The CM Summit kicks off next week on Monday morning with an interview of John Hayes, CMO for American Express. I’ve come to know John through my work at Federated, and I am certain this session will be lively and full of insights.
American Express is one of the world’s premiere brands, consistently ranked in the top 25 by marketing and business publications. Hayes has overseen the brand for 15 years, or put another way, since the Netscape IPO and through the rise of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m looking forward to our conversation Monday. Here are a few topics I plan to cover:
- Hayes has said “the chief challenge for brands today isn’t customer awareness; it’s customer engagement.” What does he mean by that?
- Has the American Express brand changed in the past ten years? How?
- How has the rise of digital changed American Express’ approach to marketing? What mistakes does he see brands making in the context of digital?
- How does Hayes keep American Express “in the conversation” when that conversation is increasingly dominated by online chatter, as opposed to popular culture tent pole events like sports and cultural events?
- The past two years have been particularly challenging for financial services brands. But Amex seems to have come out pretty well. Why? And what has American Express learned in the past two years?
- American Express purchased Revolution Money late last year. Why?
- Along the same lines, how has the rise of online payment – Facebook Credits, Google Checkout, PayPal – challenged or spurred American Express?
- American Express has launched a number of new online services for card members. How do they play into the brand promise?
- Open Forum has been a major success – winning awards, growing traffic. Why? What has American Express learned from that program?
- Stepping back, what do you make of the economy right now? What are your card members telling you, in aggregate, through their purchases?
- What do you expect from your agency relationships? What lessons might you impart about how to work best with agency?
- Publishers and content creators are in the midst of a major disruption. What are you looking for from your publishing and content partners?
So what do you want to hear from John Hayes?
…you just have to rethink what “search” really means. Last night Jobs said he had no interest in search. I am quite certain what he meant is he has no interest in HTML, “traditional” search. But think about what search really is, and I am certain, Apple will be in the search business.
Why? Well, as I said in the last post on the iPad (and rather hurriedly, and entirely my fault, poorly communicated to many of those who left comments), it’s all about the link. Perhaps I should have said, it’s all about the signal.
Let’s think about the allegories between search and the web as we knew it, and apps and the app platform that Apple controls, as we know it. Last night Jobs said that we’ve never before seen such an explosion of apps as we’ve witnessed on the iPhone platform – 200,000 and counting, up to 20K new ones a week.
That’s true, never before have so many developers created mobile phone apps in such abundance. But think back to the last great platform where hundreds of thousands created value by making new services, content, and places where consumers might interact: yep, that’d be the web. A website is an app. And the platform of the web – it’s open. Anyone can build on it. And anyone can create signals from their “app” to another “app” – a link from one site to another. And anyone can share any data from any site to another site, or mash up those data streams to create entirely new kinds of sites. Yep, it was rather a free for all, but over the past 15 or so years business rules have emerged, social norms have developed, an ecosystem has flourished.
Take yourself back to the early days of the web – just as now we are in the early days of what I’ve called before, and will call here, AppWorld.
Remember what a mess it was? How much noise there was, and how precious little signal? And what application emerged that found that precious signal, made sense of it, and helped us find our way? Yep, it was search, and the signal was the link, interpreted, of course, through PageRank and ultimately hundreds of other sub signals (click through, freshness, decay, etc.)
Now, think of AppWorld. Where’s the signal? Short answer is, we don’t have one. Yet.
The beauty of the link was that it became a proxy for engagement. It was where consumers were declaring their intent – signaling what they wanted from the web. That signal became the basis for a massive marketing economy. Google ascended. And content models were turned upside down (much to my delight at FM, I will admit).
So then, what is the proxy for engagement in AppWorld? Before you argue that “we don’t need one,” let’s not forget Jobs’ stated goal of getting into advertising so as to give his legions of developers a business model, to reward them for creating value on Apple’s platform. That’s the whole reason he’s creating iAds, he declared last night. To get his developers paid. “We won’t be making very much money on advertising,” he said. (Let’s watch and see…)
Well, if marketers are going to find value in AppWorld, they’re going to need a proxy for engagement, a trail of breadcrumbs, some signal(s) that show were consumers are, what they are doing, and ideally, predicts what they might do next. And we as consumers also need this trail – we need smart navigation tools to figure out which apps to use, which apps our friends recommend, and how best to navigate the apps we are using. It was easy when there were just a few apps. Now there are hundreds of thousands. Soon there will be millions. Don’t tell me a Google like metadata play isn’t going to evolve inside such an ecosystem. After all, search did all those things for the web. But so far, we don’t have a similar signal for AppWorld.
