How Numbers Lead Us Astray So Easily

Frogs, fish, dogs, spiders, hyenas, chimps and others in the animal kingdom all have an innate ability for counting. But we humans are easily fooled by numbers, especially when they’re presented in context. Learning to exploit the power of context can pay off big for marketers, but at the same time, marketers need to be careful not to be fooled themselves.

numbers
Creative Commons license. | Credit: Pixabay by fotoblend

Frogs, fish, dogs, spiders, hyenas, chimps and others in the animal kingdom all have an innate ability for counting. But we humans are easily fooled by numbers, especially when they’re presented in context. Learning to exploit the power of context can pay off big for marketers, but at the same time, marketers need to be careful not to be fooled themselves.

Consider the example of the Economist subscription offer discussed by Dan Ariely in his book “Predictably Irrational.” Ariely duplicated this subscription offer with a group of 100 MBA students:

Chuck McLeester Chart 1
Credit: Chuck McLeester

Which would you have chosen?

Repeating the exercise without the “decoy” offer of the print only subscription yielded the following results:

Chuck McLeester Chart 2
Credit: Chuck McLeester

Which would you have chosen this time? Clearly, context will fool us into perceiving the value of offers differently.

Fish are not so easily fooled.

“Small fish benefit from living in schools, and the more numerous the group, the statistically better a fish’s odds of escaping predation. As a result, many shoaling fish are excellent appraisers of relative head counts. Three-spined sticklebacks are … able to tell six fellow fish from seven, or 18 from 21 — a comparative power that many birds, mammals and even humans might find hard to beat.” Beastly Arithmetic, NYTimes Feb 6 2018

Psychology-based marketing expert Jeanette McMurtry says,

“When marketers discover the inconsistencies and irrationalities about how consumers make choices, they can create messaging that engages consumers’ minds, both conscious and unconscious. When that happens, there’s a lot more to ‘count’ when it comes to sales, revenue, ROI and lifetime value.”

One of the reasons we’re so easily tricked by numbers is our reliance on verbal intuition. In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman provides several illustrations of how our intuition gets in the way of arithmetic when we’re presented with numerical problems in a verbal context. What is your initial response to Kahneman’s word problem?

  • A ball and a bat cost $1.10
  • The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
  • How much does the ball cost?

You would not be alone if your initial response was 10 cents. But you would be wrong. Because if the ball cost 10 cents and the bat costs one dollar more than the ball then the total cost would be $1.20.

Consider how you might take advantage of people’s intuitive responses when constructing offers, but don’t let your own intuition get in the way of making decisions. Sometimes marketers are fooled by test results because they look for cause and effect in results that could easily have happened randomly. If you’re testing creative variations with samples of 25,000 impressions and your usual clickthrough rates are in the range of 1 percent (which yields a results pool of about 250 clicks), you should know with that sample size and that average response rate, your results can vary by 10 percent. So, statistically there’s a 90 percent chance that you could have gotten 225 clicks or 275 clicks. Yet, if you got both those extremes in an A/B test, it would be easy to conclude that one cell beat the other by a lot.

We are similarly confused by percentages. Psychologists Rochel Gelman of Rutgers University and Jennifer Jacobs Danan of the University of California, Los Angeles, have studied how often reasonably well-educated people miscalculate percentages. We hear that the price of something rose by 50 percent and then fell by 50 percent, and we reflexively, mistakenly conclude, “Oh good, we’re back to where we started.” Beastly Arithmetic, NYTimes Feb 6 2018

Feel free to comment with your answer to this percentage problem, or with any thoughts or experiences you have on using consumers’ proclivity for intuition over rationality to better your marketing efforts.

Pepsi Fumbles Context of NFL Playoffs

Context and relevancy are supposed to be the next big things. But even in the world of TV, where programming is known months in advance, brands still drop the ball — like Pepsi did in the NFL conference championship broadcasts last week.

Context and relevancy are supposed to be the next big things. But to actually serve contextually relevant content isn’t just a challenge for personalized, digital media. Even in the world of TV, where programming is known months in advance, brands still drop the ball — like Pepsi did in the NFL conference championship broadcasts last week.

For Sunday’s NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, played between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles, Pepsi seemed to run just one commercial: A Dallas Cowboys spot that ran at least three times during the game in the Philadelphia area:

So, OK, somewhere the ad buyer said, “This is an NFL game, run our best performing NFL commercial.” What’s the big deal?

Well, that was silly for a bunch of reasons. Not least of which is that the Cowboys didn’t even make the playoffs this year. So, most of their fans aren’t tuning in.

