we’ll look at your roof, we’ll talk about it, and then we’ll go from there.” This morning, the ad I saw was astonishingly good. It explained “We’re a roofing company,” then it said, “here’s how it works: give us your address. We’ll come over. We’ll never have any contact with you. We’ll climb up onto your roof, we’ll create a quote for you, and then we’ll go back to the office and we’ll send it to you by email, and then we’ll go from there.” A beautiful adaptation of the business model. Even more importantly than the messaging is how companies are actually adapting their business models to accommodate quarantine and less human contact.

Susan: Yeah. It’s been funny, even the Domino’s commercials, they’re like “contactless delivery.” It’s very, very sci-fi, kind of a strange way. Tim, do you have examples of either what you’ve been seeing or what we’ve been shifting to for clients?

Tim: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been seeing a lot online, just a lot of companies are striking the tone of security, normalcy even in this time. Like Marty said, if you are purposely trying to be normal when nothing is normal right now for your company or your product, then you’re missing the mark on that. But a lot of times people want that security.
They want the understanding that brand is safe. I’ve been seeing a lot of that more often. Enjoyment. I think I read somewhere that media consumption is up like 65%. People just want to enjoy themselves right now. If they’re scrolling Facebook or Instagram, chances are they’re trying to get away from whatever they’ve been dealing with that day.

Susan: Escapism is a great thing when you’re working and watching children at home.

Tim: Exactly. If you can lean into that, if that’s something, a value prop that your brand has, you should definitely be doing that right now. I think people really appreciate brands that can have that levity.

Susan: Marty, you mentioned something interesting that I wanted to touch on too is kind of from a messaging perspective and a cost perspective. And this was something I wrote about earlier or late last week at Search Engine Journal, is that we’re seeing some of the lowest costs we’ve seen CPM-wise with paid social right now, even in some areas of paid search. From a cost perspective, we’re up against cheaper costs, but there’s kind of contracted spending because people aren’t sure when those conversions will happen or if they’ll happen soon enough to justify the media spend.
What are your thoughts about investing in top of funnel, investing in branding, and kind of what that timeline looks like from a comfort level for brands that know it’s cheaper but also don’t know that they’re going to be able to convert as quickly as they would like to make that money back?

Marty: Well, you know what they say? “Today’s branding is tomorrow’s conversion.”But of course we never know when tomorrow is going to come. Will it be within the cookie window or not? I can’t believe that this performance marketer, that for most of my career I’ve been blood and guts, how many cents the touch, how long does it take to convert, how will it go to the bottom line and to your point.

Branding right now is astonishingly, astonishingly inexpensive. What I would say is that as intense as this feels right now, and it is super intense feeling right now, it’s going to end. Whether it’s going to end in August or November or January of next year, it’s going to end.

AIMCLEAR has been on the forefront of studying how repeated brand impressions affect people’s search patterns and we know with absolute clarity or near absolute clarity, if I could equivocate, that there is a certain amount of touches that a consumer will see, or a B2B customer, your product purchaser will see, your conversion will see that will result in them going to Google or Bing or Yandex or Baidu or wherever, and searching for your brand.

How many is that? Well, that depends on how immortal your advertising is. If you just solved a major disease and you make an announcement that you solved it and you make one announcement, branding complete. There’s going to be a lot of search. If you have a shitty product that blends in with everyone else’s, costs too much, and nobody cares about it and it is irrelevant, you can brand all you’d want.

That said, if you have a product that you believe that if consumers are exposed to it over a certain amount of time, will result in more search, then now is the best time for ever to go for it. What can you say to a customer that will burn in their head? To your question, yeah, it’s the best time in recent history to invest in branding and it will result in sales exactly proportional to how good your product is.

Susan: Here’s a question about making that investment for you, Tim; how do you see that translating on the user behavior side? We’re seeing more people at home. We’re seeing probably more evenly distributed impressions among screens. Not totally evenly, but, you know, more people are on laptops all day long.
There’s a lot of that happening. From a media buying perspective, how has that, looking from the behaviors that we’re used to seeing on some accounts versus how we’re seeing that shift and what is that doing as far as the planning that goes into those channels?

Tim: Yeah, so specific, I mean, it’s different for search and social, specific to search.

A lot of us have device, bid modifications on. We prefer mobile traffic or desktop traffic. Well, right now, desktop traffic is surging a little bit. I think I read it’s up 13%. And then at the same time, people are also using their phones for media buy or just watching media. Start with some bid modifications. Check those device bid modifications, check time of day parting. People might be on their phones later or earlier, depending on when they’re getting into the office. And you can definitely just start with search and work your way through that.
Another thing is, you need to diversify right now. YouTube, the Google display network is up. Both of those are up. If you have good video content, definitely be hitting that pre-roll, hitting people with ads on there because consumption on YouTube is way up right now.

