Monday, July 9, 2018

How Fortnite and Roblox Lead New In-app Purchase Trends

Not long ago, in-app purchases in games, usually "freemium" games, helped players advance in a game, such as accessing new levels or getting special weapons or abilities. For example, in Madden NFL, you can buy packs that include highly ranked football players to enhance your team. In Asphalt Nitro, you can buy a new or upgrade your existing race car. In Pixel Gun, you buy coins to buy weapons. You get the picture.

Madden NFL Store
We are now witnessing a massive shift in the marketplace from paying for something that offers functional, rationale benefits that give the player an advantage to more self-expressive, emotional benefits, such as how your player looks that offer no competitive advantage really.

It is taking personalization or customizing one's avatar to a whole new level and developers are making $$$!

Fremium games Roblox and Fortnite are 2 great case studies of this gaming trend.


Roblox is a massive, multi-player online gaming platform where anyone can develop 3D games on it. The company has been around for about 10 years, but has picked up steam in recent years and supposedly has over 50 million active monthly players.

The Roblox Catalog is the main e-store that sells all kinds of things to "dress up" your character. You can mix and match different clothes, faces, heads, accessories, animations, and even shoulder pets. There are millions of items in the Catalog (237 million at the time of this post), so it's extremely rare for 2 customized players to look the same, which is cool. Roblox and 3rd-party players can offer items for sale in the Catalog.

Roblox Catalog
Roblox currency is known as Robux (R$) and conversion is about US$10 = R$800. Lots of Roblox-created items are priced fairly and affordably, including lots of free items. But when 3rd-party players sell items, the price variance can be quite huge. For example, a pair of jeans that look similar can be over-priced. But I guess that's the economics of an open marketplace.

Roblox: R$1 jeans

Roblox: R$999,999,999 jeans

For about US$5-$15, you can actually do a pretty good job customizing your avatar.

Roblox customized avatars
But nothing you buy in the Roblox Catalog actually improves your game play in the games. Within the games, developers can also sell items unique to their game, such as Jail Break, that does enhance game play.


Unless you've been living under a rock without Internet connection for the past 9 months, you've probably heard of Fortnite. Within Fortnite's Item Shop, one can purchase emotes (a.k.a., dance moves) and skins (a.k.a., outfits) with real money where $1 = 100 V-Bucks. Skins usually cost $8-$20, but most users get the $12-15 skins. Emotes normally cost $2-$8. Battle Passes, which are bundles of skins, emotes, and other stuff, usually cost $10. Fortnite also sells different gliders and pick axes, which one might think enhance your skills, but in fact they don't. They all function exactly the same, but look cooler -- like this Dragon Glider for 20 bucks!!! The 3D graphics and animation on Fortnite are significantly better than Roblox, but there is less uniqueness (due to less combinations of mixing and matching different parts) of your avatar than Roblox.

Fortnite Dragon Glider for $20
Fortnite has also perfectly tapped into the vanity of players. No one wants to look like a Noob (what gamers call a Newbie). Fortnite intentionally gives you a basic character that has a default skin to start that everyone recognizes, further motivating players to upgrade.

Fortnite Noob: Don't be this guy!
And then there are the emotes. Kids across the country are doing these immensely popular dances every where. Have you heard of Orange Justice? Check out YouTube for "Fortnite emotes".

Also, we're not talking about 99 cent purchases anymore. Kids (i.e., parents) are spending a month's allowance or gifts from grandma on what I consider very high ticket items. Moreover, from the parents and players I've spoken to, many are repeat purchasers. It's quite easy to spend $100 on Fortnite in a very short amount of time, compared to Roblox. And good luck spending less than $10 a pop on Fortnite! Players (and parents) are emptying their wallets faster than ever. Fortnite supposedly generates $300 million per month now in revenue. With over 40 million monthly active users, that's an average of $7.50 per active player per month. Quite impressive!

Fortnite has also employed a great psychological tactic to drive more sales: scarcity. All items in Fortnite's Item Shop are on sale for 24 to 48 hours, adding to the hype and frenzy. While some items may return later in the future, there is no guarantee.

So as you can see, Roblox and Fortnite are leading the trend towards selling purely superficial, cosmetic items to personalize your avatar, which merely gives you bragging rights among your friends and squad, but, not actually offering any real advantage in game play. And it will cost you a pretty penny to do so!


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Life Without Ad-supported Products and Services

Got privacy concerns? In a recent study, 63% of U.S. adults (nearly 2 out of 3 people) said they would be unwilling to give a company access to their personal data for targeted advertising in exchange for a free service. Shockingly unbelievable! Despite all the recent consumer and political fallout about consumer privacy and ad targeting, what would life really be like without advertising-supported products and services?

Let's think about that, shall we? Starting with the 800-pound gorilla...

