3 digital marketing trends to focus on. And 3 to forget about

As anything technology-driven, digital marketing is evolving fast, so it makes sense to review what’s working and what’s not presently. 

1. Seeing is believing 

woman dragging an oversized purse to stress on the importance of cash positive transactions when dealing with performance marketing

A bit over the top but gets the message across. 

This entails all sort of advertising that is performance-driven. This could be PPC (e.g. AdWords), affiliate marketing, display ads, online and offline. What makes an ad campaign perofrmance-driven? You need to be able to quantify both the involved expenses and the involved returns. This sounds easier than it really is. Focusing on the online world, most products have long purchase life cycles which involve many visits to the same website before finally making a purchase. This creates a dilemma, which visit should the purchase be attributed to? Is it the last visit that ended up in the purchase or the first that introduced our company to the customer or the middle ones that worked the customer up in order to finally decide to purchase? To address this dilemma various “attribution models” have been devised and depending on which one you decide to go with, you get a different ROI calculation per acquisition channel. As far as offline advertising goes, assigning ad campaigns to purchases is even more challenging, but it can be done. One way is communicate exclusive coupons in the offline ads and then assign all sales from those coupons to those offline ads. Another way is to measure traffic and sales spikes during offline advertising bursts and whatever is higher that the baseline to be attributed to the offline ads. This works well for TV ads which is powerful enough to produce well-defined spikes and there are cases where TV advertising has produced positive direct ROI. A third way, is to use specific phone lines and assign sales from those phone lines to the ad campaign. There is also step two to get to ROI: calculate the returns. Here there are two options: take into account the net revenues of the purchase or the customer’s lifetime value provided you know the retention rate per acquisition channel (and mind you retention rates vary based on acquisition channel). If ROI works out positive then that channel is a keeper. If not, then one might find another reason to keep it live, e.g. for branding reasons. 

2. Being relevant 

Phoeby from Friends, famous for her off beat remarks.

This is what you become without customisation, or at least her eCommerce equivalent.

Mass marketing and one-size-fits-all grows old. Not that it is not out there, it sure is out there very much so as companies are slow to adapt, but emerging technologies give us the tools to use data to create customised experiences. There are two ways to go about this. One way is to customise what you say to customers based on their direct past behaviour. This means that if i have purchased a SONY laptop, then next time i visit the site, show me laptop accessories or SONY products in general. Another more sophisticated way, is to create cohorts and work out habits. This involves doing some pattern recognition to come up with a the most probable next purchase per each customer or customer cohort. The algorithm can take into account the customer’s past purchases, age, gender, address and even name (yes name) and work out which products he or she might be looking for next. Once you have this info, then this should populate all possible customer interactions be it website content, email, remarketing ads, call centre scripts, loyalty scheme bracket etc. And what this achieves is you become more relevant when you speak to the customer. Without this you are like a blind sales person suggesting running shoes to a 75-year old woman suffering from arthritis. Another great way of becoming extremely relevant is via marketing automation. The most famous cases usually involve emails, like the ‘welcome email’ sent out upon email subscription and the cart abandonment email sent out as soon as a customer enters the payment steps and abandons prior to completing the purchase. Effectively, these are event triggered communications. There are tools that can provide this and once set-up these emails get fired automatically without the need of a person to operate them. Excellent for ROI.

3. Becoming an expert

Portrait picture of Jan Luc Picard from Star Trek Next Generation

Inspire as much trust as Jean Luc Piucard does to Trekkies.

The product purchase lifecycle has extended thanks to the internet. Instead of visiting a few shops before making a decision, now customers can browse endless websites, forums, youtube videos, customer reviews, price comparison sites, etc. before deciding to make a purchase. This creates an opportunity to assist your potential customers with this journey by providing useful content to assist customers with their buying decisions. For example, if you are selling home entertainment equipment, useful content could be an article on “how to select the ideal surround system for your living room”  or a wizard where customer enters his living room specs and the engine returns suggestions such as arrangement, products, etc. If you are a B2B company, same thing applies. Say you supply companies with toner for printers. A nice a content would be addressed to the people responsible for office supplies aiding them on how to be proactive, how to save company’s money, how to select the ideal toner for each printer type, how to get employee feedback on their work etc. This content once produced, can then be distributed via various ways be it via a blog, social media, slideshare, youtube video, etc. ideally all of them at the same time.

