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?


Monday, May 22, 2017

Elon, it's not too late to rename TESLA Model 3!

Confusion over the upcoming Tesla Model 3 and how it fits into the Tesla model line-up is a great example of a brand architecture gone wrong! Sorry, Elon, you're a great visionary, but not a brand strategist.

While trying to be cute to spell a word with his cars, Musk wanted to spell S-E-X but Ford stopped them from making a Model E. So, being clever, he chose to make it the Model 3 (a backward E).

And now there are rumors of an upcoming compact crossover called the Model Y, modeled after the Model X, to spell S-3-X-Y. Really?!?

It's imperative for automakers to have a clear brand architecture and naming convention to signal to consumers how their portfolio of cars fit together as a lineup. Let's face it -- consumers are not that smart or too lazy often times to try to understand a brand's cleverness. Was anyone else besides Musk really thinking S, X, and 3 had a hidden meaning?

Acura learned a hard lesson in the 1990s when research showed consumers did not recognize the Acura brand and could not associate the beloved Legend and Integra model brands to their parent brand Acura. So they switched to the more common alphanumeric naming convention that most luxury brands use today, such as RL for the Legend. While RL is not as cool sounding as Legend, the intent is to concentrate the brand equity on the parent brand Acura. So if consumers can't recall if they have the RL or TL, the hope is they can at least say, "I have an Acura sedan." It's similar to how people say they have a Bimmer or Mercedes, even if they can't always name the exact model letter or number.

Tesla will eventually need to evolve its brand architecture so consumers can understand how the cars differ. Model S and X model names were a great start. Even the "battery configuration options" (e.g., P100D and 90D) make sense. It's really the Model 3 that are messing things up for several reasons. It deviates from the 1-letter naming convention like "S" and "X". Also, "3" also is the 3rd generation of Tesla's vehicles, but when consumers hear next generation, they assume it will have the most advanced technology in it. But, it's really being positioned as a more "affordable" version of the Model S, as Musk keeps proclaiming! The Model 3 runs the risk if greatly disappointing its new owners if it doesn't meet their over-inflated expectations.

BMW is one of the cleanest and classic case studies in brand architecture. For decades, it's naming convention for its models has been simple and logical. Take the 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series sedans. Folks knew that a higher number meant it was bigger, better, and more expensive. In past years, the last 2 digits referred to it's engine size. (e.g., 330 was its 3 Series sedan with a 3.0-liter engine). It's crossover SUVs all start with X and follow a similar numeric convention X3 and X5.

It's not too late, Elon. Rename the Model 3 before you deliver the first model. Abandon your cutesy brand strategy!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Social Content Optimization: The Rise of Social Copywriting

At the turn of the century, savvy marketers realized they needed to optimize their websites for search engines in order to be found online. This led to the birth of an entire industry that sprung up to help companies with search engine optimization (SEO). SEO became an art and science, always trying to keep up with Google to "game the system" for search visibility. Traditional copywriters had to be re-trained to write for SEO. Analysts focused on keyword research, keyword density on a page, tags and meta data, etc.

While SEO is still important today, writing for social has become increasingly important for social networks and good ole fashion websites. You need to think about the best # hash tag to use or the type of content to convey your marketing message (Does this call for a video or photo?).

Using social listening tools can help marketers see what is trending and to inspire content developers and copywriters. Who can forget @Oreo's awesome and timely tweet during Super Bowl 47's blackout?

Such #winning moments don't happen very often like that. So it's important to note that it's not about hitting a home run every time at bat. Instead, it's about being smart in order to get a single or double each time you post.

Using tools like Quintly, you can see engagement of your or other user's content by type and time of day or day of week (see example charts below). Then you might learn that Mondays at 3pm is the best time for posting that cat video! =) Right time, right content.

User Posts By Day of Week - Quintly
Post Reactions Table - Quintly

At a Quintly Meetup event a few months ago, a team from IAC talked about how they are taking an analytic-driven approach for publishing content on their recently launched site and Facebook page. They were using Quintly reports on a weekly basis to empower social media community managers to measure user reaction and engagement on content in order to make decisions on what to post next. The site is quite an interesting experiment.

So, as you think about what to post online, keep in mind social content optimization. And be sure your content is not only searchable, but likeable and shareable.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Is Amazon Getting Too Aggressive With Speedy Shipping?

We've all heard about Amazon's ambitions to leverage drones for faster and cheaper package delivery. But while that may be 1-2 years away, I've recently noticed Amazon really pushing same day delivery to Prime members.

