Sunday, October 22, 2023

Companies with Great Data-driven Return Processes

In my last blog post, I talked about the bad disjointed sales experience at Verizon. In this post, as a counterbalance, I’m giving Verizon props on how they use tracking data to create a great trade-in experience for its customers.

Using UPS tracking data, they keep their customers informed every step of the way.

First, you get a prepaid UPS shipping label from Verizon. They also email your phone's estimated trade-in value and how long you have to send in the old cell phone.

Then this is where they leverage UPS tracking status data to make it a positive customer experience.

Because they already issued the unique UPS tracking number associated with each trade-in, they know if it has been scanned with an item at a UPS drop-off location.

After a week or so, Verizon knows if you still haven’t shipped your phone and emails you a friendly reminder. ✅

Reminder Email

Then once you drop off your phone at UPS, Verizon emails you when the UPS driver has picked up your phone and it’s on the move. That’s reassuring! ✅

Email confirming phone received by UPS

Then a few days later once it reaches Verizon, you get another email confirming receipt. ✅

Email confirming receipt by Verizon

Finally, once they’ve had a chance to inspect the condition of the phone, they send you an email confirming the trade-in value. ✅

Email with trade-in confirmation

Amazon also does something similar.

Once I drop-off a return package, at say a Whole Foods (owned by Amazon), and it is scanned by the store clerk, Amazon sends an email that they got it...usually before I leave the Whole Foods parking lot! ✅

Drop-off Confirmation Email

But they go one step further by refunding you almost immediately a few minutes after the previous email! ✅

Refund Confirmation Email

At that point, while the refund is conditional on how the item actually looks when they receive it, if they lose the product during shipping, you feel you’re not responsible.

And you’ve got more money to spend on Amazon again way sooner :)

In today's data-driven world, there is no excuse why every ecommerce company does not offer this level of service!


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Verizon Sales Channel Conflict Continues

For about 20 years I've been a loyal Verizon Wireless customer, mainly for their network and coverage, not their sales experience. Over the years, I have noticed differences between their phone, online, and in-store sales experiences. I would often experience different promotions and pricing between these channels and even between phone conversations with different sales agents -- even a few minutes apart from a prior call!

My recent experience trying to pre-order a new iPhone 15 with a trade-in shows things have not improved sadly.

Here's a recount of my "comedy of errors" over a 3 hour saga with Verizon...

Contact #1:

I started by calling a sales agent by phone. The rep quoted me $730 trade-in value for my old iPhone and the new phone would be $830. So it would only cost me $100 to upgrade to the latest iPhone. She also confirmed no changes required to my current plan with this offer. And I would have to pay sales tax and a $35 upgrade fee today. That sounded pretty reasonable, but I hadn't decided what color I wanted yet since I didn't really love any of the new pastel-looking colors and what happened to white? So I told her I'd call her back.

I also found out agents can text you their contact info so you can reconnect with them so they can get their sales commission from you.

Contact #2:

Shortly after, I went to Verizon's website to look more closely at the color options for the new iPhone. Since I was already on the site, I decided to place the order online. When I entered my trade-in info, it said "$830 for upgrades." But it also said "Promo credit may change based on other Unlimited plans." What does that mean?

Trade-in Screen

So I ended up starting a live chat on the side when it wasn't clear how much I'd get for my old iPhone. A live chat agent confirmed the $830 trade-in value. I thought great because that's $100 more than what Contact #1 agent told me, so I was not going to question it! But he said I DID have to upgrade my calling plan, for only a few dollars more per month from my current plan. If I didn't, he would offer me only $200 for my trade-in :(

Net net: Between Contact #1 and #2, I got 2 different trade-in values and 2 different plan requirements for the promotion.

Contact #3:

Confused, I decided to talk to a live agent by phone again. This time she confirmed what Contact #2 chat rep said: I would get $830 for my old iPhone and I would have to upgrade my plan. If I didn't upgrade my plan, I would get $0 for it. But the market value was $130 she said. I'm not even sure what that meant! Regardless, $0 or $130 was different than $200 trade-in value I was quoted minutes earlier.

She also said today I would only need to pay the $35 upgrade fee and the sales tax would be charged to my next bill. That's different than what Contact #1 rep told me.

I asked her how many days I had to send in the old phone for trade-in. She said 7 days. That seemed like a tight turnaround, but I felt I could handle it. 

So I proceeded with the order. I'd essentially get the phone for free and pay a few dollars extra per month to upgrade my plan. I felt like it was a good deal. 

Happy that I finally took care of this action item, I was about to move on with my day...until I received the email confirmation for my trade-in. The rep had ordered me a trade-in box for the wrong phone on my family plan! Ugh! So I had to contact Verizon again… 

Contact #4: 

I thought a simple chat session to change the trade-in order would suffice. Wrong! 

After going in circles for about 15 minutes, the chat rep said she couldn't just change or cancel the trade-in for the wrong phone. And said I had to cancel the original purchase order entirely in order to cancel the trade-in order because my order was already being processed. What? Processed? How is that possible if the new iPhone wasn't even shipping until Wed or Thursday?! 

Anyways, I agreed to canceling that order and starting over with her. What choice did I have? I then waited as she replicated my previous order that she canceled. Until she told me to get $830 on my trade-in, I had to upgrade to their Unlimited Ultimate plan. WTF?!?! That was an additional $10/mo higher than what I had agreed to just an hour and a half ago! She insists that was the only way, even though my prior order showed the lower plan. As we debated this over chat, she sent me links to Verizon's website with the trade-in promotion requiring Unlimited Ultimate plan to prove her point.

