Privacy in the Age of Big Data

Consumers reveal more than ever before consciously through social media and, just as importantly, unconsciously through their behaviors. This data gives marketers great power, which they can use to design better products, hone messages and, most importantly, sell more by providing consumers what they want. That’s all good from a marketer’s perspective, but for consumers, the scope of data collection can often cross a line, becoming too intrusive or too loosely held. Marketers have to balance the opportunities of Big Data with the concerns of consumers or they risk a serious backlash.

Consumers reveal more than ever before consciously through social media and, just as importantly, unconsciously through their behaviors. This data gives marketers great power, which they can use to design better products, hone messages and, most importantly, sell more by providing consumers what they want. That’s all good from a marketer’s perspective, but for consumers, the scope of data collection can often cross a line, becoming too intrusive or too loosely held. Marketers have to balance the opportunities of Big Data with the concerns of consumers or they risk a serious backlash.

For some people, the line has already been crossed. When Edward Snowden revealed information about the government’s data collection policies, he presented it as a scandal. But, in many ways, what the NSA does differs mainly in scope from what many private marketers do. A German politician recently went to court to force T-Mobile to release the full amount of metadata that it collects from his cellphone behavior. The results highlighted just how much a company can know from this data—not just about an individual’s behavior and interests, but also about his or her friends, and whom among them are most influential. Even for marketers who strongly believe in the social utility that this enables, it highlights just how core an issue privacy has become.

So how can marketers get the most from data without alarming consumers? Transparency and value. For some consumers, there’s really no good use of personal data, so opt-outs have to be clear and easy to use. The best way to collect and use data is if the value to the consumer is so clear that he or she will opt in to a program.

One company that has framed its data collection as a service that’s worth joining is Waze, which Google recently bought for over a billion dollars. Google beat out rivals Facebook and Apple because high-quality maps are one of the most important infrastructure tools for the big mobile players. Well, before Google bought the company, CEO David Bardin said, “Waze relies on the wisdom of crowds: We haven’t spent billions of dollars a year, we’ve cooperated with millions of users. Google is the No. 1 player. But, a few years out, there’s no excuse that we wouldn’t pass them.”

Drivers sign up for the app to find out about traffic conditions ahead; inherently useful information. Once they’re logged in, they automatically send information about their speed and location to Waze. Waze invites active participation, too, encouraging users to fix map errors and report accidents, weather disruptions, police and gas stations. Users get points for using the service and more points for actively reporting issues. With 50 million users, this decentralized data entry system is incredibly efficient at producing real-time road conditions and maps. Even Google’s own map service can’t match the refresh speed of Waze maps.

Points for check-ins don’t fully explain why people are so invested in Waze. Dynamic graphics help, with charming icons and those de rigueur 3D zooming maps. Even more important than a great interface, however, is that Waze serves a real-time need while making users feel part of a community working together to solve problems. Waze is part of a broader movement to crowdsource solutions that rely on consumers or investors who believe in the mission of a company, not just its utility. People contribute to Waze because they want to help fellow travelers, as well as speed their own journeys. It’s shared self-interest.

Waze has a relatively easy task of proving the worth of a data exchange. Other companies need to work harder to show that they use data to enhance user experiences—but the extra effort is not optional.

As marketers become better at using data, they will need to prove the value of the data they use, and they need to be transparent on how they’re using it. If they don’t, marketers will have their own Snowdens to worry about.

The A-Z List of Stop That! Behaviors

In the April issue of Target Marketing, I wrote about 26 verbs that sometimes get in our way when we’re building brands that we want our customers to be passionate about. Now that I’ve transitioned my Brand Matters column from print to digital, I’ve decided to give you 26 more! Use this checklist as a reminder to review your brand practices. No doubt, we all slip into some of these behaviors unintentionally.

In the April issue of Target Marketing, I wrote about 26 verbs that sometimes get in our way when we’re building brands that we want our customers to be passionate about. Now that I’ve transitioned my Brand Matters column from print to digital, I’ve decided to give you 26 more!

Use this checklist as a reminder to review your brand practices. No doubt, we all slip into some of these behaviors unintentionally. I encourage you to take some “Stop & Think” time with your brand team and have the necessary and fierce conversations about your latest offerings and evaluate them through these lenses:

Aggravate: What is niggling at you that might be perceived (big or small) as an annoyance to your customers?