But we will. The data is already there. It’s the data we all create when we interact with apps – when we jump from one to another, when we navigate within pages, when we execute a command in an app and then ask that app to store that execution “up in the cloud” also known as the web. And as far as I can tell (Apple won’t answer questions on this) it’s that data which, if shared with others besides the developer and Apple, Apple then labels “third party” and forbids (based on a smokescreen of privacy issues, which I believe can and must be addressed).
I believe such a policy cannot stand, because it will create a fragile ecosystem devoid of feedback loops and external innovation. No matter, whether or not Apple allows third parties to consume AppWorld data, Apple will do search. It won’t be search as we understand it on the web, but it’ll be search for AppWorld, and if done right, it will be extremely profitable.
**Dashed off as I am running to lunch at D….will update soon…**
…and I mean that. Watching Jobs work his way through nearly 90 minutes of interview and audience questions, I really felt, for the first time, a sense of how strongly the guy feels for his work and his products. Then again, I found myself angry, several times. Angry when he championed the press as crucial to democracy, and implied the iPad would save our country from “descending into a nation of bloggers” (my view: we started as a nation of bloggers – pamphleteers like Thomas Paine). Angry when he defended Apple’s data practices – to an investor in Flurry, no less – as protecting users’ privacy, when in fact it’s clearly about controlling data to Apple’s benefit to win advertisers, developers, and market share (you can certainly protect privacy AND share data. That’s the basis of the web, and, by the way, the basis of culture. But that’s another post). Angry when he claimed that Apple was the only company doing mobile ads that didn’t suck, when in fact they’ve been done the way iAds is doing it for nearly a year by third parties.
But I was also inspired. Inspired by a guy who decided to tear up the playbook of how computing works, and rethink it all so as to shift the interface from stylus or mouse to the human finger – and doubly inspired by a guy who reinvented the personal computer, then declared it essentially dead on stage tonight. Inspired by a guy who answers emails at 2 am and passionately defends his own way of doing things, and claims the market will decide, one purchase at a time. Inspired by the fact that the company I loved and defended back in the late 80s and 90s, which nearly died at the feet of Microsoft, eclipsed that giant in market cap last week, yet he genuinely seemed to believe that “market cap doesn’t matter.”
Read my Twitter stream for real time thoughts, but two things aren’t in there that are worth noting: one: Jobs said he was not going to do search, and two, Jobs said TV was too complicated to get into. Mark my words: He’ll be in both, big time, in the next few years. Why? Because he’s been on the record, in the past, saying he had no designs on tablet computing and phones. With Jobs, history has a way of repeating itself.
Today’s news that the iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months – coming as it does right before Steve Jobs takes the stage at his only public conference appearance in years outside carefully scripted Apple launch events – led me to reflect on my prediction, in January of this year, that the “iPad would disappoint” (that’d be #5, scroll down).
In that prediction, which was not without its failures, I wrote:
Sorry Apple fanboys, but the use case is missing, even if the thing is gorgeous and kicks ass for so many other reasons. Until the computing UI includes culturally integrated voice recognition and a new approach to browsing (see #4), the “iTablet” is just Newton 2.0. Of course, the Newton was just the iPhone, ten years early and without the phone bit….and the Mac was just Windows, ten years before Windows really took hold, and Next was just ….oh never mind.
In essence, what I was saying is that the nexus of first wave computing (Windows OS) and second wave computing (the web) had not caught up to Jobs’ vision of the third wave – mobile, multi-touch web-enabled interfaces. I was also hinting at my own bias that voice will become an important part of our interface to machines. Another bias: the assumption that Apple’s tablet would actually attempt to connect the first two waves of computing meaningfully to the third.