What makes it even worse is this was a game that drew heavy Minnesota and Philadelphia audiences. Sure, fans from across the country watched too, but I bet Philly and Minnesota fans made up half of the audience.

And all of those viewers have one thing in common: They don’t like the Dallas Cowboys.

Minnesota fans have some history with Dallas.

And Eagles fans … well former Eagle Bennie Logan said it best:

Former Eagle Bennie Logan on the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry.
Former Eagle Bennie Logan on the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry.

Pepsi running this commercial over and over again to Eagles and Vikings fans isn’t just ineffective, it’s insulting. Pepsi might as well have run a Coke ad.

The thing is, in the past, this was OK. You may even think it’s OK today. But it’s not going to be OK tomorrow.

If we’re going to meet the challenges of relevance at the personal level, we need to get our heads out of the sand about marketing at the macro level. You’re never going to bring effective relevancy to your digital content if you can’t recognize that a Dallas commercial was a bad idea this playoff season.

Understand what’s going on with your audience when they’re engaging with your marketing. Why are they there? What do they need? What’s happening around them? That’s what’s going to make your marketing stand out in the years ahead.

For SEO Success in 2018 – Be Relevant and Reputable

With SEO, the adage holds that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Searchers are still looking for answers, so these are key for SEO success in 2018. But what is a high-quality answer?

With SEO, the adage holds that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Searchers are still looking for answers and have become increasingly accustomed to and impatient to receive high-quality results. So high-quality answers are key for SEO success in 2018.

What is a high-quality answer? This is not a tricky question. It is a result that answers the searcher’s query and is from a reputable source.

This seems so simple, but it takes complex search algorithms to identify the best and highest-quality answer for each search from a veritable blizzard of information online. A page may be relevant and have information that addresses the query, but the question of quality must be addressed through other means than what is on the page itself.

In the past, SEO practitioners focused on “link building” to get other sites to in effect vouch for the page’s quality. To game the system, SEO tacticians engaged in link farming, selling of links and other abuses. Each of these practices has been discredited. Some SEOs have gone so far as to say that link-building and by extension links are not valuable signals for search.

This could not be further from the truth.

You Can’t Teach a Pig to Sing

Link-building is not an isolated SEO tactic that will magically transform a weak page on a poor-quality site into a page worthy of a number 1 ranking. This just doesn’t happen anymore. Once upon a time, it was possible to game the system and make magic happen. It is much harder today, hence the premature obituaries for links were written.

Today, for a page to rise to the top of the listings, it must be relevant, authoritative and trustworthy. The page must contain an adequate amount of high quality content to satisfy the relevancy requirement.

Many SEOs have latched on to content creation and curation as the solution that will propel pages to the top. In a vacuum, this might work. The SEO environment is not a vacuum so unless the page provides information that shows expertise on the topic, it will not by itself move up. The website must be viewed as a trustworthy, authoritative expert source. If your site and its pages do not meet these requirements, you will be passed over.

This does not absolve you from having a fast, technically sound site. This is simply that edge that can make a huge business difference.

Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

A few high-quality links will do wonders for your performance; whereas, numbers of poor-quality links bring little value. Quality links having staying power. Some high-quality links may still be shining authority on your site years after they were acquired, so they are worth the effort. It takes time and effort to cultivate quality links, just like building your business network. If you treat link-building as networking for your site, you will not go wrong.

How do you get quality links? You create content that shows your expertise. Do this often enough and you will become an authority in your domain.

It is my contention that all of us who are in business are experts within some domain. It is up to the site owner to determine what is the business’ domain of expertise and project and inject it into the site and its pages. Some of the ways might include creating solid content that the sources you want will use such as original research or analysis. You might consider creating a stunning infographic that clearly shows you as an expert in your field.

Once you create your work, don’t hide your light under the proverbial bushel, reach out to the sources you want to link to your site. As your network of links builds, you will be rewarded with more top placements for your site’s pages.

6 Tips for Interpreting Content Marketing KPIs

In my last post, I addressed the metrics that should be a part of your content marketing KPIs. Today, I’d like to dive into what to look for in the marketing metrics you are measuring.

content marketing KPIsIn my last post, I addressed the metrics that should be a part of your content marketing KPIs. Today, I’d like to dive into what to look for in the marketing metrics you are measuring.

1. Think Motion Pictures, Not Snapshots

Perhaps the most important concept you can take away from this column is the truth that although data points can be valuable individually, you’ll gain the most insight from your KPIs by tracking them over time.

