Data, Customer Experience and Calculated Risk in the Marketing

When I used to be heavily invested in music, teachers would often say, “The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.” This is equally valid with regard to digital information. For example, the more online digital information I knowingly or unknowingly provide through browsing habits, forms I fill in, subscriptions, purchases, games I play or any corner of the Internet I visit, the more I get back.

Editor’s Note: While this piece was written for the promotional marketing audience, the author’s discussion of data and customer experience is relevant to all marketers.

When I used to be heavily invested in music, teachers would often say, “The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.” This is true with my career, in my relationships and with my health. This is equally valid with regard to digital information. For example, the more online digital information I knowingly or unknowingly provide through browsing habits, forms I fill in, subscriptions, purchases, games I play or any corner of the Internet I visit, the more I get back. And delving a little deeper, it’s interesting to discover that my returns are tangential to my online patterns.

Have you ever noticed that after you’ve been researching a particular product, it “magically” appears as an advertisement on an unrelated website? That marketing tactic is called retargeting. Had I named the tactic, I may well have called it “echo marketing,” because what we “shout” into our Internet browser echoes back at us in fascinating ways. Those of us that shout the loudest endure the most intense echoes.

Not surprisingly, the majority of human beings don’t do a lot of changing in their adult years. For the most part, we create patterns and routines that provide us the comfort of habit as opposed to the discomfort of change. It’s a survival mechanism that must date back to our ancestral days: Repeat what works, or die by repeating what doesn’t. Thus, it’s ingrained in us to perform habits that result in the least amount of hardship. And as the years have gone by and survival has become less of an issue in the technological age, the instinct is still there, but the cost is progress.

What companies inspire you the most? Which individuals motivate you to be your best self? Chances are that the companies and the people that inspire you are evolvers. According to Fortune, the world’s most admired companies in 2018 were Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. Apart from starting with the letter “A,” these three companies embody the spirit of innovation, evolution and change. These are companies that are dismantling the very walls and mountains, whose colossal size create the largest echoes. Unwilling to suffer the same fate as Blockbuster Video or Toys R Us, evolvers aren’t interested in an echo. They’re more interested in following the sweet sound of unencumbered curiosity.

In math, the equal sign is flanked by two expressions that share the same value — a universal concept that’s largely accepted by society. But what’s interesting is that we’ve begun to apply the equal sign to behavioral equations that are becoming shockingly accurate (though never as absolute as in pure mathematics). It is in this fascinating environment in which we find ourselves today. Here’s an example: Someone who visits antique car websites frequently = someone who is interested in antique cars. Though this may be correct or incorrect, we can add to the equation to increase the probability of its accuracy. Here’s the new equation: Someone who visits antique car websites frequently and shops for antique car parts online = someone who has an antique car. Again, though it may be correct or incorrect, the likelihood of its accuracy increases.

When we start to accumulate and add variables such as when this person browses antique car websites, how long they browse for, how often they browse, what specific pages they navigate, and what their age and gender is, the equation becomes eerily precise. What I’m getting at is that we’re now capable of creating a personality profile for every browser. As an advertiser armed with this kind of knowledge, it becomes quite simple to launch appropriate messages to the person behind the profile, thus adding a song to their echo chamber.

We can view this reality in many ways. One way to see it is to accept the efficiency of the system in that the information that interests us now comes to us automatically. In other words, I get what I need. What an amazing time to be alive, right? Or, we can see it a little differently by understanding that our habits, in this technological age, are putting us in a prison in which reality is only what we know. Those who choose to see it this way may contend that this myopic view of the world is potentially quite dangerous and doesn’t encourage open-mindedness and curiosity.