Contact #5:

Then I remembered how Verizon has had this channel conflict issue for years! So I called them a third time during my chat session. I got a really great experienced sales rep, who did confirm I did NOT need to upgrade to the Unlimited Ultimate plan to maximize my trade-in value. So I proceeded with my reorder with him and told the Contact #4 chat rep that I was talking to a Verizon phone rep who said I didn’t need to upgrade to the Unlimited Ultimate plan. Her only rebuttal was a request for the new order number so she can check it. No thanks! I don’t want her doing anything else to my account.

He also stated I had 14 days to send in my trade-in, not 7 days per Contact #3. (BTW, when I got my confirmation email after this call, it said I had 30 days.)

At payment, he said I had to pay the $35 upgrade fee and sales tax today. Odd because I had just placed a purchase order in the same phone channel and was only charged the $35 upgrade fee! Nonetheless, it was not a deal breaker, but just another example of the inconsistent customer experience.

New iPhone 15

So after spending 3 hours, I think I am set with receiving a new iPhone 15 later this week and the cost offset by my old iPhone trade-in, with just a small plan price increase. I hope 🤞 


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Lessons Learned from an Android to iPhone Convert. Part 3: What I Miss From Android and Like on iOS

I can't believe it's been about 3 months since I converted from my beloved Samsung Galaxy S10 Android phone to the iPhone 14 Pro. In previous posts, I talked about the pitfalls of migrating to iMessage and working with Photos and Files.

While I have gotten used to iOS, there are still a few things I miss from my Android phone.

What I Miss From Android

Pin Live Scores on Home/Lock Screen: For sports fans like me, I loved the Pin Live Score feature. I would often Google search a game for a live update. Once Google returned the results, there was just a "Pin Live Score" button shown on the search results page and I just clicked it. And it stays "floating" on your home screen until you remove it. You can move it to anywhere you want. Super easy!

From Google search, tap on Pin live score

Live score overlay can be placed anywhere on phone screen

Apple has added in iOS 16 Live Activities. But you need a sports app that’s updated for this feature. Or you have to go to Apple News app's My Sports section and select your favorite teams. All of these options take way more effort than the Android Pin Live Score experience!  

Better Predictive Text: I find the predictive text and autocorrect on Android way better than Siri. It's clear Google's AI investments are paying off way more than Apple's. I now understand all the jokes I used to see on social media and from iPhone friends of Siri returning silly autocorrections.

Future Date Alarm: I miss being able to set an alarm for a future date. From the iPhone's Clock app, you can only set an alarm in the next 24 hours or repeat by day of week. But what if I want to set an alarm in 3 days? For example, I like to set an alarm exactly 24 hours before my Southwest flight to try to snag the best boarding number possible. I found a workaround using Reminders app that's not great, but doable.

Alarm in Clock on iPhone

While on my trusty Samsung Galaxy, you can set the time and date far out into the future.

Future Date Alarm on Android

iPhone Finally Got This?

Over the years, I have met iPhone loyalists who think Apple is such an innovator and don't realize that Samsung has typically been more innovative than Apple for smartphones. For example, Samsung embraced the larger screen size and OLED screen technology way before Apple. In particular, with iOS 16, iPhone finally got a few features that I enjoyed on my Samsung for years:

  • Ability to shuffle through multiple photos on lock screen
  • A haptic keyboard
  • Always On display is finally on the iPhone 14, but not the base model. You need a Pro! Luckily I got the Pro. But I have actually had this feature on Samsung for 5 years!

What I Like on iOS

To provide a balanced perspective, there are some features I like on my new iPhone.

Location Settings at App Level: As a privacy advocate, this is one of my favorite benefits converting to iPhone! On Android, it was turn Location On or Off -- pretty much all or nothing if an app I used needed location sharing. Because I didn't like my location always on, every time I used Google Maps for driving directions, I had to turn location on and then turn it off again. This is because Google's advertising business model benefits from geo-targeting, unlike Apple who doesn't rely on advertising revenue.

iMessage: As described in Part 1, one of the main reasons I converted to iPhone from Android was pressure from family and friends to get on iMessage. After a few months, I get why people love iMessage! I have been getting more pics and videos sent to me, and they are high-res. I have been added to existing group chats with other iPhone users. I can easily send people my location temporarily via iMessage when I am on my way.

FaceTime: While there are many ways for video calls, such as via Zoom, Teams, or Google, FaceTime is way easier to instantly video call another iPhone user than I ever realized. And since iOS 15, even non-iOS people can join a FaceTime call

Face ID: While I loved the finger sensor in the glass of my S10, I have gotten used to facial recognition to unlock my phone. Although the few times I had to wear a mask, it doesn't work. I guess I could try to configure the mask settings on my iPhone.

Dynamic Island: This is a neat future on the 14 Pro. I mainly use it on calls, while listening to music, and waiting for rideshare car to pick me up. I'm sure there are more use cases I haven't discovered yet. I must say the way Apple programmed how that area on top that replaced the dreaded "notch" moves and dynamically transitions is quite slick!

I'm sure many people will get an iPhone for Christmas. Some may even be Android converts like me. I hope my 3-part series has helped others.

Happy holidays!


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Lessons Learned from an Android to iPhone Convert. Part 2: Working with Photos and Files

It’s been about 2 months since I replaced my beloved Samsung Galaxy S10 for the iPhone 14 Pro. I have adapted to iMessage, despite some of the post-migration issues

I do a lot of work on my phone on the go. I’ve always felt like Android was designed for more techie folks and Windows users like myself. While Apple, in the name of ease of use and securing its devices, sometimes appears more restrictive than Android.

