Monday, July 30, 2012

Blog: Sites and Snowpaths, Part II

In my last post, We discussed how casual data can inform site design, especially information architecture (IA).  To review, I likened the IA development process to determining where to create footpaths by looking at footprints in the snow to get an idea of where people want to go.

Ten years ago in a pitch situation, I had to settle for educated guesses on what the data might look like.  However, if you manage your own marketing website, you have something more firm than educated guesses; you have data.  Let’s take a look at what kinds of data work the best and how you can use them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blog: Sites and Snowpaths, Part I

Maybe you’ve heard the urban legend about how your college designed the asphalt pathways across the quad.  

At some point, probably after World War II, the college decided to save wear and tear on the quad’s grass by installing asphalt footpaths for the students.  When the administration couldn’t decide how to route the paths, an enterprising engineer came up with a novel solution: wait until the first snowfall.  After the snowfall, patterns of footprints provided a key to the paths that students used the most.  I heard this legend about my alma mater and so did my father about his.  My fellow alum Steve Jones didn’t hear it about our alma mater, but instead about a Cambridge, Massachusetts school that he called Hah-vuhd.

Or maybe the engineer suggested following footprints in the mud after a heavy downpour.  One source I found online said that at San Jose State, engineers looked for paths in the grass.  Fact is, I’ve heard this story a few different ways, but the point remains the same: using data (Aha!  You knew I’d get to data eventually.) provided by footprints, the engineer laid out the best path for the students.  Landscape planners call this concept a desire path.  

Donald Norman, the Norman of the Nielsen Norman usability firm, espoused desire paths for  developing the basic information architecture (IA) for a website (thanks for the tip, Marek Lis).  By understanding where users want to go on your website, you can develop the best paths for them to get there using data and that lofty oxymoron, common sense.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Share. Or else.

No one doubts the value of customer data to the modern corporation these days.  However, plenty of these marketers would readily admit that they don’t get the value from the data that they wish they did.  Why is that, exactly?

Technology seems like a barrier, insofar as customer data may lie across multiple systems that do not share a common structure.  However, tools like Hadoop and plain old IT elbow grease can overcome that barrier.

Security also seems like a barrier.  After all, most corporations take their privacy responsibilities seriously.  However, with the noted exceptions of health care, financial services and children’s products industries, US corporations marketing to US consumers really have few privacy laws preventing them from using data effectively.

In my experience, the modern corporation itself lies at the root of the problem itself.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Segmentation for Math-O-Phobes

Let’s face it.  We all know that segmentation helps improve the performance of addressable communications such as email or retargeted display.  However, I think many marketers have an issue with segmentation because they really don’t understand how it works and blind faith can only take them so far.

In all honesty, I had the very same issue with segmentation.  Sure, I made it to Calculus II in college, but I earned a C+ for all my effort.  However, I did learn just enough to understand what makes segmentation so difficult to visualize.  Basically, segmentation requires thinking in multiple dimensions--easy for computers, hard for me.  Hence the C+.

Until recently, that is.  I figured out that I actually can visualize multiple dimensions very easily.  As a matter of fact, I’ve done it for years.  And so have you.

In fact, let me share a mutli-dimensional matrix right now:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Top Advertising Uses for the MetroCard

The New York Times reported today that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Agency, our beloved MTA, will sell the front of the MetroCard for advertising purposes.  For you non-city dwellers, the reloadable MetroCard long ago replaced the subway token as the means of entry to New York’s subways and buses.

Since you use it on or below the street, it counts as out of home advertising

Surely, some smart marketer will rig up a smart integrated campaign including QR codes that will make the most of this opportunity.  I suggested some ideas myself last year when the city started promoting its upcoming bike share program.  However, I’m done being helpful.  Instead, I want to throw out some snarky ideas because that’s more fun.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Breaking the Test Barrier

As a marketing strategist, nothing bugs me as much as clients who don’t--or won’t--test.

I have yet to meet a veteran marketer (or to read an article by one) who does not espouse testing for addressable communications as a blanket concept.  I have yet to hear a marketer who’s employed testing for email, on-site messages or catalogs tell me that he or she didn’t learn anything.  Yet, even among some of the most sophisticated clients, testing remains terra incognita.

There seem to be two main reasons for not testing.  Thankfully, simple reasoning can undo either of them.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Olympic-Caliber Data

In my last post, I discussed how NBC might benefit by playing to the crowd in their partnership with Facebook for the upcoming Olympics, namely by letting the wags of the Internet have a little fun with it.  Today, I'd like to discuss something more weighty: the data that this partnership will generate.

A close reading of the article will reveal that no money will change hands between NBC and Facebook for this promotion.  I find this detail significant because it suggests to me that both parties recognize the value of the data that each will gain. While I have no more information about this deal than what the New York Times has reported, I assume that they have agreed to share the data gathered in some form.  Assuming this to be true, here's what I'd to do with those data if I were managing them for NBC or for Facebook.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let the Wookiee Win

The New York Times reported today that NBC and Facebook will partner in the upcoming London Olympics.  The TV network and the social network will cross-promote Olympic coverage so that NBC will drive viewers to its Olympics Facebook page and app, which will in turn promote Olympic programming.

More interestingly, “Data from Facebook will inform television coverage on NBC and on the other channels that will carry portions of the Summer Games,” according to the Times article.  In other words, what people do in NBC’s Facebook presence may end up either as content on the broadcasts or, possibly, help NBC decide which events to show on which network based on chatter.

In a subsequent post, I’ll discuss the data implications for both NBC and Facebook, but today, I’d like to discuss Wookiees.  You remember Wookiees, the “walking carpets” who helped Han Solo and friends prevail over the Empire in the “Star Wars” epics?  Wookiees will get ahold of NBC’s Facebook presence and they will try to plan some mischief.

My advice: Let the Wookiee Win.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Unified Field Theory of Creepy

When marketers discuss using consumer data to drive content or offers in addressable communications such as email, apps or on-site messages, sooner or later the word “creepy” comes up.  Front-and-center stand such examples as the New York Times’s infamous “father learns of daughter’s pregnancy via direct mail” article.

However, even ordinary consumers in ordinary situations may feel that a marketer has violated some form of privacy when it reveals too much about what it knows in an email or SMS.

My former colleague Tim Suther used to use this image as a prime example of when marketers use data that they shouldn’t

We all agree that we want to avoid creepiness, but I don’t think we marketers, as a group, have established a working definition of creepy.  While no one would deny the creepiness of the lubricant example above, would an offer for sports equipment or kitchenware have raised an eyebrow?  How can we create a standard for what kinds of data are off-limits?  

In another dimension--time--how long can a marketer hold onto data without looking like a stalker?  I suspect that most consumers wouldn’t think twice about seeing items browsed the previous day in the “recently browsed items” column of a retail site.  However, would that customer look askance at the column if it featured something browsed a month ago?  Three months ago?  A year?

My favorite football columnist, Gregg Easterbrook, has coined the term “the Unified Field Theory of Creep” to parody the tendency of retailers to move all holidays forward, such as when Target puts out back-to-school merchandise in early July.  So I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, a Unified Field Theory of Creepy.