As a supplier (as well as a marketer), I must ask myself, does the possession of data come with a responsibility, not only for the obvious safekeeping of said data but for how I use it? Of course it does! Today, I’m using your precious data to fulfill the needs you already have, and I’m using it to broaden your horizons (and my own as well). What our company is attempting to do with data is to create opportunity. We can do that by highlighting which products your customers are likely to want. We can do that by showing you the evolutionary patterns your customers are exhibiting, which results in new roads, which lead to new destinations, hitherto uncharted. We’re using data to learn what we don’t already know — and I find that exhilarating and exciting. Soon, we’ll be able to move into new products categories that we’d never imagined getting into, catering to the needs of our customers.

And this is precisely why so much is being made of customer experience (CX) these days. Cultivate the right experience for your customer and you’re golden. But miss the mark, and you’ve lost a customer. Blockbuster Video failed to understand the changing needs of its customers and ultimately failed to provide the time-appropriate experience that they demanded. Using data in a responsible, ethical and creative manner can both feed the echo chamber and enrich it.

The companies I admire the most in our industry are those that are category designers. They’re not fearful of failure. They take calculated risks and attempt to use creativity and foresight to create positive change, by orders of magnitude. Engineering and reengineering are part of their constitution. They are the masters of their echo chambers because they fill them with winning formulas, and they’re bold when composing new songs. They’re not afraid to transform their chambers by moving and manipulating walls to create new acoustics. Our industry is in the midst of the greatest transformation in its history. Using a combination of technology, experience, insight and curiosity, we’re reading minds. Telepathy isn’t a dream anymore; we’re already doing it. Scary? No way! If you’re like me, you’re building the most beautiful cathedral you can imagine. You’re an architect. You have a voice. Use it.

Generational Marketing: Gen Z Goes to College

I’ve taught in colleges since 2005, and have shared my observations about Millennials in several Target Marketing blog posts. Recently, I realized that most of my current students aren’t Millennials, so my curiosity about psycho-demographics has me trying to observe the generational marketing characteristics of this new cohort of college students, arbitrarily defined as those born starting in 1997.

I’ve taught in colleges since 2005, and have shared my observations about Millennials in several Target Marketing blog posts. Recently, I realized that most of my current students aren’t Millennials, so my curiosity about psycho-demographics has me trying to observe the generational marketing characteristics of this new cohort of college students, arbitrarily defined as those born starting in 1997.

Of course, changes in generational attitudes don’t occur overnight, and so I didn’t walk into class one semester and say, “Wow, these kids are different!” The oldest Gen Zers were freshmen in 2015 and because the lines between the generations aren’t always distinct, I don’t have a large sample on which to base my generalizations. But here are some of my initial observations based on some recent classroom encounters.

Technology and Ageism

Unlike the students of five-plus years ago, the current group does not automatically assume that older people (myself included) are digital idiots. Perhaps that’s because their parents are more technologically savvy and their grandparents have social media accounts. Although most identified their grandparents as laggards when it came to smartphone adoption in a recent assignment on the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, they don’t automatically assume that older people are technologically clueless. (See my post from 2016 on “Millennial Microagression”).

Financial Awareness

The cost of their education is always top-of-mind. It comes up frequently in classroom discussions about their consumption habits. Their formative years were marked by a time of economic uncertainty. In a recent marketing class at Rutgers, we were discussing how the economic environment affects marketing strategy and tactics. When I referenced the financial crisis of 2008, I realized that most of the students were in elementary or middle school during that time. Whether or not they experienced a parent’s job loss or home foreclosure firsthand, most understood that times were difficult and the financial future was not always assured.

Social Media-Cautious

In a recent assignment about retargeting, I asked them to cite examples of how their online activity led to seeing ads about things they posted or searched. Most referenced Google searches, and one student claimed that she was disadvantaged in coming up with examples because she has no social media accounts. Some have abandoned Facebook and, while they use Instagram, most keep their accounts private. By contrast, my experience with Millennials is that they were, and continue to be, much freer with their social media activity.

Look for more about Gen Z in upcoming posts.

What Google’s New AdWords Phone Number and Address Targeting Mean for You

Just in time for the holidays, Google delivered a huge gift to business owners who haven’t been gathering email addresses from customers.

google adwordsJust in time for the holidays, Google delivered a huge gift to business owners who haven’t been gathering email addresses from customers.

