Brilliant Marketing Gets Born When You “Become a Unicorn In a Balloon Factory”

How was your week? Really? Did you happen to create what you planned? Did you manage to create the reality you want? Or was it “just fine”? Or did you happen to hold tight to the status quo you worked for years and the work that you have done? Do you spend more time defending your projects versus creating them? If so, think again.

Creativity is an ultimate aphrodisiac of life. It is an ultimate catalyst for success in what you do. You know it. You experienced it before. Remember the time when you took over that pet project of yours that you grew faith for? Remember how fun it was to spend hours to make it happen? Remember the tribe of followers you created once the project got materialized more and more into something beautiful? You felt like an artist and you loved every minute of it?

Oddly enough, this very “seem-to-be-general” idea of finding happiness in what you do is also explored by Seth Godin in his new book “Tribes“. What I did not expect to see in the new book of a marketing genius of our times – such a simple, but yet, very prominent thought – “Create your own reality, take initiative and make things happen the way you see them, and success will follow”.

I grabbed the book with an expectation to brush up on the next “hot” marketing techniques and to my utter surprise, I find the similar idea that has been feeding my curiosity over the possibilities of life over the past few months. Seth points out that brilliant marketing happens when you lead, not just manage. I loved that!

In other words, if you ever felt like “a unicorn in a balloon factory“, or you feel like one today – in your organization – you might have opportunities for something spectacular to produce! Go and dare to make it happen! Do not ask for permission, take charge and show us what you can! We are all looking forward to your new masterpiece!

All You Need to Know About Selling Online Today from Top 100 Online Retailers

If you sell online or think of doing it, the first question you might have: “What are the best of online retailers do?”. Scouting the web for a few hours might bring you great insights. You will even save a number of favorites. Sounds a bit tedious? But, guess what – there is already a good source publication that did a comprehensive analysis for people like you and me. You will learn all you need to know about selling online today from the top 100 sites of 2009 and apply ideas shared for your site.

The recent article by Internet Retailer on America’s Best Retail Web Sites (Hot 100), provides wells of useful information for online retailers that delight its customers and sell more, segmented by the industry (apparel and accessories, books/film/music, computer/electronics, flowers/gifts/jewelry, food/drug, housewares and home, mass merchants, specialty and sporting goods). It is worthwhile to both study the article and visit those sites if you want to increase your conversions. No doubt that not all strategies shared might work for you and your customers, but at least this list will spike up your creativity.

The first four (4) strategies common for all 100 are as follows:

1) Create your own
Customization, or to be precise, personalization is well-received by the audience and goes beyond creating mini sites. You would say – well, who has the time to play with the site all day long? There are shoppers that love doing it, and there are ones that use those customized reviews or pages for their own needs. As an example, Spanish – speaking users of BestBuys.com, notably bring the printouts of other customers’ reviews to the store to make a purchase. TheKnot.com makes the whole bridal experience unique and self-well-planned!

2) Consumers have their say
Of course, social networks rule these days. “You tell me where you got that. As I want it …and I will tell a bunch of my friends and some. I might as well share about it on my Facebook or create a fan group”. People love sharing their purchase and brand preferences as well as bad customer experiences! People love extending their personality through the products they consume daily to connect more to the rest of the social circle! Use this opportunity with caution – by simply letting your customers do that – add “Share This” application on your pages – and the trick will happen! People want to know the opinions of their social network when it comes to buyer behavior. They love bragging about the best deal! Make the word-of-mouth easy for them! Reward them for the evangelism! Example – Popcuts.com, rewards its customers that buy early the tunes that become hits.

3) Beyond the site
Make the purchase feasible beyond your site – via text or other widget! American Eagles capitalizes well on the teenage seem-to-be-only-way-of-communication texting. Again, Facebook widgets and applications, YouTube widgets – all help to drive the magic of human capital. Capitalize on blogs – see what people are saying and deliver suggestions. They might outweigh all your PR efforts! Install live chats and instant-representative-call! See what happens.

4) The personal touch
This is my favorite: Borders.com allows its employees review new book arrivals and utilize their own expertise to share those. Skis.com posts videos of its employees trying on various merchandise and commenting on the experience! Imagine the possibilities! You can not only document the customer service value that your employees provide, you turn it into a personalized library and marketing material! Plus, both employees and customers enjoy it! Work and marketing benefit in-one.

The other best practices include:
a) Address a niche customer, make the design speak to a very particular audience, not all customers you can imagine. If you need, create a number of variants – you will sell more and return your web development costs very fast. “Serve your target, but serve it well!”

b) Simple is chic, and it does brings a buck. Make your audience online shopping experience easy from getting the need and desire to fulfillment. Make returns free and time-manageable, or to be correct time-feasible (45 days vs. 2 weeks). Simulate the try-on/usage experience – get the need started, visualized. Make it easy to share, save and review. Moreover, strive for a one click buy!

c) “Got 2 have it”, applies text messaging templates with merchandise codes for your customers (especially teenage or heavy users’ “tribe”). Influence the buyer behavior! Smart!

d) Visually rich, implies presenting your products in various formats, catering to diverse and ever-changing shopping experience a user might have. Use category menu, simulated try-ons, mix and match suggestions based on the browsing history. Brilliant! “Today, I know what I want and I go straight to the skirts section, tomorrow….I am just browsing and you might sell ideas if you help me see them!”

e) Use inspiring real-life imagery (related to the product, of course) to support the buying intent. Athleta did that well while illustrating that fashion and fitness go well together. Instead of using stunning models in exotic backgrounds, they used real-life women! Dah! Talking about the basics of personas and the benefits of good quality UI!

f) Connecting every day, allows you fortify relationships with your customers, keep them involved about new arrivals and deals! Do not forget to make it very personal, tailoring to their needs based on the purchase history. They left without a purchase since they had not found what they wanted! Alert them when the appropriate product arrives, win them back.

g) Online video demos go YouTube and all, provides you with an opportunity to make your audience watch it. Ok, you would argue – “But I will lose my traffic, I only want people come to my site!” Well, by loosening up controls, you can scoop more traffic from the most trafficked sites. This is what Roxy did, a site for women surfers – a niche, so underserved and unknown. By posting a video on YouTube, their site got 500,000 extra views in 48 hours.

h) Got a complex product? Educate your customers with free articles, dictionary references, and make it even customizable by expertise level (easy, hard and harder). See what Scholastic.com did! Take the stress out of buying and provide all-you-need-to-know-about-product content!

i) Power up your site search! Make it user-friendly! Try to use the same basics you use to bring traffic by your search campaigns, foresee search terms for your users – capitalize on our basic instinct to use a search bar! Dah! Moreover, segment the search outcome by low/high end options. Or segment your inventory at the minimum.

j) Speak the language of your customers, namely use the terms and “corky” copy to connect to their hearts and wallets. ThinkGeek.com did just that and made $33 million easily in 10 years.

k) Share your brand logos with your beloved customers to create personalized calendars, photos and greeting cards! That’s where your legal counsel might “irk”! But wait, remember when was the last time you really wanted to have your face on a T-shirt with your favorite “blank” product? See what MyMMs.com did.

l) Take a new look on navigation. Innovation does pay off and Overstock.com illustrates it well with its efficient site navigation. They synthesized online browsing and search experience! This is so breakthrough. If you have web design budget – replicate this valuable find within the next 6 months.

To learn more, you DO need to read the whole article! It will power your idea pool and make your online shopping experience so delightful as it did for me!

Top 3 Questions to Ask to Identify if Your Product or Business Idea is a Winner.

When the time comes to evaluate your business or product idea, with all the tools provided and research available, there is plenty infomation to make an assessment. Alternatively, it all comes to the bottom “3 questions”, according to Graig Stull et al, the authors of recently released product management masterpiece, TunedIn: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs.

1) Is the problem urgent?
Make sure your business addresses a real “burning”,hot need, which can be exemplified via incurring significant costs, losing value of time and money. The book talks about the ticket resale market, StubHub – where the urgency is very visible.
2) Is it pervasive in the market?
Size matters, especially when it comes to your potential market. If the problem you solve is common and can be found in a number of scenarios or buyer personas – go for it.
3) Are buyers willing to pay to have this problem solved?
This is the key: if your potential customers are not willing to part with their cash for your service, why bother? Check all alternatives that compete with your solution and test its “marketability”. The good news is: if the urgency relates to monetary costs, your chances of charging “what-market-can-bear” grow significantly.

Ask these top 3 questions, run this “pick-the-winner” acid test, when you think about your product!

“Advertising Does Not Work”…Yes, It Does. If It Is Relevant.

Advertising is as old as human beings. In very simple terms, it is a form of communication to consume a product, that is available in abundance in possession by the selling party. When ads are done right, they do work and make a sale. However, the complexity of measuring advertising effectiveness brought this notion – “Ads do not work”. Perhaps, do not work for you (as an individual) or at this time (you are not considering this purchase). But, generally speaking when ads done right – they are still effective and they work – even in our noisy and information “overflown” world.