Boggle: Are you giving your customers too many choices to consider?

Cannibalize: Might you be threatening your own market share in some way?

Doubt: What areas of your offering raise concern for your customers? Value perceptions? Price parity? Benefits? Competitive differentiation? What will you do about it?

Embarrass: What was your OOPS or DO OVER with this latest offering? Have you fixed it for next time? What is your post-mortem procedure for reviewing these things?

Forgot: Look over your offering carefully … what might you have overlooked by mistake?

Grovel: Are you asking your customers to do too much? Who is working for whom? How will you rectify that?

Inundate: Offering too much? How will you know what is “just right?”

Juggle: How many messages do you want your customers to absorb? How will you limit those or prioritize them strategically for maximum impact?

Know How: What special insider knowledge do your customers need to know to do business with you? Is that fair? How will you inform the newbies?

Loathe: A hard question for sure … but what don’t your customers like about you?

Mimic: What have you done that is totally UNLIKE your competitors these days?

Negate: What are you doing that detracts from your brand?

Obstacle: What hoops might your customers have to needlessly jump through to do business with you? How will you find out?

Pester: Are you asking your customers questions you intend to do nothing about? Why bother?

Quibble: What terms do you make your customers fight over In relation to your offering? Is that really necessary? How do your competitors handle the same issue?

Reverse: Is there any aspect of your offer that reverses your brand promise even in some small way?

Stagnate: In the last 12 months, what have you decided to do differently to stay relevant to your customers’ changing needs?

Taunt: How is your brand teasing your customers in negative ways?

Underestimate: Have you taken your customers loyalty for granted in some way?

Vex: What keeps you up at night about your customers’ behavior in relation to your brand? How will you solve this puzzle?

Water Down: Have you diluted your brand message in some way by too many stories? Too much information? Too little focus?

[E]Xit: What was your parting message to your customer? Brand enhancing or brand detracting? (Brand neutral doesn’t count!)

Yank: Are you pulling your customers toward your brand or away? How?

Zipped: Great brand stories are meant to be shared. Have you zipped your customers’ lips by not creating a shareworthy experience?

Take a look at these “what not to do” verbs. Create your own list. Let me know what happens!

The Meanness of Strangers

The link between sales and marketing is undeniable. So I think it’s time that working adults accept that their communications behavior—whether in email, on the phone or online—is a direct reflection of the brand they’re representing. And if you’re rude to me, I don’t want to do business with you—ever. I first noticed bad behavior in an email

The link between sales and marketing is undeniable. So I think it’s time that working adults accept that their communications behavior—whether in email, on the phone or online—is a direct reflection of the brand they’re representing. And if you’re rude to me, I don’t want to do business with you—ever.

I first noticed bad behavior in an email. It was from a person I didn’t know, so I didn’t feel compelled to open it or read it. And, if I did, I certainly didn’t feel that I had to acknowledge receipt by responding, even to express my disinterest in the product/service.

I guess I deleted his emails from my in-box several times, because his fifth attempt got a little contemptuous.

“I made you a pretty incredible offer on a really good video 3 or 4 times over the past
couple of months, but you never responded …” he complained, “I NEED TO HEAR BACK FROM YOU NOW.” (Yes, it was all in caps).

I admit I hit the “Delete” button without a moment’s hesitation. I resented being shouted at by this stranger. And needless to say, if I needed to produce a really good video, this would NOT be my go-to guy.

The next event was a little more irksome. I was interested in a LinkedIn Discussion Group topic on the World’s most awarded print ad. By the time I joined the discussion, 55 people had already commented before me, and the comments had turned to the relationship between ad creativity and sales. Participants were musing as to whether great creative (as defined by all the awards it won) should be considered great if it doesn’t generate sales for the product.

As an ambassador for the DMA’s Echo Awards, I chimed in that the Echo Awards celebrate the combination of strategy, creative and results. And in my book, it’s the most meaningful award because it acknowledges the difficult and creatively brilliant ways marketing folks are able to position a product in a meaningful way that drives measurable results. I thought it was a fairly innocuous comment, but apparently not.

One subscriber, who seemed to delight in posting negative comments throughout the discussion thread, turned his sights on me. “So … all other award shows worldwide are not ‘meaningful.’ Congratulations. You’ve just offended practically every award-winning creative on the planet. Good luck with that.”