Naming Photos

Take the Photos app for instance. I discovered that my new iPhone does not let me rename or save photos with my own file name easily. Instead I have to accept its arcane IMG_XXXX naming convention! On my Android phone, I used to rename photos to make it easier to find or recall what the image was (e.g., bob birthday dinner, company retreat team photo). While I lose the ability to easily rename photos to make it easier to find, you can use the Caption feature in a photo to write notes.

Caption field in Photo

If you REALLY want to rename photos taken, you can Save to Files, which is buried down low after the share options.

Save to Files option from Photo

So after you rename the photo's file via the Save to Files option, you won't find your image under the Photo app. Instead it will be under the Files app. For years, Apple didn’t have what we Windows users call File Manager or Explorer on the iPhone and it's not heavily promoted to consumers. 
Rename photo's filename

Searching Photos

I also discovered the Photo search is quite powerful. If you enter Captions for your photos, it searches that field by default. But iPhone's AI can also detect text IN images you don’t tag. Here's an example with a hypothetical Taylor Swift photo search. A search for “taylor” found mentions in photo caption and text in image. 

Photo search results for "taylor" in Caption

Photo search results for "taylor" embedded in image

Removing Photo Backgrounds

But wait, there's more! Another cool feature I discovered in Photos is like Adobe Photoshop’s "magnetic lasso" to easily remove backgrounds for images. By long pressing a subject in a photo, a white border appears instantly, outlining the subject in the photo you long press. 

Long press photo to start "magnetic lasso" creation

Then you can copy, save or share that subject, auto removing the background. It works amazingly well and super easy to use! How is this cool feature such a well kept secret?

Background removed with "magnetic lasso"

HEIC vs. JPEG File Format

By default, iPhone's Camera app saves photos in HEIC format. For iPhone converts that follow in my footsteps who are Windows users, this can trigger this warning from your PC.

Error message opening HEIC files in Windows

To resolve this issue, don’t forget to change the Camera Capture settings from the default HEIC format to be Most Compatible so you can easily share JPEG-formatted photos with non-Apple and Apple users. 

iPhone JPEG format camera setting

Hope you found some of these tips handy!

Next time I'll cover some Android features I still miss on my iPhone.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Lessons Learned from an Android to iPhone Convert. Part 1: Moving to iMessage

After 13 years of being a loyal Android user, I made the switch last month to iOS and bought the new iPhone 14 Pro. 

I loved my first Android phone — the iconic Motorola Droid back in 2009. Brief detour down memory lane: The Droid had a large gorgeous display, slider keyboard (for those of us who still liked Blackberry and not ready for the keyboardless iPhone), the powerful 5MP camera, and built-in “free” Google Maps/GPS navigation app. And backed by Verizon with a huge Star Wars R2-D2-themed marketing campaign. Sure those specs sound outdated now, but the Droid really put Android on the map, and since then I’ve been a loyal fan of Samsung Galaxy S smartphones.

Motorola Droid, 2009

So why the change after all these years? Mostly pressure from family and friends to get on iMessage and FaceTime (a.k.a. network effect), more parity between iOS and Android devices (i.e., less innovation these days, unless you want a foldable Z phone 😉), and increasing privacy and security protection concerns with Android/Google.

I do a LOT on my smartphone, including work and personal tasks. So I had a lot of concerns about my productivity on iOS and how smooth the migration would go. 

Migrating to iMessage

Most of the apps I use on Android exist on iOS. But iMessage is a walled garden, despite the recent advertising campaign by Google poking fun at Apple to get them to adopt RCS for cross-platform messaging interoperability.

The biggest unknown was transferring my 13 years of text messages to iMessage. I researched this for weeks and discovered there was no guaranteed 100% fool-proof way to do this. Verizon reps couldn’t make any promises. Even the geniuses at Apple who recommended their Move To iOS app conceded that it has failed at times.

I considered other options, including Verizon’s Content Transfer app and SMS Backup and Restore app. But ultimately I decided to try Move To iOS.

Surprisingly, Move To IOS worked…mostly. First, the app’s time estimate to complete migration is woefully inaccurate. It started with 6 hrs (!!!), then down to about 3 hrs in 15 mins. I had read reviews about it timing out and having to start over, so I sat there tapping both phones to wake them every few minutes. Then when it said 2 ½ hrs left, it finished unexpectedly. So in reality it was closer to 45 minutes.

Every text conversation appeared to have migrated over into iMessage! I was now part of the blue family. I can now get high-res videos and photos from other iPhone users, among other benefits.

With iOS 16 came new features that I love. Mark Unread is great. Now I wish there was a reminder option like Slack or snooze like Gmail. Also, the ability to delete or edit a text shortly after sending is great! And while not a new iOS 16 feature (but new to me), being able to reply in thread (like Slack) is awesome.

But there were a few wrinkles.

I did discover that my old “Android” phone number was treated as a different “person” than my new “iPhone” phone number in existing (I.e., pre-iPhone) group conversations with other iPhone users. See below example where my reply (in green even though it was sent from my new iPhone) showed me receiving a text from myself (in grey).

iMessage thought I was different person

Moreover, when someone else replied in an existing conversation, a NEW conversation was created with only my iPhone persona from that point forward. And this new conversation didn’t show past texts. However, at least I have my old conversations archived on my new iPhone in iMessage, even if it is a separate conversation now.