What to forget about:
SEO. And Social Media. And Email marketing. Not that one should not use them at all, quite the contrary. All three are very powerful tools that can get a lot of business, it is just that one should not think about them separately.      Ideally the company should address the three priorities on top, work out a content marketing strategy and then implement it using all the tools available such as Social Media and Email Marketing. Sure there are some best practices, e.g. how to write SEO-friendly content or how to optimise your newsletters, but performance will be mainly affected by having a well-designed content rather than optimising each channel separately. 

Trends above have been produced mostly having the eCommerce business in mind. If i have left out anything, please feel free to comment. I will reply promptly. 

Accommodating Managers should never set deadlines

Sky is high, water is wet and work is always more fun and productive when working with accommodating people. Image

But there are also deadlines… can’t live with them, can’t manage without them. Accepting that it is a necessary evil, how does one go about it while also wanting to retain an accommodating atmosphere?

The truth is that there always needs to be a ‘when’ associated to every task. I have bored even myself hearing myself asking ‘when’. Nothing ever happens otherwise. What i have come to realize though, is that asking ‘when’ rather than saying when can make all the difference. So I always try to have the person reporting to me define the deadline himself. (And of course, then write it down and share it with everyone involved, say, in an email. Now he is trapped. He he.)

Why it works so well? Well, people tend to become over-eager when asked to define their own deadlines. They often undermine both the time needed for the task and overestimate the time they have available. This leads to working with tights deadlines, so that’s a good starting point. Now i am in a position to offer to push the deadline back a few days if i can afford it. Behaving this way makes sure i am accommodating, friendly and reasonable and more so when i willingly push back the deadline. Practicing this often, leaves me room to come out strong and set a really tight deadline if i need to. It minimizes bad blood and boosts motivation.

Now the beauty of this system is that the person defining the deadline will feel all-the-more motivated to meet it as he risks appearing untrustworthy in more than one way. First for missing the deadline. Second for not being in control of his own work. 

Go ahead, try it out! It has worked for me every time. 

Final point. Deadlines don’t work if there is no follow up when they expire. If deadlines are missed and nothing happens, not even an acknowledgement of the fact, then the system fails. It may need just an “alright, when do you think you will be ready?” or it may require serious talking down depending on the case but not acknowledging it at all will lead the other person thinking that he can get away with stuff, that you are not on top of things or that his work is of minor importance. Deadlines… can’t live with them, can’t manage without them. 

How to use Google AdWords for branding?

Adwords can be the best competition mapping and testing platform.Image

It is very simple. You only need to do a search for the main keywords of your category and note the ads that appear. Then you start breaking the info down in segments to simplify the data intake:

a. Promise, answers the question “why should i click and come to your site”. For example such promises could be “free”, “low price”, “top quality”, “top variety”, etc.

b. Support for the promise, aims to provide credibility to the claimed promise. For example, “lowest price guarantee” could be a support for”lowest prices” or “30,000 designs to choose from” could be a support for a ‘variety’ claim. It is surprising that most ads fail to provide any sort of support for their claim. 

So after noting down search ads for your industry’s main keywords, you now have:

-who are your competitors
-what is their USP (promise)
-what is their USP support

At this point, it could be helpful to plot what you got. You need to come up with two axes. Ideally one axis should be functional, e.g. price, and the other more sentimental, e.g. ‘trust’ or ‘leadership’. Maybe you should keep both axis more functional, eg price vs. variety or speed. These decisions could be guided by your findings via the competition mapping process on the Google result page. Once you have the axis, you plot all the players on the graph and look for openings.  This will highlight opportunities in the market.