Google Search: You could probably still use this, but without behavioral targeting and tracking, paid search ads may seem less relevant because it'll be like going back in time 10 years when results were largely based on keywords and bids from the auction model. You may think you're mostly interested in organic search results and probably don't care about the paid listings. But don't expect Google to continue investing in indexing organic results if it can't pay its employees! Here are some alternative private search engines to Google.

YouTube: Google paid a lot of money for YouTube ($1.65 billion) and they have spent years trying to monetize it. Only recently, thanks to the growth of mobile and video advertising, does this acquisition appear to be paying off. YouTube has struggled for years to get consumers to pay for a subscription. Without advertising, YouTube would essentially be gone. There is really no alternative to this platform. Even Vevo realized this recently and announced the shut down of its consumer branded sites to focus on its YouTube channels!

Google Maps: This is the most popular mapping and GPS/driving direction service.  Google has tried to sell ads based on location and behavioral targeting. Other online maps also rely on ads. So if you want to avoid ads 100%, you will need to buy a Garmin or a similar device that makes its money from hardware sales, not advertising.

Gmail: You might think Gmail is ok as Google claims it no longer scans emails to serve ads. But it is still scanning emails in the name of personalization. For example, Google knows when your next flight is leaving, and whether or not it has been delayed, based on emails you get from airlines and travel booking sites. Also Gmail has an ad product, although you may never notice the ads if you have your settings set to not display Promotions. But Gmail ads do offer advertisers lots of targeting options. Where do you suppose Google gets those signals from??? Lastly, I feel Gmail is a Trojan horse play for Google to incentivize users to create a login (and stay logged in for checking email constantly) and user profile, which in turn can be used for your login across all Google products in order to track you with more precision across the web and across devices to serve better ads within its ecosystem. If you don't want an ad-based "free" webmail service, you may have to start using your ISP's "free" email address that came with your broadband service (e.g., Comcast, AT&T). The trade-off though is the switching cost is high if you ever want to leave your Internet service provider because you will have to tell all your friends they need to email you at a new email address. That happened to me years ago when I switched from Mindspring to Gmail.

Android Phones: Know that Android-based phone you have from Samsung, LG, or Motorola? While the operating system was free to phone manufacturers, Google uses Android as yet another Trojan horse to get mobile users to use its popular ads-based mobile apps, such as those described above, that are pre-loaded on the phones to protect its dominant advertising position in desktop and mobile devices. One alternative is to get an iPhone.

...And then there's Facebook

Facebook: By now, we all know how Facebook collects tons of data about users without their knowledge in order to provide incredibly powerful targeting capabilities for advertisers. As a digital marketer, I can attest to how precise and effective their ad products are. But as a consumer, you won’t easily find another social network where all your friends are.

Instagram: Thinking about leaving Facebook to Instagram like a teenager? Not so fast, Instagram has largely adopted the same ad platform as Facebook.

WhatsApp: How about WhatsApp? The founders built the app based on privacy concerns and started out charging 99 cents a year. When you have over 1 billion users, that's not a bad revenue model. Unless of course someone (i.e.. Mark Zuckerberg) paid you $22 billion for the company 😉 If you haven't heard, the founders of WhatsApp have fought Facebook executives for a while to keep ads off WhatsApp and are leaving Facebook over this philosophical difference. And it seems ads are coming soon to WhatsApp.

All other social networks, like Snapchat, are also ad-based. So there's no alternative service at scale really. Perhaps this will lead to a renaissance when people will actually call people on the phone again or meet friends face-to-face.

Other popular ad-based services

Yelp: Who doesn't love Yelp for recommendations? The company has ads, but it has limited targeting abilities, mainly based on a user's keyword search and location. So you can decide if that creeps you out. Also, Yelp has been building out other revenue streams targeted at businesses, like request-a-quote, that is not ad-based.

News sites: Most are ad-supported, but many don't make enough money to offset their declining print revenue. Savvy papers with loyal followers, such as WSJ and NY Times, charge a subscription and some have tested micropayments per article. But if you don't like ads, your selection of news sites is quite limited.

Mobile games: Many casual mobile games are still ad-supported. Part of the reason I think that's the case is because ad platforms have made it easy for developers to integrate ad units within their game for monetization. Many don't want to charge a fee for each download, thinking it will negatively impact app adoption. (True!) Some have found success with a freemium model, like Fortnite. But selling virtual goods does require developers to work harder to figure the "hook" to get users to pay and to develop a store in the app to sell these virtual goods.

TV: TV shows are still largely ad-based. TV started that way and some could argue there is a sea change. Netflix has built a very successful subscription model with original content and zero ads. But most video on demand or over the top (OTT) TV streaming services are currently testing a hybrid model that includes a "modest" monthly subscription fee and targeted video ads. Think Hulu, Sling TV, Directv Now, and YouTube TV.

Not all hope is lost

Not to be all doom and gloom if you don't want to use ad-supported products, as there are a few companies that still offer products and services not based on advertising.

