Friday, December 29, 2006

Downloading Blues

Why is it that companies name files for their own use, not mine?

In doing some research for a client I had the need to download several white papers from a number of research and vendor sites. In most cases, the file name was useless and often absolutely unintelligible. Something like 11.1..1.11.pdf. Oh, I'll remember what that means on Tuesday. Every download required reentering a name that made sense to me.

Think of the wasted branding opportunity for not putting your own name on valuable content! Here's a simple case where thinking about the customer would help and merits a New Year's resolution from every content manager out there. A simple "source - title" taxonomy would work in most cases.

I want an iTunes for my pdfs.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Marketing Music

Can we hear customer behavior better than we see it?

One often reads about a 360 degree view of the customer. But in reading "This is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin I wondered if an auditory analogy might be better than a visual one.

The challenge of understanding and interpreting marketing's impact on customer behavior is similar to what the brain has to go through when identifying sources and meanings of different sounds. As I write this I hear a) the click of the keyboard, b) the tock of the clock, and c) the woosh of the heating duct. Right now my brain is trying to deal with three very specific problems as it interprets the data.

1. Undifferentiated information -- the receipt of data is not tagged with the source
2. Ambiguous information -- different sources sound the same
3. Incomplete information -- lost or overlapping sounds

These are exactly the same issues we face in assessing marketing programs: A sale isn't linked to a TV ad, a purchase looks like any other purchase, and the transaction lacks context. While we've had a lifetime (both personally and evolutionary) to process sounds our collective experience with customer behavior is much more limited. As a result our perceptions and assumptions often are used to fill in the gaps. And this is where the risk creeps onto the score.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Multichannel Asymmetry

Is what's good for the goose good for the gander?

In a recent Multichannel Merchant article Jim Coogan outlined a variety of reasons why firms that started online have been slow to adapt catalogs as a vehicle. The reasons:

1. Lack of requisite skills.
2. The relatively high (at least perceived) variable costs associated with printing.
3. Certain categories aren't appropriate for catalogs from either a product assortment or target perspective.

While online is good for catalogers, it isn't necessarily true in reverse. The two may be complementary: acquisition vs. repeat.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Play's the Thing

Are we on the same page?

In the Web 2.0 world, 'page views' will go the way of 'hits' as a simple concept that doesn't actually measure anything of relevance. The morphing of browser technology to support more and more application functionality, as opposed to serving up text and images, makes the container less valuable in terms of relating to customer behavior than the flow and context of her actions. One might be tempted to consider this interaction a play since both online sessions and plays consists of a dialog between characters.

Since the customer is king, it makes sense to quote Hamlet: "I'll have ground more relative than this; the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

LIFO: Ad Serving Strategy

Do first impressions work?

In the online world there are a wide variety of ways a prospect can come across our products and services. Figuring out which impression(s) are involved in a transaction should be reasonably straight-forward to figure out (at least logically.) Unfortunately, without some creative manipulation of the data it seems that the ad serving community has taken a page out of the accounting handbook. Raw data from MediaPlex uses a "Last Impression or Final Observation" rule. Interesting events, like orders, are associated with the most recent action, which may be a click-thru or a view-thru. So analyzing the impact of total impressions, or their sequence, becomes significantly restricted.

When I request raw data feeds from vendors, I expect to get the raw data -- not some set of low level business rules.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Visions Sell Better than Experience

How do you compete against the 800 pound gorillas?

One of the most successful strategies for winning business against the large, established industry leaders is to paint a vision of where the client is going to be when the project is complete. People will often align themselves with people who know where they are going and how to get there; particularly in uncharted territory.

Mike Cucka of Group1066 recently published a good article about needing a 'point of view' when establishing your brand, which is particularly important in the service industry when everybody else talks about people, process, or technology.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another Ah-ha Moment

Are the networks a new source of ideas?

Apparently the folks at CBS had a flash of inspiration. They recently had an idea about using the year-end balance in flexible-spending accounts for over-the-counter medications. Since the money needs falls under the 'use it or lose it' scenario, there is a natural market very willing to spend. They organized a multi-company spot showcasing 19 different OTC products in a medicine cabinet.

Everybody wins with this one.

Television Attribution

Just how do you link TV spots to phone calls?

The traditional method in direct response world is if a consumer calls within a specified window then there is direct attribution. On home-shopping programs this link is explicit, but as one moves from tight integration to looser programs uncertainty creeps in to the equation. Often one might use a limit of 15 or 30 minutes. But certain high-consideration products and possibly some cultures may require discussion and consensus before the call is made. So even if the call-to-action is simply requesting more information, it may be days before the call is actually made.