Here's what happened to me recently. I was browsing on my Amazon app at 7:30am one morning. I was just researching something and wasn't really planning to buy it during this session. However, as I was reading the reviews on one product I was considering, I saw a note: Buy in the next 1 hour 39 minutes and get it the same day by 9pm. And it would be free as I am a Prime member. Wow, I couldn't believe it! So I bought it and was cautiously optimistic.

Image result for amazon same day delivery

From a supply chain management perspective, I was so intrigued by how Amazon could be so confident they could pull this off. First, I thought they must look at my default shipping address, checking to see the nearest warehouse the item I was looking at would come from. Then, quickly check to see if there are planned deliveries near my house from that warehouse. Lastly, if all this works out, they see I'm a Prime member and this special shipping over is served up.

All this has to happen in seconds because I saw the same day shipping offer when I initially pulled up that product page. So, that means it takes lightning fast back-end logic to make this user experience sooooooo seamless, like magic!

Later that day at 4:24pm, Amazon informed me the item was shipped and would arrive by 9pm. I was getting excited.  But 9pm came and went, and nothing. At 10pm, I was notified about a delay. But it wasn't just a one day delay. Instead it gave me a range of 1-3 days! What? That's worse than if I stuck with regular 2-day Prime shipping in my original order! How can Amazon have such imprecision for shipping, given the advanced logistics they are known for?

What's worse in this case was it actually came after the usual 2-day Prime shipping! And once it was delayed, Amazon no longer provided up to the minute tracking as if the package was in some unknown limbo. It just said if you don't get it in 4 days, come back for more options. What a horrible user experience!

One consolation prize came out of this at least. As a Prime member, I contacted Amazon about this delay in guaranteed delivery and I got an extra month added to my Prime Membership, roughly an $8 value.

But I ask: Is Amazon setting the bar too high for itself with such aggressive shipping promises?


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Website Overlays Pose Technical Challenges for Marketers

Overlays, also known as interstitials or lightboxes, are pages that appear before or over an expected content page of a website.

They are often used as marketing “pop ups” that look better than the old pop up windows of yesteryears. At first, they were commonly used for serving ads while the main page loaded underneath. Nowadays, you'll see them used for all sorts of reasons:

Special promotional offers when users first visit a site
Age verification prior to site entry
Newsletter or email sign-ups
Solicit users for site survey
All of these use cases are intended to “interrupt” the normal user experience to get the user’s attention for a brief moment, but is not intended to prevent the user from easily continuing on his/her merry way to the intended content page. In theory, a simple Close [X] click is all that is required (with the exception of the age verification use case).

Lately, I have noticed some sites use full-page overlays as part of the core site experience with the belief that it creates a better user experience. In these cases, a content page that would normally be a “regular” HTML page with a unique page URL is instead an overlay without a URL.

Full-page overlay example
While it may be a better UX, here are some challenges I have come across with overlays as "real" content pages.
  1. Not great for SEO - Search engine spiders are not able to index these overlays. 
  2. Without a URL, you can’t drive traffic to the page via paid media to use as a destination landing page. Users also can't share the overlay since there is no URL, severely limiting social sharing and viral marketing. 
  3. Tracking, specifically web analytics tools like Omniture and Google Analytics, will not include basic metrics like page views from the standard configuration. A workaround like virtual page views can help address the tracking issues, but it does require custom coding from a developer who knows what s/he is doing. 
  4. Sometimes if not done well, the responsive design layout can lead to an awkward user experience. My pet peeve: a small [X] to close the overlay or the [X] is off the screen on my mobile device and you have to try to expand the screen or swipe to get to the [X]! 
Viant overlay ad is too wide on this MediaPost mobile page

So while overlays may be nice for special marketing offers or confirmations that do not contain critical content you want indexed, web developers should be careful using it for content-rich pages to avoid a #FAIL.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Multi-Channel Retailers Still #FAIL to Manage Channel Conflicts

In today's world of shopping, savvy mobile shoppers and price transparency are the norm. 

There is a lot of talk these days from Target to Best Buy to Wal-Mart to better leverage their physical stores as a competitive advantage against Amazon. They are trying to combat showrooming, which was a big concern about 2 years ago. More and more retailers are putting in place pick-up in-store capabilities, which is a great option for consumers.

However, I have found that some major retailers are still charging different prices (usually higher prices in store) between the online and offline channels, indicating there are still silos in these companies and channel conflicts have not been resolved. 