Amazon/Amazon Prime: If you're not one of the 100 million people on Amazon Prime, you should be! This paid subscription gets you so many benefits, that I can't even list them all. Go read it here for yourself. That being said, Amazon has been slowly developing a burgeoning advertising business on its site because most people start product searches on Amazon rather than Google. As this becomes a growing revenue source for them, how long before Amazon engages in behavioral targeting for advertising, much like how it has successfully mined customer browsing and purchasing data on its site for its recommendation engine and tested ad-supported, discounted Kindles?

Apple: Apple is the poster child for anti-ad-supported products, even if its legion of app developers depend on ads for monetization. Not a week goes by these days that CEO Tim Cook is not poking a stick at Facebook and its lack of consumer privacy practices. But Apple is a highly-profitable hardware and services company, not an advertising company like Google and Facebook. So product sales and subscriptions will dominate for a long, long time!

Microsoft: Many of us interact with Microsoft via its Windows and Office products. As such, it's primarily a B2B company and makes a ton of money from charging businesses and home users for subscriptions to Office and operating system licenses to computer manufacturers. And their Azure cloud computing business is growing like gangbusters that is also subscription-based. It sells some Xboxes to consumers at retail and also generates subscriptions from online gaming. It does have the Bing search engine and an ad business. But for the vast majority of consumer's interactions with Microsoft products and services, they're not really ad-supported.

Netflix: Unlike the OTT TV streaming services mentioned above, Netflix has scoffed at an advertising revenue model and is focused on subscriptions. If their stock price is any indication, they are doing just fine without ads!

Spotify: Spotify and other music streaming businesses all seem to have landed on a $10/mo subscription model. Some like Pandora still have an ad-supported "free" option. There is also talk of Spotify developing an ad business.

So there you have it. Can you 2/3 of Americans out there really live without these ad-supported services? And how much can your wallet take to keep paying for existing subscription-based services, like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, etc.? The dollars add up quickly, don't they?!?


Thursday, May 24, 2018

[REVIEW] Is Square Marketing's Simple Email CRM Program Right for your Small Business?

Square Marketing launched about 3 years ago as a simple, turnkey email marketing system for small businesses. I've used it and other email marketing applications and wanted to provide a hands-on review about what I like and don't like about Square Marketing.

First of all, keep in mind Square Marketing is an intentionally simple CRM email marketing program for small businesses who don't have the time or knowledge to deal with relationship marketing. But they know it's important. It's not really for prospecting, but more for customer retention, because it is based on email addresses tied to your customer's credit card that Square may already have in its system, even if a customer has never bought from you. That's one of the beauties of this solution. You've got a lot of customer emails without having to spend time asking for it from each customer and slowing things down at the register.

What I Like About Square Marketing

Square Marketing is easy to setup! I love how they have created the most common templates already for welcoming a new customer, lapsed customer, product promotion, newsletter, and events, to name a few.

The biggest advantage of using Square Marketing is its integration with the Square POS register that seamlessly ties customer profile, campaign, and sales transaction data!

First, you get basic email performance overview metrics, like emails sent (a.k.a. Recipients in Square's language), email opens, and unsubscribes. You don't get bounce rates though.

Square Campaign Overview Report

One metric to be careful about with Square reporting is the notion of an "Attributed" sale or purchase. Square defines "Attributable Sales" as the total sales generated from customers who made an in-store purchase within 14 days of viewing this campaign, or any customers who redeemed a coupon. This is different than the offer redemption rate because it doesn't mean everyone included in this metric actually redeemed an offer. It's meant in some ways to imply that by simply reaching out to customers via email, you reminded them about your business and that might have influenced their decision to repurchase.

The usefulness of attributed sales depends on how frequent customers shop with you and if you use coupons a lot. For a cafe or coffee shop, where customers may routinely come in several times a month, I think Attributable sales is less relevant. But if you are a shoe retailer where a customer may shop less than a handful of times per year, this may mean your emails kept your business top of mind for customers, even if they didn't redeem an offer.

Now let's look at actual Coupon Performance reporting. I love how Square effortlessly tracks actual redemptions in store by just entering a unique promo code from the email a customer got or you can actually look up the customer's name from the Square POS and select the offer available to that customer. The latter is pretty darn convenient if a customer loses or can't find that email at the time of checkout.

Square Coupon Performance Report
As the above shows, you get daily-level coupon redemption by "source", where source refers to email received (blue line above) or receipt (yellow line above). In my experience, I rarely get customer redemptions from receipts. But it's a nice touch from Square, I guess.

In this report, you also get the true offer redemptions and net sales, not attributable sales like above.

One thing I like to look at is redemptions-to-open rates (RTOR). I normally look at click-to-open rates (CTOR) from email marketing campaigns, but these simple Square emails don't really have a ton of links so Square doesn't even provide any click reporting. So that's why I created my RTOR metric as a way to benchmark across my campaigns.