One of the key requirements for the ads to work is their relevance to the target audience. The potential buyer should be able to relate to the message and situation communicated by the ad. Just getting the attention by loud music, wild colors and odd situations or unrelated juxtaposition can help to break through the clutter. The question is – will it sell the product? Will it place the check mark into the consideration set of the consumer to take the next step? Most of the time, it will not. Relevance is important, as we need shortcuts to make decisions and being placed in the situation when the needs arise, works best to trigger our response.

My top favorites for the last two months are the following TV ads, that simply illustrate the ad relevance factor, in addition to the usage of humor and methaphor:
1) Ladders.com Campaign “When You Let Everyone Play…Nobody Wins.”
Every job seeker can relate to this experience of looking for jobs at major online sites. Tennis metaphor makes it even more vivid and helps to visualize the emotions and confusion every job seeker experienced in the process of online job search.



2)
Axe Deodorant Campaign “Axe Dark Temptation: Chocolate Man”.
This ad mixes two perceptual worlds – male and female. Though, focused on men’s desire to be “desired”, this ad adds love for chocolate that all women can relate to! What an appetizing hybrid!

3) Campbell Soup Campaign “Dragging Yourself to Eat Low Sodium Soup”.
This ad mixes the contemporary lifestyle choice to eat less salt with the “not-so-psyched- attitude” we have when we think of any low sodium food choice. This emotional conflict and “that feeling” we oblige to follow the “healthy choice” very well depicted in the dragging motion. Funny too!

So, make your ads relevant. Referencing the meaning of the word “relevance” in Webster, can be a good start: “the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user’!

Want to Start Your Own Business? Launch a New Service or Product? Find Unresolved Problems and Get Ahead.

Thinking of starting your own business? Launching a new service or product? Become an anthropologist and start observing people using existing products and services. By single virtue of watching people do things, you are empowered to discover unmet needs – your business opportunities.

The so-called “unmet needs” exist in two variations: expressed and silent. The former are easy to spot as users of a product under surveillance would state their issues and difficulties. The latter are more challenging to discover: users cannot articulate those. This is where you start observing and journalizing your “show”. And it goes without saying that you must observe the user in their normal state of consumption. Perhaps, it is worthwhile not to mention what you are doing and play a secret agent role for a while. Then, try to practice a curious child role, when you constantly ask “Why?” and “Show Me How You Do It Again”.

Keeping a list of ideas that enter your mind at various points during the day and night is also a valuable practice. This list can cover challenging, time-consuming or pleasant experiences you notice about your users under the observation. Ultimately, your new product or service will either solve some pain or deliver a pleasant experience to make it in the market. Think about ways of completely eliminating the pain and extending the pleasure. Write down the words your users utter at moments of consumption and times it takes to fulfill the need or want.

Expanding your vision beyond the current users can bear fruits to new applications of the existing product or service or new markets. Journalize the alternative use (not the primary function) of the product or service and you will have another source of ideas for business opportunities.

Finally, while you are immersing yourself into this ongoing observing activity, spice it up with creative getaways, fun experiences and “timed reflection sessions”. Focus on keeping your thought process on the observed event and become a user for a while. Or try to think about it while you are doing something exciting that drives your emotions to blend with the thoughts. Remind yourself to escape into “thinking about this point” sessions when you are “stuck” on a plane or driving long distance. And, when you find the unmet need, start writing down, yes “writing down” the next steps to make it happen.

P.S. Added 3 days later: A good article from Entrepreneour.com provides a few ideas on everlasting businesses that “market to the 7 deadly sins“. Those businesses lust no matter what (economy, technology, evolution): the skills for having power over people, aphrodisiac food, wine, connoisseur experiences, and on-demand personal assistant to pick up/clean up your slack! Dah!

Good Marketing Leads to Profit. Skip it and You Are Stuck with Loss.

Marketing, as a business activity or profession, has a bad reputation. Most people think that anyone can do marketing and there is no need for professional training. From my personal experience in large and small companies, there are dozens of people who think they are good marketers. But, alas, they are not. Like in any industry, there is a certain percentage of people whose work is effective and worthwhile emulating. The rest are poor examples or attempts to mock something like it (“marketing”) in haste.

If we think of the best practices, successful product launches would illustrate the idea behind the quality of good marketing. It goes without saying that a product should be of value to the customers too, but its benefits must be communicated and marketed aggressively to succeed. The best products will not sell themselves, but a strong marketing effort, a well-targeted approach and efficient after-sales service will do the magic. This is where marketing planning comes into play: well-integrated, properly-targeted, proficiently-resourced and well-executed.

So, what is good quality marketing?

The top four qualities include:
1. Good marketing starts with a development of a marketing plan as an integral part of the new project or product process.

2. Good marketing means planning early and properly, identifying all the potential risks and opportunities before the execution of a campaign or a start of product development. Design cannot be started before its requirements are established, the target market is identified and positioning strategy is finalized.

3. Good marketing is only possible if you define its objectives clearly and early before execution. What do you want to achieve with your efforts? How does success look like? How are you going to track it? Measure, measure and measure your marketing to bring profitable results.

4. Good marketing is only as good as the market intelligence you have access to. You need that crucial information to build your game plan. Skipping on it – is going to cost you.

According to the studies by Robert Cooper, as listed in his book “Winning at New Products”, one of the persistent themes when it comes to problems and pitfalls of products that fail – is “that many marketing activities are seriously deficient….Many key activities are simply left out altogether”, especially the commonly critical ones like market research studies, trial sells, detailed business and financial analysis. Lack of market information remains the number one cause of product failures! Another trend showcases that marketing spend is only justified at the end (launch stage), when the product is designed. But this is where you are wasting the dollars if your assumptions are subjective and not supported by good marketing. This is where pieces of bad reputation are assigned to marketing as a discipline.

Learn on the mistakes other people made, do your homework first! Do your marketing planning first and you will reap profits from every dollar you spend.

Creative Brand Awareness Campaign for a Good Product

When an existing product is revived by a new use case – miracles happen! Tide-To-Go exemplifies a stellar product already – it cleans the spots when you need it – right at the moment when they happen.  The product has been in the market for approximately two years if not more (according to my own discovery of it in 2006). However, it is only now that its powerful benefit will be known to the masses!

The new campaign – “Silence the Stain” illustrates good quality, creative marketing. It surely brings the product benefits to life in a humorous yet persuasive manner: a dirty spot becomes so distractive as it almost comes to life.  Brilliant theme and consistent messaging of this campaign are the standards to adopt while practicing the power of marketing! Check the ads for yourself and see which one speaks to you. My favorite – is the job interview clip.

Silence the Stain – Job Interview

Or the the marriage proposal:

or the date:

next one is a stop by police:

Managing Mature Products – Revitalization Strategies

The other night, I saw an ad from Kraft Foods on a “new” cereal – just bunches! Though, not a consumer of this tasty meal, the ad story got my attention immediately. What stroke me – is the way the plot unfolds in the ad – it does depict a process when adding a new value can revive an existing product or come up with an extension. All you do is magnify one feature or functionality (like increasing a TV screen produced a market for home theaters), or eliminate a feature (like with the above mentioned Honey Bunch Oats, no flakes – just bunches).

There are three core strategies that can  be examined in the market to demonstrate revitalization:

1. Adding a new value – usually this is the way to look for creative opportunities to redefine the product. Sony executed this strategy when it created the Walkman, while it replaced speakers with a headset. The minivan combined the benefits of a station wagon and a van. In can even go way further into creating a hybrid from two products that are so unrelated, but when merged create a “new” niche product.  Michael Gibbert and David Mazursky call those category revolutions or “cross-breeds” in their article on combining two categories to come up with new products.

2. Repositioning – involves creating a new competitive position in the minds of the consumers.  Many a times, it can be classified as a bit controversial or far-fetched from the status quo.  Examples include utilizing some social trend in a reverse manner – with a wireless technology being built in various products – some coffee shops or service establishments chose to create a demand for anti-technology while jamming some sections of their establishments to provide cell free and wireless free zones for its customers. Or like the mentioned Ikea store experience, where no sales assistance store experience is accepted by customers in lieu of other benefits (specific ambiance, cafe, etc).

3. Extending the base – implies increasing the adoption rate, usage rate or entering new markets. To figure its feasibility, product managers would profile the customers that tend to buy more than average or consume more than average and find out what causes them to do that.  Another way to do so is to find unusual customers or product usage patterns that lead to defining new segments.  Example of this approach is Superior Clay Corporation that reacted to its clay sewer pipes being replaceed by plastic.  It did discover a new niche for decorative chimney pots and fireplace flue liners.

Whatever strategy one might apply, sometimes killing a product could be the best solution. Thus, it is critical to assess its performance, demand and potential costs before exercising any of the above-illustrated options!

Online Video Ads – What Are They? Types?

Online videos became standard in our everyday life. How many times a week does an average or avid internet user check YouTube or Hulu to listen to that new inspiring song or watch that episode of Simpsons? Perhaps, quite often and video ads become a hotter advertising vehicle. So what are different types of video ads that exist today that we can pick through?