Susan: Yeah, you make a good point. And that was something we were talking about just before it started, it has been interesting to see how a lot of the news publishers, they’re getting unprecedented levels of traffic, but they’re also having this struggle with ad revenue because they can’t monetize it because there are so many brands that don’t want to appear alongside coronavirus.

There was actually a study that was released earlier this week that was based on a survey that was done that a lot of consumers don’t think any less of brands that appear there because it’s just normal right now. It’s just what we’re going through. Have we seen, Tim, any increase or requests from clients or brands to just kind of stay away from that stuff? Or are they starting to just embrace it as the fact that it’s normal and this is what we do?

Tim: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m thinking I haven’t seen any of my brands specifically say they want to stay away from COVID-related material. There’s obviously some placements you don’t want to be on: sensitive social issues, things like that. But oddly enough, that hasn’t been something that has come up. Now, you have to be careful in certain scenarios. If you do have a product or service that… I’m just thinking right now consumer healthcare is doing really well. If, for instance, there is an article on the New York times or something about the cure or about something to do with COVID blood testing and things like that, don’t show a consumer health product that’s similar to that, but doesn’t actually solve that issue.

Just make sure you understand where you are on your placement. Be checking your search query reports. A lot of times, in healthcare and the stock market and finance, people are Googling terms related to unemployment and health. In your query reports, you’re going to start seeing those terms and make sure you’re checking them daily, if not a few times a week, to get rid of anything that could be spending your money on things that aren’t relevant.

Marty: Remember also that there’s more impressions in some publications because they’re opening up COVID content to non-subscribers for free, and so you can cherry pick the stuff to not appear on, like, you might not want to appear on an article that’s about deaths, death, death statistics. But you might want to appear on articles that use the word “hope” or good news so consider that. Lots of the inventory that’s less expensive is because of publications that are opening up and clever strings that filter it to avoid content you want to avoid or aim for content that’s more delightful or more hopeful.

Susan: Yeah. Well, and Marty, you bring up something that I was curious to get your thoughts on too, let’s flip to the other side of that. You have some brands that are like, “I don’t want to appear next to COVID stuff at all. I don’t want to be associated with it.” But you also have brands that know they don’t have a choice. It’s like they have to address this. It has to be acknowledged in their creative.

It’s like the running joke that we all realized how many email subscriptions we have when everyone’s done, “Here’s what we’re doing to support you.” It’s created a lot of noise around the one extreme of not talking about it and there’s the extreme of everyone’s talking about it, so you’re not really hearing anything. What is your advice or guidance or feelings about what you’re seeing about having COVID messaging that doesn’t just blur into all the other ones? How do you stand out when everyone is sending that kind of message right now?

Marty: It’s a great question. I remember at the onset of the COVID crisis and where it started to get super intense in March. I got the first email and I went, “Holy moly, there’s going to be a way more.”

The first thing you do is don’t be too familiar. It’s the same as any kind of email spam, really. You can’t go, “Hey Marty, I’m just wondering how you and your family are doing. If you’re hanging in there and if your mask is purple and if you’ve lost 20 pounds…” You know what I mean? Not that, but the number one, and oh, and by the way, when your email starts, “Dear Marty, I know you’re getting a lot of email about Corona you must be getting sick of it like I am…”

Susan: “…but here’s another one for you.”

Marty: It’s like if it doesn’t belong in a LinkedIn connection request, it doesn’t belong in a Corona spam email.

Susan: That’s a good way of putting it though, especially if it’s a brand. I think there’s also something to be said too, about segmenting your audiences correctly for that messaging.
If you have an email list that you email every week and you have highly engaged people that open it every time, I think it’s warranted. You can be more familiar in your messaging, right? But I don’t feel like any company did that. I feel like they took their entire database and they’re like, “Oh, Hey bud.” And I’m like, I don’t even know who you are.

Marty: I look for in an email like that from a creative director’s perspective is, I want to see honesty that is appropriate and honors the relationship that we do or don’t have. If you’re cold calling me or if I’m a distant, start the email by saying, “You’ve been a customer of our company since 2013 and I know we haven’t communicated for about four years. We’re going through our list just to let everyone know that we’re grateful. The time you bought the blah, blah, blah in 2013…”

In the first two lines of the email, I want to understand that you get what our relationship is. And it’s not that you’re not too familiar that you’re not, and if you’re trying to sell me shit, say, “We haven’t communicated with you since 2017 and we have a product that is solving many COVID, blah, blah, blah.” You’ve got to get me in the first sentence, like about the size of a tweet today. Like, “Hey Marty”, we’re already done. “Hey Marty.” Like, Hey, Hay is for horses, mother frucker. I don’t know you. Who are you? Why are you bothering me?

Susan: Because they know you’re home and you’re held captive and you have nothing to do but read your emails.