Areas for Improvement

There are several things I'd like to see in Square Marketing.

Promotion times: I wish you could run promotions for certain days of the week or time of day. For example, you can't run happy hour promos. Or to run weekend promos, you have to send emails out Friday night and have the campaign expire Sun night. Similarly, for weekday promotions, the workaround is to run campaigns Sunday night until Friday.

Customer drill down from redemption report: I wish I could drill down and see who actually opened an email and/or redeemed the offer from a campaign. In the example above, I'd love to click on the 18 redemptions and see a list of the names of the 18 customers. As an owner of the business or the marketer, you may not always be the one who rang up the person, but you'd like to get to know who is actually using your coupons. I don't know why Square doesn't offer this capability since it has this data and does show you such granularity when you pull up a customer record from the Customer menu. Here is a customer profile record:
Buyer Summary from Customer Profile
The top shows any current coupons this user has. Then it has some very useful RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) stats in the Buyer Summary. More on RFM below.

Below that is the historical timeline of activities of the customer. This is where you can see not only when they purchased and the amount spent, but also when the customer received an email, got a coupon, and actually redeemed it. So, if Square can show this from the Customers menu, why does it not let me go directly to this view from the Square Marketing's Campaign reporting section? I also wish they added Email Open to this timeline.
Customer's historical activity

Limited segmentation within Square: In the Customers interface, you can filter your customer directory and create your own custom segments, which is cool! Here is what you can segment by:
Customer Filters for Segmentation in Square
A big Filter miss I think is including the Monetary value or cumulative amount a customer has spent with your business. I could run campaigns for the big spenders or promos to get little spenders to spend more. Square obviously has this data at the customer level because it's in the Buyer Summary above. Why can't we segment on it?!? This prevents you from employing the most common, yet powerful, segmentation out there - RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary).

To create a workaround for this RFM shortcoming, you can export your entire customer directory as a .CSV file and pull it into Excel. In addition to some personal contact info, you also get these useful transaction data that serve as the basis for creating RFM segments:

RFM metrics exported from Square
In Excel, I calculated Avg Spend and defined some Low, Mid, and High breakpoints for Recency, Frequency, and Monetary. And proceeded to assign my customer list to 1 of these 27 cells (e.g., High Recency, High Frequency, Low Monetary). BTW, to simplify this, you can also use 8 cells (=2x2x2), using Low and High segments.

Then I hit another snag with Square. There is no easy way to import my segmentation back into Square through the front-end interface. I had to manually sort by name and individually locate each user to assign them to the custom group I created in Square. This makes it very difficult to maintain the RFM segmentation on an ongoing basis so I have to "re-score" the customer database myself manually periodically.

Exporting item category purchased: Since I'm on the subject of the .CSV export, I wish I could export what categories or items customers bought as columns in the export file. Then I could run targeted cross-sell campaigns. For example, if you're a shoe retailer and you know a customer always bought athletic shoes from you, you can cross promote casual walking shoes or dress shoes. Because Square Marketing lets you offer discounts by item category, this is a natural desire for cross-sell campaigns.

User-defined Campaign Names: Square automatically assigns a Campaign Name to each campaign based on your subject line. While that may sound convenient, it's actually quite limiting, especially if you use the same subject line again because it will lead to duplicate Campaign Names. Below is how Square lists all your campaigns chronologically. To better organize my campaigns, I wish it allowed me to edit the Campaign Name. For example, instead of "We miss you! Come back and save 15%", I would call that "Lapsed Test 15% offer." Then my other "We miss you! Come back for a special offer" campaign would be called "Lapsed Test Special offer."

List of all campaigns in Square Marketing

Slow email preview: Before you activate and launch an email campaign, Square lets you preview the email by sending you a test email of how it will actually look. Nice feature! But I have noticed a wide variance in how long it takes to receive the test email. Sometimes over 5 minutes. This is annoying because you'd like to get the preview email instantly so you can then activate the campaign while in their campaign editor tool. Instead, I often have to save what I've done and come back later.

Losing offer details while editing coupon:
Another annoying bug I've found is often I would go in to edit a previously saved offer in a saved draft campaign, and Square loses my existing content and I have to start over. So I take a screenshot of it now before I click the "Click To Activate" button to edit the coupon, just in case.

Editing coupon offer

Better image editing features: For my custom uploaded photos, it would be nice to have some common photo editing features, like crop, brightness, contrast, etc.

No A/B testing: Ok, this request may be for advanced users and not who Square Marketing is targeting with this solution. But it would be nice if Square could randomly split an audience and send 2 slightly different emails to 2 subgroups for A/B testing. Instead, I have to manually test different offers, copy, or images serially by pausing one campaign, duplicating it, editing it slightly, and relaunching it.