Google AdWords now allows businesses to use their customers’ addresses and phone numbers to target them with ad campaigns. Previously, this perk of the AdWords Customer Match system only worked with email addresses. Now, businesses with years’ worth of customer information not including emails can get far more mileage from the AdWords platform.

You might be wondering, “Who doesn’t collect email addresses from customers?” While collecting email addresses seems like common sense nowadays, it wasn’t a big deal for businesses that focused on newspaper, radio and local TV advertising.

Additionally, brick-and-mortar businesses generally don’t collect email addresses as thoroughly as online retailers. It has become second nature for online shoppers to offer up their email addresses to get email coupons or complete online checkouts. People who routinely give their email addresses online might react differently when asked for their emails in person.

This change to Google’s Customer Match system helps level the playing field. Business owners who have loads of customer data, but not email addresses, can now launch remarketing campaigns that are often cheaper and more effective than standard pay-per-click ads.

What Is Remarketing?

Remarketing is one of the most powerful tools in the AdWords toolbox. Simply put, remarketing is when you target an advertisement at people who’ve already shown interest in your business. A remarketing audience could include people who’ve visited certain pages of your website (you’d compile these lists using HTML code snippets or with Google Analytics). Remarketing audiences could also include people who’ve placed items in virtual shopping cards or completed online purchases.

Why does remarketing matter? For starters, it allows you to personalize your campaigns toward certain groups of customers. You can pitch sales to shoppers who showed interest in specific goods and services, or you can rekindle interest in people who browsed your website. You can also use remarketing to reconnect with customers who’ve gone several months without contact. There are too many possibilities to list here.

More importantly, remarketing campaigns typically convert at a much higher rate than standard AdWords campaigns. Customers who see remarketing ads become less likely to click with each viewing; however, those who do click are twice as likely to convert! That’s according to Wordstream, a marketing software company that published its finding in spring 2017.

Thanks to the changes to the Customer Match system, small business owners don’t need to collect digital data from customers to reap the benefits of remarketing.

Are These Customer Match Changes Too Personal?

You don’t need to worry about Google using your customers’ information for its own money-making purposes. How Google uses this data is strictly laid out on its website.

For starters, only customers who’ve entered their names, phone numbers and addresses into Google accounts (such as Gmail) can be targeted with the Customer Match system. They won’t see your remarketing campaigns if they haven’t already willingly given their personal data to Google.

6 Tips for a Successful Remarketing Campaign

Who has a better chance of becoming a paying customer — a random user who is searching for relevant goods and services, or someone who was one click away from actually making a purchase on your website? The answer to this question is why remarketing is such a powerful tool in Google AdWords.

Who has a better chance of becoming a paying customer — a random user who is searching for relevant goods and services, or someone who was one click away from actually making a purchase on your website? The answer to this question is why remarketing is such a powerful tool in Google AdWords.

Your chances of scoring conversions (and improving your ROI) rises significantly among shoppers who’ve already confirmed their interests in your business.

Setting up remarketing campaigns is easy and fairly straightforward. But like any other aspect of online advertising, you won’t get the most from remarketing unless you pay close attention to the details. Read on for six tips for boosting the success of your remarketing campaigns.

1. Start with Top-Performing Campaigns

A full-scale plunge into remarketing could significantly increase your AdWords costs. For the best ROI while minimizing cost increases, consider focusing your remarketing efforts on your top-performing campaigns.

This is the lowest hanging fruit because you know your offer works and it’s just a matter of squeezing more conversions out of the campaign. Then, once you gain more experience, expand to other campaigns in your account.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Bid Aggressively

A Wordstream study found that, although remarketing click-through rates declined over time, conversion rates nearly doubled among shoppers who viewed ads twice! That’s a huge bump, and it’s worth bidding more than what you’d pay for typical ad placements.