Googling the term brought a very good article by Max Bloom from streamingmedia.com where he shares a glossary of video ads, which is very comprehensive and definitely is worth reciting or even placing on wikipedia for all of us to refer back to.

  • Companion ad – a banner ad that displays related content concurrently with a video ad” – companion ad are targeted based on the overall site content where the video unit is embedded. It can be priced as keyword targeted ad if it is targeted that way or opted in to the content network, thus CPC will serve as a unit price metric. Or it can be priced as placement targeted and charged per CPM.
  • Cursor  chase – ads that chase after the viewer’s cursor as it glides across the screen. These ads leap from a fixed ad and follow the viewer’s cursor arrow for a present duration and can be disabled by the viewer at any time.” – Cursor ads are good for branding as they immerse the user into play, thus creating an interactive brand experience.  Advertisers can measure its performance by assessing ad display and interaction time, chase time and number of closes.
  • “Expanding ad – expands in size and direction upon user interaction. ” Advertisers can offer more interactivity and information into this unit while also eliminating the “annoyance factor” since the user chooses to see more if he/she is engaged. Talking about the user control! One can track expanding ad interaction and display time, number of user expansions and contractions, interaction within the expanded portion, manual closes and conversions!
  • Floating ad – moves across the user’s screen or floats above the content.” Usually, they are good at grabbing attention with motion and copy impact. Creatives have flexibility while choosing size and shape of the ad. Audience interaction metrics include: clicks on floating ad and reminder, floating replays, reminder display and interaction time, manual floating and reminder closes.
  • Floating with in-page – when a floating ad is finished playing, it leaves behind a smaller floating ad. Viewers can replay the ad, interact, or click-through, even after the initial ad has played.” The benefits are the same as for the floating ad, plus the heightened audience recall provided by the in-page unit.
  • Free-form expanding – features multiple floating elements placed anywhere on the page that expand like an expanding when viewers interact with them. ” This type has the main benefit of the expanding ad – total user/viewer control.
  • In-page ads – appear on a web page, outside of the video player or window.” These ads are very familiar TV-style, full motion, full screen and sound adverts that appear in between the ‘white space’ of the web content.  One can measure ad display and interaction time and identify multiple exit links.
  • In-stream ads -pre-, mid-, or postroll videos that appear in the video player or window. In-stream banners (also known as tickers, bugs or overlays)- often transparent and appear on the top of the video in the player. Commonly appear in the lower third of the video window. ” In- stream advertising is the most expensive online ad format since it is shown to the captive audience that cannot click away from it unless it chooses not to view the requested content. At the same time, it is so much cheaper to produce in-stream online video ads than TV, thus it makes this format so enticing.  Regardless of no control issue from the viewer perspective, advertisers can still optimize in-stream ads through its rich media interactive options that are not existent in TV. Thus, click-throughs can be increased if advertisers create a dialog with the viewer through interactive features.
  • Interactive video - includes polls, games, or other interactive options in the video ad”. That what I meant in the item above!
  • “Interstitial - advertising placed in between the origin website and the destination website, either physically or in time.” They are quite as effective as banner ads when it comes to recall of the advertising message with click-throughs five times outperforming banners, but they are also twice as irritating! Talking about interruption marketing!
  • Locked floating – floating ad “locks” into place on the page and will not move as the user scrolls through the content. Keeps advertiser’s message visible throughout the page view.” The same benefits and audience interaction metrics as for floating, minus user control.
  • Peel down- reveals a glimpse of your ad in a corner of a webpage, which peels down upon user interaction.” This format stimulates the user to play with the content and can actually complement other ad formats for broader awareness and impact.  Advertisers can measure ad display and interaction time, number of peel-downs and closes, and ad interaction time within the peeled down area.
  • Player skin – ad graphics that surround a video screen.” Could be a great area to enhance your messaging if you think creatively.
  • Polite ad – large ad downloaded in smaller pieces to minimize the disruption of the content being viewed.” If all the formats were developed from the user experience perspective!
  • Pre-expanding – viewer first sees the ad in its “expanded” state, and then it retracts automatically to its standard size”.
  • Pushdown – expanding ad that “pushes down” rather than covers the content of the page when the ad expands.”
  • Roadblock – provides advertisers with complete share of ad space by synchronizing any number of display or rich media ads with the video creative.”
  • Self-initiated video ad – plays automatically on a page, or when rolled over by a mouse.”
  • Shadow ad – additional ad that shows directly below the video only when it is playing. “
  • “Tabbed expanding ad – presents a range of relevant information into a series of tabbed panels. Each panel can feature video, dynamic data or content. ” This type allows advertisers utilize best elements of their site into the creative, provides extensive space for messaging and interaction, and makes user/viewer experience controllable.
  • Teaser, or bumper – short video that appears before a full-length video or when a player loads.” These ads were very popular in early days due to its high click-through rates, but what was really going on – is viewers’ disappointment when clicking on seemingly unbranded clip and seeing an ad for some ordinary service of a well-known advertiser.  The surprise was not as pleasant as it seemed. Or, if you do plan to use it, make sure you follow up with the clues campaign and consistent punch line.
  • Telescoping – lets users learn more about a product by displaying a long-term version of the video ad at the user’s request. “
  • “Video ad curtain – gives the advertiser complete coverage of the player area with a rich media ad that expands while a video plays.”
  • Wallpaper ad – ad that changes the background of the page being viewed.”

Finally, the world of video ads made clear! Now, what would be more exciting is to look at the reporting advertisers get on the performance of those ads! Perhaps,  a topic for a next post!

Use Demographic Segmentation Tools Not Only For Marketing

People always fascinate me: different lifestyles, different backgrounds, different races and different behaviors. I never get tired of observing more and more about what drives them, what makes them engage in certain activities and what happens afterwards once “the pot gets stirred” skillfully by social trends or sometimes by actions of fellow-marketers.  Simultaneously, this entire process serves my own purpose as a consumer of the environment I want to be in. What I find myself doing is segmenting the “market” of a social event or a city to see what experiences I can have as a consumer of a social interaction. Perhaps, all of us do that. And yes, nothing beats the hands-on approach of going into the “field” and actually experiencing all the combinations in that or this zip code yourself.  But, as they say, being forearmed is half the victory.

So, while thinking about potential move to a bigger city like San Francisco, Chicago or New York (with all the benefits we already know), I find it useful to utilize PRIZM or other demographic segmentation tools to see the degree of how those cities can be attractive to me based on the social crowd.  And it might not be the news as we all have learned about the stereotypes, and some, are, granted valid in describing what to expect, I still believe it pays extra to dissect the population into more statistically accurate attributes. By doing this, you can predict the quality of your social life, professional success and other experiences based on the patterns discovered. As consumers, at least here in the states, we became very sophisticated and educated at what we want, like, dislike and how it should be served. Sometimes, this thought scares me when I feel like I have to look for niche-services already since I know what works well.  Sometimes, I wish I were as open as a child – when simpler choices were of existence.

Going back to the segmentation tools, as an example, I wanted to first validate the accuracy of experiences I had in Seattle and only then quick-check the potential Chicago can provide. I also wish that US. Census got more up-to-date and more detailed reports, as most of the information is based on 2000 reports – Hello?! It has been almost a decade and people moved, changed in proportion due to natural causes considerably since then.  Thank God, we have commercial software that can solve those problems and allow us see the light or to be precise the stripes on the map.  What if you do not have access to this information through those tools? Again, US Census or city-data.com site can provide you with rough but workable ideas on the demographics (alongside some extra ads).  Example, for Bellevue showcases graphs on gender distribution, age, income and housing situation and I must say it is very close to accurate even if the site uses 2000 census data and 2005 projections. 

But, what I found most exciting is the information on foreign-born residents (remember, one of the attributes of the social mix I was looking for?), it provides a neat chart as well! It describes the following distribution of nationalities (hence potential social interactions flavored by cultural attributes): 

  • Mexico (13%)
  • India (10%)
  • China, excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (7%)
  • Vietnam (5%)
  • Korea (5%)
  • Russia (5%)
  • Ukraine (4%)

Information like that can provide me with insights on how diverse the locality is and will the mix be appealing to my social taste?

Digging deeper, there is always PRIZM, a tool that can share the details on lifestyle preferences.  According to the report on my zip code, the groups are: 44% New Beginnings, 22% Young Influentials, 21% Gray Power, 19% Home Sweet Home and 8 % Executive Suites.   If we take Young Influentials into consideration, the tools describes the segment as ” Midscale, Younger without Kids yuppies that reflect the fading glow of acquisitive yuppiedom.  Today, the segment is a common address for younger, middle-class singles and couples who are more preoccupied with balancing work and leisure pursuits. Having recently left college dorms, they now live in apartment complexes surrounded by ball fields, health clubs and casual-dining restaurants. ” It also goes into the details of: median income ($47,976), lifestyle traits (plays racquetball, drives mazda 3), demographics traits (suburban crowd, midscale income, age < 35, mostly renters without kids, college graduates, mix of ethnic groups). Very neat tool! You can definitely learn much about your audience! How about a Lifestage group? “Young, hip singles are the prime residents of Young Achievers, a lifestage group of twentysomethings who’ve recently settled in metro neighborhoods. Their incomes range from working-class to well-to-do, but most residents are still renting apartments in cities or close-in suburbs. These seven segments contain a high percentage of Asian singles, and there’s a decidedly progressive sensibility in their tastes as reflected in the group’s liberal politics, alternative music and lively nightlife. Mainstream Singles segments are twice as likely as the general population to include college students living in group quarters.”  Each segment shares this level of granularity. Now, knowing all that does make a difference while making a decision where to live, work and play!