Next step is to come up with different concepts that could eventually be turned into brand positioning. These concepts could be ‘original thoughts on what you think matters in your industry or even ‘stolen’ from competitor’s. All concepts should somehow answer the question “why should people buy products such as the ones you are selling”. Say you are selling sports shoes, do people buy shoes based on features, design, price, specialization, brand etc.? If you think all of the above could apply, you write two texts ads for each one trying each time to make it as focused on that concept as possible. You should do two ads because copywriting plays a role. Some ads are more effective than others because they are better written. So you write two ads and look at their combined performance when comparing the concepts between them. The concept whose ads exhibit the highest CTR is the winning concept. This is the concept that engages consumers most when it comes to searching and buying your products. 

Note that you need to let the ads run until you get enough data to give you statistical confidence. This could take weeks depending on your Adwords budget and the search traffic your keywords get. But in my view it is worth the wait as the USP is something to keep for a long long time.

Second note, test the concepts for as many different AdWords campaigns as possible. By AdWords campaigns i mean set of keywords, i.e. consumer’s states of mind. When a consumer searches for a competitor brand, then this means that the user is already in an advanced state where he knows about the particular brand and has probably also has decided that this is his favorite. Different case when a user has searched for your brand.  Or totally different case when a user searches for a generic keyword such as “sports shoes” vs. something much more precise such as “running shoes for hard terrain”. 

If a concept proves to be the big winner then that’s great. If this particular concept is over-populated with competitors claiming to capture it, for example this is common for the “cheap prices” concept or “best taste” concept for food & beverage industries, then you can do a 2nd phase of testing where you combine each concept with the winning, i.e. cheap & convenient, cheap & choice, cheap & fast, etc. 

A final 3rd phase could be to test which is the best support for the winning concept. You could go about it the same way. List down different alternatives for supporting your claim, eg cheapest because we have the biggest volume, cheapest because we have the widest choice, low price guarantee, etc., prepare ads for each and so on. 

So now you know who your competitors are, what is each one’s promise, how the competition environment is mapped out and what consumers respond most too. Now you are in a good position to take an educated decision on what your brand’s USP should be. 

Final note is that you should not necessarily choose the winning concept. It should depend also on the openings demonstrated on the competition mapping graph and of course your brand’s own DNA. For example, if you offer the most expensive product in the market, then selecting the “low price” concept just because it proved to be the best performing won’t work. 

Good luck. 

Blog post: #3 Quick & Dirty Email Marketing Tip: how to be relevant

First, what being relevant really means? Second, how can one go about it to improve how relevant his message actually is?

Some, certainly not exhaustive, examples of what relevancy are: 
Timing. Catching your consumer at the right moment can be priceless. Timing can refer to a specific moment or during some act or even a broad time period like one month after your first purchase. There is always a best time to pitch something. Nailing it, can really make a difference in performance. 
Choose a topic that is close to your audience’s heart. Handle topics that you know your audience loves. It is a simple thought really but still important to have it mentioned and have it sink in. Say you are running an online bookshop, then an interview with a famous writer is a good way to get your audience interested. 
Copy-writing to stress on (or mimic) relevancy. Text matters. Words matter. Word arrangement matters. Period. So you could serve a relevant message to your audience and have performance ruined due to bad copy-writing. For example, a long vague subject title can appear the same as so many other newsletters in the inbox and end up in the trash as if by default. On the other hand, good copy-writing can save the day even if the message is not really relevant to the audience. For example, compare these two email titles: 
  • Weekly digest: if you participate in our program, you could enter a draw for a BMW
  • Dear [username], you have been shortlisted to the VIP draw for a BMW  
Which one would you expect to perform better? My money would be on Subject B for many reasons, the most important of which is that it mimics ‘relevancy’. How? By appearing to be an offer for select few rather than the full userbase. 
Some methods to help with achieve relevance – I feel this is actually a fuller list: 
Get to know your audience. Who are they, why are they using the particular product, what is the driving force behind it, what is the need they are trying to satisfy, why have they chosen your brand vs. competition, what they like about the brand, what they don’t like about it? Getting inside their head, ideally becoming  one of them, is the safest way to be able not only to best judge if a message is actually relevant or not to your audience, but also to be in a position to come up with relevant messages in the first place. No way around this one. Sorry. 
Segment your audience. This depends on the actual size of the audience but chances are that the audience is really a collection of different user types. But beware on how to define your user types. One way would be based on typical profile attributes such as age, sex, location, etc. A better way would be based on: 
  • how often users use your product, i.e. if they are high, medium or low users. For example, you can email/ call/ SMS your high users much more often and expect to get higher returns and lower optout vs. if you did the same thing to your low users.

