Category Archives: Marketing

Personalization @ Scale Includes Privacy as a Priority

Recently I had the honor of being a guest speaker in the Customer Analytics course, which is part of the University of Virginia’s Master of Science in business analytics (MSBA) program. The class is taught by Professor Ryan Wright, a longtime friend and hero of mine in academia (he never ceases to amaze me on how well he has the pulse of industry and is preparing his students to thrive in it).

One of the students asked my position on privacy within the context of personalization and whether or not I thought we have the right regulations in place. I joked a bit that if most people knew what I knew, they’d flush their phone down the toilet and disconnect everything. But in reality, it comes down to an exchange, a barter if you well. A company gives you free services (e.g., email or this platform to post my thoughts) or a more relevant service (e.g., search results or pre-filtered category pages on an e-commerce site) in exchange for insight and information about you. Now, if this exchange comes with a degree of trust and transparency or better yet, control, then you are more inclined to exchange some data about yourself for the service. I am a big proponent of this equation, as I believe many of us want to continue to take advantage of free services and better experiences. However, I do believe that while things are rapidly expanding in regard to data regulations, we have a long way to go before it’s a fair exchange.

My strategy for personalization is to lead with privacy in the forefront, while acknowledging people want you to make their lives easier. Do I want the kid’s sections of a mobile app or website to pre-filter to my children’s sizes, tastes and closet contents? Absolutely! That of course means I have to be ok with that same company keeping track of my kid’s sizes, tastes and closet contents. Now here’s where the key is in the exchange. If the business provides the right level of transparency AND control, then I am comfortable. Lucky for me, I continue to find my way to companies that share my sentiment. Beyond the standard privacy policy, Gap Inc. has gone so far as to adopt privacy principles to guide internal projects. We’re also currently recruiting for an internal privacy counsel (plug to join Gap, Inc).

To help employees understand key Privacy issues and risks, Gap Inc. has adopted Seven Privacy Principles to help guide projects and initiatives. 

1.) Consent: Obtain permission from individuals before using their personal information.

2.) Control: Give individuals meaningful choices about how their information is used.

3.) Fairness: Use personal information in ways appropriate for the context.

4.) Minimization: Collect and store personal information only as needed to provide the service.

5.) Confidentiality: Securely store and transfer personal information and only share it when necessary.

6.) Access: Allow individuals to correct or delete their personal information.

7.). Accountability: Socialize and enforce these principles.

So how do I intend to bring this to life for our brands? Going back to the “exchange”, in my opinion the barter works best when the company creating the service based on the data gives the customer ridiculously easy to find (transparency) and operate controls.


Let’s step into a couple examples to illustrate the concept and show that some of the ‘big bad wolves’ actually do a decent job of this and have created a precedent in my opinion. Google for example now has most of what they do with your data consolidated into one place, with simple language as to what it is, how it’s used and really easy toggles to turn things on and off.

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If you have a Nike account, you’ll notice they’re very up front about how they want to make the experience more personalized for you and allow you to help provide input to the process. This is a good balance between letting the modern new marketing tools figure out what you’re thinking with the old school process of simply asking, “Darin, what’s your shoe size?”. If you have a Nike account, you can see how they let you opt in or out to the personalization. When setup an account via their mobile app, they do a great job of explaining things in plain English and letting you decide.

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While most of the customer preference center best practices have been about managing email communications, I also really like what Macy’s has done with their customer preference center. They allow you to proactively tell them your favorite sizes, brands, etc. Ironically though, after I did update mine and returned to the home page, it didn’t seem like it took my instructions into account.

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In Closing

With great power comes great responsibility. As digital marketers, we need to thoughtfully balance the power of all our new machine learning algorithms and massive ability to collect enormous amounts of data on our customers with the tools and experiences we build to empower our customers to let us know what they want us to use.