Another big problem was photos and videos that were in my texts didn’t port over. Instead I see alphanumeric jibberish like this. This led me to keep my old Samsung Galaxy phone indefinitely should I ever need to reference past photos or videos.
Missing images from old texts

I also had an issue where profile images for people had changed and in some cases reverted to photos that were several years old. Not even sure how iMessage even captured that meta data! So I had to update a bunch of profile pics.

Lastly, one feature I sorely miss from my Verizon Message+ app is the ability to send scheduled texts. Sure it could be used to send a late night text to a boss as if you were burning the midnight oil. But it is also useful to send a future reminder to someone (or yourself). Schedule a text saying “Remember to ask teacher about X” to your child, timed for after school gets out tomorrow. Maybe Apple will have this feature in 3 years.


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Downfall of Retail Shopping

Like many Americans this past weekend, I went shopping to take advantage of Labor Day deals. Not online, but in physical stores and shopping malls.

It's also been a while since I've had a chance to write on my blog. (Work and personal life priorities!) So I thought I'd share some disappointing experiences from my shopping this weekend at brick-and-mortar stores. It's no wonder so many of them are dying off like dinosaurs. They do not really offer benefits to counter online shopping.


Bed Bath and Beyond may be Beyond Saving

Last week Bed Bath and Beyond announced major store closures and layoffs, due to various well chronicled missteps. It's actually no surprise, given the horrible in-store experience I had this weekend. First of all their stores are cavernous and you can never find anyone for help! They really need those cool price scanners and kiosks that Target has in its stores if workers are going to be MIA.

Then at checkout, I had the worst experience highlighting the operational inefficiency and poor store work culture. There were 4 registers, but no cashiers. This was at 3pm, not near closing time, and I was the only customer in line. I saw 3 workers about 5 feet behind the registers talking and doing something amongst themselves (not helping customers). After waiting and looking around for about a minute, I ask one of them if there's a cashier and he calls for one on his headset. (Silly me I thought he might actually ring me up personally.) 5 minutes pass and now there are 4 customers behind me in line and still no cashier. Meanwhile the 3 workers in front of me are still "working." I would have left if I didn't really need what I was buying that day. Eventually someone worked their way from the center of the store towards the register to check us out. This is why consumers are shopping online and not going to BBB, people!

Foot Locker's Dishonest Email Acquisition Tactics

As a marketer, I know how valuable first-party data is for a retailer and its CRM program. Nike has built an incredible DTC business that is grounded in its ability to capture customer emails at point of sale or online. For a successful email acquisition campaign, there has to be a good, honest value exchange between the business and customer. For Nike, at checkout, the cashier often asks if you want to sign up today and can get a discount offer. For Skechers, you get 20% off just for signing up for email updates. You get even more benefits if you join Skechers Plus, their loyalty program.

Now let's talk about my experience at Foot Locker. When I went to pay in-store, the cashier asked me for my email. I ask why because I'm not interested in signing up for anything and I just wanted to pay for my purchase. She said she needed my email in order to send me an e-receipt. I asked if I could just get a print receipt and she did no. She said they were trying to go green and she needed my email address to move forward. Fine, I gave her my email address. She proceeds to ring me up and then prints out a paper receipt and puts it in my shopping bag! I said, "Wait. You said you couldn't give me a paper receipt and that I had to give you my email address to get a copy of my receipt." She was speechless and I was disgusted by the lie I was told. This is either poor employee training or employees have quotas or incentives to capture as many customer emails as possible. Either way, it's an unethical practice, and maybe even illegal in some states. If you're going to acquire emails, be honest about it and give customers a proper incentive to do so – back to my point above about value exchange.

Side note: I went to Champs Sports later that day and was shocked to experience the same dishonest request from a Champs cashier. He required my email address to ring me up, even though he printed me a paper receipt. Is this an industry issue now? Or did one company copy the other?

Target Misses the Mark with College Students

While shopping at Target, I overheard some college student and his family ask a store employee for help to take advantage of a 20% off entire purchase offer for college students. There was a huge sign with a QR code at the front of the store about this promotion. Looked like a good in-store marketing campaign to me…so far.

The student scanned the QR code, which took him to a Target Circle registration page. He completed the registration process while he and his family were filling up his cart to take advantage of this offer. But he said he didn't see any 20% off coupon in his account and that's when he asked for help.

At first, the cashier did not know about the offer so she sent them to another worker. That worker had to call a manager. Then they finally told them it would take a few days for him to answer some questions and for a Target person to verify the responses. So they could not redeem the offer TODAY. I can see why they were disappointed. Here they had a packed shopping cart with probably $500 worth of college student merchandise – comforter, bed sheets, pillows, towels, storage containers, hangers, bathroom supplies and toiletries, school supplies, etc. – that would have saved them $100.

The takeaway is to be more clear in the marketing communications that it will take a few days to activate the offer. In this day and age, people expect instant gratification, especially if you're going to show a QR code that implies immediate call to action from your mobile device now. 

I hope your Labor Day shopping experience was better than me. I'm going back to online shopping!


Saturday, November 6, 2021

Why It's Important to Invest in Brands

Last week Volvo Cars had a successful IPO on the Nasdaq Stockholm exchange and was valued at $23 billion. That is more than 10x what China's Geely bought it for in 2010 from Ford for $1.8 billion. Personally I think Volvo cars look so much better since Geely took over. They are no longer boxy-looking, safe "tanks" on the road. The product lineup looks quite stylish these days and is better positioned as a luxury brand. It just goes to show that Volvo was mismanaged under Ford and how a brand can be turned around with proper investment and strategic focus. 