Exhibit A: Petco. It is not uncommon to find prices online that are lower than their in-store price. In the example below, the aquarium appears to be on sale for $8.99. I lobbed in a mystery shopper call to my local Petco and found out they would charge me $14.99 if I walked in to the store. I asked why is it cheaper online and the store clerk really had no idea and just said that online prices are different than the store. No apologies and no offer to match their own online price! Not even if you are in their loyalty program and shop there all the time! In this case here, if I bought it online, there was a $5.99 shipping charge, which made online 1 cents cheaper than in-store, but that doesn't account for the delayed gratification and gas savings from online shopping.

Exhibit B: Verizon Wireless. Despite being the #1 wireless carrier, Verizon's online, call center, and local retailer channels are often not aligned. Online and the call center tends to offer the same prices and deals. But local retailers sometimes have different offers and can't match their online prices.

There are back-end data issues as well as in-store reps often say they can't see certain customer info that the call center can. No idea why as that seems to be more of a problem a decade ago!

Exhibit C: Best Buy. Best Buy has had a rough few years and is a poster child of how mobile shopping and showrooming really disrupted their business. But they have made bold moves by redesigning their in-store experience and putting in place an aggressive price match policy. I was first shocked to learn they even price match again Amazon! Yes, I said Amazon. On a few occasions, I found a lower price on when I was looking for product reviews while shopping in-store. When I asked a sales associate about the lower price, I was happy to learn they matched their own online sale prices!!! What a novel idea! You hear that, Verizon and Petco? It's a pretty wild concept to match your own prices.

I suspect many retailers have lower prices online (even if they are doing pickup in store) because of the price transparency from online shopping that creates cutthroat pricing strategies (a.k.a. the Amazon effect). Google Shopping and its Product Listing Ads that often show on top of the SERP further exacerbates the pricing transparency problem for retailers.

Despite retailers trying to create a seamless multi-channel experience leveraging their stores better, I am shocked how many still #FAIL.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Predicting Super Bowl 50 Winner with Facebook Data: Carolina Panthers

Here we are on the eve of the biggest sporting event in the world, Super Bowl 50.

Last year, I wrote about how I used social media benchmarking tool Quintly's Facebook data to predict the Patriots as the winner of Super Bowl XLIX based on the interaction rate on the Seahawks and Patriots Facebook pages. Based on how the Patriots' Interaction Rate that last Friday before the Super Bowl, I thought the Patriots would win it.

But let's be honest, football fans, the Seahawks should have won that game if they just handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch and that absurd interception by Butler would and should never have happened. But I digress...

So, here I go again this year, back to the Quintly well to see who it predicts will win Super Bowl 50.

Using my same methodology as last year, I looked at the Facebook Interaction Rate for the past 12 days for the Broncos and Panthers.

Panthers consistently higher than Broncos

As one can see, the Panthers have had about 2-5 times the engagement of the Broncos' Facebook page every day. This is despite the fact that Denver has twice the fan base and more than double the number of posts during this time:

It turns out that the Panthers' content, especially photos and videos, generate much higher interaction rates than the Broncos:

Analyzing more closely what might be causing the higher Panthers interaction rates, it's not due to a few photo or video posts. It's quite common for a post to get 2000 or shares, while the Broncos usually see only hundreds. In fact, the Panthers Facebook fan base just seems more engaged overall. Maybe it's because they are coming off an amazing year, QB Cam Newton is a rock star, or all those free football giveaways to kids after a touchdown is generating tons of goodwill!

While I would love to see Peyton Manning win one more Super Bowl before he retires, it does not look likely. Based on this analysis, the Super Bowl 50 winner will be the CAROLINA PANTHERS.

Enjoy the game, folks!

Disclosure: I am an advisor to Quintly.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The 3 C's of Social Media Marketing Tools

Every strategist has heard of the 3 C's model for business strategy:
  • Company
  • Customer
  • Competition
The 3 C's can also be applied to social media marketing tools.

Company = Social Media Management Tools

How do we manage and publish content across multiple profiles and find out what works best?

This is all about how the Company expresses their "human side" online and engage with its customers. Once content is produced, companies need to distribute all that content in the right social spaces. Few companies manage each social space (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) directly from the sites themselves. Most brands use social media management (a.k.a., publishing or community management) tools to manage content and plan, schedule, and track the success of their social media campaigns. Popular tools in this category include Hootsuite and Buffer.

Customer = Social Media Listening Tools

What are customers saying?