Too much information? If all that is too overwhelming, you can always turn to wikipidea that will outlay lightly some of the basics!  

 
 

What Do Product Marketers Do?


The definition for Product Marketing seems to be quite different, when one tries to draw the scope of roles and responsibilities. In some companies, it a very strategic multi-dimensional position, in some it is shared by a number of people.  There are functional overlaps with Product Management, there are functional overlaps with Market Research. So pondering on the scope of work or some sort of viable range of activities, I plunged on the journey to define the role myself. Why is that relevant on this blog? Because knowing the difference can actually redeem the value to the type of work Product Marketers do and  clarify the myths and misconceptions.

To start, I turned to wikipedia’s definition: “Product marketing frequently differs from product management in high-tech companies. Whereas the product manager is required to take a product’s requirements from the sales and marketing personnel and create a product requirements document (PRD),[2] which will be used by the engineering team to build the product, the product marketing manager can be engaged in the task of creating a marketing requirements document (MRD), which is used as source for the product management to develop the PRD. In other companies the product manager creates both the MRDs and the PRDs, while the product marketing manager does outbound tasks like giving product demonstrations in trade shows, creating marketing collateral like hot-sheets, beat-sheets, cheat sheets, data sheets, and white papers. This requires the product marketing manager to be skilled not only in competitor analysis, market research, and technical writing, but also in more business oriented activities like conducting ROI and NPV analyses on technology investments, strategizing how the decision criteria of the prospects or customers can be changed so that they buy the company’s product vis-a-vis the competitor’s product, etc..

In smaller high-tech firms or start-ups, product marketing and product management functions can be blurred, and both tasks may be borne by one individual. However, as the company grows someone needs to focus on creating good requirements documents for the engineering team, whereas someone else needs to focus on how to analyze the market, influence the “analysts”, press, etc. When such clear demarcation becomes visible, the former falls under the domain of product management, and the latter, under product marketing.

In other words, Product Marketer is a hybrid between Product Management and Marketing Communications? It also appears, that Product Marketers will pick up from the first “P” in charge (Product Manager) the developed product and translate its functionality and usage patterns for the communications specialists. They will also match back the functionality against the competitive products and validate the value with the customers that they chose and identified. In short, Product Marketers will take the product message and bring it to channels by working with communications and sales. Still blurry if described in words.

To my luck, I stumbled upon a new post on Steve Johnson’s blog, where he shared a new ebook that clearly defines functional lines between Product Management and Product Marketing.  But what I liked the most is the functional org chart he shared in the ebook where the roles not only well-defined, but also shown as a team with dependencies based on qualifications and expertise.  As an example, according to this ebook: “The Product Marketing Manager – (PMM) provides product line support for program strategy, sales readiness and channel support. This position requires close interaction with Marketing Communications and Sales Management.  Strong communication skills are a must.  Duties include converting positioning into key market messages and launching the products into market. The PMM owns:
- Defining buyer personas and determining market messages
– Maintaining product launch plans
– Identifying best opportunities in lead generation
– Creating standard presentations and demo scripts
– Writing white papers and technical communications
– Facilitating direct sales and channel training
– Supporting trade shows and other company-sponsored events
– Limited online channel support and phone assistance
 

The author also brings into the picture Technology Product Manager as another functional hybrid. 

 In conclusion, both sources (wikipedia and Pragmatic Marketing ebook) and even Geoff Moore referenced in the latter agree on the external focus of Product Marketer, who “usually talks to the market”, while Product Manager “listens to the market”.  The role is well-defined!  

 

Search marketing, where it is going, the old, the new and the basics

Attending SMX West this week brought quite a number of enlightening experiences: opportunities to get feedback from customers, catching up with people in the industry, learning something new and building new connections.  The ability to reach out and connect to people within the same industry is priceless -as it opens up new doors into sometimes, – surprising interests. 

From the attendee perspective, my favorite session was “The Economics of Search” – where all presenters shared solid expertise and insights on how the search engines business is being progressing and what economic fundamentals apply to make search marketers (advertisers and publishers) more successful. 

Michael Schwarz from Yahoo! Research shared his fundamentals – that he believes hold true:

A) in order to be successful as a search engine, there should be no tradeoffs between revenue and satisfying users and advertisers  

B) in order to be successful as an advertiser, one should be able to discriminate well between the values of search and display ads:

  • Search is for direct revenue and display ads for branding
  • Search is about current intent and display is about demographics
  • Search is spot market, display contracts
  • Search is more mature and available for small advertisers as rates start from 5 cents, display is older and very expensive, but holds opportunities when technology will make it more cost effective and audience effective (better targeting)

Hal Varian, Chief Economist from Google shared his advice on estimating the value of the click from the marginal cost perspective in order to make economic sense in the bidding race.  An advertiser’s profit directly depends on the value of the click, its number and cost. At the same time, what matters most is the marginal cost for every additional click you buy. If you do a simple formula that distributes those values, you will be able to actually see what makes sense -since all three variables will be depicted “in action”.  Also, on average, incremental cost per click (ICC) is always at least 15-20 % higher than a CPC (cost per click)  – thus it makes a difference to pay attention to it to win the bidding game.

Peter Coles, Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School revealed his predictions on mobile search growth – even with 1 search per mobile device per month in 2010 means you could generate $2.3 billion in mobile search revenue worldwide. 10 monthly searches means mobile search will be greater than PC search. 

Thinking of search marketing in the above mentioned terms – from the economics standpoint – makes it so exciting! See more excitement on the similar impressions at SEOmoz blog.

What Are The Benchmarks for Conversion Rates?

Pondering upon the conversion rate made me wonder what the standard, normal conversion rates for various types of sites could be.  If I am entering online retail business, what should I strive for or measure against when I launch my site?

According to MarketingSherpa’s Ecommerce Benchmark Guide 2007, the average conversion rate on top tier search sites 2006 & 2007 was 4.3% for both years. In 2006, high end of normal range was 10%, most common rate was 2.5 % and low end of normal range was 1.0%.  In 2007, the average rate remained the same (4.3%), but the high end rose up to 12%, thus driving the mode (most common rate) to 3% and leaving the low end the same (1%). So, it is not 50% or 70% that we should expect seeing from online marketing and if we reach 12% – we are the winners! It make sense if we simply look at the formula for conversion rate (total number of outcomes (leads, orders) divided by the total number of unique users), with the former number being significantly lower than the latter.  Of course, these standards apply only to e-commerce sites, which assume purchases as a result of conversion.  Lead generation and content sites might enjoy higher rates since all they track would be of somewhat easier visitor engagement behavior (filling out the registration form, signing up for a newsletter, requesting more information or providing comments and viewing the content).

So what could you do to drive and truly impact your conversion rates? To do so, it is worthwhile to look at the conversion data on all acquisition channels that you employ (email, banners, SEM and organic traffic) separately and summarized.  Once you go through this exercise, it is easier to see where to invest to drive the right traffic to your online store and eventually see those rates go up!

Targeting Methods in Online Advertising

Selecting the right audience is the key driving factor in online advertising – your marketing campaigns’ performance depends on it almost 90 percent. With numerous tracking systems for monitoring users behaviors online, their ways to interact, their purchase habits, there are a number of targeting variables available to modern marketers. What is a well-targeted advertising? It is more relevant, compelling and subtle. What are the tools we have these days? According to the Advertising Research Foundation in its latest publication titled as The Online Advertising Playbook , there 7 highly usable methods:

Demographic Targeting – the old and familiar approach that defines audiences by gender, age, occupation, household size. It will always be there due to its advantages for broader product categories. It is easy to project behavior for such products based on demographic information and it costs less than tracking individual purchase behavior. More on the tips for successful demographic targeting, read the article on iMedia Connection.

Contextual Targeting – implies placing ads on sites that are related in content to the products, as an example: diet programs ads show up on healthy living related sites, financial products ads are displayed on money and investment sites. Contextual placements catch shoppers at the time when they are thinking about the product or related to it issues, catch up on news or read up on tips.  Due to the fact that shoppers (potential and actual) are caught in the active state – it becomes quite important to select quality sites, with relevant and most popular content to make your campaigns perform.  Site credibility is also important for the product especially when sales occur offline. Thus, it is a key consideration for your branding efforts.  Also, if you are tasked with building a community around your product, having a group of high regarded sites extends your influence further with the already highly engaged audience.  More on the contextual targeting, check this blog post that cites the research study on its effectiveness.