Brief Word about List Sizes

List size matters and is actually how Square and other email marketing solutions like Constant Contact price their offerings! Your potential email marketing list depends on your business and the percentage of customers who pay with cash vs. credit card. That's because Square (and any solution) can't capture any customer data from cash transactions without some kind of loyalty program link. So if you have a primarily cash-driven business, your list will be smaller and the potential impact of email marketing campaigns will be likely be lower. For example, a hair salon can have over 80% cash customers, while a restaurant could have 20% cash customers. In this case, there is more opportunities for the restaurant.


Overall, Square Marketing did a solid job with a K.I.S.S. email marketing solution for small businesses. And despite all the items on my wish list above, if you're not a hard core marketer like me, but wish you could do something with customer emails, this may be right for you, depending on how large your reachable target list is!


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Google vs. Amazon Battle for Search

eMarketer just released its latest forecast for the smart speaker market in the US. It shows Amazon Echo's share has fallen slightly to 67%, due mainly from gains from Google, who sat at 30%.

Source: eMarketer, April 2018

Wait! Where have I seen this 2/3 vs 1/3 pattern before? Ahh, yes, the desktop/mobile search engine market.

Source: Statistica, Jan 2018

Google has held about 2/3 of the total US search query volume on desktop and mobile for a while. And Bing/Yahoo! (or Bing/Oath I should say) has held on to about 1/3...more or less.

Google is obviously not happy to have the tables turned in the smart speaker space, especially as voice search is the next frontier for the Search category! So they are making aggressive moves for its Google Home product, including a successful launch of its affordable Home Mini.

Amazon is not kicking back either though. They keep adding more Skills each week to Alexa and striking more hardware vendor partnerships to embed Alexa.

Amazon is also attacking Google on its own turf -- Search Advertising. According to a recent Forrester report, consumers are 2.5 times more likely to research products for purchase from Amazon than any other source, including Google.

Amazon's ad business is also growing to take advantage of these Amazon search queries. In its recent fourth-quarter earnings, Amazon reported that “Other” revenue, which includes advertising, increased to $1.7 billion, representing 60% growth YoY. This will continue to grow and compete with Google's popular Product Listing Ads.

So, while there's lots of talk about the Google-Facebook duopoly, don't count Amazon out just yet!


Monday, March 19, 2018

6 Offline-to-Online Marketing Integration Best Practices

Despite all the doom and gloom in the retail sector, such as the planned liquidation of Toys R Us, some retailers are doing some great things in terms of marketing. While Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY)'s stock price has fallen by over 33% the past year, its latest in-home mailer offers some great examples of O2O integration across its digital and offline marketing programs.

When I first received their Spring 2018 mailer, it is clear they are migrating to more of a lifestyle brand catalog, like Pottery Barn. It's thicker (84 pages!) and on higher quality paper stock. In the past, it was a few pages and the paper was junk mail-like paper quality.

Spring 2018 in-home catalog


Open up the first page and BBBY immediately and prominently promotes its mobile app, telling you how you can easily shop the catalog via mobile by just scanning the catalog's front cover with the app's AR scanner.
Mobile app promotion


Also on the same page, since they're talking mobile, BBBY promotes its Instagram profile. But I'm surprised they did not also promote its Pinterest page, because home decor is so popular!

Cross promotion of BBBY Instragram acount


One of my favorite tactics is their suggestion to enter specific keywords into its website's search bar to see all the same products laid out in its catalog:

Shop the room: Search keyword cues in catalog

Close-up example of keyword: airy living room

If you type "airy living room" on its site, you see the below landing page, which is a great hand-off from the catalog. This is so much easier for consumers than trying to recall a long website URL path to manually enter in a web browser.

My only suggestion for improvement is to make the room photo interactive so if I click on an item I like, it has an anchor link on a hotspot to take me directly to the specific product description rather than scroll through the extremely long landing page with all the products listed below the main photo.

Landing page if you search for "airy living room" on
From an analytics perspective, the keyword CTA is great because from your web analytics tools, such as Adobe Analytics that BBBY uses, you can see the exact search volume for each keyword entered to truly gauge how popular this tactic is! Because let's face it, no one in his/her right mind will think of entering "airy living room" without some kind of prompt =)


Throughout the catalog, BBBY has CTAs to go online using vanity URLs. Near the end, it even has one page that promotes many of its offerings online.

Vanity URLs galore from catalog page!
All these URLs resolve and redirect to longer URLs. For example, redirects to redirects to BBBY's credit card partner Comenity's website:

What is noteworthy here is that Comenity has assigned a unique campaign tracking code to this URL. This gets passed to its Adobe Analytics as a campaign parameter to easily and surgically track the session of a user that came from this ad placement in BBBY's catalog. Perfect! Unfortunately, BBBY does not have these detailed campaign tracking codes in the vanity URLs that drive to its own website for some reason, so that's a big analytics miss.