Listening, or conversation monitoring, tools have been around for about a decade. I consider such tools the world's largest consumer research panel...on STEROIDS!

Conversation monitoring tools can range in price and sophistication. On the free end of the spectrum, one can use good old Google search, as well as vertical search engines like Omgili. But these free tools just return a list of search results -- mainly unstructured data that is extremely hard to analyze.

Then on other end, there are powerful, useful tools such as Radian6 and Brandwatch.

These tools crawl the web based on keywords. Data is organized around mentions, sources/source types, or influencer/author. Listening tools are great for qualitative insights, such as trending topics and finding key influencers, and identifying places on the web (not necessarily social networks) where people are talking, such as forums, blogs, and communities.

The main outputs from such tools are tag clouds, key topics, sentiment/tonality, and influencers.

Competitor = Social Media Analytics Tools

What and how is the competition doing relative to our Company? What's their level of engagement?

This is a newer category that has been around for about half the time of listening tools. These tools provide competitive benchmarking between branded social media profiles. I personally think calling them "social media analytics tools" is a little bit vague and doesn't really convey what these tools do. So I like to call them "social media profile analytics tools."

Unlike listening tools, these tools crawl pre-defined social media profiles that you configure (e.g., @starbucks,

Data is organized and structured primarily around these social media profiles. These analytic tools are great for quantitative insights, such as growth of fan base, engagement level between users and the branded profile, types of content posted by brands or fans, and types of post that drive engagement or sharing. If I'm Starbucks, is Peet's fan base more engaged than mine? Do they tend to post more pictures, videos, or comments on their Facebook page? There is no shortage of competitive comparisons one can do. Here are 2 fun analyses I previously wrote about using one of these tools: most engaging auto luxury brand and can Facebook stats predict Super Bowl winner.

All this data can easily be analyzed longitudinally across time to identify trends within a profile (e.g., how has things changed quarter over quarter?) or across various competitive profiles (e.g., is our engagement rate higher than our competitor?). The main outputs are trend charts, frequency distributions, and rates/ratios.

Popular paid tools include Quintly and Socialbakers. There really is no free option here as all the historical data is not really archived anywhere on the open web, not even Google.


There are tools that are now becoming more popular that claim to do all of the above on one platform, such as Sprinklr. Some might say these suffer from being a "jack of all trades, master of none." But it really boils down to your social media marketing level of sophistication and analytic prowess. For some clients, they don't need to go deep in all 3 areas and that's ok. Others enjoy drinking from the fire hose.


All 3 tools and capabilities are important for major brands. In my experience, I find most clients are using a premium product for the Customer and Company parts, but not so much the Competition piece.

I think it's largely a product category awareness issue. Many brands and agencies I work with simply don't know Social Media Profile Analytics tools are available and insightful. And because of the way the data is structured, you really can't use the social listening tools to analyze things at the social media profile level.

So whether you sign up for the stand alone Social Media Profile Analytics tools or some of these newer "all-in-one" suites, it's critical for brands to keep an eye on the competition. Otherwise, you've only got 2 legs on your 3-legged stool, which means you'll just fall flat on your face.


Disclosure: I am an advisor to Quintly

Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Tie Online Search to Offline Sales

Here's a problem that has challenged me for years. You have a lead generation client with a robust paid search campaign. But sales conversion is offline and may have a long purchase consideration cycle. How do you track the impact of your SEM campaign? 

Sure you can use dynamic phone numbers on your landing page that tie to the SEM campaign. Or a lead gen form with a conversion pixel. But what if the prospect walks into a physical location to close the deal? Or returns from another campaign not tied to SEM and you may attribute to last click?

Wouldn't it be great if a lead walked in to your office, branch, or store and said, "Hi. I was searching last Tuesday at 9:54pm on Google and clicked on a paid search ad that took me to your site. Oh and by the way, I used this keyword and after learning about your company and product offering, I'm here today to buy."...Not going to happen! 

Well, I got close to this with a recent test I did for a large financial services client. Since actual sales conversion happens offline with a sales representative, we wanted to know if the prospect might have actually searched beforehand. 

The key was tying an offline record to an online cookie. We worked with a third-party "data onboarder" that specializes in matching offline customer data, say from a brand's CRM database or prospect list, to online cookies. This is typically done by matching name, physical address, and email address. Such online data can be captured when users make an online purchase on sites since this is always entered as a shipping address. Data onboarders will partner with many sites to build a large audience. 

Usually this technique is used to target banner ads to a brand's customer segments once users are onboarded and matched, as the matched cookies are pushed to an ad serving partner. 