Behavioral Targeting – is the hottest method these days and the most controversial, allows marketers to track users’ site “hopping” through the cookies and come up with models and behavioral patterns for targeting those users later on those sites. Advertisers use these models to serve ads that are relevant to those “mapped” individuals across the various sites. It could be cheaper to do behavioral targeting than a contextual one: you have more points to reach the same audience. At the same time, it has its pitfalls and Jack Jia covers them well in his recent article.

Geographic Targeting – is especially powerful for smaller businesses that would like to capitalize on the local searches for products and services. DMA areas, area codes, time zones, GPS coordinates and IP protocols provide some geo targeting capability and allow marketers maximize the reach.  In addition, it can always bring additional sales to the brick-and-mortar store if you send your shoppers to the nearest location to pick up the purchase. More on the ways you can leverage geo information, read this blog post by Charles Thrasher.

Daypart Targeting – comes back to online advertising from the more traditional media (TV, radio) where it reaches specific audiences. Daypart targeting varies by audience size and specifications, can be very cost-efficient – as you expose your message to the largest audiences at the right time when they want to hear, see, view your message. Internet is used differently throughout the day with the highest percentage of people shopping and surfing the web during the normal business hours at work! According to emarketer, 31% people shop online at work, and if you add more detailed data on at which hours exactly they heavily engage into it – you are in business!

Affinity Targeting – refers to reaching customers on their favorite sites (usually related to hobbies and interests) that they heavily visit and interact with. Those users spend more time online (on those sites), are more favorable to the site content and ads and purchase faster and easier. If you like one site that you visit daily, you are more open to digest the message in the ads and in fact act on it. Works every time.  Affinity targeting especially works for brand evangelism.

Purchase-Based Category Targeting – represents a new method of merging data from the online behavior database to the purchases. It is very efficient, but very costly since you do have to customize the databases for your specific markets.  Companies like Nielsen try to create profiles of the “heavy shaving cream users” and low-carb dinners buyers” and map it against their online surfing patterns and predict their next purchase across product categories.

With all those methods, marketers are indeed empowered to deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience, even when the data is not perfect. Select 2-3 methods that fit your business and marketing strategy and find the good enough fits for your audiences and you are bound to have success.

Online Lifestyles Are a Norm? Yes, They Are!

December is always a special month for me as it is a time when all the checks and balances occur, when all the moments of the year are revisited in memory again – relived, pondered upon and signed off as lessons and discoveries. It is also a time for predictions, wish lists and anticipation! So with the respect to my passion for marketing, I am contemplating on the passing year with a reflection on online lifestyles or call it digital lifestyles that became a norm. Little by little, our activities move online: online shopping, online banking, online dating, online networking, online socializing!

According to the Stanford University study on Internet Usage Report, published in internet stats, “the longer people have been web users the more hours and the more activities they report engaging in. While self-selection may be playing a role with early adopters, the data strongly suggests a model of social change with not only a growing number of Internet users, but with web users doing more and more things on the internet in the future.” Though, I am not sure about the number of respondents and who they were, since according to the chart -if you have been online for 5 years, your average usage hours per week can be close to 9. Well, I totally can see myself spending 30 hours per week, excluding business hours, though I discovered internet in 2000 only (yes, I know it is late, but try to keep me from it now!)

Paid search is getting on the top hot list and though it is not a new way to reach our customers, it is the most profitable and on the target! Why not to love it? You pay for actions, purchases or performance. Besides it is so interwoven into everyday’s consumer behavior – no wonder it works! If I think about all the new things I want to buy, learn and get to know – what do I do? – I go online and search. And if before I was only paying attention to unsponsored results, now if it comes to the specialized services in the area– I prefer paid links. My rationale comes from the following – those folks might be mature and sophisticated enough to advertise online, thus the service /or business they are in – is taken seriously. What did people do before search engines? Yellow pages…did work well then with the phones. Now, we want to do everything online – as the majority of us is there 24/7.

Peer reviews, consumer reviews and any bad experiences – I look for those as well before I buy. This brings us to the second nominee on the list – social networks where people interact and recommend stuff. Social networking became so everyday-vital – almost like email. And even though for online and “everything internet” skeptics it =(being online 24/7) might seem too over the board or a sign of no life (remember, second life – no life cartoon?) – Online lifestyle is a norm. On the contrary, the majority of people on social networks are the most extraverted –social folks that stay in touch with far more people at a time than one could imagine long time ago before internet. It is also a great opportunity for the introverted to express more, to share more and to be surrounded with the personalized attention without the overbearing voice of extraverts! And thus, with the increase of time we spend in our networks, with the ease we express our wishes, share the knowledge – we bring our lives online and plant very obvious patterns of our daily consumption. What are the greatest opportunities are those for online advertisers! They can cater to us personally – with all the data that has been collected about our daily habitual interactions.

Rich media would be the third favorite of mine – acquiring hearts, eyeballs and attention span of millions of people. Sharing videos, audio files and such became so easy and fun. You can become a TV star, a radio star and an international celebrity thanks to all the rich media capabilities internet offers.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays (be that Christmas, New Year, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Eid-al-Adha) and more fulfilling online experiences in your digital lives!

What Is Your Conversion Rate? Plus Two Other Metrics That Make It More Meaningful

Posing this question to myself last week, brought me to a number of nuggets that I wanted to write down for reference and share.

Conversion rate is a percentage of your audience that was successfully “sold” to your message and engaged into a purchase to the overall audience that viewed your communications. Conversions come in various shapes: sales, leads, sign-ups for newsletters, information requests, linking to your site or blog, views of a certain page, downloads of a specific media material or referrals. In other words, it could be any action that you want your target audience to do as a response to your communications.

Conversion tracking becomes a very “magical” tool when you want to test the efficiency of your ads, copy or keywords in your online marketing initiatives. As an example: you can have 2 versions of an ad with a rate of 1.3% CTR (click-through) and 1.7%. If you just rely on the CTR, you will keep using the second version with a higher rate. However, even though more people clicked on the second ad, how many did actually register a purchase? This is answered by the conversion rate that might prove the opposite regarding the effectiveness of your ad. Perhaps the “catchy” headline in the first ad was very effective, but call-to-action copy failed to deliver. By having the conversion rate metric you can use the call-to-action copy from the second ad. And test.

You still need CTR! To calculate the profits you make from your ads. That’s where CPC (cost per click) comes in. Thus, you can see how much you spend relative to what you gain. But again, we are only using 2 metrics and can miss on the information. As an example, you might have an ad or a keyword with a lowest CTR and low CPC, but it can convert very well. Here you need to add another dimension – the amount of traffic which you can measure as well. How valuable all the traffic that this ad brings to your site? This way you need to calculate the profit each ad brings. To do so you need to calculate the total number of conversions (number of clicks multiplied by the conversion rate and divided by 100) and the value of a conversion (which you can assign (example your sale is $50 and you keep $30 after subtracting all the costs and fees, thus $30 is your conversion value). The value of a conversion helps you understand how much this action is worth for your business. The profit per ad = (conversion value X total number of conversions(profits)) – costs).

Presentation Matters! The Top Information Design Principles That You Need To Know

Communication is a vital skill that we developed and enhanced beyond the level that our counterparts in the animal world can currently rely on. However, we are still evolving and the amount of information we share rises every day. We are being trained or forced to perceive lots of complex information that we are to digest and to move on to the next batch.  So, it is almost critical to learn how to present yourself well, how to communicate your message effectively and how to make your information-based products  the ultimate delights for your customers.

The information you sell (be it a report or a dashboard of some sort) must be “pretty”, in other words, it should be quite visually appealing and well organized to make a difference for your users.  There is a fine line between the simplicity, enough information and information overload that you might want to test with your users.

“The danger of clutter – especially on a visual screen – is that it causes confusion that affects how well we perform tasks. To that end, visual clutter is a challenge for fighter pilots picking out a target, for people seeking important information in a user interface, and for web site and map designers, among others.” (MIT news).

To our luck, there is a whole discipline devoted to this question – Information Design that have to be a must read topic (and it is) for web application developers and product managers.  I find it very useful as well as a marketer and communicator.  In fact, anyone can benefit from this extra knowledge, or information to reduce the information overload we impose on our audiences.  According to Rune Pettersson, “Information Design is a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional, and worldwide consideration. It is not possible to develop a number of firm message design rules telling the information designer exactly how to best design a message and develop information materials. However, based on research it is possible to formulate several ID-principles and then develop a number of guidelines for the design of effective and efficient messages and information materials.”- International Institute for Information Design  So what are those top 10 or 16 ID-principles that we should keep in mind while engaging in product design or testing a product or participating in a beta?  You can actually find 150 ID-guidelines for 16 designs principles in Rune’s research, “It Depends“:

  1. Define the problem (Find what the user wants to achieve)

  2. Provide structure (Develop a clear structure, minimize the number of levels, show the  hierarchy graphically)

  3. Provide clarity (Go through the details: fonts, pictures, layouts, color, symbols, maps and make the all work in unison) – that’s where the pretty piece comes in!