Understanding the decision making process is important in defining the business rules for attribution across media channels.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Today's Questions vs. Today's Answers

Why do meeting seem to fumble over finding the 'right' report?

Most meetings have one moment where the most senior person asks for something that's not in the reports. While standard reports are good tools for people to manage their own functions, they usually fall short when doing cross functional or multi-departmental meetings. The reason: standard reports focus on a single issue - what are today's answers to yesterday's questions? Am I running my section according to plan?

In strategic, analytic, or just plain planning meetings what is needed is answers today to today's questions. This requires a much more dynamic and fluid environment than any standard report can offer. For this reason the data underpinnings must be appropriately defined and made available.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Email Conundrum

How should email be classified?

Is email a direct mail expenditure? It is direct and it is mail.
Is email an Internet advertising technique? It uses pretty much the same infrastructure.

Not sure it really matters, but it is an example of classifying something based on technology not business or customer sense.

When Bigger isn't Really Bigger

How does the law of large numbers impact analysis?

In a recent article on media spending, the trends are up for targeted and personal channels: spot, Internet, and Direct Mail (11%, 20% and 8% respectively). Network spending grew at much lower rate (5%).

Large, bulky items like national advertising or Great Lake freighters are difficult to move. So the smaller growth rates for network spending and direct mail actually represent significantly larger dollar figures. The absolute growth of direct mail was still 3 times that for the Internet: $4.71b for direct mail vs. $1.56b for Internet. The absolute difference is twice the current level, so at current growth rates it will take several years to match the contribution dollar for dollar.

Of the $14.07b year-over-year growth in total ad spending, half of the gain came from the channels listed above, even though they account for just less than 30% of all activity.

So when considering growth rates, it is equally important to understand the starting point.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Beware: Databases Store Low Hanging Fruit

Does transaction data hold all the answers?

The dangers of focusing only on transaction data are explained in a recent article by a colleague of mine - David Bean of Attensity. Since a small proportion of available information is accessible by traditional reporting and analysis tools this is considered a 'costly irony.' We spend money to access the easily accessed even if it represents only 15% of all data. What's needed is the ability to convert free form text into things databases can understand -- entities and relationships. The article gives a good example of decoding explanations in a claims processing system into events and attributes that can be reported.

To some extent this relates to the ability of database systems -- it was always easier to load transactions and other structured data; so that's what we did.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Online Attribution

Just what does drive online sales?

There has been a lot of recent posting on online vs. offline attribution, but even online attribution across channels is getting interesting. Imagine a scenario where an online agency works with a company to market their product online through email, banners, search, and affiliate networks and is paid based on performance, e.g., a tiered commission structure by medium.

How does one attribute one order where the buyer has researched several sites, is on both house and prospect email lists, and been routed to a shopping cart via an affiliate network?

To help sort out the data and analytics side, each event should be keyed by owner, source, medium and offer -- not just the traditional client, campaign, placement info. Second, the event data should be massaged to include 'Number of Events', 'First Event/Date' and 'Last Event/Date' for each unique visitor. This will help with business rules based on primacy or recency. On the other side of the equation, sales transaction data should be appended with 'Media Source' and 'Number of Events' in order to help understand what level of activity is required to generate orders.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Customer Data and Email

Why do these seem like oil and vinegar?

A major complaint with the email channel is the lack of customer data according to Ken Magill's article this week.

Seems almost counter intuitive that the most personal of mediums suffers from a severe lack of contextual data about just who is receiving the data. Just like the emergence of segmentation in email, time will show an increase in the availability of direct or indirect customer data. At a minimum geo-location should be the starting point, just like it was in Direct Mail.

With Direct Mail spending at 6 times Internet spending; the old dog can still teach a few tricks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Marketing Dashboards: Analog Returns

Why are we using analog technology in a digital world?

Because it makes it easier to absorb information quickly. This is a fact learned the hard way by the auto industry after they switched to digital displays. A blue number just isn't the same as seeing the needle approach the red line.

It seems that the same is true in marketing. A recent NYT article states that direct mail is up even in the days of digital content and delivery. It seems that last year was the first time that bulk (direct) mail exceeded the number of first class pieces.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Indices: A Faster way of Comprehending

How can we better understand raw data?

Assimilating a lot of raw numbers is often easier when they are expressed as indices. The reason is that people are often most interested in comparative differences and don't need to know the absolute figure. As long as measurement is consistent, then relative changes are easier to digest.

The two common uses of indices include:
1. Trending: Are we going in the right direction?

The classic example is the performance of the stock market over time. Given a $100 at some point in history, where would it be today?

2. Group Comparison: How does one group differ from another?

This may be people, markets or products such as Brand Development Indices (BDI) comparing per capita consumption across markets or segments.