I think my prediction was right in the short term (when the iPad was announced, nearly everyone was disappointed at what it wasn’t, see the headlines from January, above), and I was totally wrong in the medium term (the thing has sold two million plus and probably has a shot at being Time magazine’s “man of the year” for 2010). However I still believe I’ll be entirely correct in the long term, in particular if Apple doesn’t change its tune on how the iPad interacts with the web.
Allow me to unpack that last statement.
What I missed, at least in my initial prediction, was how entirely hermetic and “un-weblike” the iPad would end up being. Like many others, I was surprised at how complete Apple’s disdain is for traditional computing models – including its own Macintosh. The iPad would not be an open development environment – instead it adopted the iPhone model of command and control. The iPad would not allow you to run Mac applications – only iPad/iPhone specific apps approved by Apple would work, and that meant no Microsoft Office, thank you very little. The iPad wouldn’t even let you cut and paste – an innovation Apple pioneered – and worst of all, it seemed, the iPad wouldn’t use Flash – a proxy, as it were, for “the rest of the web that Steve Jobs didn’t quite like very much.”
So initially, anyway, the hue and cry about the iPad amongst the tech elite was decidedly disappointed. The iPad wasn’t a computer! The iPad was just a big iPhone – but without the phone, or even the camera! It’s an overgrown iPod Touch! It breaks the web!
Then it came out, and wow, was it purty. Apple has done it again, we all marveled – the iPad’s genius, it seemed, was that it didn’t try to be a computer – instead, it was a gorgeous device for consumption of media and interaction with apps. And sure, those apps could be web enabled – on the back end – as long as the web was channeled into structured, Apple approved fashion (no third party data sharing, natch). And sure, you could surf the the “real web,” but only if you went through the Apple approved browser, which finds Flash unworthy of rendering.
No matter. The fact is, the iPad is a revelation for millions and counting, because, like Steve Case before him, Steve Jobs has managed to render the noise of the world wide web into a pure, easily consumed signal.
The problem, of course, is that Case’s AOL, while wildly successful for a while, ultimately failed as a model. Why? Because a better one emerged – one that let consumers of information also be creators of information. And the single most important product of that interaction? The link. It was the link that killed AOL – and gave birth to Google.
It was the link that made the web what it is today, and it’s the link – reinterpreted in various new strains – that drives innovation on the web still. The link is the synapse between you, me, and a billion other humans – and the signal (dare I say, a signal one might consider third party data) which allows a million ideas to flourish.
So let me ask you one question, right now: Can you link to an app on your iPad? And I don’t mean a link to download the app on iTunes, folks. I mean, can you create an ecosystem of links, deep into your iPad application(s), links that connect your particular activity stream inside that app with other streams, other links, and other intentions across the web? In ways that create new values, both predictable and unpredicted?
The answer is no. Anymore than you could link to pages deep inside AOL, back when it was a walled garden.
Sure, AOL eventually figured out the web would win, but by then, it was too late.
Next week, Apple will make any number of announcements at its WWDC. I’m hoping the company will announce that it is tacking away from its walled garden approach with the iPad, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Apple makes gorgeous products, but ultimately, I think any product which rejects the web’s core value of connection will simply disappoint. But more likely than not, it’ll be a year or two before that becomes apparent.
PS – If you want a deeper dive on Apple and the web, read this: Will Apple Embrace the Web? No.
Google today announced that it gives publishers 68% of its take for AdSense advertisements, eliminating one of the longest guessing games in our industry. Everyone knew that AOL, Ask, and other large partners pre-negotiated their deals, but no one knew what “typical” AdSense players made. Now we do, apparently.
This 68% split is relatively new. How do I know that? Well, as recently as two years ago, sources I know to be extremely reliable were actively negotiating with Google to get a 65% cut – less than what was announced today. So….you do the math.
Also, what many don’t realize is that Google takes a 15% “serving” fee off the top, before splitting revenues with publishers. So if you do the math, 68% of 85% is really 57.8% – not nearly as generous as first it seemed.
UPDATE: Google disputes this, sending me this note: “For online publishers, the 68% revenue share is not new – it’s been that figure for all online publishers since AdSense for content was launched in 2003.
And there is no 15% serving, or any other, fee for those online publishers. “
I’m quite certain there was such a fee. I’ll look into this after a day of meetings.