  • why they are using your product. This is even true for the simplest of products. For example, consider Coca-Cola, as mass and as simple as products come. Still, Coca-Cola consumption patterns can vary greatly. For example consider two different consumption patterns: Coca-Cola with food vs. Coca-Cola as a mixer, e.g. Vodka with Coke. One can expect that a promotion “pizza +  coke = -20%” will perform differently between consumers of each of the two consumption patterns. 

Structure your customer interactions to manage their life-cycle. For example, when you subscribe to a website, you usually receive back a ‘welcome email’. This could be the first step of a time-line of interactions. What usually happens instead is that the next email you receive is the standard weekly newsletter sent out to the whole userbase, old and new users alike. There is much better way to go about this. Studying standard behavior user behavior patterns arise. A better marketing plan could study the common user paths and use email to encourage users towards that path. Also, there are usually time thresholds by which if the user does not reach a certain stage of the path, then that user most probably becomes inactive. Sending the emails before those threshold times could push users away from inactivity. It is easy to imagine that the improvement in user engagement can be dramatic.
Test, test, test. Even if you believe you are doing a good job, still there must always be room for improvement. So test. Effectively what you are testing for is relevance, the driving force behind any engagement. 
Lists are not exhaustive so be sure to mention additional points in the comments section.

10 rules to guide you through testing new business ideas

I won’t go into how testing concepts prior to investment or full-blown execution is important. You probably know this already or else you would not land here.
What strikes me as odd though is that i have not come across much material about how to go about testing. So here is a short-list that i have to realize summarizes the most common pitfalls:
1. Test the product’s core statement
Focus on the essence of the service. Strip it down from all possible bells and whistles and try to confirm or reject the basic hypothesis about the project.
Essentially try to answer two questions:
a. which problem is the product solving?
b. is this problem important enough for the target group? (to look for it, to return to it, to pay for it)
If either (a) or (b) are not a 100% YES, then you are sure to fail. No doubt about it.
2. Get more educated on the subject
Assuming that (1) is covered then you need to accept that you don’t know as much as you should about the problem you are trying to solve.
For example, let’s say you want to develop a video aggregation service for sports lovers as there is so much sport in the world. And you go through step 1 and the need for a solution is indeed validated. So let’s say that you develop a vision to create an elaborate algorithm to gather data from various sources and incorporate also machine-learning to personalize the service. Stop. First find out what matters most to your target group. What is it that they are lacking now? You should not answer this based on yourself as this would be the equivalent of running a survey with a focus group of one person.
The biggest risk here is to focus on the wrong features, waste time and energy on developing, let’s say, machine learning technology to optimize personalized ranking of videos to find out that users care about something so specific that could be easily pinpointed without the need of developing a self-improving mechanism. Once you research a bit, then you will be in a position to design and build an MVP.
3. Build a prototype (MVP)
In the example above, just do the service manually. Build a tool to facilitate a person to manually place videos in a playlist. You don’t have the time to do it, hire someone. It will cost you far less than building a machine to do it. Also chances are that the person will do the work better than the algorithm will anyway. Do a small ad campaign and direct traffic to a site showing the editor’s playlist of sports videos. Then you study visitors’ behavior: average time on site, number of pageviews per visit, how many visitors actually return, etc. If the concept is interesting it will show some positive signs. In case you believe that personalization is key to the service and the one-editor-for-all approach does not do justice to the concept, then segment users really finely. In the spots video aggregation example, target fans of a particular team in a specific sport. Then the editor should focus on that team, and safely assume that the playlist would be as good as a personalized one for the particular target group.
4. Design a test for maximum knowledge