Tim: I’ve been using this time and it’s just like spring cleaning with newsletters

Marty: I got five IT points today from Alyssa for going through and fixing all my passwords and cleaning up. I’ve got like 13 years of shitty data to clean up.
Susan, what could I say to you? Let’s do the hypothetical: You signed up for my dumbass mailing list six years ago. I haven’t heard from you. You haven’t heard from me since then. But I’ve got masks, or I’ve got something that will actually help in the COVID or hand sanitizer that’s not 12 bucks a jug. What do you want to hear from me in the first two sentences?

Susan: I wanna hear the subject line. And that’s the hardest part, right? Because you have limited characters before it’s truncated. And it can’t sound like you’re being one of those scalpers of the stuff that’s needed. You know what I mean? If you actually have the stuff that’s needed, it becomes that challenge of how do I convey that really quickly so that you know that I have what you need, but do it in a way that’s not me acting like a scalper?
Like, “Hey, look what I got,” and you open up you’re like, but it’s $1,000 per hand sanitizer jug. It’s like you want to make sure it doesn’t have that snake oil salesy feel to it.

Marty: Yeah. Like, you had me on hello. That’s the greatest advice. I always tell people that they need to have that shit sold before they open the email.

Susan: Yeah. And I think this also goes back to why it’s important to have those programs in place in the first place. If you’ve been talking to these people for six years. If you have an email that has that subject line, the instant trust factor is way better than to your point. It’s like, I haven’t talked to you in six years, but “Hey, I’ve got some masks I want to sell ya.” It’s like, what’s the catch? That’s going to be the first thing, but I think related to that, what’s the data behind that? If we think about each channel from paid social to paid search to email marketing, even Google analytics data about what people do on the site.

I guess, Tim, we’ll start with you. On the paid social side, what are the indicators that you would look at from a data point beyond just the conversion piece? When we’re talking about messaging, what are the data points that you would look at to see if things are resonating?

Tim: Yeah, I mean, there’s the obvious answer of just looking at engagement rate, looking at quality score, things like that. Honestly, sometimes it’s simpler than that. Just go into the ad and look at the comments, see what people are saying, and if it’s not resonating with people, then pause it or rework it.

Right now, I have a client who recently released different resources like tips for working from home or an e- guide to figuring out all the resources at your disposal right now for that specific audience. It was just kind of a test. We were just doing some demand gen and it’s the top piece of content right now on Facebook for that brand.

I think they’ve received 30,000 clicks last week, so now it’s probably 60 or 70,000. And that’s just with a piece of content that’s helpful. It’s not even specific to their brand. CPMs are incredibly low. To answer your question: check the comments, see if it’s resonating with people. You can always check the reactions. Angry faces, shocked faces. That actually is a good indicator of if it’s working or not.

Susan: You can pull that in Facebook analytics too. Not by each individual piece of content, but you can look at kind of overall sentiment over time, which might be helpful too.
Marty, what would you look at from a user behavior standpoint just to measure sentiment about how your COVID messaging is going?

Marty: Well, sales is always a good indicator if you sell shit.

Susan: True. But in an economy like this, wherever people were holding onto their wallets, are there behavioral data points or behavioral-type cues that you would recommend people, even if it’s something on the Google analytics side about what they’re doing on the site or on search?

Marty: Yeah. I always like to see how many people have never been on my site within the life of my tracking, that spend a more substantial chunk of time looking at more pages and spending more time than even people who are used to the site. It’s never bad to look towards traditional web metrics: time on site, page views per visit, how close they get to the conversion, how close they get to pages that often retarget to the conversion, how many times they’ve come if they come back to the site afterwards… I’d like to not be cynical and say that it doesn’t matter how close they get to conversion, but ultimately after we’re done getting through this, we have to sell stuff.

Susan: In the meantime, to your point though, let’s talk about some of those industries that aren’t going to be selling anytime soon, like tourism. So if you’re thinking about something like tourism or travel or business travel or anything like that, how do you view that?