Moving “Digital” to the Physical Realm

As marketers, the pressure in recent years has centered on shifting to an all-digital approach and delivering a compelling customer experience across the vast number of digital touchpoints. Just as we’re leaving more traditional marketing channels behind, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), connected/ smart devices, and mobile technologies is blurring the lines between the digital, traditional and physical at a rapid rate. And with the excitement of nearly anything – in either the digital or physical realm – becoming a potential marketing vehicle, there also comes the possibility of a resurgence in data silos and fragmented customer experiences. Join Darin Archer, head of ‎IoT Industry Solutions Retail/CPG at Intel Corporation, as he explores the possibility of breaking down the barriers between disparate channels, data sets and back-office systems – and the transformational, connected marketing experiences made possible as a result.



Ramblings for University level Principles of Marketing Class

I’d go for the disruptive approach. Marketing has so fundamentally changed. It’s all about digital marketing now. When Nike learns that it can have the same “reach” with their own digital online event as a Superbowl ad, you know we’re on a new path. Today’s it’s about engaging fans, building an audience and content marketing. It’s no longer people sitting on madison ave dictating a brand campaign for next year and taking half a year to put it together. Red Bull spends more on sponsorships, events and publishing than traditional ads (wait, a drink company has a leading magazine?). Rolex makes more money on events than watches.

Traditional Advertising

TV is dead

More young folks watch people play video games online than CBS. Oh, and these same video game players can fill a stadium easier than most bands today. But, it’s also evolving. It’s going to be more about the content and the device and knowning who’s watching than creating generic ads for massive audiences. Don’t believe me? Your setup box knows what you’re surfing on your iPad while sitting on the can and can change the ad you see when you get back to the TV ( DVR’s were just the beginning. Now people binge watch Breaking Bad on Netflix and catch up on new shows via Hulu. This means that video ads will become more about speed and personalization. We’ll need more creatives and copy editors to come up with more versions tailored to very specific demographics.

Outdoor billboards

Notice how many are switching to digital displays. This is the first step to these all just being converted to the Google Ad network. It won’t be about a local sales force or agency buying locations to have a canvas hung for a month rather these screens will know who’s driving by them and who will be driving by them shortly. They’ll then be optimized to show ads to reach the most lucrative potential audience. This will be done by software algorithms and ad bidding networks. Might as well lump this into the SEM (search engine marketing) bucket.


Who listens to radio anymore? Spotify, Soundcloud, Pandora, Rdio and of course Apple dominate our cars and our earbuds. Honda just announced support for Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto. If I were ClearChannel, I’d try to figure out how to buy Spotify and partner up with Google. Again, it won’t be about long drawn out campaign planning.


The bookstore closed and most magazines are struggling to keep their numbers up. I can have a greater reach and real conversion with display, social or search ads. Now, it’s not to say these won’t be there, especially in our digital magazines on our Apple Newstand, but this will all merge with the display networks from Google, Apple, Bing, etc.

If I’m focused on B2B, I get more out of content marketing (webinars, emails, blogs, social) than any traditional media. I also use these new strategies and my own digital properties to build demand and measure the results. It no longer makes sense to spend money on something I can’t measure.

If I’m B2C focused, I’m all about getting close to my customer, building fans and exciting my base. Again, this is about content marketing, not Madison Avenue.

The agencies are all struggling and consolidating to hold on to revenue. Most have build digital businesses as they know they won’t be making tons of money on campaigns anymore rather they’ll be producing content. Even the ones that have done well picking up the task of online ad buying and optimization see that this will be done by software (Adobe Media Optimizer, Marin Software) and not humans.

So what do you focus on?

Analytics – understand how to read data, find audiences, determine trends and target. Psychographics dominates and demographics is worthless. Tomorrow’s marketers also have to be able to show where they see an opportunity using data and then measure their results and constantly optimize their efforts

Testing – the art of a/b testing is now multivariate. Understanding statistics and what “statistically significant” means is relevant to knowning if their idea is good or dead.