Update: The 15% fee, also known as a “AFC Deduction”, was commonly used (and still is as far as I know) for negotiated contracts with larger publishers. Google maintains it was never used for those who signed up directly on the Google website.
Early last week I wrote a long-ish piece on the iAd – in which I both criticized and praised Apple for “re-gifting” a mobile ad format that already existed. Since then I’ve spoke with Apple’s head of corporate communications, as well as several other potential clients and agencies. I didn’t learn a lot from Apple, but I did get some context for this next installment.
Apple’s genius has always been in seeing the value of something that already exists, and taking that value to a new level (the Mac, after all, was inspired by Xerox’s work. And the iPhone? Anyone remember the Treo?).
But while we can be relatively certain that the iAd will be a quality experience, the great unknown remains return on investment: Will buying iAds be worth the price? As I write, marketers are evaluating Apple’s pitch and trying to determine if it’s worth the rather steep initial price of entry. Many have already jumped in. But others are still questioning the investment.
My conclusion? If you’re an ROI driven marketer that craves certainty and are relatively risk averse, stay away. There are more unknowns than knowns in this program, at least for now. We will know a lot more in two weeks, when Apple convenes its developers’ conference, but by then, it’ll be too late to join the launch party.
However, if you’re already a savvy mobile marketer who likes to spend into innovation, or if you have inclinations that lead you to purchase a Superbowl ad, then the iAd is quite possibly tailor made for you.
Here’s what we do know about the iAd:
* Apple is in market selling iAd launch packages for $1mm or more, depending on exclusivity terms. However, several clients I spoke with claim to have gotten into the launch for the “low hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
* Apple will charge one cent per impression (a $10 CPM) and $2 per click. These charges will back into the minimums described above for the launch program.
* The iAd unit is a banner which brings a user into a rich media webview. This is not a new format, but given the iAd is exclusively this format and will be identified to consumers as an iAd, it does claim the high ground.
* At launch, Apple will execute all creative, with client oversight and approval. This will change over time.
Assuming a 1% clickthrough rate (which is a reasonable expectation, given the iAd’s relative novelty and industry standards which can range as high as 2%), the iAd will drive a “cost per engagement” of $3 – two bucks for the click, and one buck for the 100 impressions, one of which drives that click. That’s a $50 CPM, comparable to what high end premium publishers charge on the web or in television.
So is that engagement worth $3? Depends on what you do with it, of course. Compared to search, where cost per clicks range from five cents to $25 or more, it’s all relative to what you are trying to accomplish with the attention you’ve just paid to capture. Of course, with search, the market is mature and lead conversion is a science. A search click can convert directly to a sale, and often does. So is an iAd worth the same?
We’ll get to that. But first…let’s talk about what we don’tknow about the iAd.
Here’s that list:
* The exact data Apple is using to target. Sources tell me Apple has told them many things about which iTunes store data is used in its “targeted special sauce,” but the consensus is that Apple is using the list of apps a person has downloaded to create cohorts – IE, folks who download business applications, or lifestyle (Food, Shelter, Health and Beauty, etc.).
* What inventory will be available, and on what terms. I’ve heard conflicting stories about whether iAds will be directed (IE you can select which app your ad runs on) or if it will be a blind network (where you can’t). The consensus is that it will not be directed, at least not at launch. This is a very key point, given the next unknown:
* What publishers will be in the iAd network. Are they the same ones that currently run Quattro ads (Apple bought Quattro, for those just catching up.) This is a crucial question for app makers, especially premium publishers like the NYT or Conde Nast, who plan to sell their own app inventory directly. If Apple’s targeting gets too close to promising marketers that their ads can run on premium publishers’ sites (for example, if the “food” cohort insures that an advertiser runs on Conde Nast’s Epicurious app), then publishers like Conde Nast will most likely pull all their inventory from iAd. Which begs the next question:
* Will Apple have enough (of the right kind of) inventory. And what is the makeup of that inventory? Can that inventory satisfy marketers’ targeting needs? With a $3 CPE, savvy marketers are going to want very specific inventory. If I’m a consumer packaged goods giant trying to create brand preference for a particular brand of detergent, I’m probably going to want my message in front of women of a certain age and certain household income, ideally women who can be tagged as the “CHO” – Chief Household Officer. If I’m marketing a movie aimed at kids, I’ll want kids and their parents who match the movie’s ideal audience. Will Apple be able to offer enough inventory that delivers ROI on these audience cohorts?