Marty: We just saw some really fascinating stuff on one of our clients’ sites. We’re looking across the normal spectrum of things: Google ads, Facebook ads, retargeting performance into Facebook, RLSA into Google. And obviously sales have crawled to a near halt, so I’m digging into analytics. It was really fascinating. There were more searches for brand and more searches for non-brand. The inventory was jacked almost 18%. The CTR on brand ads that hadn’t been redone was substantially lower. Traffic was down. They were getting to the website. They were spending longer on the website, and they weren’t going anywhere near reservations. They were looking at everything else. We looked at that and we went, “Okay. Rule number one, don’t be tone deaf.” The ad said, “Time to plan your happy vacation.” People like to take the ads out to say, “This too shall pass.” We tested concepts – these aren’t the words, but the concepts – we tested “this too shall pass.” We tested, “We’re here for you in these difficult times.” We tested, “This region will be open for you when you are ready. And we are here,” which was the by far winner. And then we changed messaging on the Facebook page and across the website to say, “It’s okay to dream.” It’s a great time to plan because it was super interesting. Susan and Tim and audience, it was really interesting. What was clear to us was that the interest hadn’t waned; the intent to buy right now had waned. But people were dreaming. They were spending a bunch of time on the planning pages. They were planning on spending a bunch of time on the background pages. They were looking at the people that work there because there are tourism guides, sorts of things on this website. And then we took that approach. Dial into another tourism and hospitality website. Same thing. The CTR for the ads went up maybe 20 to 25%. The cost remains super low. Time on site improved and we got them a couple pages closer to the reservations page. And then just this last week, the proprietor called me up and said, “Marty, the most amazing thing is happening. People are starting to book.” Oh, also, this is very important. Whatever your business is, whatever your business model is, if it’s been affected by COVID at your top level, at the ad level, at the landing page level, at every level, indicate flexibility. Indicate that if you get closer to commitment now, we’ll hook you up if it doesn’t work out.

Look for it. Look for the dreaming aspects of people’s customer journey. Look for people to be spending more time in the planning part, and then change messaging on your website and in your retargeting and at the top level ads that say, “Of course you’re sitting in your house dreaming right now, who’s not thinking about fishing or taking pictures of graffiti in Shoreditch or a flight to Budapest?”

Susan: I liked the point also about, there’s also the reassurance aspect of you can move your dates. I think it’s also a time where it’s like stuff that was normally kind of a footnote that it’s like, “Oh, you can change your flight”,  because most people wouldn’t, it was a footnote.
Now it’s like those small things that were kind of like the asterisks that were at the bottom, can be changing. Those are actually the things that you want to call out now because they’re so much more likely than they used to be.

Marty: Are you aware of the wine tasting phenomena? We’ve done a couple of them. I travel to wineries all over America. And we have relationships like with Ben Papapietro, who is Papapietro Wine and one of our favorite wineries is Hall in Napa. They’re doing Facebook live, things like this where you sit with the wine maker, they tell you what wine they’re drinking. You open it and they just sit and talk about it. And it’s an unbelievable branding thing. Well, for one, any wine makers out there, tell us what wines are gonna taste two weeks ahead of time so we can have it too, and you’ll sell more!

I had never met the wine maker for Roadhouse wine in Sonoma, and it’s one of my favorite wines. And he was answering my comments and I’m asking questions about the swag that they have in their winery. And questions about the wine and I’m drinking the wine and you know what? Damn straight. Next time I’m in Sonoma and I visit Roadhouse winery. Damn straight and I’m gonna meet him and I’m going to say, “Hey, I’m the Marty Weintraub that asked you about your Grateful Dead t-shirt, and the turntables in your winery.” And, that is a priceless branding touch that would never have happened before.

Now I have a personal relationship with the wine maker. Well, for one thing, we probably bought more Roadhouse wine here at AIMCLEAR than any other winery in history. What you do in your business to increase the humanity that results in sales anyway. Case in point, what we’re doing here, we were not doing Facebook live before this COVID thing.

Susan: Yeah. I mean, for sure, and I think you make a great point too, of there’s that increased engagement aspect that I think so many brands just kept trying to rely on through advertising. It’s like they would try and take these snapshots of these customer experiences or customer testimonials and they package them up and they ship them as an ad.
It’s interesting to watch how that shifting to actual experiences that other people are observing, right? Instead of it just being a customer testimonial that someone packaged up, they put the stars, they put the photo of the person and it’s like blah, blah, blah, here’s the quote about how great this product is.

They’ve kind of moved more towards getting that feedback live with witnesses, so to speak, where it’s happening at the same time. You make a great point though, and I think, it applies to a lot of industries that probably haven’t even necessarily tried it yet. I think it’s been out of some kind of necessity for food and beverage, but I feel like other brands are going to start to get there quickly, especially with watch parties for shows and all that kind of stuff.

Tim, I know that you do some stuff on the econ side. What are you seeing on that side? Is there anything that’s been kind of more focused on community-ish and acknowledging that everyone’s separate, but together? Are you seeing more of that messaging?

Tim: Yeah, definitely. One client is doing two Facebook live shows a day. They’re connecting with all of their consumers and saying, “Hey, this is what we’re releasing.” And it’s a very human approach, the way they do it. It’s almost like two people talk, like what we’re doing, almost a podcast feel to it, and that’s doing extremely well for them.

In terms of e-comm in general… Obviously, we talk about pivoting and what we should be changing. There’s a lot of brands out there at the same time that don’t necessarily need to pivot. They’re doing okay. One of my brands, CTM has dropped 160%. Clicks have gone up 360%. I think I posted this on Twitter. Regardless of everything that’s happening, people are still buying and it’s doing great. So, yes. Keep hitting that human element. The empathy, contributing relevancy to the discussion, that’s super important.