  4. Provide simplicity (Check the readability of all items above)

  5. Provide emphasis (Use contrast and exaggeration or interactive elements to bring attention)

  6. Provide unity (Be consistent in your terminology, typography, layout and style) – make the information fluid!

  7. Consider information access (Use standards, internationally accepted, provide support for important context)

  8. Consider information costs (This one relates more to graphic design of web sites and implies production costs)

  9. Consider information ethics (Refers to considering copyright, media guidelines and image manipulation)

  10. Secure quality (Implies establishing the review cycles and ease of use for your reviewers to follow. If we apply that to a finished product, it can consider an organized storage or archives system).

  11. Strive for harmony ( I love this one – finding balance within the visual presentation of information)

  12. Follow aesthetic proportion (Implies finding the receiver’s aesthetic proportions, finding balance between the decorative use of color and cognitive importance)

  13. Facilitate attention (Refers to the mastery of bringing attention through text, layout, and colors)

  14. Facilitate perception (Here you must use your knowledge on perceptions of color, text, shapes, layout to make your message come through the way you want it to be)

  15. Facilitate mental processing (Utilize examples in text, provide realistic time for your audience to get the information, be consistent)

  16. Facilitate memory (Consists of presenting a limited number of information elements at the same time, with close connection of text and illustrations) – This is where the context is the key!

In addition, the information must be within the context, relevant and simple to produce actions you desire. Others call it the ability to provide a clear line of sight to show a complete picture. Others advise to present information in 3 blocks on one page to make it more meaningful and easily comprehensive. No pun intended, but there is so much information already about information design that helps simplify the information -that makes one’s head spin.  For example, there is even a comprehensive book of papers in IA (Information Architecture) or ID that one can immerse into to become an expert that can solve such problems in a matter if minutes.

While getting myself more into the subject, I found a good guide to make my quest for answers even easier and not so “overloaded” – I recommend to add ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte to your library.

 

 

Suggestions to Marketing Folks (Brand Managers) at T-Mobile Directly from My Customer Experience

Today I faced with a reality of being a tiny customer for a giant company that does not care enough to get the feedback on how they can improve their service and make their customers love them more. It happens very rare when I blog about a user experience from my personal experiences, but I had to devote a post for that as not only my customer dignity was lost, but my professional advice was disregarded.

I truly believe that T-mobile marketing folks would appreciate some feedback from the actual customers coming to them directly, perhaps even in a form of a packaged idea. Or maybe not! The worst has happened already – as a loyal customer, today I felt duped and almost helpless. I was trying hard to deliver my feedback through the customer service rep and she kept on repeating that no one is going to care about my suggestions. I guess in the worlds of giant corporations a tiny customer‘s voice is just a nuisance. I have to use my blog for that as there is no other channel that exists that can provide that kind of a feedback for them. The rep confirmed that my feedback is useless and no one is going to check and she has no way to pass my suggestions through. I just have to deal with it! On the other hand, it made me think a lot about how much does a brand value matter to the fellow marketers at T-mobile in relation to one but still an eye opening experience from an average customer? Thus, the purpose of this post is not to bash the brand, but to try to deliver my feedback to the folks that can make a difference in the customer experience. Or not, as they can always disregard it. And lose me and lose a few more of the customers like me one by one.

So, I went back to the corporate site and I had a hard time finding a mission statement with the values! I guess, the assumption that the customer is right and important was my imaginary assumption. The company never made a promise to serve me well. That does not help.

I always did not pay much attention to the ads that show how big telecommunication companies treat their customers as opposing to the emerging internet-based providers. Heck, as a customer I was quite irrational while making a choice who is going to be my cellular carrier. I just liked Katherine Zeta-Jones and the coverage seemed to be national, so I chose T-mobile. Very typical irrational, but short-cut based decision. Now, having experienced the reality, I think twice who I should have chosen. Going back to the commercials, I never related till today to the jokes that are played on major carriers with multiple rules. In fact, I was ok to comply to those rules as I always felt I will be heard – till today! As an example, Vonage has a great piece of an ad that makes fun of the giant communications providers. It is pretty new and only available on TV. Other examples include the following videos.

Now, I am thinking about switching to Alltel, who cares about $200 cancelation fee when they never notify me on the overage and I might as well save the trouble?

My complete T-mobile user experience story
To depict the situation better, here is my actual description of the experience as a T-mobile loyal customer. The customer that was not cared for…
Yesterday, I renewed my contract with T-mobile and felt pretty happy to get a new phone and play with it. As a user I had positive feelings about the brand. Today, I could not understand why my phone was so silent till I realized that my service was suspended due to overages of $150. Ok. Could T-mobile notify me with a text message prior to my overage or even prior to suspending my service when I lost an ability to connect to my clients and lost $$? How do I know about the overage? I never check my minutes as a user! Do you ever check you minutes on the cell phone? I never do. In fact I care less. I have yet to meet someone who checks their minutes all the time. Yet, the customer service rep told me that it is my responsibility and they care less about it. Ok, I might have talked too much on the phone this month and the past month and I am ok to pay the overage and I am ok to switch to the more minutes plan. But, there is no way that the T-mobile can devise a program, can create an automated text messaging system to people when they go over their minutes! There is no way it can happen and there is no way to suggest this idea to the customer service to pass along to marketers! I felt as if I was speaking gibberish and the customer rep could not understand my suggestion and passion behind passing the idea how they can still keep my loyalty as a customer if they make those changes – create either email or a text message system that notifies me about the minutes and overage before I have to pay $200. I can pay that, money is not a problem these days – but it appears that T-mobile would rather charge me overages all the time and let me know explicitly that I have to check my minutes! I do not want to check my minutes. I have no time in my life to do that. Why not you as a brand and as a service provider – make it easy for me to be loyal to you? Why not you prevent a trouble of overpaying for me for cell phone usage and notify me about the overages with a text message? How costly is that? Cheaper than a commercial! Or even a customer service call! And I will keep being your customer longer than a contract! Now, I am seriously thinking of switching. I feel cheated. I do not care. I am not loyal any more because you felt that it is ok to keep me in the dark and ignoring my suggestions! Pursuing the lock-ip strategy is not a long term strategy that insures success. At some point, your customers and your competition will figure out how to get away from this bad relationship. Do you care as a brand? Or you don’t?

My suggestions to T-mobile marketing folks:

1. Listen to your customers – create a channel where they can share their suggestions before you lost them!
2. Make it easy for them to be loyal to you! Create an automated communication program (text message or email that notifies your customers about overages beforehand)! Or keep collecting the short-term profit of an overage and lose a lifetime value of steady income.
3. Make sure your customer service rep communicates the customer voice to you directly.

From In-Game Adverts (-ising) To Expanding Your Emotional Experience, Identity and Behavior

In-game advertising (a.k.a. IGA) is not new in the gaming industry. However, it still has its challenges and victories. It is considered to be a very effective channel as you as an advertiser are inserting your messages into the experiential process – “when the user is in the process of consuming the pleasurable experience of the game”, thus more predisposed to react positively to your communications. It goes without saying that you should avoid being too overt in your pitch to make your offer make a smooth transition into the consideration set of your user. The message needs to fit seamlessly into the experience to be acceptable by the users. This is the advantage of the channel. The challenges vary from the decisions being made on how to make the communication process “seamless’, how to get the best conversion rate and still keep the user loyal and very engaged in the game.

With the idea to brush up on the latest trends, I went onto my search in the latest articles on the topic, which led me to a number of even more amusing discoveries that I would like to capture and share.

To visualize the structure and evolution of in-game advertising, it helps to list the types of the adverts you can see in the games. According to the Wikipedia, there are 4 types of in-game advertising:
1. Static adverts (billboards, dashboards, static “banners”, and product placement) – that prominently display the message on the user’s dashboard. I call them “the pre-evolution stage ads.”
2. Dynamic adverts follow next -(tailored ads to the geographical location, time of the day and time-sensitive offers (a new movie launch as an example)) that advertising agencies produce outside the development process. Very effective feedback can be collected due to the ad-tracking analytics available that can be re-communicated to the development process to enhance the game design based on the user behavior. Mental note to research more on that!
3. Online communities (like Second Life and other virtual worlds and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games ( MMORPGs)are able to display persistent online adverts, with advertisers acquiring the space and providing their brands consistent online presence in-game.
4. Incidental adverts” billboard-like advertisements or blatant product placement for the single purpose of creating a more realistic gaming environment”, which seems to be almost the advertisers “la-la land” – as the gamers request those ads. I wonder how rates differ for this type of ads and who is the decision-maker here – the game developer or the advertiser? What is the compromise dollar-wise and content-wise reached in the transaction?

It is worth mentioning Nick Yee’s extensive research for the past two years on the psychology of gaming. We all heard about the wonders of Second Life and Linden economy , but my immediate fascination includes his study on the emotions and experiences gamers have, how much time they spend on what, etc. In Yee’s research, known to the public as the Daedalus Project, he shares his findings on the psychology and sociology of MMORPGs, (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) that are based on the survey data from over 40,000 game players. Some of the interesting comments from the actual participants can be found on his site.