This will generally give you a more accurate picture of the health of your online marketing efforts since the trends can help you filter out more of the noise. The shorter the period you’re examining the more likely something anomalous will impact the accuracy of your data.

Over time, you’ll see trends develop and you’ll gain an understanding about the metrics where small changes are important and the metrics where even wild swings aren’t cause for alarm or celebration.

2. Think About Context

Here again, I am suggesting that you not look at individual data points discretely, but rather as part of a larger whole. For example, seeing an important page on your site with a higher-than-average exit rate might look alarming, but it might simply be the nature of that page’s content combined with the fact that it is a more popular page.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to decrease the exit rate on your key pages, but you probably shouldn’t be comparing a page like that to a low-traffic page that appeals only to a small segment of your overall audience.

3. Understand the Metrics

Most metrics are going to be fairly straightforward and easily understood even by those not already familiar with reading analytics, but as a marketer, you’d be wise to assume nothing, and work an explanation of key metrics into your presentation so more senior people don’t have to ask.

You should also make sure you and your team really do know what, say, bounce rates are and how they work. This keeps you and anyone who reviews your metrics from reacting to results incorrectly.

For example, we frequently see contact pages with bounce rates that are higher than the average for the site overall. Invariably, a client will ask about this – isn’t it a “bad” signal? In fact, it’s probably not. As you can imagine, a fair amount of your contact page traffic may be from folks who search for how to contact you by phone or email. So what do they do?

  1. They go to their favorite search engine and enter, “phone number for Andigo” or “Andigo email address.”
  2. They click on the link to your contact page
  3. Once they get to your page, they pick up the phone or send you an email.

That’s it. And that’s good. Actually, that’s great since it means they’ve “converted” and moved their relationship with you beyond simply consuming your content.

4. Looks For Gaps in Attribution

While we’re on the subject of contact points, you should look for gaps in attribution that open email addresses and phone numbers can cause. If your contact page simply has “info@mycompany.com” as a way to contact you, you’ll never be able to tell whether the email that lands in your “info” inbox is from the website or elsewhere. (To say nothing of spam you’ll be receiving.) Instead, use a mail form that can be coded to let you easily identify the inquiry as having come from your website and even feed it directly into your CRM, alerting the appropriate team members based on information in the form. (Zip code or area of interest, for example.)

The Data-Content Continuum: A Marketing Virtuous Circle

To transform an organization to customer-centricity, to provide prospects and customers with relevant content, and to achieve sustainable marketing ROI all depends on data. We all get that. It may be hard to break down data silos and create a whole customer view — to prompt smarter marketing triggers — but increasingly brands and their agency and ad tech partners are finding better ways to do just that.

Data DrivenTo transform an organization to customer-centricity, to provide prospects and customers with relevant content, and to achieve sustainable marketing ROI all depends on data. We all get that. It may be hard to break down data silos and create a whole customer view — to prompt smarter marketing triggers — but increasingly brands and their agency and ad tech partners are finding better ways to do just that.

We’re data-driven marketers. We develop and depend on data strategies that incorporate data governance and data quality at every information spigot. We strive for analytics to predict behavior, to increase ad (and audience) buy efficiency, and to gain insight in response. We refine continuously. Increasingly, that response isn’t about measuring the impact of this marketing tactic or that ad campaign result, but rather marketing’s overall contribution to enterprise objectives.

Data, check. But what about content?

As channels proliferate, as paths to purchase become increasingly complex — heck consumer wander as they self-select their paths – a tough question remains: Is there enough branded (and non-branded) content available, across channels, to scale 1:1 at a mass level — and still be compelling, relevant and timely?

Well, in a word or two, that’s the very direction brands are going (or trying to).

A recent gathering of Marketing Idea eXchange (MIX, formerly Direct Marketing Idea eXchange) explored the relationship between data and content — led by Velocidi CEO David Dunne and Unified.Agency CEO George Wiedemann.  I share some interesting observation that may inform any data-driven content strategy:

  • Personalization matters — but personas matters more. After all, personalizing irrelevant content is counterproductive, said kindly. Since the funnel can have many points of entry, and many paths to conversion, all the better to have accessible content based on buyer and influencer personas (B-to-B and B-to-C).
  • Big data, small data, which data is most important? The data that provides context. There could be hundreds (even thousands) of data elements across the marketing ecosystem that can be assigned to any one individual. Chances are only a precious few serve to identify context (a locale-based search, for example, a prolonged Web site visit with active engagement there, or transaction history). When trigger-based marketing is based on context, it serves to help define the right types of content to serve the customer’s wants and needs in that moment.For example, luxury spa and personal care products manufacturer used a mix of traditional marketing research (in-store surveys) and market testing to transform its digital presence as a “pampered” customer experience. Innovation resulted: Online beauty consultants on demand, chat features, appointment booking by Web, digital promotions to introduce new services — all working to extend the brand’s exclusivity without sacrificing accessibility to its customers.
  • Can creatives learn to love data — best that they do! “I never met a creative person who did not want their work to resonate [with an intended audience],” Dunne remarked. “Data provides the insight that can unlock their creative capabilities.”
  • How do we create content at scale? As media budgets are optimized, less waste, theoretically at least, frees resources for both persona- and context-driven media buying, and persona- and context-driven content development. Content does not always need to be paid, earned or owned — it can be curated from second- and third-party sources.
  • “Content” also comes in many forms — some of which may or may not be in a marketing budget at all: The call center conversation, the online chat transcript, media placements, analyst reports, social content, customer reviews, direct mail — is all of this being organized smartly around context and personas?

And perhaps the largest observation of all: Marketing is less and less campaign-based — it is more and more continuous. The relationship between data and content is a continuum — always improving each other. Marketing budgets need to reflect dialogue, not spray and pray. We used to jump on the bandwagon. It’s now time to jump in the circle.

There’s an Ad for That

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

According to eMarketer, mobile ad spending in messaging, display, video and search is expected for the first time to top $1 billion in the U.S. this year, showing the highly fractured nature of the mobile ad market. Research from several mobile ad network providers shows the difference in performance between approaches and resulting user behaviors, with expanding ads performing extremely poorly in terms of clickthroughs versus simple animated banner or video ads. Adding to the challenge of choosing the right approach and setting expectations of performance is the sheer number of ad formats and networks available.

Consider Context
Don’t just think about how and when users are exposed to ads on their phones, but also where they are and what they’re doing at the time. This establishes a complete picture of the context for the ad. Some formats don’t make sense in a broad variety of contexts, therefore a critical consideration would be to ensure that whatever network you’re using offers this type of contextual placement in addition to other targeting options.

There are real differences when considering advertising in apps vs. mobile websites. While casual web surfing on a mobile or tablet device would support the use of display ads to reach an audience, in-app behavior is distinctly different from surfing. This means that even if in-app advertising is available, you need to carefully consider its effectiveness during real-world app usage and the overall impression it would give users encountering it in a particular context.

Consider the following: Do mobile users really need or want a banner ad consuming valuable screen space in the apps they frequent most? It’s this total picture of context that should be the driving consideration for design, placement and expectations of performance. Even if ads aren’t currently available in that location, the ability to leverage background application processing or emerging geo-fencing options allows marketers to take advantage of what would normally be a missed messaging opportunity.

Let’s consider in-ad gaming for mobile, specifically ads during active gameplay. Even at a load screen, would you really expect an ad to drive a clickthrough? Would it do anything but generate an ad impression? As a gamer, I’m not likely to click if I’m stealing a few minutes during the day for a casual gaming session to relax before resuming my day. However, seeing that ad still works for branding purposes as past data suggests.

Mobile is Actually Local
The reality is that the mobile device is inherently local, which needs to factor prominently into planning a mobile campaign. While mobile users are unlikely to be surfing and clicking on banners while walking within the proximity of a nearby coffee shop, you can use technologies such as geo-fencing and background application processing on mobile devices to offer them $1 off an oh-so-satisfying latte. This example makes a strong case for carefully considering branding versus direct response versus promotional programs. It definitely reinforces the importance of context.

Where this gets even more interesting for advertisers is in the ability to exchange data and share interaction points for local, geo-targeted ad or promotional models. If a loyalty or transaction app is already installed on a consumer’s phone, and it enables proximity notifications through access to the device’s location, a retailer can let five other retailers within walking distance leverage this trusted channel to provide truly localized messaging opportunities at a premium.

They can even support a performance-based model, which could accurately determine if the consumer subsequently walked into the establishment. This is all no more complex than any self-service ad model in place today, with legal and privacy concerns addressed via proper disclosures and notifications during installation and/or activation of the app.

Display advertising on mobile obviously isn’t going away. The sooner you realize that it’s not the web as you know it today, stop trying to force current ad models into current mobile platforms, and that context is key, the sooner you’ll be able to generate not only results you can brag about, but returns clients can truly appreciate.