I think I was done with the point, but basically it all comes back to empathy. What Marty said about offering refunds or credits for something that they didn’t get. I recently had a Groupon for an outing that expired, and I didn’t see it in time. And so, I tried to get a credit for it and they’re not allowing people to give credits. Now, to be honest they are doing a lot of good things right now, but that’s just one instance of I was like, “Okay this is…”

Susan: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think when we talk about how these brands are changing the way that they’re interacting with customers and they’re definitely just treating people like they’re humans now instead of just like subjects that are going to view their ad impressions. Do you think that’s something that’s going to permanently change, Marty? Do you think that this is going to permanently alter the way A: brands interact with their customers, but B: the avenues in which they do it?

Marty: Yeah, for sure. And to be real. Everything that happens everywhere in the world, every day impacts the future of how brands interact. But this is going to be more major.
I would say wineries are going to continue their virtual tastings and lots of the techniques, because if you can connect with customers right now, many of these same tactics are going to work later.
Susan, we have a question. I’d like to say hi to our friend Carri Bugbee in Portland. Just like to point out that I’m wearing my SEM PDX SearchFest sweatshirt from one of the first years. Carri asked Marty and team: “Can you give us some insights about messaging strategies that can work for retailers right now?” Curbside pickup. Customized delivery. Say, “We’ll deliver your shit and we’ll wipe it off with a Clorox wipe before we get there.” Make people feel safe.

Susan: I think the other thing too, Carri, is, one of the things I was seeing, and I’ve seen this posted in a couple of different places, but there are stores that are also doing this really great thing where they’re being like personal shoppers for people. You can FaceTime them or Skype them and they will take you around the store so that you can see what they have, and they will help you pick out whatever it is you’re looking for.

Especially if they want to order something online, and if it’s out of stock, then they have messages that you can call the store. Then they’ll set up a FaceTime with you so you can be like, “We don’t have one like Marty’s cause we don’t have that wine, but these ones are really great. Here’s what they look like. Here are their costs, here are their points.” That they can take you through the alternatives. There’s been kind of like a personal shopping thing that we’re seeing happen with places that would otherwise be stuck in an empty store. It’s almost kind of like a warehouse for them right now.

They’re operating as a personal shopper. I’ve seen that get really, really beloved on social, just because of the personal fit of that.

Marty: Look for anything that solves the problems of quarantine. Make a list of all the stuff that’s hard: You’re right on top of another person. You’re right on top of all the other people in your house. You’re bored. Try to speak to the problems.

Tim, in your e-comm world, what are you seeing in our clients that… like not everybody has shut their e-comm all the way down or just out there in the world. What have you seen that would help retail or e-comm right now get through this?

Tim: That’s a good question. I’m seeing people use Instagram, TV more, sort of, almost like those infomercials you see at 3:00 AM. It’s basically just the same thing Amazon is doing where they use their product in front of you and show you how it works.

I think there’s, not specific to my clients, but there’s a nail polish company right now that is just doing videos of putting on different colors of nail polish and showing you different techniques of putting it on and things like that. There’s bakeries right now that are baking COVID-specific cakes like, “Stay inside” and things like that, and they’re putting it on Instagram and people are loving it and they just think it’s the best thing ever. There is a way to add, like I said earlier, a little bit of enjoyment, but at the same time, keeping your credibility and not being flippant.

Marty: I haven’t gotten my nails done for about two months now. I just feel like a hag, I feel really icky. Like eww, I know that a lot of you can relate to that, you don’t want to see my feet. I look like a dinosaur.

If you’re a big box e-tailer and you sell a bazillion products, it might be very smart for you right now to be selling kits with putting videos up on YouTube that show actually how to do your own nails successfully without sucking and then selling the associated kits with a coupon. Cause right now if somebody marketed me learning how to do my own nails, cause my mom never taught me to do that.

If I was marketing doing my own, if I was marketed to about how to do my own nails and then how to put on nail polish where it didn’t look stupid, and then you could sell me that stuff right now.

What are people not able to go get done by service companies now where you could sell an e-comm related, item that would help you with that?

Susan: I think some of that too could also be applied to services. I was catching up with Annie Cushing earlier this week, and her daughter does hair and makeup, and she does vintage hair and makeup styles, and she’s so talented too. Like she’s totally an artist. The challenge has been, obviously there’s no beauty services going on right now.
So instead, she’s been converting her business to doing live video with people to teach them how to do it. I think there’s also room for… it doesn’t mean they’re never going to come back to her because some of them just don’t want to take the time to do it, but in the meantime, if there’s certain techniques that they do want to learn how to do on their own, I think there are certain services where you can convert it to an education model.