Creative – The fun stuff still exists and more marketers should get more comfortable piecing together campaigns themselves because they’ll have tools where they can take digital assets and put together something (with a good copy editor) that can be pushed out to their audience in real time (from their phone while on the way to work)

I’d have them all take $50 and build an online campaign for a trinket they sell on etsy or an ebook they publish on Amazon. If they have a friend that makes something cool or has a small business, even better. Get in and see how you can target audiences on Facebook, understand what a Pinterest buy button might mean to marketing (yep, they’ll be measured by sales tomorrow not just reach and impressions).




Selling Insurance to Generation X & Y

Full disclosure, I work for a property and casualty insurance software company. That said, our software, being focused on automation and increasing direct interaction with the insured, has got me thinking about how insurance carriers should be prepared to sell to the “generation x” and “generation y” crowd. The predominant sales model in both personal lines and commercial lines products is to sell the product through an intermediary sales agent, who sometimes works for the insurance carrier, but often times is independent. Insurance is complicated, and prior to the web this model was essential to connect buyers and sellers. However, today we have Geico and Progressive increasingly showing us many of these insurance products can be explained and sold online.
I have only bought personal lines products thus far in my life, and have made decisions on fire dwelling, condo, auto, motorcycle, and umbrella policies. Here’s where my heads at, these products are not sexy. I don’t care what carrier I’m insured with. It’s not like buying a new car, or clothes or a fancy handbag. Differentiation is not the goal. I want to know I’m meeting legal requirements, covered for the types of risks I could be exposed to, and will have a great customer experience should I actually have a claim. Ultimately, trust is the most important buyer value, but price can lead the decision. Seems contradictory I know, but think about what insurance is. As a younger buyer, one is going to have their parents feedback in their head as to what they “should do”, but is also going to try to get the cheapest rate. I know this because I recently reevaluated all of my policies with my boss, who I consider to be an expert on most lines, and he joked with me, “you probably haven’t evaluated your coverage’s since college, huh?!” Yep! I was just looking for the lowest monthly cost on my automobile insurance not even realizing I didn’t have enough coverage to handle the cost of repairing most of the nicer cars on the road where I live. Whoops.

So, how should an insurance carrier sell to the gen x & y crowd?

Take advantage of social networking and tried and true ecommerce. Here are some key items essential to building trust in the brand and inspiring the herd buying concept:

  1. Potential Insured should be able to see who their friends are buying from
  2. Claims handling and overall customer service needs to be broadcast
  3. Incentives for bringing a friend

See who their friends are buying from…

It would be great if I could see who my friends have bought their insurance from, particularly when I’m about to purchase a new product that I’m not familiar with. For example, when I needed to insure a wedding ring recently, I would have loved to see who most of my friends insured with. This could be done using Facebook where a fan page or custom application could be built to promote the insurance carrier and illustrate to potential buyers which of their friends already have policies.

Overall customer service needs to be broadcast…

Lately I am making a lot of buying decisions following crowd sourced input from folks on Yelp. It started with entertainment venues and restaurant reviews, but has since grown wildly popular to yelp on how good a plumber is or moving company. Almost any local business or service has feedback on Yelp, and if they don’t, then they’re suspect! Here’s where I would use some gorilla marketing tactics to get my insureds to start broadcasting their experience with me the insurance company. (This of course assumes you have good customer service.) For example, after a call with an insured, I might ask them to go yelp about their experience, or even have the follow up email skip the lame customer survey and directly ask them to go yelp about their experience or comment on the fan page. I’d have the claims adjusters be my primary marketing team. They should be trained to inspire each customer that recently had a claim to broadcast their experience (hopefully positive). I would have them give the customer a note and verbally ask them to tweat on the spot about how awesome they’re getting taken care of in a time of disaster in their life. Imagine the impact on a buyers decision to switch carriers if they see a twitter feed on one companies fan page that shows customer after customer tweeting about how awesome their claims adjuster was!

Incentives for bringing a friend…

Incentives are tricky and often lead to insignificant results. I don’t think I ever earned anything from pitching my family on ING Direct when they first came out, but the $50 or whatever it was got me to try. In this world, cash isn’t always king though. Other incentives might be recognition on fan pages as having some kind of wisdom, special ability, cooler icon next to their name, etc. Often a call out that creates a sense of celebrity can be more powerful than a gift card.