The test’s goal is to gather knowledge. Aim for that. Let’s assume you want to launch a new service to a userbase you have access to. Don’t send the invite to users randomly. Segment users based on every attribute you have. And do the segmentation separately. One for each attribute. Separate the userbase in three groups based on each of the attributes: low 50%, medium 30% and top 20%. Whatever the results come out to be, you will be able to draw some conclusions about the userbase and the service’s appeal.
5. Change one item at a time 
Otherwise you won’t know where to attribute the difference. So, for example, if you are testing how different usergroups behave, you need to make sure that you keep everything the same. Send the same email, on the same day and time, keep the same landing page, etc. If you want to test two different email subject lines, the usergroups need to be the same, etc.
6. Segment before time = 0
Segment users before the time of the test, not after. What not to do: run the test to a random sample and then see who participates and analyze that group. This could lead to a number of problems. For example, the test could alter the segmentation, e.g. trigger visits to the site, and hence shift users from one usergroup to the other. Or high users will most probably end up being under-represented if the sample is randomly selected, and according to the Pareto rule those aree the most important people that one should focus on.
7. Define what you are looking at
Carefully define the metrics you will be looking at after the done is done. Make sure you will get the information you will need. Write it down in a table. Confirm that all placeholders will be filled in with numbers after the test runs.
8. Put down actual values before hand
Take the time to predict what you are expecting to get. This is necessary also to budget and time the test but it will also help you to evaluate the end result. It will show show you where to focus your attention to: where your assumption proved to be far off. Do not put down too much data to look at as you risk losing focus. Keep your eyes on what confirms/ reject the primary hypothesis at the heart of the product’s value.
Harold Camping (pictured in December 2002), predicted doomsday to arrive on the following day, May 21, 2011 (http://goo.gl/QVVqW)
 9. Be fast.
The faster you design, execute & evaluate a test, the faster you will move on with the next one. The more tests you do, the more educated you become and the better the decisions you make. By working fast you are not being sloppy, you are maximizing the knowledge per time you collect. And it is all about knowledge at this point when you are researching.
10. Look out for interferences
Watch out for outside factors affecting the test. For example, if the testing is done via email then make sure that on that day you don’t also send the weekly newsletter. This is something that could affect behavior in a random manner.
Please share any thoughts or personal experiences of new idea typical pitfalls in the comments section. I would be really interested to find out about them now, before hand.

Hands on Email Marketing for mobile: review of actual email campaigns

See below a screenshot from my mobile inbox. Stats say that mobile inbox is already the nr1 medium for reviewing emails. Most emails get deleted on mobile devices than anywhere else. Hence it makes sense to take a few minutes and review how your emails appear on mobile devices. For the sake of the exercise I am using the most popular single handset: the iPhone. The email senders are chosen at random and include:

  • Saks – the world famous retailer
  • Netrobe – a fashion iOS app  that I am currently getting involved with as an advisor
  • Kotsovolos – Greek subsidiary of Dixons
  • MelinaMay – leading online stock outlet for the Greek market.



Saks: apparel retailer

(-) There are actually two emails from Saks in my inbox. That is too much given that I have never ever purchased anything from Saks. Saks should have segmented me as an inactive user, tested multiple messages on that group and then send the best performing one to all inactive users in hope that the maximum of inactive users will convert to paying customers. Two emails on one day is a sure sign that Saks has not thoroughly tested those messages and also, as a recipient, I realize that these messages are not anything special that deserve my attention more than any of the previous messages I have been ignoring.

(+) Sender: varied sender helps as it differentiates the two messages and makes recipients think that the message actually is sent from two different sources – reduces the feeling of getting spammed.

(+) Positive marks also on correct targeting, serving me messages for males while indeed I am a male.

(+) Top message has a fairly effective title kicking off with a most impressive 70% discount. Also makes clear that it refers to male products. Not so keen on the Must-Haves descriptor which is too vague and hence conveys no real info.