A similar outcome can be seen from another Ford divestiture. In 2008, Tata Motors, an Indian automotive manufacturer based in Mumbai, bought Jaguar and Land Rover for $2.3 billion. They had cost Ford $5.3 billion! Today, both brands and their product lineup looks so much better. I personally love the look of the understated Jaguar XF sedan, F-Pace SUV, and the flashier F-Type. 

Jaguar F-Type

Outside the automotive sector, look at ThinkPad. IBM sold ThinkPad to China's Lenovo in 2005 when it was going through one of its many restructurings in the 2000's. ThinkPads were highly regarded by executive road warriors back in my days. I was recently shopping for a new work laptop. And guess what? I ended up getting a Lenovo ThinkPad after researching a few options. I was glad to see Lenovo maintained the high quality of the product, the red mouse nub 😊, and the brand.  

Here's the deal. Very few Chinese and Indian companies own global brands, so the acquirers above really valued a chance to own these 3 global well-known, high-end brands. They nurtured them because they were viewed as strategic brands within their portfolio, invested in their product development where their prior parents didn't, and let them run mostly autonomously, especially from a brand perspective. They did a fantastic job not alienating their brand loyalists and I would argue did a good job expanding the brand audience. 

Bottom line: troubled storied brands starved for attention within large enterprises can be turned around with proper product innovation and brand support. 


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Why Sharing Varies Across Streaming Accounts

I don't share streaming accounts, but I know people who do, especially Netflix, for years. I started to think about why some services seem to be shared more than others.

Long known for having a lax policy on cracking down sharers, Netflix surprised users in March when some users logged into a shared Netflix account and saw a message that read, “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching." Though CEO Reed Hastings later downplayed that they were “tightening the screws" on sharers anytime soon and said it was just part of their ongoing tests. While they can easily IP detect where you're logging in from, they don't really police it. One side benefit I love of this is when I travel, some hotel smart TVs now have an easy option to login to your Netflix account and it logs you off automatically when you check out. This is so nice instead of watching random stuff and channel surfing on cable, which seems so outdated today! 

Compare that to my Hulu + Live TV subscription. Hulu is one of the strictest services. Per Hulu, if you use a living room device while connected to a different Wi-Fi network than what you set as your Home network, you’ll get an error message stating you’re not at home — in this case, you'll have the option to update your Home network if needed. You can change your Home network up to four times per year. So this really deters anyone from sharing with others. But this is also a pain for legitimate users like me who would love to watch my Hulu shows while traveling at a hotel. But unlike the convenient Netflix scenario described above, you can't do that with Hulu.

No one I know shares their Amazon Prime Video subscription. This is likely because if they're anything like us, Amazon is our "super" account for all kinds of services tied to our login -- Shopping, Kindle, Echos, Music, Photo (Did you even know Amazon has a great photo backup service!?!). I don't care if the recommended shows algorithm is thrown off from sharing. But as it relates to Shopping, the last thing I want is someone else ordering stuff charged to my Amazon account! I've never had any issues logging on to my Amazon account on multiple devices in various cities. I haven't noticed Amazon Prime Video integrated into hotel entertainment systems, but I think it's a matter of time, given how fast they are growing.

Disney+ is so focused on user growth, as witnessed by their low price point and generous 4 simultaneous logins, they also are very lax on sharing it seems, like Netflix.  Even with their recent price increase, $8/mo is one of the best deals in town, given their huge library of content from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and their own Disney studios! Sign up for 1 year and it's less than $7/mo. So who really needs to split such a low fee?!?! This is one streaming service I hope to see at hotel TVs soon. I can sit back and watch anything Star Wars or Marvel anytime from anywhere! =)

Travel tip: Lots of hotels, especially higher-end hotels or those that have updated their TVs, allow you to plug into a HDMI port with a Roku, Chromecast or Fire TV stick. So I pack one with me when I travel now just in case to access my favorite streaming services, except Hulu + Live TV. Some with newer smart TVs even let you Chromecast or send what's on your mobile phone directly to the TV!


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Improving Marketing Attribution

With all the talk of a cookie-less world and the major iOS 14 update from Apple this week that will limit tracking users, I thought I'd share some key things you can do to improve marketing attribution.

Campaign Tracking Parameters

This is an essential setup for campaign tracking and, sadly, most marketers and analysts don't give it the attention it deserves. This leads to "garbage in, garbage out" and leads to less insights. Whether you're using UTM parameters for Google Analytics or setting up campaign tracking codes for Adobe Analytics, the process is similar and it's all in the upfront planning. Ideally, all marketing-driven traffic to your website should have clear tracking parameters based on a well-planned measurement strategy and campaign tracking taxonomy.

What do I mean by that? Let's take UTM parameters for example. The most common UTM parameters are utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign, utm_content, utm_term. I recommend creating consistent naming conventions for each UTM parameter so that different teams or agencies who manage different marketing channels (e.g., email, paid search, social) are not doing their own thing.   That will make the web analyst's job really painful. That could mean agreeing that utm_medium represents channel and for paid search this is always "sem" or "cpc".

Also, UTM parameters are CaSe-SeNsItIvE! So "CPC" and "cpc" would be treated as 2 different values. That brings me to the next suggestion.

I have found the most success where a single internal person(s) owns a centralized table of all campaign codes in use for all channels. So let's say your social media agency wants to launch a new campaign, they would submit a new campaign request to this lucky internal individual who would then assign the UTM parameters that meets the campaign's needs.

Lastly, if you are trying to stitch your marketing spend data with your conversion data in web analytics at the channel and campaign level, it is critical that the campaign name in the native ad platform (e.g., Google Ads, Facebook Ads) is the exact same text string as the UTM parameter values or else it will not be 1:1 matching.