Typical 20% off coupon
As many of you know, BBBY is extremely generous with its distribution of 20% off coupons. This direct mail catalog was no exception. While the retailer thought about weaning itself off of such promotions a few years ago, it hasn't. But I'm glad to see that if you're going to offer a coupon, track the heck out of it! Here's what they are doing that more retailers need to do. BBBY's direct mail coupons have unique bar codes on them for tracking purposes. These are unique based on customers in its CRM system. When a user redeems the coupon in a physical store (or online), this tracking code is captured and BBBY knows you actually bought something in store.

But many retailers stop short of doing something useful with this insight. BBBY sends a personalized email (see below) a few days later to (1) thank you for your recent in-store purchase and (2) ask you to rate the purchase to help populate its user reviews on its website. This is a great example of tying your print, web, email, and CRM marketing campaigns together with a bow!!! All this is done without me ever realizing they matched, on the back-end, my email address from an online order I made once a long time ago to my CRM profile. I didn't have to give my name or email to the cashier in the store. It was all tied to the physical coupon seamlessly!

Thank you email tied to recent purchase
(BTW, if you didn't know, these BBBY coupons never really expire despite the expiration date printed on them.)


Last year, BBBY bought, an online interior decorating service that matches a consumer with a designer to design a room together in one's style and budget. The catalog is sprinkled with new Pro Tips throughout from designers on and encourages readers to go to to learn more.

Decorist promotion

In summary, most of this #O2O goodness can be done by any retailer with nominal investment. Marketers just need to be willing to invest in strategic planning and coordinating efforts across departments to do what's best for their brand and customers!


Monday, October 23, 2017

How I Became a Data Plumber

The other day I realized that big data, business intelligence, and dashboards may sound sexy in my strategy and analytics world. But all that and the insights they promise is not really possible without the less glamorous work of what I call "data plumbing." Yes, mom, all my years of schooling and work experience has led me to a career as a plumber =) Having a modern plumbing system in place is not only critical for your home, it's also essential for marketing.

Let me share a real life example of one of the many things I do as a Data Plumber. In this example, the role of the Data Plumber is to make sure all the pipes are connected end-to-end for more precise data to flow to improve tracking and optimization.

Here's a common use case: To optimize paid search campaigns, we need keyword level data for offline conversions. This happens a lot for lead gen campaigns where sales are closed offline, especially for B2B clients and B2C clients whose products or services require more hand holding than ordering a book from Amazon to close the deal.

First, I work with the media team to generate and pass a unique click ID to the landing page when a user clicks on an ad. The click ID will provide granular keyword level tracking. That's the first upstream plumbing connection from the search engine to the client's site. This is like getting water from the main line in the street to your house.

Then we need a way to pass the click ID to the client's lead management or CRM system. This is where years of experience talking "tech" with developers and "data fields" with database administrators pays off as I make the business case on why the Marketing Department needs these changes.

I visit the client's CRM team to see if they can create a field for me to house my new incoming click ID from the client's site. In plumbing speak, I need to make sure there is a faucet in the house that can receive the water from the street once I hook up the pipes under the house.

Once that is taken care of, I am off to work with the web development team to pass my click ID at the point of lead generation, usually when a user submits a lead gen or order form on the site. Normally this involves altering the API to the lead management/CRM system to capture the click ID upon form submission. Now we got pipes to allow water to go from the street to the kitchen sink!

But we're not done yet. We need a way to drain the used water back out of the house. I'm back with the DBAs and the CRM team to create a way to send us the data we need via an ETL or dropping a file regularly to a FTP server. We are creating a conversion file that passes every lead and sale with our associated click ID back to the media team's search campaign management system...ideally in real-time (or near real-time) for bid optimization, as well as reporting.

Almost I go back to where I started with the search team. We create a process where they can consume the client's conversion file and match the data back to click ID. What's powerful about all this is you don't just tell the campaign management tool that a keyword led to a sale or not (which is binary), but you can also pass the amount of the sale, product type, and even the customer segment for even more insightful reporting!

Without such plumbing in place, you can optimize at the keyword level on web leads, but not sales. Now, you may find you've been spending a lot of media budget on a keyword that generates a lot of leads, but has either a low sales conversion rate or a higher CPA (cost per acquisition) than you thought because you've been optimizing to CPL (cost per lead). Or perhaps you weren't getting the quality of sales or the right customer or product sold than you thought for some keywords. That's like having hot water enter your house, but only warm, foul-tasting water may be coming out at the tap unbeknownst to you because you just saw water coming out of the tap (assuming everything was working fine), but you never felt the temperature or tasted the water to realize something was wrong.

So, there you have it. Just a day in the life of a Data Plumber. =) Actually, in this case, the above would have taken me weeks, not a day, to setup in partnership with my client, media teams, web dev teams, and CRM/database administrators. But when it's all done, it feels great!


Friday, September 22, 2017

Taylor Swift's UPS partnership to promote new Reputation album - WHY!?!?