As an example, the most memorable experiences gamers live through include:

- First were the ones that have high achievement elements in the process of competition (usually in the battle) and collaboration.
Relationships and memorable interactions with another person came second (with acts of occasional kindness, romantic interest and evolving friendship).
– The third was the near-the-death- or death experiences. I can see why! Scary!
– There is a forth aspect as well, that is classified under miscellaneous that included role-playing out of boredom or the initial euphoria of the new game (“stepping into a new world”) , being surprised or taken aback and meeting the guilds.

What entertains me most – is how similar our in-game most memorable experiences with a real life (aside meeting the guilds); we all can see the common trend: we take pride in the challenges that competitive experiences provide; we engage in relationships and we do remember our surprises, scary moments and fun roles we manage to play. If you add the fact that a healthy life is when you take it as a playful game, then the borders merge even closer (both Einstein and Edison played games to give a break to their brilliant minds). Plus, childhood psychology and development scholars proved that play helps develop thinking capabilities. We human beings do need fun to be able to live fully engaging and long lives. I am not saying let’s all start playing video games, as play can be found in various activities. But, what keeps me thinking (all that research sowed more questions!)– What effect gaming activity can have on our minds, let’s get rid of the other role playing to make it simple. Do people who play video games develop more capabilities to expand their roles in real life? Are they more resistant to stress? Do they live longer? How does the behavior change in the process? Do we change our personalities? To the last question, Dr. Yee and his colleagues already wrote a paper that describes well this process, also called as the Proteus Effect (the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior). Here is the link to the respective research paper for your leisurely reading.

Other top three interesting findings suggest:

1. Many people have expanded their emotional range by exploring the many different roles (including gender identities) that MMORPGs allow a person to explore. See the research by clinical psychologist, Sherry Turkle.

2. Gamers spend a considerable amount of time (often a third of their total time investment) doing things that are directly-related to, but outside of, the game itself - which explains the popularity of virtual worlds and online extensions of the games. (from the Daedalus Project)
3.Many players report that the emotions they feel while playing an MMORPG are very strong, to the extent that 8.7% of male and 23.2% of female players in a statistical study have had an online wedding.” (from Nardi, Harris, Strangers and Friends)” Talking about the drama in games!

Talking about the relationship and loyalty they (the gamers) have with the game! The commitment in terms of time, money, emotional and creative energy represents abundant opportunities for loyalty programs, creative content generation throughout the gamers’ lifetime and extensive market research that is applicable to everyday outside the game-human behavior.

The Difference Beween Private and Public Decisions Consumers Make

It always amazes me how people arrive at certain decisions, what makes them select an alternative in regards to the environment they were exposed to while being at the final stage of buying behavior. And it is not a novelty that private choices, thinking and actions are very different from the ones we do in public – meaning those choices are very visible and easily to be judged, evaluated by the other people who’s opinion we value or rely on. Thus, instead of plunging into the consumer behavior magazines to seek the answer to the question that was burning my head all week, I turned to psychology and sociology studies by Wharton scholars.

I had an assumption in my mind that regardless of the difference in the private state of mind and public image we portray – the two worlds invariably overlap or feed off each other, thus similarities occur – unless we have a case when both worlds almost never coincide, interact or see each other. I do not plan to get too into the psychoanalytical aspect of it, but in the psychology field – they call it a “split personality” syndrome, very rare occurrence, but quite possible – when the two worlds do not have a chance to integrate. Extrapolating on that definition, we can easily see why private and public choices could be totally opposite to each other. As an example, a consumer can appear to be predisposed to one type of behavior and share the reinforcing thinking that favors his private choice (let’s say of consuming some type of media that is prevalent in one environment he mostly resides in). At the same time, he/or she might take an opposite selection while being surrounded by other people where his/her the choice is quite visible.

How do we marketers – find the consistency in the behavior of the users we study? Obviously, we have to observe them from the both sides, in both worlds. What if we do not have that privilege? What to do next?

According to the research in the decision-making process by Mark Pauly (Wharton Business School), “Private behavior more closely follows expected utility models, while public decisions move in the opposite direction. “ Thus, when the choice is private – we pick what is best and most beneficial for us, when the choice is public – we tend to make choices that contradict the most expected utility choice (even if it might be indicative as a value for a group of folks that would benefit from it as well) or make decisions that do not make sense! Go figure! Pauly proves his point by illustrating the decisions consumers make in relation to health care products (insurance) – “People avoid deductibles publicly, but prefer to pay them privately. They want their insurance companies to pay for their preventative care even if it might be cost effective for them to pay for it themselves. “

Even though the example included health care products, I believe one can see the “light” for the topic in discussion for other services we provide and promote or decisions we make while building our lives. The key reasons for this divergence include:

1. Misperceptions of Value
2. Reputation
3. Benefits Distribution

As I see it, there is no other way around it but trying to get into the both worlds. Perhaps, ask our customers invite us into their worlds and see if we can decipher behavioristic patterns that are universal or similar for both worlds? Why do that you might ask yourself by reading this far? Well, to be truly successful in our field – understanding your users, clients, and customers – is the key. Understanding them and catering to their needs by adjusting our products and services in time– is the marketing nirvana we all try to reach. What does our scholar suggest in this case?

- Watch for public-private divergence. If we look at our own decisions, in any case that involves both public and private decisions – we should try to examine the question through both lenses. “For a public decision, especially when there are reputational issues at stake, consider if you would make the same decision in a private situation. Also, look at whether the decision really provides the highest expected utility.”

- Expect that people will not do as they say. This recommendation allows you to better predict and anticipate consumer behavior. People would say one thing in public, but be willing to accept a very different option in private. Understanding that allows you to tailor your communications based on the environment your user currently has chosen to interact with you. Will people actually follow their public positions in private decisions? Is there a way to allow your customers make the decision you advocate that still preserves their reputations? Explore the last question and you can be rather successful despite this truth of life!

- Look for redistributable mechanisms. If we devise our programs when the benefits are funded by the group and redistributed by the need of some members of the group to another – see how it can affect the decisions of your individual buyers and what efficiency you can gain in the process. Consumers are more prone to agree to participate in the shared benefits plans where redistribution process exists, as one man’s garbage can be another’s treasure while both of them pay for the “membership”. Look for those opportunities!

Loyalty – Is That What We All Are Striving For? Customer Loyalty is Equivalent To Successful Marriage

What is Customer Loyalty? It is a state of marketing nirvana that all of us are trying to get into, equivalent to a successful marriage where both parties are satisfied with their relations. Our customers develop an emotional bond with our product through a series of repeat purchases that are all positive experiences. All that is due to the fact that we marketers pay attention to every detail and preferences they state each time they come back. And we – evolve and change while catering towards those preferences.

Customer loyalty also implies some sort of solid comfort and knowledge (from the both parties) that at times of conflict or misunderstanding – their interests will get worked out, talked over and resolved. There is trust from both sides – the merchant will not disappear or refuse service and the customer will not run off like crazy to another provider without engaging into the conversation. Now, we are arriving at the true connection between loyalty and database marketing = two-way consistent communication.

Developing the bond between you and your customers is all what the database marketing is about. Loyal customers are more valuable for your business than average because they:
- Have higher retention rates
– Have higher spending rates
– Have higher referral rates
– Higher lifetime value
– Are less expensive to serve
– Buy higher priced options

So which rate listed is more important that others? Of course, the retention rate – once your customers are gone, they are gone and it does not matter how frequently they purchased or how much they have spent.

So what can you do as a database marketer to keep them? – Use the information and data you have and personalize your services accordingly in real time. The industry has a myriad of success stories that illustrate the best known principles of database marketing. One example would be an article by the Chief Marketer’s writer, Bryan Pearson where he views and describes a successful customer loyalty strategy as a dynamic ecosystem. Which makes sense, as the idea is to surround your customers with as many touch points for service/product consumption and positive interaction. We, humans are “hungry for more resources” social beings and respond well to such environments where all our needs are constantly catered in one place at the right time by the same provider as long as the quality and variety aspects are in line with our expectations. And if you add the consistency of touch point interactions – you lock us pretty in a dreamworld of instant gratification that is prolonged!

The top three strategies that are shared in the article include:
1. Understanding your segments, where “extensive market tests definitively prove that customizing content and messages to focus on relevant products and solutions drives dramatically higher response rates and increases the profitability of direct communications to this segment. This model of testing and analysis has demonstrated real-world success in using customer transactions to predict purchase behavior.” Thus, you are able to collect those preferences, track the changes in consumer behavior and predict future purchases for similar customers.
2. Segmenting ahead of the curve, implies taking this analysis a notch up and predicting the future behavior for your customers before they realize that they have new preferences based on marginal deviations from the norm. You can track the info back to some specific event and tailor your communications to test the probability.
3. Enhancing the customer environment, goes without saying into the equation as it manifests your response to the transactional data you receive/the feedback in other words. You make their repeat purchases even more pleasant, more relevant – thus polishing the emotional connection.

All in all, it appears that paying attention pays off in the business world and the laws of evolution are attributable to a successful marketplace. Add an agile human intellect and action in between, and you are likely to follow the lifecycle of a civilization – growing your business. Isn’t it what we – marketers are here for?