This is all part of data plumbing I've previously described.

First-Party Cookies + CRM

Most of the hype and stress among marketers today is around the fate of 3rd-party tracking cookies for advertisers and the Google/Facebook duopoly. But first-party cookies are not going anywhere soon.

When a user visits your site, be sure to drop a first-party tracking cookie that ties to your CRM system. Just so you're not relying on your web analytics tool (e.g., Google Analytics) because that data is aggregated and sometimes sampled. This allows you to capture and analyze user-level data in your CRM system for attribution. The best way to do this is via a unique identifier that is passed between your CRM and web analytics tool at the point of conversion.

By the way, if you have not used the User Explorer report in Google Analytics to analyze an individual user based on GA's ClientID, it's worth checking out! It also tracks the same cookied user across multiple sessions. Combine this data with your CRM data and it helps triangulate the source and the customer journey of your new customer.

User Explorer in Google Analytics

User Survey - Just Ask!

This is the Occam's Razor answer. If you want to know how a new customer arrived at your site, just ask him/her directly! There's a few things I've learned over the years. 

Don't ask this question until after the conversion event to minimize friction in the customer journey. 

Most people like to also make the question optional. However, if you ask the question after the conversion event, I like to make the survey question mandatory.

In my experience, most people actually provide a thoughtful response even though it's mandatory. I see very few cases of people putting gobbledygook just to get pass this question, especially if there was another form field that was important to the user to also submit on the same page (e.g., to get a special offer).

Should you make this question open-ended or a drop down list? While it may be harder to analyze unstructured data, I like to start off with an open-ended text box to see what users actually type. Then in time, once I'm confident of the range of answers, then I'd institute a drop down menu of choices.

Sending a follow-up email is another option, but I often see a much lower completion rate than if you ask them right after they convert. Plus, they may not recall exactly how they discovered you if you ask later.

So, there you have it. 3 great ways to learn what part of your marketing is driving results. Good luck!


Friday, February 26, 2021

Why Google Firebase/GA4 is Not Ready for Prime Time

By now, you've undoubtedly seen Google's announcement about the public release of Google Analytics 4, Google's latest iteration that replaces "App+Web". 

Personally, I'm still not a fan of their App+Web property rolled out last year. I agree it's important these days to be able to combine website and mobile app behavior data, but the flexibility that comes from custom Events and the limited standard Event reporting in this new version of Google Analytics still leaves a lot to be desired, compared to Google Analytics "Universal Analytics" version (GA UA).

This past summer, I worked with my client on implement tracking using Google Firebase for a new mobile app, which also led us to setting it up as a Google Analytics "Web+App" property. At the time, that in turn led us to using a different version of Google Analytics than GA UA that some called Google Analytics for Firebase (GA4FB), which is pretty much GA4 now. If all these crazy "Google Analytics" names are confusing to you, you're not alone!

Google says GA4 is the future and will eventually deprecate the current GA UA version. So I was quite excited about learning more about Firebase and GA4FB. Based on my hands-on experience the past few months, Google still has a lot of work to do on GA4 to even get it to parity in terms of standard reporting features and functionality, not to mention ease of use, with GA UA. 

I'm going to share some of my learnings with Firebase and GA4.

Validating Tags for Mobile Apps 

I prefer to validate mobile app tags with actual physical iOS and Android devices, not emulators. I commend Google for creating a way to validate custom Event (and Parameters) tags in real-time on mobile apps within Firebase. In the past, this was very difficult to do, compared to QA'ing website tags with browser extensions. In Firebase, there are 2 ways to go about this.

1. DebugView - From the left panel in Firebase, you'll see DebugView. First, you'll need to follow these directions to put your device into Debug mode and then select your device Debug Device from the drop-down list in upper left. This is a nice precise timelime-driven way to watch events as they fire. You can check parameters on the right. Annoyingly, this was very unstable and unreliable -- often my iOS and Android devices didn't even show up on the Debug Device list. Events also didn't always show up after waiting for 30 minutes. That leads me to the second option.

DebugView Event Timeline

2. StreamView (since renamed to Realtime) - StreamView was a little bit more reliable if you are able to isolate your device by OS and city. In a Staging environment, this wasn't hard to do, especially if you were 1 of the few testers online or tested outside regular business hours (which I often did). Unlike DebugView that had detailed timestamps for events, StreamView does not have such precision and just lists all the events that fired in the past 30 minutes:

StreamView Events List

StreamView would sometimes frustrate me too when events did not show up after 30 minutes, albeit less than my DebugView issues. So that would force me to re-test again and hope that the data showed up.

Also, both methods above do not let you validate data stored in arrays, such as the standard e-commerce parameter Items. This meant one can not QA things like what products users viewed, added to cart, or bought. The only solution was to build some custom queries in Google BigQuery and then some tables in Google Data Studio that mimicked enhanced ecommerce reports in GA UA. 

I also discovered this great YouTube video to help install ADB on Windows for validating Android tags. You can run ADB from a command prompt to get very detailed logs for troubleshooting. From c:\adb folder, run these commands:

adb devices
adb shell setprop
adb shell setprop log.tag.FA VERBOSE
adb shell setprop log.tag.FA-SVC VERBOSE
adb logcat -v time -s FA FA-SVC

Here's what a log snippet looks like:

name=inbox_view,params=Bundle[{user_id=207067, ga_event_origin(_o)=app, ga_screen_class(_sc)=Shop, ga_screen_id(_si)=8545328432333857419, ga_screen(_sn)=Home]

To stop listening, run: adb shell setprop .none.