(-) Negative marks for the descriptor below the title especially for the top email, which repeats the Sender and then reads like random text without any coherency. The bottom email reads a bit more logically but still it feels like an AdWord campaign unsuitable for a personalized message to an already subscriber.

NETROBE: a cool iOS app to help fashionistas organize their wardrobe

(-) Not cool though that it repeats its brand name in the sender and title – waste of character real estate really

(-) Also not cool that the title conveys no information – the real information, i.e. the topic of the email, is replaced by “…” as it lies beyond iPhone’s character limit

(+) The descriptor is ok as it reads as a logical text and provides brief product descriptors and brands that could engage recipients.

Kotsovolos Dixons: electronics retailer

(+) Good use of title and title effectively communicating who sends the email and what it refers to

(-) Negative marks for the topic of the email being only a CSR message (= look at us how great we are) offering no real incentive to read it. The correct implementation should include an invitation/ CTA on how the recipient can help or maybe what the Kotsovolos Dixons customers have already done to contribute to this good deed.

(-) Big time negative marks for having left a generic text as a descriptor – Kotsovolos Dixons must have never paid any attention to the mobile inbox.

MelinaMay Fashion: apparel discount retailer

(+) Positive marks on using favicons in the title and especially in the start of the title. A sure way to boost engagement. Also it matches well with the title’s copy which is always a plus.

(+) Good use of character real estate informing recipients that new items have arrived. Important incentive for the bargain hunter to read the email and find out what type of products came in.

(-) Missed opportunity to use the descriptor below the title to outline some of the product types, brands etc. that just came in.

Got any other comments on the emails showing in the photo or disagree with any of the points, feel free to say so in the comments section. 

#2 Quick & Dirty Email Marketing Tip: behave in a 1-to-1 manner

If you search for 1 to 1 marketing you will get results such as personalization, CRM technologies, userbase segmentation and so on. Before you go there and invest in a software or recruit an agency, first identify the principle behind all of those buzzwords and try applying it in your email marketing.

The juice: make the recipient feel like this message is intended to him personally rather than give him the i-am-bulking-everyone-i-have-access-to impression.  The more relevant the message, the higher the probability that the recipient will become engaged upon receiving it. That’s the juice.

How do you get recipients to get this feeling? Here a few examples:

-make the content of the message as relevant to the recipient as possible. One way to achieve this is through userbase segmentation. For example, segment in a list users that purchased a specific product and prepare a custom message for them only. Or make a list of customers that spent more than 100 Euros the past 15 days.

-be explicit in what you are doing. If you did segment your users and you are now addressing a specific segment of those, tell them so. And do so as early in the message a possible (see benefits of cutting to the chase). For example, “You have spent more than 100 Euros the past 15 days and that places you in our Golden Club and eligible for a unique offer…”.

-make copy personalized. The trick here is to make all copy seem as if it is written for this recipient only. This does not mean you need to change your brand’s tone of voice, no just imitate how a company representative would address a customer. To go a step further, you can make the message more personalized by addressing the recipient by his or her name (most email marketing software allow this functionality), explicitly explain why the message is relevant to the recipient, or even better make evident how this message is exclusive for the particular recipient.

-be polite. In 1-to-1 relationships manners matter more. Some examples: don’t try to trick them, don’t make unsubscribing difficult, don’t enroll them in the mailing list without their consent, don’t lie, etc.

-do not treat all customers equal. When I walk in a store and I am a regular, I expect to be treated as one. Similarly if I am not a regular, too much intimacy might be annoying. How would that translate in email marketing world? Segment your users in terms of worth, say gold, silver and bronze, and then treat each group differently. What could differ? The contact frequency first of all, the tone of voice, the quality of the offers, anything that signifies preferential treatment in your business

I believe the main pillars on how to make recipients feel special are here. Do all of the above and you will get 90% of the benefits a 5,000 Euro/ month CRM system could offer you. Have you found another trick in order to make recipients feel special? Please write a comment about it.