* What is the right creative given the constraints of mobile devices? While Jobs showed some pretty cool executions, the truth is that those executions are still unproven (even though they’ve been available well before Apple gift wrapped them.) There’s still a lot to learn about what works, and in what context.
* How long exclusivity will last. Apple is selling iAds as category exclusive for a short period of time, but the company seems willing to let some marketers buy longer exclusivity based on investment levels. However, my sources seem to find a consensus around a period of six weeks to two months. By early Fall, I’m told, all bets are off for exclusive deals. Which begs the question – if you can buy iAds in the Fall, why get into large commitments up front?
* Will the FTC train its sights on Apple? While the buzz is about the government’s decision to approve the Google/AdMob deal, Apple may well gain the FTC’s attention should the company slip up on privacy (see above) or make moves that effectively (or directly) eliminate third party advertising networks on Apple devices. Hence:
* Will Apple eliminate third party advertising networks on its devices? I’ve heard all manner of thinking on this issue. It’d be very Apple-like to entirely control the advertising ecosystem on i-devices – much as Comcast does on its networks, or Conde Nast does in its magazines, for instance. But as I’ve argued elsewhere, that’s not very “web-like” – and it raises questions of whether or not Apple has a responsibility, with its own devices, to allow third party ecosystems to thrive (as they currently do). Were Apple to cut off third parties, Apple would be entirely responsible for driving advertising revenue to its app developers. Should it fail to do so, it could really screw the pooch. Not to mention that the lack of third party ad networks like AdMob would limit marketers’ choice and retard innovation.
Recent policy changes from Apple have raised strong speculation that the company plans to kick third parties out. Apple has not responded to my questions on this topic, though I do expect it will address this issue at its developers conference. My own take: I don’t believe Apple will do this, but then again, it’s not out of the realm of the possible. I am certain of one thing: If Jobs had his way, all the other networks would already be gone. Jobs may well use the privacy argument to accomplish that goal – “We’re not sending your data to third party networks so as to protect you.” In the current environment, such an argument could well fly.
Now, to the punchline: Is the iAd worth it, given all we do and do not know about it?
If you’re comparing apples to apples, I’d have to say the answer is no. (We’ll get to the apples to Apple comparison in a minute).
Remember, my estimated CPE is $3 for an iAd. The fact is, you can get a click which drives to an identical rich media engagement on a network like AdMob or Greystripe for up to five times less cost, on average (these figures have been provided to me by those companies). In other words, it’s a lot cheaper to experiment in other ad networks, and they won’t ask for a six- to seven-figure minimum commitment to do so.
On the other hand, $3 is, as one agency chief told me, “an entirely reasonable price to pay” for a quality engagement with the right audience. “We pay similar CPMs on television, and don’t get any engagement,” this person argued. If iAds is truly a premium environment, with premium audience and premium creative that drives premium engagement (and therefore, creates brand preference and/or conversion), the price is entirely reasonable. That’s the apples to Apple comparison – you can spend a lot less, but you’re not going to get the Apple magic.
To me, the question comes down to the long list of unknowns when it comes to that magic. So far, marketers don’t know much, if anything, about the targeting, inventory, or creative that will pay off those premiums. That’s an awful lot of unknowns to be writing seven figure checks against.
My recommendation? If you’re already a confident mobile marketer who is familiar with rich media creative and have a strong sense of the inventory you want, and a strong guarantee from Apple you’re going to get it, jumping into the iAd pool right now most likely makes sense. If you’re not in that camp, I’d wait till the Fall, and start experimenting now on other networks, while they can still offer you strong reach into Apple devices. One never knows how long that might last.
Google has fired a broadside across Apple’s bow by announcing the Google Chrome Web Store, a great idea which, to my mind, has a mediocre name – one consistent with Google’s ongoing struggles with branding in general. If I’m a typical consumer, I might be a bit confused by a name that 1. has “chrome” in it 2. has the word “store” but sells only apps and 3. has the word web in it – does that mean I can buy things on the web through it? Given Google’s lackluster performance with Checkout and its recent closure of its Nexus One store, I’m guessing the store might get a brand makeover before it launches later this year.