While I have pretty thick skin, his slap across my face hurt—and considering my lighthearted comment, I thought he was way out of line. Looking at his LinkedIn profile, this guy was a freelancer … and certainly one I’ll avoid in the future.

But the worst offenders seem to be those that comment on blogs. It’s easy to log in and add a post to nearly every blog on the web, including this one. But why do the nastiest comments always come from those who log in anonymously? I can understand that you may disagree with me, or think my post irrelevant or incompetent. But if you don’t have anything nice to say, do you get a lot of satisfaction from adding a cranky comment anonymously?

We know that email has created a passive aggressive form of communication. After all, it’s easy to write a snide remark and hit “send” without having to confront the recipient face-to-face. The difference is, when you send me an email, I know who you are. I can pick up the phone and respond … or run into you at a conference or social event. Net-net, we can seek to resolve our differences, or at least have a civil discussion about them.

But an anonymous, negative post always strikes me as a coward’s way out. As a result, I don’t respond with a follow-up comment … and I’m always grateful when one of my readers’ leaps to my defense.

So go ahead and let me know what you think about this blog post. And don’t be afraid to let all the readers know who you are.

Emails That Target Customer Behavior Without Using Big Data

The ever increasing volumes of data used by companies like Target, Walmart and Amazon to carefully target their customers is cumbersome and difficult to manage. Analyzing patterns to find the right trigger that will motivate an individual to buy requires gifted statisticians that combine art and science into marketing magic. But what if you are not quite ready to use big data in your business? Can you still reap some of the benefits?

The ever increasing volumes of data used by companies like Target, Walmart and Amazon to carefully target their customers is cumbersome and difficult to manage. Analyzing patterns to find the right trigger that will motivate an individual to buy requires gifted statisticians that combine art and science into marketing magic. But what if you are not quite ready to use big data in your business? Can you still reap some of the benefits?

Fortunately for companies that don’t have a team of statisticians standing by, customer behavior and activity can be used to increase sales without the challenges that come with big data. It’s as simple as watching for specific activity or changes in customer behavior and being prepared with a customized response to encourage people to buy.

If this is your first venture into customer behavior marketing, start with the people who are the easiest to identify. Seasonal and discount shoppers are relatively easy to recognize because they have very specific buying patterns. Creating customized marketing for them increases their response and reduces costs. The dual benefits make this a logical place to begin.

Seasonal shoppers are the people who purchase items at specific times of the year. Traditional RFM (recency, frequency, monetary value) analytics flag them as top buyers shortly after a purchase and then systematically move them down the value chain. When they place the next order, they move back to the top and flow down again. Creating a marketing plan that sends materials when they are most likely to buy reduces marketing costs without affecting sales.

Discount shoppers only buy when there is a sale. This segment can be further divided into subsets based on how much discount is required to get the sale. If the marketing is properly tailored, this group of people serves as inventory liquidators. Minimizing the non-sale direct mail pieces they receive and heavily promoting sales increases revenue while reducing costs.

Both groups respond well to promotional emails. Capturing email addresses should be standard operating procedure. It is especially critical for seasonal and discount shoppers because they tend to be more impulsive than other segments. The emails that remind seasonal shoppers that it is that time again and tell discount buyers about the current sales are economical and effective.

The next step after targeting shopper segments is adding specific product category information based on the individual’s shopping history. When my daughter was younger, my shopping behavior with American Girl included two orders per year for regular priced items and sale purchases in between. The two full price orders were placed just before Christmas and her birthday. Sale purchases were impulse driven and triggered by emails announcing clearance items.

Bitty Baby was the category of choice in the early years of buying from American Girl. The shift to the character dolls didn’t happen until my daughter was nine. She received her first Bitty Baby at two. During nine years of systematic purchases, no one recognized that I only ordered certain things at specific times. How much would your company save if your marketing was tailored to customer purchasing patterns?

What about targeting people who haven’t purchased from a specific category?

The ability to predict what people want before they know it is one of the advantages of analyzing trends and activity in big data. Before moving to that level, start with the information that shoppers are providing. This trigger email from Amazon was sent two weeks after I searched for soda can tops on their site without purchasing.

The email avoids the creepy factor by saying, “are you looking for something in our Kitchen Utensils & Gadgets department? If so, you might be interested in these items.” Instead of, “because we noticed that you spent 14.34 minutes searching for soda can tops you may be interested in the ones below.”