“Common Mistakes That Drive Customers Away” from the Online Market World, Day Two

Day Two for the e-commerce conference brought new ideas (from starting my own online business after watching all those people making a living while selling anything!) to confirming new directions that I would like to take in my career: CRM and web analytics that affect conversion rates (multivariate testing and behavioral targeting). Social media, viral marketing and online advertising became close chapters: I can still do that, I get it and know it well, but passion is moved to something new and more challenging – database marketing and behavioral targeting. At the same time, user experience design concepts still get mixed into the equation as they affect the entire consumer experience and the bottom line.

To that extent, one of the most interesting sessions today was on “Most Common Mistakes That Drive Customers Away” with Thanh Nguyen from Business OnLine, Jeff Shulman with (X+1) and Mark Wachen with Optimost sharing simple nuggets that are worth keeping in mind while optimizing your online communications or sales process. So, the most common mistakes include:

1. Mismatched Offer – when a user comes back in a week and sees the same offer for a lesser price? Ha? It does happen very often and can turn off your customers in seconds.
2. Mismatched Content – happens when “cookies” get on the way and mixed up, or randomly – an example of this can bring a scenario of a college student that stays up all night and frequents MySpace while he is presented with an offer for a Mercedes. Very mismatched content!
3. Multiple Choice – too many choices make it difficult for users to make a choice – a book was referenced in the speech by Jeff “The Paradox of Choice” - that provides a good overview on buyer’s behavior and how people make their decisions.
4. Promoting Benefits That Are Not Benefits – happens all the time. As an example, in the final action step when you ask your visitor share his/her email address and add a “no-spam” disclaimer – it can only hurt you as people start thinking about it. Studies show that if you do not mention too much info or negative info, your conversion rate is much higher – as it makes sense. Do not clutter the user’s mind when there are already ready to take an action with extra info.
5. Continuing To Sell When The Sale Is Made - can prevent your customers to take the final step – as an example, removing FAQ info that was placed together with an offer – increased the conversation rate again – too much info (TMI) – something most of use marketers suffer from.
6. Asking A Lot Of Unnecessary Questions - making your users fill out long forms – turns everyone off – minimize your forms to 3-5 questions.
7. Treating Customers Equally - Segmenting by search keywords does bring more qualified traffic that converts into dollars as opposing to throwing out the same copy to the entire audience.
8. Not Allowing Your Users To Check Out Fast And Easy - according to the studies that a user experience analyst, Thanh Nguyen, conducted, people get frustrated when a bunch of forms or barriers are presented before they can enjoy a product or complete a purchase. ” I do not want to fill out forms to buy a purse. They do not ask me to do that at the counter”, – says right away what your users want.
9. Not Giving Clear Indications For The Shopping Process – makes your customers wonder “How long is it going to take?” – and the way to avoid this pitfall is to offer a visual path to your users, as an example, see the checkout path that Amazon cart has that starts with a “sign-in”, continues to “shipping”, “gift wrap” and finishes with “place an order”.
10. Not Capitalizing On Abandoned Carts – represents a lost opportunity that is not utilized by some online merchants. How many times did I go through the process and did not complete the shopping? Sometimes, I lost the card – as the merchant provided me with no history or some indicator where it was, or sometimes I got distracted. By providing the history, save the cart option and reminding via email with a discount offer can significantly recover the abandoned customer.
11. Not Cross-Selling By Displaying Products Without Recommendations – “Imagine four products displayed and 6 out of 6 visitors did not click through?” – no case studies or testimonials are used – and your users do not trust online content but other users. Make your users recommend and cross-sell for you. Use the user’s browsing history from items searched to tasks accomplished during the session, connect him/her to other users who did the same and purchased – and recommended your product – cross-sell.

To sum it up, it seems like keeping the sales process easy, straight-forward and consistent brings the best results: higher conversion rates, user satisfaction and referred business.

The Future of E-Commerce According to the Experts

Day One of the Online Market World Conference was opened up with a starter session that covered the upcoming trends in the e-commerce industry. I thought it was rather “short and sweet” in content and delivered a good overview that is worth sharing. According to Joe Chung (Allurent), Doug Mack (Adobe) and Michael Hines (Jones Apparel Group) there are a number of trends in the evolving e-business:

1) Rich media meets rich applications - the user experience becomes very engaging, interactive and “seamless” thanks to the latest and greatest in the web development apps that leverage the graphic user interface. Examples include Gucci watch and Teamwork Athletic Apparel sites that bring authentic interactive brand experiences right at your computer.
2) Increasing community involvement - plays a major role in creating relationships, brand recognition and promotion from the mere transactions. If they (transactions) were good, easy experiences – they become stories that people pass along and eventually translate into more revenue.
3) Back to the desktop - lots of $$ is invested into the desktop shopping platforms, “browser-free” online shopping – imagine that!
4) Content as the Interface - plays a great role in the new way e-commerce sites get content and “inventory” – see Zillow’s site where users can post their house info (pictures, videos, etc) on sale in 60 seconds and watch the bids come.
5) Online shopping to be successful must be: enticing + engaging + executional + pervasive + mobile.

It is interesting to see how the same principles and concepts are applied throughout various industries and disciplines: I see the basics of the social media concepts, user experience design, permission marketing, branding and CRM – all work in tandem to accomplish a simple goal. You hear all the time the same fundamentals: ease of use, emotion, relevance, experience, engagement = all in various combinations bring you to success, as they are the same needs expressed by the sophisticated consumer, online shopper, primarily the US-based individual. As Joe Chung says, “extensive increases in the software development are very well offset by increasing customer expectations”, – so viva the online shopper – as there will always be plenty of work for all of us in web applications and services development as well as online marketing!

Online Market World Conference 2007: My Top E-Commerce Sessions to Attend

I am back to San Francisco, the city that still (and always) enjoys the sunshine, attending the Online Market World Conference, a full-blown event to cover the entire e-commerce lifecycle. It was almost surreal this morning to come from the yellow-and-orange-and-wet Seattle, into a sunny caught-in-the-summer-weather of San Fran – felt like I escaped from the seasons! For the rest of the week, I am looking forward to learning more about the latest and greatest in the e-business and meeting the folks in the industry that did that (eBay, PayPal, Forrester Research are among the biggest players).

So far, at a glance, the “must attend” sessions for me are:

(1) Driving Customer Acquisition and Conversion Through Word-of-Mouth Marketing (will cover the best known cases of integrating product reviews and social media).
(2) and How Analytics Affects Planning Processes (this session claims to reveal how to deploy analytics to affect the planning processes across the organization, in other words being more intelligent about your decisions).
(3) then later in the day, I am looking forward to learn how to Improve Customer Acquisition Through Analytics, through analyzing existing customer behavior and going beyond – understanding new customers. See the magic in numbers!
(4) Customer Lifetime Value – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You – sounds rather appealing with its promise to share the methods of utilizing business intelligence to fine-tune customer retention strategies.
(5) Understanding the Business Customer - claims to cover the dos and don’ts strategies while working with B2B audience.
(6) of course, I could not let the session on Improving Commerce Site Effectiveness Through Analytics and Multivariate Testing go without my notice – revisiting the tactics of driving online sales is the knowledge that is worth hanging onto by any marketer these days.
(7) The Future of Online Advertising - should be a good recap on whatever happened to online advertising (how it evolved and where it is heading towards) within the last year that we missed while paying attention to everything else!
(8) Common Mistakes That Drive Customers Away - is a great session that will help to get back to reality and understand the buyer decision process and why it stops at some points.
(9) and finally, International Payment Options and Optimization - seems to be rather hot – as it spills the beans on the remaining international payment challenges and what the industry is doing about it.

These top 9 are my picks to engage into. Let’s see which one of them makes the deepest impression.

BTW, if you cannot attend and still want to get a piece of the informational pie, check out a free report on e-commerce trends 2007/2008 provided on the event site. Obviously, you will have to share some info to get it, but should be worthwhile.

Top Five Ads That Deliver the Message and Entertain Greatly

The key to a good ad is to reach the right audience at the right medium at the right time and deliver the right message with an emotional impact. Entertainment is omnipotent element of advertising that makes it a joy to produce it. Here are the top five favs that I am noticing these days:

1) Career Builder presents a common feeling that office folks experience these days in the corporate America, the ad speaks to the point, makes you laugh and connects to audience’s experience. I think – it is money well spent.

2) Cadbery creates a fun suspense with an always working gorrilla image! Who does not relate to those creatures? We all do. Remember the last time you visited the ZOO and its apes’ section – You always watch them closely, they watch you and the more you watch – the more you see your own reflection! I do. Loved this passionate drummer.

3) Herbal Essence skillfully involves reality and paradox in a fun enjoyable twist.

4) Jack Links Jerky’s campaign “Messing with the Sasquatch” deserves a place in the best ad humor panel. Some of the epizods are a bit crude, some are irresistably funny. My favorite is the one with the fire: loved the stone – it made a Sasquatch a here in my eyes!

5) Geico Caveman pieces are also the best. Always, hits the spot.

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