But here is where I got a little creative with their technology. I developed a way to sync the cookies between our SEM campaign and the data onboarder's when a user clicked on our paid search ad. 

We were able to match a sample to our CRM database who indeed searched during our campaign. 

Here is some of the cool things we learned: 

  • % of users who searched and clicked to our site that ended up in an offline sale. While you can guesstimate this by taking total sales divided by total SEM clicks in a period, you can't really attribute all those sales to SEM. Also, while you can use dedicated SEM phone numbers or a lead gen form as mentioned above, those are tracking leads. This allows you to track and give credit to SEM higher up in the purchase funnel. 
  • Average and frequency distribution of the time from online search to offline sale. This is based on the timestamp of the SEM click and the date of sale in the CRM tool. From a histogram, we found that X% convert in Y days. While we previously knew the time from lead to sale, this again gave us a peek further upstream from search to sale.
  • What keywords drove sales, as it may not be the same as the clicks or lead converting keywords that you see in search engine reports that don't track offline sales well or at all. 
  • What client segments search and bought. Search is always an anonymous pull tactic. You can't really target search ads at someone like a banner ad. But we were able to learn a little bit more about them. While it is easy to see what segment a lead is after you acquire them, we were able to see what percent of each segment came to the site via SEM. Furthermore, we could see for each segment, what was the likelihood of SEM visitors becoming a sale. 
In the end, while it took a lot of work and ingenuity to set up, this campaign allowed us to see what kind of users SEM drove relative to our segments and what keywords drove more desirable segments to be acquired. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reese's: Innovator or Copycat?

For the past few months, I have noticed Reese's, famous originally for its tasty Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, has branched out to other product categories. But some bear an uncanny resemblance to other established products.

Exhibit A: Reese's Pieces - This has been out for a while and not new. But it was one of the first product extensions I remember. Don't these look like M&M's?

Exhibit B: Reese's Sticks - This is a wafer bar with chocolate and Reese's Peanut Butter. Kit Kat is a similar wafer biscuit bar with chocolate. And Reese's even has the exact same number of 3 wafers stacked with 2 layers of filling in between. (This reminds me of the Jeep vs. Hummer legal case on why Hummer had to have the same number of vertical slots on their front grill as Jeep.)

Exhibit C: Reese's Spreads - Boy, that plastic jar sure looks a lot like Nutella. Granted peanut butter is not the same as hazelnut, but the concept is the same. And the 2 are stacked side-by-side when I've seen it in store shelves. So, you bet Reese's is hoping to grab share from Nutella!

Exhibit D: Reese's Headphones - Then there are some brand licensing deals that just seem silly. Reese's headphones! Really? Yes, I did not Photoshop the image below. Google "reese's headphones" and you'll see I'm not joking. Who would buy this? Do they really love Reese's and music that much, that they would want to combine the two? Even if someone made Skittles-branded headphones, I doubt that even Seattle Seahawks runningback Marshawh Lynch would wear them!

But Reese's also got a taste of its own medicine with others copying them, such as Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups. At least Nestle made the effort to make their cups rounded square-shaped instead of a circle.

In the end, driven by the need to grow their brands, the Nestles, Hersheys, and Mars of the world can only come up with so many original innovative creations in their own kitchens and just can't help to notice the success of a competitor.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Shark Tank is the Best Show Ever!

I love the show Shark Tank, an Emmy-nominated TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their business to 5 self-made millionaires/billionaires, including Mark Cuban and Kevin O'Leary (a/k/a Mr. Wonderful). I like how it's like a Harvard case study on steroids, jammed into 15 minutes for each company pitch that makes me think about what I would do.

In fact, this show helps a lot with my advisor and mentor work that I do with start-ups, including Geek Camp. I pick up lots of good tips from the savvy sharks who quickly assess business models, cost per acquisition, go-to-market strategies, and, of course, reasonable valuations. So many entrepreneurs lose a chance for a deal on the show by over-valuing their businesses or offering as little as 5% equity, which won't excite any shark to get up in the morning.

When colleagues or clients have asked me how can they learn to be more strategic or how to evaluate businesses, I don't tell them to read Michael Porter. I point them to Shark Tank.

There's no voting people off islands, bachelorettes crying, people backpacking around the world, or celebrity backstabbings. Instead, what you will see and learn to love about the show is that it covers the 4 Ps' and the 3 C's in an entertaining format that shows the American dream is alive and kickin'.