Remember, with remarketing you’re showing your ads to prospects who already expressed interest in your product or service.  This tends to lead to higher conversion rates and lower cost per sale.

Of course, not all website visitors should be treated equally. Prioritize and bid more aggressively for the visitors who made it further down the sales funnel.  For example, a visitor who made it to the order form and then left is more likely to convert via remarketing than a visitor who left the site after reading just one page.

3. Make Remarketing Campaigns for Known Customers

Remarketing is great for connecting with interested shoppers, but don’t forget about actual customers. You can specifically target people who’ve made purchases or requested more information. Do this with tailor-made campaigns that advertise new goods and services.

Remarketing is also a great way to inform your known customers about sales, discounts and other special offers. These campaigns are more likely to resonate with people who’ve already built up trust in your business.

4. Take Advantage of Broad Keywords

Broad-match terms are often viewed as the kryptonite of keyword lists. They’re vague and nonspecific. They’ll get you a ton of traffic for cheap, but a good chunk of that traffic won’t be from interested shoppers.

Unless it’s a remarketing campaign!

Broad-match keywords are fantastic with remarketing, because you’re only targeting interested shoppers. For example, if you owned a house painting business, normally you wouldn’t want to use “paint” as a keyword because you’d get too much irrelevant traffic from other searches. (The top related searches for “paint” on Google include “paint games,” “paint Microsoft” and “paint app.”)

However, if you’re targeting people who’ve already shown interest in your business, then you don’t need to worry so much about them finding you again with a paint-related search — even if it’s not entirely relevant.

Taking advantage of cheaper broad-match keywords can re-engage shoppers more quickly and at reduced costs.

5. Offer Special Discounts to Shopping Cart Bouncers

There are all kinds of reasons why people leave websites without buying what’s in their shopping carts. Sometimes, people just get busy or distracted. Other times, they may have second thoughts. Whatever the reason, these folks were, at one point, just a quick checkout away from becoming paying customers.

Thanks to remarketing, you can target ads specifically toward shoppers who bailed from your shopping cart page. Why not incentivize them to finish what they started by offering them an attractive coupon?

6. Don’t Pester Shoppers

Remarketing is a great tool for engaging with interested shoppers, but put yourself in the consumer’s perspective. What do you feel when you’re bombarded with the same ads either online or on TV? Chances are, you don’t like it. Neither does your advertising audience.

Fortunately, you can avoid this by adjusting the duration and frequency capping settings within your remarketing campaigns. The duration is how long your ads follow each shopper. With frequency capping, you can set how many times a person sees your remarketing ads per day or per week or per month.

Conclusion

Remarketing is a powerful tool for putting your ads in front of shoppers who you already know are interested in what you’re selling. To be able to communicate directly with these potential customers is a huge advantage, and that’s reflected by generally higher CTRs and conversion rates among remarketing campaigns.

That said, remarketing is not guaranteed to work without the right optimization techniques, which we’ve reviewed in this post. Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way toward reconnecting with shoppers who are already close to becoming your customers.

Want more tips to improve your Google AdWords performance?  Click here to get a copy of our Ultimate Google AdWords Checklist.

Amazon’s Just Taunting Me – When Retargeting Goes Wrong

I’m generally pretty happy to be marketed to, especially when it’s well-personalized. But when retargeting is done wrong, it can go really wrong. And Amazon, with me, has gone really, really wrong. To the extent that this e-commerce scion isn’t just wasting its money, it’s actively ticking me off.

I’m generally pretty happy to be marketed to, especially when it’s personalized. Facebook ads, retargeting me across the Internet, direct mail … All of those things were on display in my Christmas post.

But when retargeting is done wrong, it can go really wrong. And Amazon, with me, has gone really, really wrong. To the extent that this e-commerce scion isn’t just wasting its money, it’s actively ticking me off.