Custom Events on Steriods

One of the major benefits of Firebase is the flexibility for custom event tracking. While GA UA has 3 standard parameters for custom events, namely Event Category, Event Action, and Event Label, Firebase lets you name Events and Parameters anything you want. However, this requires more tag planning and work for developers. I like to create a tagging document like this for developers, as well as marketers, so everyone is on the same page:

Firebase Tagging Document

Note there are limits on the number of custom events and parameters you can have in GA4/Firebase. Another reason why it's good to create a data dictionary like the tagging document above so you can try to re-purpose parameter names and minimize the use of custom events by leveraging standard events from Google. For example, here's some standard events.

Data is collected differently so you really have to rethink your data model, especially Parameters for Event tracking. 

Limited Reporting and Data Stuck in GA4/Firebase

The reporting interface takes a little bit of getting used to from GA UA and not all standard GA UA reports are in GA4 yet. For example, enhanced ecommerce reporting took months (back when it was App+Web) to show up. 

There is also a new self-service custom reporting tool called Analysis Hub that reminds me a lot of Tableau that lets you select your own dimensions and metrics to build tables. Note: Analysis hub still won't let you report on arrays!

GA4 Analysis Hub

But would I really need and miss is a way to get data out of Firebase and GA4 to create custom dashboards elsewhere, especially in Google Sheets. I ❤️ Google Analytics add-on in Google Sheets! But unfortunately, Google has not released a GA4 add-on for Google Sheets.

The only option is via BigQuery if you're up for writing SQL. And then you can connect to Google Data Studio or any other environment that works with BigQuery.

At the time of this post, third-party data connectors, such as Supermetrics and, that I spoke to said they were working on a GA4 connector and hope to release a beta product soon. My money is on these guys instead of Google and Google Sheets.


GA4 feels like a premature product that was released way too early. But while familiarizing oneself with GA4 can be frustrating, it's time to go kicking and screaming into the future with Google. 


Saturday, December 5, 2020

How Can Disney+ Only Be $6.99 per Month?

Hulu announced it will be raising the price of its Hulu + Live TV plan this month by 18% from $54.99/month to $64.99/month. Even with this higher subscription revenue, plus its advertising revenue, it's struggling to be profitable. One can't help but to wonder how the heck can Disney make money on its $6.99/month Disney+ streaming service???

And how can the best deal in town afford to spend so much money to produce theatrical motion picture quality hit shows like The Mandalorian

The answer is they do not have to make money on its streaming business because it can be a loss leader. Disney has long made money on its theme parks and product licensing deals based on its characters and movies. 

If you've been holiday shopping, everywhere you look there are "Baby Yoda" and The Mandalorian merchandise in apparel, toys, housewares, bikes, and even Epic Games' Fortnite released an update this past week that features The Mandalorian

To see the power of this Disney money-making juggernaut, look what just happened since yesterday with The Mandalorian. 

Lego and Disney released the Razor Crest set #75292 this past summer. It's the main character's signature space ship. At $129.99 MSRP, this is not a cheap toy and has probably sold briskly. 

On yesterday's episode, the Razor Crest was surprisingly destroyed into smithereens by the Empire (sadly it had just been repaired 2 episodes prior)! 

By yesterday afternoon, stores sold out and prices soared on Amazon, eBay and other 3rd party sellers to over $170! If it was a stock, that's a 30%+ price jump! Sold Out

Razor Crest Price Tracker

Also appearing on The Mandalorian yesterday was Boba Fett, who many believed was killed 27 years ago in Return of the Jedi. Searches for "Boba Fett" immediately shot to #3 on Google Trends yesterday.

Google Trends: Boba Fett #3

And even Boba Fett's Slave I space ship (released over a year ago) experienced an overnight price spike of 33%, rising from $120 to $160. 

Lego Slave I Price Tracker

Not only will Disney and others prosper from the sale of the Razor Crest (and Slave I), but now there is an opportunity for Disney to sell even more Star Wars merchandise when Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni outfit The Mandalorian with a replacement ship that I'm sure is already in the works. 


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Covid-19 Digital Playbook

With shelter-in-place (SIP) and a likely recession due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, now is the time to double down on digital marketing and sales!

With store closures, many retailers, such as Nike, are reporting Black Friday sales levels and conversion rates! And I've been seeing similar results for my clients.

In fact, in its recent quarterly report, Nike's CEO said it was able to engage its fans via its app and other digital channels while they were quarantined at home, and their free exercise services translated into strong digital sales that helped offset store closures.

Some brands or OEMs who previously had channel conflicts from wholesale/retail partners or their own brick-and-mortar stores suddenly see their direct-to-consumer channel as the only game in town during SIP.

That makes this a critical time to dig into your website and mobile app analytics!

See what part of the site is getting the most traffic, what's selling now that wasn't before, what is the makeup of the customers who are shopping now vs. before, where are users dropping off or hitting UX roadblocks?

For many of my clients, I've seen a spike in mobile web and mobile app traffic especially throughout the day and not just during commute hours. No surprise as people are home due to SIP. Also, historically, lots of office workers shop on their work desktops during the weekdays. It's not uncommon to see high conversions on Mon mornings before lunch as workers tackle their "to do" list after a relaxing weekend. But suddenly they don't have access to those work computers and must go online on their phones. So make sure your site is optimized for mobile, now more than ever!