That’s the kind of stuff too, that if you want to run ads for it, that also provides fantastic content because then it’s actual real people. They’re not hired models. They’re not high-done studio shoots of you doing it. It’s you actually showing someone, “No, tilt the brush this way or put the color this way.” You’re actually teaching them how to do it in a way that’s very organic. It doesn’t feel quite so overdone.

I know before this I was reading about these trends on Instagram about how no one wants to see your perfect life anymore. It was like, “stop showing these perfect lifestyle shots of these world travelers that are pausing with their scarf flowing in the breeze and it’s so obvious someone else took the photo and it staged.” So, there was talk about how there is this trend in social media and in paid ads that like, the grittier it was, the better it started to do.

It’s kinda interesting that we’re now in this time where we don’t really have much choice unless you have a home studio. You don’t have much choice except for your content to look that way.

I’m kinda curious to see if that stays. Are we all going to get tired of it, where we’re just like, “ah, we know we’re all home and there’s no beautiful filters and we don’t have any of the amazing lighting,” or is it like we’re just going to get used to seeing things as real? Is it going to become that much more obvious when an ad runs and it’s all perfectly done and high resolution, is that just going to stick out like a sore thumb?

Tim: That’s interesting you say that because I’ve thought the same thing. I think David Herman on Twitter, he talks about Facebook a lot. He basically said, this brand spent $40,000 doing a video shoot, hiring models, getting everything perfect for this beautiful, beautifully produced video. And then he did a boomerang where he just put the product on an easel and just kind of rotated around it on an iPhone 8 and it outperformed it multiple, multiple times. I foresee that it’s going to be just a continued trend, especially with Gen Z. They value that authenticity, that stuff. It doesn’t need to be completely refined. So, yeah. But that’ll be interesting just in general. I wonder how all that is going to fair.

Susan: Marty, what do you think about that? Produced commercialism versus the UGC aspect? How do you marry the two so that a brand still looks polished but not so polished that it feels inaccessible?

Marty: It’s funny because some of the most successful Hollywood videos are not polished looking on purpose. That’s the same question as ever. If it’s too glossy, then people don’t believe it, and if it’s not glossy enough, they think you’re a hack.

I’d say go for the authenticity and the walk around thing is cool because it shows all angles. That just solves a problem. I would say, how can you demystify the product? A user review is worth a million bucks over a packaged commercial almost anytime, if you believe the authenticity of it. And, of course it takes a blend because marketers are really great at high level stuff. One sentence that says what it is or what it does, or… Users are really great at inspiring trust, demystifying and speaking more to the needs of the user. I think that’s not a unique thing in this time. And I think that’s just gonna continue to grow with the internet.

Our friend Melissa, asks, “I think it was Papa Johns, a commercial that said, quote, we won’t touch your pizza, but you are touching the box. What are you doing about that and are your employees sick? Have you checked?” That’s a really, actually great point.

We have one hospitality and tourism client who I’m spending more right now actually on branding than they would usually spend during the season, and we’re preparing for when things open up.

We’re preparing for when things open up and we’re going, “Hey, you know, you’re going to need to look at what you put on your website,” and you’re going to have to say, “Yeah, after every visitor we disinfect all the switches. Here’s our cleaning regime.”

And to Melissa’s point, I think you can score a lot of points by telling people how interacting with your brand now is a safer experience than interacting with other brands. What I want to hear is, “you can pick up your groceries curbside, we wipe everything down right before and wear a mask.”

Susan: Isn’t it funny how the value propositions have changed for brands? It’s just kind of like “Our pizza tastes better.”

Marty: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! Saying what you’re doing to take care of yourself and your employees and you’re like, “I’m coming to you from the AIMCLEAR office and the only reason that I’m here is because it was practically fumigated and nobody has been here for weeks now,” and I just like the internet better than other places. And I can tell you exactly what we’re doing with AIMCLEAR employees: they’re all employed. They’re all safe. They are working from home before. I can tell you we’re not so concerned with exactly who’s doing what. We’re all doing things that are out of their comfort zone to help. We’re, we’re storing up and taking care of things. We’re getting ahead in our company.

In most businesses, the cobbler’s son or daughter goes shoeless. As a company where you could store up what your capabilities are for the future and you can share that and while we’re waiting, we’re cleaning our shit out of the basement.

Susan: Going to have a yard sale when it’s all over. It looks like we have something from Gary Maples: “Local pizza spot is packaging dough with cups of pepperoni, cheese and other sides as kits.” That’s so smart. Like I think that’s the other thing too, is… Oh, Melissa makes the point about the hairstylist too. That kind of “do it yourself” piece where it’s like A: you can’t go to them to have it done, but B: we have time to kill.

It’s like we’ve got more time than we’ve ever had. Teach me to do something.