Amazon Retargeting
And God help you if you click on one of those ads to see if the size selection changed …

Clothes are hard for me to find. I’m very tall and very big, and going to anything but big-and-tall stores is pretty much a waste of time (big-and-tall stores are basically the place to pay Brooks Brothers prices for K-mart quality and fashion sense, but that’s for another post).

So I do a lot of clothes shopping online with search terms like “3xlt” and “56 long.”

The problem is, search technology is baffled by this arcane language! Look up “men’s trenchcoat 3xlt” and you’ll see this:

Google Search for Men's TrenchcoatNone of those links takes you to trenchcoats in xxx-large tall. It doesn’t matter if I spell it “trenchcoat” or “trench coat.” It doesn’t matter if I use “3xlt” or “xxxl tall” or “long” or “XXX Tall Coat.” (Admittedly, the last one works a little better, but not by much.)

It’s hard to zero in on clothes in specific, uncommon sizes. So I wind up clicking on a lot of links that lead to clothes that do not come in my size.

And then, I start seeing ads for things like this:

Asian Large Trench Coat
I’m sure it’s huge in Japan.

That’s actually a nice-looking coat! I’d love to get that … Except once I click around, I see they only make it in Asian sizes that sound about as big as one of my socks.

I can get over that. That’s been my life since I was 10 and grew out of “huskies.”

But then these ads, in the immortal words of Denny Hatch, Start. Chasing. Me. All. Over. The. Internet.

Seriously, I’m seeing Amazon ads for trench coats in essentially children’s sizes on Facebook, Yahoo, every article I visit, and even occasionally in our own Today @ Target Marketing newsletter (which sometimes serves network ads via LiveIntent).

Some of the dangers of retargeting are well documented. Yes, it’s annoying to see ads, sometimes even sales, for things you just bought and products you could’ve bought instead. It’s annoying to see ads for things you shouldn’t buy but tempt you, even after your willpower won the battle against temptation once.

It’s another thing altogether to see hundreds of ad impressions for a piece of apparel that is actively making you angry because they don’t make it for you.

That’s when the customer experience goes from “OK, this can be useful, but today it’s annoying” to making me go full Picard.

Amazon PicardTargeting algorithms aren’t going anywhere. I’ve personally been enticed to spend way more thanks to them — when they’re not actively taunting me.

But the deeper we get into this uncanny valley, the more we see instances where your AI sales assistant acts dumber than your pimple-faced summer stock boy. And I wonder if that will ever change.

The Christmas Marketing That Worked on Me, and Why

It was the weekend before Christmas, and all through the house, not a wallet had opened, we hadn’t even gone out. … So, some direct marketing shopping was in order, but from who? Here are a couple pieces of marketing that worked on me this holiday season.

It was the weekend before Christmas, and all through the house, not a wallet had opened, we hadn’t even gone out. …

So, some direct marketing shopping was in order, but from who?

Here are a couple pieces of marketing that worked on me this holiday season, and one bit of retargeting that caught the attention of my wife.

ThinkGeek

It probably won’t surprise you that I have some geeks in my life. So I’m on the ThinkGeek email list (along with at least one other TM editor, spot their Schrodinger’s Cat mug).

I wasn’t planning on ordering anything from ThinkGeek this year, but I had some unfilled gift boxes, and this email came.

"Snuggle up with 30% off your order and ThinkGeek's coziest threds"? Don't mind if I do!
“Snuggle up with 30% off your order and ThinkGeek’s coziest threds”? Don’t mind if I do.

Why it worked: There’s a Harry Potter fan on my list, and that person happens to have been looking for a comforter. So X-mas marked the spot in the top-right corner with the Harry Potter House Comforter. In addition, the percent-off offers across the top are aggressive and hooked me in. In fact, I added a second gift for the same person just to get to the next discount level.

A Christmas Faux Pas: ThinkGeek did a good job with everything here, and got my gift in the mail the day after I ordered it (a Sunday, no less). However, they also made a little bit of a rookie mistake: The day after I ordered it, I got an email with the quilt on sale for about 20 percent less.