Spotted a huge picture of Taylor Swift yesterday in the street. Thought it was one of those moving billboard trucks until I realized it was a UPS truck!

First of all, I think it's interesting that UPS is pimping out ad space on its trucks, like a public transit bus. I didn't even realize they had an interest in building out an ad business. Perhaps the fight with FedEx has them looking to expand to other revenue streams. It's not a bad idea for UPS to monetize that huge boring brown space across their fleet of trucks.

Some might say the UPS partnership is a good offline marketing vehicle. It's 100% share of voice. And people don't go to record stores (R.I.P. Tower Records!) anymore and even the Best Buys and Targets of the world aren't really selling many physical albums these days to warrant in-store promotions as users are digitally streaming or downloading music.

But if you're TAYLOR SWIFT, why do you even need to spend money to advertise your new album? She's world famous with reporters, radio DJs, bloggers, and her fans hanging on her every word and ready to buy her latest music!

She's recently released 2 singles, Look What You Made Me Do and Ready For It, from the new Reputation album weeks apart and both are getting lots of air play!

Not only that, but social media was supposed to be the great equalizer for artists to build direct connections to fans. And it certainly has been for Taylor. She has a huge social media fan base:

YouTube (Taylor Swift) - 1.7 MM subscribers
YouTube (Taylor Swift VEVO) - 24 MM subscribers
Twitter - 86 MM followers
Instagram - 103 MM followers

All she has to do is post on her own social media channels and call it a day.

In fact, Tay Tay is already doing it. Her YouTube channel is totally promoting her new album's drop date of Nov 10th:

It's also on the comments of her Look What You Made Me Do video on TaylorSwiftVEVO:

Her other profiles are all promoting it too. In fact, it's a great example of integrated marketing as all the channels have the same Reputation album cover photo and call to action to get her album on Nov 10th. You may recall she caused an Internet frenzy when all her social accounts went dark last month to prep and coordinate all this stuff.

Taylor has always been a very respectable, smart business woman. But I just don't get why she did this UPS deal...


Friday, September 1, 2017

Star Wars' Force Friday: Toys R Us vs. Target

Earlier today...way earlier, like 12:01am, was the start of Force Friday, a huge retailing event ahead of the next Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, that would unveil new toys and merchandise associated with the new movie coming out this December.

It so happened that the shopping center I had planned to go to had both a Target and a Toys R Us that were participating in this event, so I decided to see how the 2 stores ran Force Friday. But which store should I hit first?

Toys R Us was going to be my first destination. Why? Because they had promoted a free t-shirt and poster giveaway while supplies last. So I showed up at 11:30pm and found a short line of about 15 people had already formed. Mostly adults, but I also saw a few kids way past their bedtimes on a school night!

When the doors finally opened shortly after midnight, the crowd had grown to about 50-60 people, as we all beelined through the front door in an orderly fashion. A Destination: Gateway to the Galaxy cardboard archway greeted us.

Toys R Us archway at front entrance

Inside, employees had lined up short (maybe 3 feet tall) Star Wars figures a few feet apart, pointing shoppers to the special Star Wars section for the event. It was like a Hansel and Gretel bread crumb trail.

But I, along with other shoppers, was disappointed that it was primarily just one aisle in the store. A very cramped aisle. So we had to queue up to just get into that aisle. There weren't as many new items as I would have expected. I also noticed all the workers were gathered up front at the registers. Surprisingly, none were in the Star Wars section --- likely because there was no room! But the workers didn't really engage and chat with customers about Star Wars either.

After I made my purchase, I received my free Pop t-shirt (shown below). But there was no poster =(

Free t-shirt at Toys R Us

At this point, it was 12:20am, so I ran across the parking lot to Target.

Target had been running a big "Bring Your Rey Game" campaign for Force Friday. I thought it was quite clever, capitalizing on current trends around gender equality and empowered women (e.g., equal pay for equal work, work force diversity, success of Wonder Woman movie that was also directed by a female director, Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In).

Inside the store, it was well-lit and a few large Star Wars cardboard displays cordoned off the Star Wars merchandising area.

Target Star Wars: Episode 8 display
Immediately, it was obvious this Target had more merchandise than the Toys R Us I went to. In addition to stuff I saw at Toys R Us, such as action figures, LEGO sets, and Nerf guns, Target also had video games, drones, videos, clothing, plush toys, Halloween costumes, and more! One thing I had missed somehow before today was Target had generous coupons for major purchases:

Also, Target employees who were obviously Star wars fans were working this section of the store, chatting it up with customers. There was no freebies here, but this store was running a raffle at 12:30am, giving away an X-Wing quad drone and a BB-8 playset. Sadly, I didn't win :-(

Star Wars Force Link BB-8 2-in-1 Mega Playset
Propel Star Wars T65 X-Wing Battle Quad Drone

As I walked out of Target at 12:40am, I was reflecting on my 2 shopping experiences. I expected Toys R Us to "go big or go home" for this event, given their focus on TOYS and since Toys R Us has been losing ground to Walmart and Target in toy sales. But I felt like the energy, the selection, and the staff were better at Target. 