Marty: There is a brand here called New Scenic Cafe up on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It’s one of the finest restaurants, one of a few foodie restaurants, here, and they’re selling multiple meal packs where they will deliver it to your house semi-cooked or uncooked. All at once for more than one meal. They’ll bring it to your house, even though they’re a good 20 minutes from town, anywhere in the Duluth area. And that’s just genius. Not only will they deliver food for you to make… Oh, also, DoubleTree hotels, they just released their cookie recipe.

Susan: And you saw this, my beloved Disney, they released their Churro recipe, which I will so be partaking in. They’ve been releasing some of their recipes too. Cause it’s like, who knows? I mean, they know the parents are home with children and what are they going to do all day, right? But the interesting thing about that though, is that as we think about it from a monetary standpoint, normally when we set up ads, we have it optimizing towards a certain action, right? But now those actions are different, so we can’t have it optimized towards the same types of sales that maybe it did.

Using these examples, if you’re a pizza place, and let’s say you were able to optimize towards online purchase of delivery, now, if you’re shifting to a “do your own pizza kit” thing, that might be a different demographic because now you’re appealing to more families versus college students or whatever those things may be.
When we think about it in terms of… I think there’s two pieces to it. One is the messaging of it and the other is the cost piece of it. Tim, do you want to speak to the cost piece of the auto optimization of something like Facebook, which just, it knows historically these, the people who have bought, but now those people are shifting and how do you account for that?

Tim: Especially in Google, I would first of all, look at all your campaigns and see what it’s actually being optimized for. Some people use enhanced cost per clicks. Some people use smart bidding, depending on your industry and what you’re looking for. Make sure, especially if you’re optimizing for conversions or CPA, that you’re watching what Google is actually doing right now because, a lot of times, it could just be off. If there was a big dip in conversions, then it’s going to start increasing your bid to make up for it. Just be really careful.

If you’re doing a lot of automated-type rules and bids, watch what Google is doing because I’ve already seen some horror story type examples of people just letting it run and then seeing costs skyrocket.

In Facebook, less so. More what I’ve seen in Facebook is CPMs are decreasing and since that’s sort of the baseline for everything, everything else is decreasing too. Clicks have decreased, cost per conversion has decreased. Not in every industry, mind you, there’s still plenty of expensive slots to fill. But, just be careful with automation would be my main point.

Susan: Yeah, I agree. Maybe worth considering too, if you start offering these separate product types, having separate landing pages for them instead of just bleeding it into the site. Maybe doing separate landing pages for that so that you kind of can make sure that you’re targeting who you think you’re targeting. And I think, Marty, from that perspective, how would you suggest brands reconcile the, “This is who our customer has usually been, so this is how we’ve done our creative. We know that we’re attracting different people now, but we might not know how to necessarily segment that so the messaging makes sense?” The pizza kit one is a great example of like, they may still have people ordering for delivery, but they may now also have people that want to do it yourself.

How do you start reconciling that? You have two very different people. Before, there’s people, they’re like, “I don’t want to touch anything I just want you to deliver my dinner.” Now you have people that are like, “Deliver me the things to do, but now I want to make it.” It’s actually a very different value proposition. How would you suggest brands think about and approach those instances?

Marty: First of all, your customer segments, the verticals from which you normally sell. We sell to this persona and this persona and this persona and this persona. Make them columns on a spreadsheet and then go down the spreadsheet and say the phases of the buying journey. Strike through any ones that aren’t likely to happen right now and then create the steps and the messaging that would be necessary to lead up to as close as you can get to conversion. For instance, if your segment is marketers, we’ll say marketers, cause there’s a lot of marketers on this call. If the segment is marketers and you’re selling a tool for marketers, the end game is still conversion for that tool, so put conversion at the bottom. And then what usually happens? Well, they study it. They do a free trial. Then it’s a flowchart. If they convert from the free trial, then we’re good. If we don’t convert from a free trial, then it’s a pathway that we take them on by various methods.
That could be retargeting, that could be emails or whatever. And then, look at that process before the conversion happened and ask, “Why isn’t it happening? What is unique about this environment that is the reason that is not happening?” And then do the normal marketing thing: remove barriers, demystify, provides solutions, help them understand why it’s still feasible.

I know one software manufacturer that’s a very famous software manufacturer where the founder of the companies said “Not only will we cut prices or eliminate prices for anyone who is having issues paying their bills with Corona right now, but we’re going to give it to anyone for free for the duration of the Corona experience.”

Now, this is software that can cost from between $20 or $30 a month to thousands of dollars a year, and it’s a SaaS. It really doesn’t cost very much overhead to add to that SaaS. What have they done? They’ve given the ultimate free trial with a healthy dose of goodwill and love. Because what does it cost them to do it? Some server overhead on AWS maybe. Not only did you get all the benefit of a free trial, but you’ve made a permanent life-changing friend to the brand. And you’ve established a personal relationship between the person that would buy that brand and the founder in this case. I would say wherever you see the obstacles to conversion that come from COVID, look to your heart. Go ahead, Tim.