The best practices included in this email are:

  • It doesn’t share how they know that the shopper is interested in a specific category or item.
  • The timing from the original search to email generation is long enough to allow time to purchase, but not so long the search is forgotten.
  • It makes accessing the items easy by providing multiple links.
  • The branding is obvious with links to my account, deals and departments.

Targeting customer behavior can become very complicated very quickly. Starting simple with specific segments and activity allows you to test and build on the lessons learned. The return on investment is quick and may surprise you.

How Evolving Mobile Behaviors are Raising the Stakes for Marketers

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

If anything, the division of the mobile smartphone space into iOS and Android, as well as demographic and usage patterns on these platforms, means that targeting and developing effective mobile experiences just got a whole lot harder. But this is translating into more options for mobile marketers in 2012.

When you look at actual user behavior on smartphones, you might wonder how the mobile web would effectively fit in at all. The focus for both iOS and mobile users is on app usage versus mobile web access. Apps have become so successful that they’re moving us away from the web in general. The reasons are rather straightforward:

1. Curated content apps have become primary experiences. Whether public or ad supported, curated content sources (e.g., NPR and The Wall Street Journal) have found the niche within application environments that move users away from the web and directly toward branded experiences they trust as either primary or authoritative sources of information.

2. Excerpted content typically satisfies curiosity. Even more popular apps don’t necessarily translate to more mobile web activity. This has always been the fear with content syndication in general, but combine it with a preference for a more focused and curated experience and you get a further erosion of mobile web traffic.

3. The ease of use and established reliance on app stores. The effectiveness of the app store model combined with mobile context to include desktop environments further reinforces the shift from the web search route as a first stop for function resources.

Websites are driving traffic to apps instead of presenting a mobile-optimized version of themselves. Many sites could take advantage of users visiting via mobile device to optimize their experience. Instead, you should drive them to download apps that provide a specific or focused subset of content and functionality. Focus on creating a controlled and curated environment for experiencing content.

Further complicating matters are the differences in demographics and behavior between iOS and Android users. Android users tend to be heavier app users than iOS users (by a significant percentage), according to recent Fiksu research.

According to a recent Hunch.com survey, gender balances, income levels, age ranges and other important segmenting criteria also differ significantly between audiences. Certainly there’s enough to merit taking a closer look at these considerations when designing mobile experiences for these platforms. Android adoption rates make it clear that supporting Android isn’t an option; it’s a requirement in order to reach as broad a mobile and tablet audience as possible.

Tablets are an important area where the mobile web, and the higher percentage of mobile web usage among iOS users, comes into play. Tablets offer a superior web browsing experience. In addition, differing usage patterns and behaviors mean that tablet-based experiences can be deeper and richer than mobile-optimized executions and will track close to desktop browsing.

What does all of this mean for mobile marketers and advertisers in 2012? Android’s broader audience and superior mobile ad performance will make it a focus for mobile display advertising efforts. Apple’s advertising formats are of primary interest within the context of specific applications where their inclusion and application usage merit the investment. In-app advertisement effectiveness becomes even more critical to understand and measure in this context, as those investments tend to be higher than broader mobile ad networks buys.

Social platform mobile integration efforts need to be watched closely. Emerging apps and potential ad integration capabilities are key focal points for marketers already heavily invested in social platforms or for those looking to leverage location-enabled social networks more heavily.

Tablet and touch-optimized experiences via the mobile web will be critical to support the heavier skew of browser usage among tablet owners. Give specific consideration to the ability to leverage touch-enabled HTML5 implementations and the superior browsers offered by these platforms.

2012 will certainly be the year when marketers’ attention will be firmly focused on mobile, but in reality that represents separate and to some extent distinct experiences — e.g., mobile apps, mobile websites and tablet-optimized versions of both.

The Database Marketer Superhero: Expanded Role, Big Impact

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight? Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight?

Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Database marketers were traditionally the geeks of the marketing department. They kept to themselves, ran queries to answer questions posed by other strategists, and worked hard to keep data clean and updated. Today’s database marketers are part of an emerging and essential marketing operations team that’s driving a lot of brands’ strategies. One marketer said to me recently, “Whomever knows the customers best gets to make the call.” Who knows your customers better than the people working with the data every day? All of a sudden, database marketers are superheroes — or at least have the opportunity to wear capes if they choose to accept the challenge.