I’m not too upset over it, since it’s Christmas and the buying experience has been very good so far. But there was a moment there where I felt like a rube. I’m not sure what the best way is to make sure you don’t mail new deals to recent buyers, but as the buyer here, I feel like that’s a good way to undermine your good first impression.

Fairytale Brownies

I don’t only know geeks. I also know some ramblers. I’ve got family in a few states across the U.S. who we send gifts to.

The War on Beards

I belong to the Marketers With Beards group on Facebook. Earlier this week one of the members noticed that another proudly bearded member’s newsletter featured an ad for Harry’s razors! Then I looked at my copy of our Today @ Target Marketing newsletter for that day, and saw this …

Andrew Luck tells Abigail, "That's how The Beard Wars began.
“Dearest Abigail, we have been besmirched by the pernicious propaganda of whiskerless marketers …” — Col. Andrew Luck

I belong to the Marketers With Beards group on Facebook. It’s something Lee Odden started a few years ago as an experiment in using Facebook groups, and it’s hung around ever since (apologies if the link doesn’t load, it’s a closed group).

Earlier this week, one of the members noticed that the Marketing Tech Blog e-newsletter, from proud marketer with a beard Douglas Karr, featured an ad for Harry’s razors!

“I was shocked this morning when I opened my email and in your newsletter I saw an ad for a RAZOR!!!! OMG … Have you joined the dark side? What’s going on, Doug? Tell me it’s not so.” —Chad Pollit, Relevance, marketer with a beard.

Then I looked at my copy of our Today @ Target Marketing newsletter for that day, and saw this!

Harry's Ad in Today @ Target Marketing
LiveIntent threaded a Harry’s razor ad into multiple newsletters and websites going to marketers with beards.

Come to think of it, I’d been seeing Harry’s ads all over Facebook and other websites. Were they targeted at members of the Marketers With Beards group? It was a cross-channel assault on beardedness!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Y73sPHKxw

Now, I noticed both of our e-newsletters carry ads powered by LiveIntent. So those are essentially network ads targeted at the individual e-newsletter recipients. When I see Harry’s, you might see Dot & Bo or Caribbean vacations — or, in an ideal world, something more marketing focused. (I’m sure Chad, Douglas and everyone else in the MWB is aware of that too.)

And of course, the Harry’s ads I’d been seeing all over were the same. I’m in a demographic Harry’s is targeting.

Beyond that, I have no idea how these ads are being aimed. I stumble around some websites that I could definitely see them targeting based on cookies. But I’m also in this Marketers With Beards group on Facebook.

In reality, Harry’s is probably advertising to a bunch of attributes in different model combinations and just keeps catching me, and the other Marketers With Beards, in those personas.

But it’s really easy when you’re seeing those ads incoming to draw other conclusions. “Hey, we’re all part of the Marketers With Beards group, Harry’s is taking a shot at us and telling us to shave! Arrrrrghhh!”

Rollo from Vikings w/ Axe
“Bring me my axe!”

We’ve seen a few examples of this kind of advertising being received poorly. Remember Denny Hatch’s “Zappos.com Is Chasing Me All Over the Internet!” and “Son of Zappos.com Is Chasing Me Around Europe!“?

in fact, while I was searching up those articles, I saw this:

Harry's razor ad on TargetMarketingmag.com
“Resistance is futile. You will be depilated.”

This is another example of how marketing is different today than it was 10 or 20 years ago. When 90s folks saw your advertising plastered across TV, radio and print ads, they may have gotten annoyed, but they didn’t take it personally.

Today, with all the targeted — but still saturating —  advertising options, prospects take that annoyance personally. Because it IS personal — you did aim those ads at them, after all.

And it’s really easy for a prospect in your target lock, even a savvy marketing prospect, to interpret that extra attention with a tinfoil hat.

Keep that in mind when you’re setting up your digital campaigns. Make an impression, just don’t make the wrong one.