Tim: I love it. You ended it perfectly, speak from the heart because… It goes into what Carri just asked, she said, “I’ve seen quite a few Facebook people complained about ads for luxury goods right now. Even marketers are screaming figuratively about that, saying they don’t want to see ads for that stuff.” In terms of high end, you’re absolutely right. I wanted to share this really quick.
This is just something, it’s, this made a consumer mindset during media consumption. Look at the one that’s on the farthest left. The indulgence. People really don’t need indulgences right now and that’s “feed my hearts” type stuff. Feed my heart type things is feeling entertained, passing the time, unwinding. If you want to go to the mind, it’s staying up to date on things, learning. Especially with luxury goods right now, how can you shift from the “buy this Gucci bag for $3,000” to “this is what our brand is doing to help during COVID. 10% of profits are going to the CDC foundation” or whatever. Just keep that in mind. just because they’re a luxury brand doesn’t mean you can’t advertise; it just means you need to shift your messaging a little bit.

Susan: To kind of tie to that, Tim, like they’ve never really had to focus on things like entertaining people or even just the human element we were talking about, right? This is a good opportunity for them to find ways to do that that would take them into the future too.

Tim: Exactly. And then this last slide is just, what do people actually want to see in advertising right now? 92% of people say it’s fine to be shown ads. They don’t think it’s a bad thing during COVID to be shown ads. But if you’re going to do it, focus on the big blue section: the security, the safety, the positivity. and focus less on the bottom funnel: selling/buy now type mentality.

Susan: Yup. That goes directly to what you were talking about Marty.

Marty: What can you give as a brand that doesn’t really cost you very much, that not only makes you friends, but helps people in their lives and then makes your product indispensable to them later on? We’re doing that as well. We’re helping clients and prospective clients in ways that we weren’t positioned to do before, and we are now. And so, it’s true that marketers have had an interesting and sometimes tough time of it. We’re lucky because most of our clients aren’t in verticals that have been devastated by this, but some have, and we’ve gotten quite a bit of new business and some of that new business came out of need that’s sprang up from COVID. It’s an amazing time to say, “yeah, we’d love your business, and if you start paying us in June, that’s just fine.” You know what I mean?

Susan: I think the thing too, like you were saying about the emotional tie to the brand and kind of making friends with your customers. I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but it was last week or the week before, Mark Cuban said something about how brands behave now is how they’re going to be remembered in a few years. And I totally agree with that. I mean, I think it’s the ones that are hitting tone deaf right now are not the same ones that… They did a tone deaf commercial during Super Bowl that fell flat and few months later, no one even remembers. I think it’s going to be a different experience for them now. It’ll be interesting how that pans out.

We’ve got three minutes left. Closing thoughts from you gentlemen about how we go forward, when you think it’ll end, and how things are going to look different once we come out on the other side? Like, how do you think Christmas is going to look this year? How do you think these behaviors of staying home and consuming less are going to impact everything moving forward?

Tim: I would say just focus on, in general, my key takeaways would be: simplify your offer as much as possible. Focus on demand gen. Just pretend it’s the beginning of Q3 and Black Friday’s a few months away. You want to build your retargeting pools right now and then in the future, you can flip it on its head and just use your huge lists to get new consumers. Simplify the authentic and stay advertising if you can. Great advice.

Marty: I’d say, understand that everybody’s under a lot of pressure right now and being kind to ourselves within our companies, kind to our relationships, kind to our customers. And then to be super good customers, treat your vendors the same way you want your customers to treat you right now. And keep in mind that we’re going through our Great Depression moment. This is epic. This is going to affect our lives. And, this isn’t a 60-day thing or a 90-day thing, this is the rest of our life thing.

I would just say, be really kind and patient in the whole commerce. And our goal at AIMCLEAR is right commerce, almost in the Buddhist sense of right, Ajiva, right commerce and joy and try to find the joy in it to the greatest extent possible as antidote to the darkness and sadness and pain.

I would just say it’s a human thing… outstanding colleagues as the people that work at AIMCLEAR, Tim and Susan on this call and then everyone else. We’re so blessed and lucky and grateful, and we’re grateful for our friends out there who are watching and just everybody be really safe and take care, and the world’s going to be there for us to transact in when we’re done with this. Find joy between the lines. Be kind to everyone.

Susan: I think that’s the perfect way to end it. Thank you everybody who attended. It was my pleasure. Thank you, Tim and Marty, as always, for your entertaining and fun thoughts and commentary.

Join the AIMCLEARians next Friday to talk about Keeping Systems Secure in the Age of Martech MacGyvers and every Friday at 3:00 CST on

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