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Google’s Topics API provokes a range of reactions

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Google's Topics API provokes a range of reactions

Earlier this week, Google announced the Topics API, its latest ad targeting proposal aimed at replacing third-party cookies. This leaves Federated Learning of Cohorts dead in the water while marketing and adtech platforms and advertisers try to make sense of the new proposal.

Topics may be a more realistic option than FLoC, marketers say

“Topics seem more likely to be acceptable to the broader ecosystem as they address several FLoC privacy concerns head on,” said Aaron Levy, head of paid search at Tinuiti. “It’s odd to call this an advantage, but I view anything that launches with a higher likelihood of stability and lesser likelihood of mass opt-outs a win.”

The other practitioners seemed to concur. “On their face, Topics seem like they should be less personally identifiable, which would be a plus for privacy,” said Julie Friedman Bacchini, president of Neptune Moon and managing director of PPC community PPCChat.

“I like that Chrome users will be able to see their topics and delete them if they wish,” said Christine Zirnheld, digital marketing manager at Cypress North. While this feature can make life harder for advertisers, options for users will help to appease privacy advocates and regulators, which increases the chances that Google will eventually be able to launch Topics.

Topic diversity and other potential hurdles for advertisers

The Topics API’s initial design includes approximately 350 topics, according to its GitHub page. Advertisers are concerned that this quantity won’t be sufficient enough to provide relevant targeting.

“Google’s current interest list [of topics] doesn’t offer the level of nuance most marketers need to target people who’d actually want to see their ads,” said Ashwin Balakrishnan, head of marketing at Optmyzr. “If Topics is going to be a success, Google needs to provide more detailed options.”

“Advertisers (at least as of now) would have few interests to actually target, and broader targeting does not usually lead to better performance,” Zirnheld said. “An interest in cars & autos doesn’t tell me if that’s luxury, rental, new, used, SUV, etc.,” Geddes added, “That means there will be more competition for less targeted ads,” noting that, at this point, it is still too difficult to predict how Topics will work in practice.

For reference, the IAB Audience Taxonomy contains approximately 1,500 audience segments. “One of the most popular drinks in the U.S. is Coffee,” Zirnheld provided as an example. “The IAB Taxonomy has ‘Coffee,’ ‘Coffee & Tea,’ ‘Coffee Creamer,’ ‘Coffee Filters,’ and ‘Tea/Coffee – Ready-to-drink.’ The closest topic Google has (at the moment) is ‘Food & Drink.’”

Despite the relatively low number of topics designed into the initial proposal, Google may already be aware of this issue: “This is a starting point; we could see this getting into the low thousands or staying in the hundreds [of topics],” said Ben Galbraith, Chrome product director.

In addition to the potentially limited topics, “The limited timeframe could be concerning for advertisers, as they are used to much more persistent inclusion of an audience than one to three weeks,” Bacchini said, caveating that it remains to be seen whether keeping interests more current might also yield benefits. Levy also touched upon this concern: “It feels more directionally accurate than truly precise,” he said. “I hope for some sort of a boolean setup longer term where we’re able to combine, expand or narrow topics, but of course time will tell.” 

As a privacy measure, there is a 5% chance that a random topic is returned, according to the GitHub page. This is to ensure that each topic has a minimum number of members. “While I understand that this helps ensure anonymity and privacy for internet users, this is obviously not a good thing for advertisers,” Zirnheld added.

Chrome might be the only browser to adopt, but that might not matter for some

“Chrome is still the big boy in the browser war,” said Steve Hammer, president and co-founder at RankHammer, “I do think Edge will matter as more people get Windows 11, but that’s the lone one I’d worry about for clients.”

“While Chrome’s market share is (slightly) shrinking, I don’t anticipate this’ll change our usage at all,” Levy said, “Rather, it will all fit into a broader theme of treating the data as directional rather than ‘right.’”

“If it’s limited to Chrome, we’ll see how that affects iPhone users,” Geddes said, noting that, “The lack of cross-browser support is a bit worrisome, but it won’t affect anyone’s budget if they are getting good returns from their marketing dollars.”

If Chrome claims enough of the browser market, that might empower Google to continue with the Topics API without having to go to the bargaining table with its competitors. That independence can help the company stick to its Privacy Sandbox timeline, which shows that all associated initiatives are slated to be launched in Chrome sometime in Q4 2022.

Is Topics an improvement over FLoC?

As with all potential third-party cookie replacements, Topics must be evaluated from the user privacy perspective as well as the advertiser perspective. “FLoC raised privacy concerns and Topics seems more privacy-friendly and attempts to provide more control and transparency to internet users. In that way, Topics is ‘better,’” Zirnheld said.

“However, this means broader targeting for advertisers, meaning less control over who sees our ads,” she noted. “We might have to get more creative with targeting for our clients if this is the route Chrome is taking.”

“For advertisers, I expect that Topics wind up more restrictive with less options and less precision than we were hoping for from FLoC (which is already a reduction of current tactics),” Levy said. “It’s annoying, but also encouraging that Google is trying to come up with a solution that works for everybody.” 

Google is trying to address the significant pushback and concerns provoked by FLoC, said Yahoo CBO Iván Markman. “It is yet to be seen whether this next iteration is workable, given how high level and short-time-spanned it is. Google’s FLoC received negative policy and industry feedback, and there was concern that FLoC IDs could have been exploited for cross-site user tracking. With the release of Topics API, Google is providing a higher level of user obfuscation and localized browser storage vs. a centralized storage location.”

Wayne Coburn, director of product at cross-channel marketing platform Iterable added: “Google’s pivot — from FloC to Topics — shows that consumers have lobbying power and a voice they are not afraid to use. People understand that their data is valuable, and they are moving to preserve the value of their assets. With FLoC, Google was trying to ensure their continued dominance in the advertising space, and both consumers and the ad industry responded with a resounding no. With Topics, Google is admitting they need to do more to preserve and protect consumer privacy.”

Ultimately, third-party cookies are going away, so expect growing pains

“The current conversations around FLoC Topics highlight one thing: Third-party (aka advertising) cookies are dead,” said Coburn. “It is more important than ever for marketers to have and maintain quality first-party data. Consumers have to be able to trust the brands they interact with — from the ethics of the brand through to the way it handles personal information — and if a consumer doesn’t trust a brand, they aren’t going to let their data anywhere near it. That isn’t going to change, so the way big tech handles data has to.”

However, “Anything that is a departure from cookies is going to feel like a step down in targeting, I think,” Bacchini said. “We are going to have to adjust our thinking about what ‘accurate targeting’ actually means and come down off of the sense of strong or accurate targeting that we feel like we have had up until this point.”

Additional reporting by Kim Davis.


About The Author

1640838256 758 Inclusive marketing resources to strengthen your brands messaging

George Nguyen is an editor at Third Door Media, primarily covering organic and paid search, podcasting and e-commerce. His background is in journalism and content marketing. Prior to entering the industry, he worked as a radio personality, writer, podcast host and public school teacher.


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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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