There are two factors driving this trend, one being consumer habit. Given the ability and choice to interact with brands in many ways and across many channels, consumers are taking full advantage. It’s a me-centered consumption world where customer preference and whim create habits. At the same time, marketing automation technology is advancing and data integration is possible. Marketers can track and, more importantly, react to customer behavior in order to meet needs across channels.

Consider these five initiatives that have become imperatives for many chief marketing officers today:

1. Obtain a 360-degree view of the customer. One B-to-C marketer told me that there are more than 25 ways customers can interact with her brand, from a kiosk to a store counter to email to mobile commerce to branded website to call center to social communities. Most consumers participate in three or more of those channels. Communications can only be optimized if those habits and experiences are captured — and actionable — in your database.

2. Respond to customer behavior in the channel where the interaction occurred. This also has to be aligned with self-selected preferences.

3. Select the optimal channel for your next offer. A hotel owner uses past booking behavior to send last-minute alerts via SMS to those who have opted in and accessed the brand’s mobile commerce site. All others get the information via email. Response has boosted overall 8 percent.

4. Outline personas representing key customer segments. Do this in order to profile audience types and improve communication messaging and cadence.

5. Test and optimize your mix of channels for lead nurturing campaigns. For a live seminar event, one B-to-B marketer emailed reminders and offers based on interaction with previous email campaigns. Those who didn’t respond got simple reminders on date, location and keynote speakers. Those who did respond got more robust offers. Revenue from the offers increased 50 percent over the previous year and spam complaints dropped 25 percent. This is surely because those who demonstrated a willingness to engage prior to the event were nurtured with offers that made sense to their actions, and the others were left alone.

I’m sure there are infinite variations of these opportunities. Perhaps you’re testing some of them now. It will also be great to see how database marketers react to this new level of attention and interest from the C-suite. Will you embrace it and join the strategists, or will you run back to the corner and take orders?

How are you and your team embracing the need for a data-driven marketing approach? Please tell us by posting a comment below.

Turning Social Media Into Customer – And Shareholder – Value

Forrester Research reports advertisers will spend $716 million on social media marketing (including ads on social networks, corporate blogs, etc) in 2010, but that will grow by 34 percent to top $3.1 billion in 2014. The investment shift reflects changing consumer behavior and acknowledgement that customers increasingly learn about a brand through the company, its employees, other customers and even competitors.

Forrester Research reports advertisers will spend $716 million on social media marketing (including ads on social networks, corporate blogs, etc.) in 2010, and that number will grow 34 percent to top $3.1 billion by 2014. The investment shift reflects changing consumer behavior and acknowledgement that consumers increasingly learn about brands — e.g., their employees, customers and even competitors — via social networks.

While search growth shows signs of slowing, the conversations happening in social settings — which aren’t slowing down — drive search behavior. They reflect the sum of all strategic decisions that affect a brand’s ability to efficiently increase its value over time. In turn, proactive marketers and investor relations pros are making up for the slowing growth of search by leveraging social media for new growth. However, in order for social media to invite an emotional attachment and deliver tangible shareholder value, it needs to scale within an organization from the top down.

Networking solutions provider Novell is embracing social media as a strategic foundation on which it does business. According to John Dragoon, chief marketing officer for Novell, “The ‘social’ part of social media means that you have to get as many people involved as possible …” At a time when Novell profits slipped amid uncertainty, the company refocused on a clear sense of purpose and a mission to deliver unique customer value one step at a time. Social media helped the company communicate these accomplishments not just to customers, but to shareholders, its workforce and others.

For Novell and other companies that want to improve external communications, it only makes sense to embrace the efficiency and searchability of social media. Today, consumers create their own media schedules and can easily edit, copy, produce and distribute content. Furthermore, with internet television services like Google TV coming soon, it’s only a matter of time before C-level executives foster two-way dialogs with key stakeholders in searchable media.

Therefore, it’s best for companies to think about social media in the form of content and context.

Content:
Social media can complement formal press releases. It provides a forum for quality, two-way dialog with key stakeholders to evaluate where a company has been, where it’s going and other important topics of value to participants.


Context: Inbound links and topical content webs convey the strategic value of a product/service within the context of the business/marketplace. They answer critical, high-value questions like:

  • What do customers do with your product or service?
  • How does your solution solve a consumer pain point?
  • What’s unique and differentiating about your product or service relative to the competition?