Nevertheless, I’m guessing Google called it a “Web” store to highlight the difference between the web as a platform for applications, compared to the term
“App,” which is almost universally intertwingled with Apple’s brand.
But the concept is quite clever – Google is reminding us all that “apps” can and should run on the open web, and not just in closed, vertically integrated and controlled environments like the iPhone/Pad/Touch.
I for one hope that this new app store will flourish. Game on.
Next on the hit list is Omar Hamoui, CEO of AdMob, the mobile marketing company Google recently acquired for $750 million. That acquisition hasn’t gone as smoothly as Google would like – it’s still under FTC review, though a decision is expected any day now. Apple Inc. also bid for AdMob, but lost, and purchased competitor Quattro Wireless instead. Apple has since integrated Quattro and launched iAds, but Google has had to sit on the sidelines and wait.
What Omar can and can’t discuss will be somewhat impacted by the FTC rulings, but regardless, he can speak to the broader market, and certainly comment on Apple’s recent moves. To that end, questions I’ll be asking include:
- What do you make of Apple’s iAds? Anything really new there? How does AdMob respond?
- Do you think Apple will create a closed network?
- What formats can you imagine coming to mobile devices beyond what we’ve seen so far?
- You just re- launched AdWhirl – what’s the play there? What other ad products are in the works?
- What’s happening with location based services and mobile marketing? How long until this is at scale? Will you be able to use Apple based data, or will that be closed to third party networks?
- What do you make of HP’s entry into the market?
- You move your desk every six weeks or so. Why?
There’s far more to talk about, but I want your input. What do you think I should ask Omar?
I had a good call today with Dennis Woodside, who runs North American Sales for Google, and Susan Wojcicki, who runs products. Both are long timers at Google, Susan is pretty much a llfer – she joined in 1999.
Both are joining me on stage at the CM Summit next month, a first for Google to have ad products and sales represented in one onstage interview. We had a great catchup and prep for the conversation, which I think will be enlightening.
After we hung up, I contemplated my earlier posts about Google’s brand, and realized I had forgotten to talk to them about one question that’s lingered in my mind for some time. In essence, it’s this: “What is Google’s brand to you? To your customers?” Then I imagined their response – something along the lines of “our mission hasn’t changed – we’re still focused on organizing the world’s information, and making it universally accessible.”
True – that mission certainly covers most of what Google does today (though it’s a mouthful for the average consumer to grok). But then something struck me – and its name was Apple.
Allow me to explain. Earlier in the day I was in the offices of Adobe, meeting with various folks and talking business. Apple was very much on everyone’s minds given Adobe had just launched its “We (Heart) Apple” and “We (Heart) Open” campaign (see my post here).
All this was stewing in my head as I contemplated Google’s mission on the drive home. And it struck me – Google was born back in the late 1990s, when it seemed inevitable that everything – all the world’s knowledge – was going to be on the web, eventually. It was just presumed that the web would swallow the world – and for ten years, it largely did.
But in the past year, that world has fractured, and increasingly, a new planet has emerged, one that is best represented by Apple. It’s the Planet of the Apps, and while it’s rich in experience, data, and information, it’s largely sealed off from Google’s (or anyone else’s) search spiders.
This is another way of pointing out what folks have called the SplinterNet or the Fractured Web, but somehow, I found it rather poignant to think that Google’s ambitious mission is, in a very real sense, threatened by Apple’s approach to the world. No longer can we assume that “The Web is the World” – because increasingly, it’s not.
This is due, in part, to Google’s own ambition – had it stayed a pencil – just search – Apple probably would not see the company as a threat. I wondered to myself, as I drove home from San Jose, whether Apple would let a third party search engine, one that was not competing for mobile, location, commerce, media access, etc – crawl its App World and bring it out into the light?
I’m starting a dialog with folks from Apple on Friday. I’ll ask. I’m guessing the answer is no, but it’s worth a shot. One can dream, after all. I’ve been doing just that for 25 years in this industry, and I’m not going to stop now.