Re-evaluate all your advertising

Online ad prices, especially banner, native, and video ads, that run on publisher sites are dropping as supply outstrips demand because advertisers have pulled back on spend because of SIP (e.g., travel industry can't really promote bookings), recession fears, and brand safety concerns (i.e., brands don't want their ads to show next to coronavirus content, especially on news sites). However, if you are less brand sensitive or develop a more targeted blacklisting strategy, you can make out like a bandit for your media buys. For example, Facebook CPMs have fallen to their lowest levels in 2 years.

Facebook CPM Falling (Source: Gupta Media)
It's also a good idea to assess the competitive media landscape. You may discover some competitors have pulled back on their paid advertising in search, display, social, video, or mobile apps. Time for you to grab market or mindshare, likely at lower ad prices as mentioned above. For some of my retail clients where Amazon used to compete with them on search, there's been less competition. Not that Amazon doesn't have the money to bid against them, but more likely because Amazon has more than its hands full now from organic traffic with everyone turning to the online retailer during SIP. (More on that below.) So check your Google Auction Insights reports. On the flip side, depending on your industry, you might see quite the opposite competitive pressure and everyone is getting more aggressive to capture as much demand as possible right now. Think about the fiercely competitive online video conferencing space right now where you have Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Webex duking it out.

I expect performance media campaigns to see less budget cuts than branding campaigns.

Also, make sure your ad messaging is on target and appropriate for these times. For example, yesterday morning I heard a local radio ad that asked "Taking your kids to school? Listen to us in the car." Really? Schools have been closed for a month during SIP! Someone at the station clearly sleeping behind the wheel.

Take stock of and promote your most relevant product and service features during these times.

By now, as a consumer, every company has probably sent you an email and driving you to their Covid-19 landing pages to explain how they are reacting to the pandemic and SIP. And most importantly, what special services they are offering during these uncertain times.

So, as a brand, what are you going to promote?

If you have interest-free payment plans or "layaway" plans like Afterpay, it's time to promote that. Amazon features it prominently on higher ticket price items (see below). Some auto companies have rolled out 0% interest, 72-month auto loans even!

Amazon's interest-free payment plan

Right now consumers are very concerned about supporting small businesses who risk going under. For smaller businesses who are reaching out to their community for help, now's a good time to setup and promote online gift cards. Square, which is quite popular with small businesses, has even created a Give & Get Local site to make it easy for local merchants to promote their e-gift cards to consumers. I've seen when merchants promote this in email campaigns, consumers are buying them to keep their favorite businesses afloat, hoping to patronize them later when we get through this. Facebook is also offering small businesses grants.

Offer curbside pickup following social distancing best practices? Promote that. Are your shipping and delivery times still unaffected? If you compete with Amazon, you may have an advantage now against the Prime shipping program as Amazon is swamped with traffic and orders, forcing them to prioritize some items over others. I don't blame them. I was about to buy an item that was eligible for Prime shipping. But at checkout, it said it won't ship for 1-2 months! That's crazy. #abandoncart

Amazon delayed shipping warning
Sports retailer Sports Basement has been sending out emails that promote online events to help customers stay fit, such as live workouts with a trainer via video conference and healthy recipes to try at home (side note: there has been a spike in baking and home cooking with SIP). And of course, discounts for shopping online! Similarly, REI has 6 Ways to Mix Up Your At-Home Workday. Both are great examples of brands staying true to their brand positioning while producing relevant, engaging content for their customers.

Sports Basement workout tip
Also, make sure you are monitoring online chatter using social media tools. How are consumers reacting to your company's response? For many brands, they are dealing with significant customer service complains on social media, online chats on their sites, and of course their call centers. But also use this data to see what's trending? How do you weave your brand into the conversation? The key is to be authentic, empathetic, and not too salesy.

Get the word out!

When you've identified relevant content to share with the community, it's time to put the CRM team and tools to work! Leverage that email database you got! For small businesses using Square, Square is offering Square Marketing, its basic CRM program I previously reviewed, for free right now. Yelp is also offering some of its premium marketing services for free for small businesses. Take advantage of these tools! Most are very easy to use without a huge learning curve.

Of course, take it to social media channels. Remember when just a few weeks ago, the government and consumer privacy advocates wanted to take down Facebook and Big Tech? Now, consumers are spending more time than ever on Facebook and almost every single social network has seen engagement shoot through the roof! When you do post, do some #hashtag research to maximize visibility.

And this goes without saying, but make sure your website can handle increased traffic, especially if you're a retailer and your stores are closed. You might also consider a code freeze like most online retailers normally do Nov-Dec. Don't risk rocking the boat when it's the only sales channel you got right now!

Lock-in long-term behavior changes

Lastly, all this time at home and SIP has forced consumers and businesses to change their behavior, largely favoring online activity, and you should take advantage of making these behaviors long term habits. Just to name a few benefactors -- online video conferencing, online banking/mobile app banking, online grocery delivery, esports, virtual medical professional services like SteadyMD or Talkspace, not to mention multi-channel retailers who have struggled to get in-store shoppers to go online or use their mobile app. Post-SIP, all these industries will benefit from an injection of new users; the key will be to keep as many as they can as paying customers for years to come.

My Covid-19 Digital Playbook:
  1. Dig into your web + app analytics data for insights
  2. Re-evaluate your media buys and messaging
  3. Develop relevant content for Covid-19 behaviors due to SIP and be useful to consumers
  4. Be active on social media and email channels
  5. Be prepared for how to exploit long-term behavior changes after we get through this to capitalize on your short-term wins
Now I only wish there was a digital solution for haircuts because I need one badly! =( And I don't just mean an AR filter for my video calls or socialpost!

Stay safe and sane out there...