There was probably some foreshadowing. I had called both stores yesterday to verify they were participating in Force Friday. When I called Target, the sales associate immediately said yes, they were participating and that doors open after 12 midnight only for buying Star Wars items. She explained that because the store normally opens to midnight. When I called Toys R Us, the sales associate wasn't sure, asked me if "that was the Star Wars thing", and then put me on hold for 5 minutes to ask someone to confirm. So I said, "Thanks, see you tomorrow night." She said, "No, it's Friday night." I said, "Wait, it's Thursday night, right?" She replied, "Duh, you're right." Enough said.

But this is just one Jedi's observations. All-in-all, it was a good night for my first Force Friday event!

May the Force Be With You


Monday, August 14, 2017

Voice-Activated Assistants Face-off

With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung unveiled Bixby, it's new voice-activated assistant. Since my February 2013 blog post on vocal SEO, a lot has changed as "AI" and "voice assistants" have taken off, largely thanks to Amazon's Echo. It's hard to imagine Alexa wasn't even around back then. So let's see how the top tech company's latest assistants stack up. Unlike my 2013 challenge, this contest will be judged solely on the assistant's AUDIO responses and not what is displayed on-screen. So let's go...

Question: What is the weather in San Francisco tomorrow?

"Ok, here's the weather for San Francisco tomorrow" and she displayed the 7 day forecast on-screen (but we're not counting on-screen results)

"Tomorrow's forecast for San Francisco is 66 degrees and partly cloudy"

"Tomorrow in San Francisco, California, you'll see intermittent clouds and can expect a high of 68 and a low of 60"

"Wednesday we''ll have some sunshine with a few clouds" 

ADVANTAGE: Alexa because it provided useful information audibly without requiring me to look at the screen, even though it couldn't show me a multi-day forecast (which is ok since I didn't ask for that). Google was a close second.

To see if any of these assistants can offer an opinion, I tested these...

Q: Should I watch Spiderman: Homecoming?

"Sorry, I can't play movies"

"Reviews scored 8 out of 10 on IMDB"

"Sorry, I'm not sure about that"

"Here is some information about Spiderman: Homecoming" and then it showed a Google description of the movie

ADVANTAGE: Google. While not providing an official recommendation, it did tell me what the average review score was.

Q: Who do you think is going to win the A's vs. Royals game?

"The Athletics play the Royals on Monday at 7:05PM"

No audio response and was just a regular Google search results page for my query translated to text.

"I can't see the future"

"Ok, here is what I found on the web" and then showed me search results

ADVANTAGE: Siri was the only one that provided any relevant info on the game. So I guess she wins this round.

Q: What is a good Japanese restaurant in New York? 

"OK, here's what I found" and then it showed me 15 results on-screen.

No audio response and was just a regular Google search results page for my query translated to text.

"Here are a few of the top rated Japanese restaurants around New York" and then she proceeded to read out 4 of them out loud to me

"Here is what I found on the web" and returned a bunch of results on-screen.

Advantage: Alexa for providing a full audio response with a few top selections.

Then I wanted to see if any of these assistants had a sense of humor...

Q: Are you a robot?

"Let's just say I am made of silicon, memory, and the courage of my convictions"

No response and it just did a Google web search

"I like to imagine myself a bit like an aurora borealis. A surge of charged multi-colored photons dancing through the atmosphere. But mostly though I am just Alexa"

Bixby returned different responses when asked a few times:
"I'm not a big fan of labels"
"I'm more complex than that"
"This is getting personal"

ADVANTAGE: Bixby for having multiple responses. And I have no idea what Alexa was talking about!

Q: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

"42. That can't be right"
"I suppose it depends on whether you are talking about African or European woodchucks"
"Just because it could doesn't mean it would"
Siri offered different witty answers when asked multiple times. But these were actually the same from my 2013 test.

"According to Quora, according to a Cornell publication, the answer is approximately 700 pounds"

"A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood"

"Not sure, but it sounds like one industrious woodchuck"

ADVANTAGE: Siri, even though her answers didn't evolve in 4 years. They're still funny. All but Google actually had some fun with this canned question.

Ok, for the final round, a RAP BATTLE...Props for PhoneBuff for this video:

ADVANTAGE: Bixby and Alexa. Both had great raps. (Note: PhoneBuff added background music to all the raps to make the video more engaging than the actual raps with no beats, except Bixby which actually has its own background music in its rap.)

Overall, voice assistants have evolved a lot in 4 years! And no clear winner emerged in my mind. The exciting thing is we consumers are the winners as this technology continues to improve.

Which virtual assistant do you like?