For hopeful entrepreneurs, I've summarized what you should be prepared to answer from the sharks based on watching every episode over the years:

3 C's:
  • Company - How did you come up with the idea? What are your sales so far and in the past 12 months? How much have you invested? How long have you been doing this? 
  • Customer - Who is this for? What's your customer acquisition cost? What's the average order volume? What is the repeat purchase or reorder rate?
  • Competition - Who else is out there with a similar product? What's different about your product? Sometimes when Mr. Wonderful thinks a company is asking too much, he'll ask "What's to stop me from hiring a bunch of folks to knock off your product myself?"
4 P's:
  • Product - Do you have a product or a company? Do you have a patent? Sharks love patents! And Mr. Wonderful loves it when he can license those patents!
  • Pricing - What does it cost to make? How much is wholesale? How much is retail?
  • Placement - Where are you selling this now? What kind of distribution do you have? Often a shark has a strategic relationship that can be brought to bear and each shark has their own set of strengths. For example, the tech guys are Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec. Lori Greiner is the "Queen of QVC" and retail. Where are you selling this today? Have you tried calling the major distributors or retailers in your category? Warning: If you haven't done this or pounded the pavement, you will get a mouthful from the sharks that you are not hungry enough!
  • Promotion - How have you gotten the word out? Many say social media and Facebook. Some go to tradeshows.

Be forewarned - if you don't know your numbers, the sharks will take a huge bite out of you!

Over the years, there has been some awful and crazy ideas people have come up with:

Wake 'n' Bacon - This is a concept for a bacon-making alarm clock because the entrepreneur believed people loved waking up to the smell of bacon in the morning. Alas, the sharks thought it would be a fire hazard having an oven on the nightstand. Mark Cuban's closest thing to a compliment was "this is going to be a present for dad because it's so darn stupid."

Sullivan Generator - Seeking $1 million for a 10% equity stake, Mark Sullivan, an inventor of over 1000 products, claimed his generator could take salt water from the ocean to make electricity and one of the byproducts was gold ($96 billion worth apparently). Kevin O'Leary summarized it best when he asked "How long are you visiting us on Earth?"

On the other hand, Shark Tank recently had a company backed by sharks get acquired by a public company. GrooveBook was bought by Shutterfly for $14.5 million 11 months after making a deal with Mark Cuban and Kevin O'Leary.

Finally, what makes the sharks more than just VCs or angel investors, who can offer access to capital, strategic partnerships, and business connections, is the free PR from the show. Even those who walk away without a deal often times will see a huge spike in sales after appearing on Shark Tank. And even those who make an *ss of themselves on national television! To me, that means if you make a good product, people will buy it even if the founders are schmucks.

Catch it on Fridays at 9pm on ABC. It's a bad time slot so DVR it. It's well worth an hour of your time each week!


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Facebook Stats Predict Super Bowl XLIX Winner: PATRIOTS

With Super Bowl XLIX just around the corner, everyone is making predictions on who's going to win Sunday's big game. From using crystal balls to Kayak analyzing flight search volume data to Arizona, everybody has their own POV based on something or other.

As a data-driven digital strategist, I naturally turned to social media analytics. I looked at data from social media activity benchmarking company Quintly.

I compared the engagement on the Facebook profiles of the Super Bowl contenders from the past 3 years. I looked at the Interaction Rate from the Monday after the teams won the conference championship game to the Friday before the Super Bowl.

Quintly defines Interaction Rate as a combined index of the sum of Likes, Shares and Comments per a brand's own post, normalized by the total number of Fans:

The Facebook Interaction Rate of the last Friday has accurately predicted the winner of the last 2 Super Bowls. In Super Bowl 47, you can see the Ravens had a final surge of interaction and barely eeked out a win against the 49ers on Interaction Rate, as well as on the field, winning the Super Bowl, 34-31.

Ravens beat 49ers on Interaction on the last Friday and SB 47

Last year, the Interaction Rates of both teams were quite sporadic,with the Seahawks ahead by a large margin in the end. And in the big game, Seattle also beat Denver, 43-8.

Seahawks overtake Broncos

Looking at this year's data, while there's been lots of chatter about the Patriots the past week, most of it is over Deflate-Gate. So not really positive mojo. In fact, while Seattle's Interaction Rate doesn't change much, it appears the Patriots' sees a spike the last 2 days. This means the Patriots will likely win Super Bowl XLIX tomorrow.

Patriots Interaction Rate deflates but surges in the end

Enjoy the game, folks!

Disclosure: I am an advisor to Quintly.