Direct Sales

But all this marketing will only take you so far. You have to change the buying experience. My recent example of the wedding ring is one that almost made me search for another rental insurance carrier. Between the multiple phone calls required, days of waiting for quotes, limited access to view the details (e.g., was it for replacement value at the same manufacturer or would they just give me another ring of similar qualities – horror stories online), I wanted to work with someone else. Oh, and don’t even get me started on why my fiancée had to go to their office to sign an application and actually show the ring.
To really motivate the next generation of insureds, the buying experience needs to be fast and painless. So, when you get them online all excited about your amazing claims adjusters and they see that even though they have never heard of you, but many of their friends are customers, get them a quote online fast and let them complete the purchase seamlessly. Now, you may be thinking, “well that’s easy for auto insurance, but what about homeowners policies that are more complicated or a small business that doesn’t understand liability coverage?”. Well, this is where I go back to the “seamless” statement. First of all, drop the insurance lingo. Find a way using wizard type questionnaire or laymen’s terms to infer what they need, then present it to them rather than asking them to choose from a menu of insurance products that looks like it’s in another language. Assuming you can get past that part, then I’d say, use the agents! Here’s where agents can continue to play a role with the next generation of insureds. When I’m in the quoting process and get to something that either concerns me or I can’t figure out, you should have an easy “get help” process that connects me with an expert that can guide me through the buying decisions.
Now, remember, this needs to be seamless. If I am stuck and I see something that says “chat with an agent” or “have an agent call you”, and I choose that path, I better not have to give them my info again. They should be able to pull my quote right up and begin the conversation with, “I see you’re looking to add a wedding ring to your rental insurance. It all looks right to me, what can I help you with.” I then say, “Well, I was reading online that sometimes the coverage doesn’t give replacement money, but instead makes you go buy the ring from one of the insurance companies jewelers. I have a specific ring from a specific retailer and would need to replace it with the same.” The agent would then say, “No problem, the option you selected, which we call an endorsement, covers you for just that situation, but don’t take my word for it, pull up the site. See where it has a link that says “how a claim would be handled? Click on it and you can read what will be in the policy itself.” “Great!” I say and close out the call buying online. But you know what, when I get the policy in the mail it has that agents name on it and a special note saying, “I’ll always be available for any other future questions and keep me in the loop if you ever have a claim so I can make sure you get taken care of.”

Key Points:

  • Insurance products are not sexy so differentiation is on brand trust and customer experience
  • Use social networking to get groups of people to buy together
  • Automate the process to seamlessly take care of the insured in their world…online

If an insurance carrier gets this all right, my guess is they could stop focusing on the price and start charging a premium.

SMS Promotions on Merchandise Advertising

On a recent trip in Milan, McDonalds had a game going on where you registered via SMS. Using SMS to connect with customers is quite common in Europe and Asia, but still in its infancy here in the US. When looking at it though, it sparked the idea that SMS could really change the way merchandise promotions functioned. The simplest example would be the Coke rewards program. How much simpler would it be if they had a short code and all you had to do was send an SMS to their short code with the number on the bottom of the bottle cap. There system would then recognize your phone number, register you if you haven’t yet and track your points. I bet many more people would participate if they didn’t have to keep track of those bottle caps until they were near a computer!
My favorite merchandise promotion is McDonald’s Monopoly game. Since I was a kid I loved collecting the game pieces and hoping that I’d win one of the big prizes. I never did though, but still enjoyed it each year. Now that I have much cooler toys that use the Internet, I’d like to see a virtual version of the game where each game piece could be registered online or via SMS. This way, I wouldn’t have to keep track of the pieces.
The possibilities are endless and the customer connection is intimate. Provided you were exceptional about how you used and protected your customer’s mobile phone number, I think a lot of people would participate. The trick with all of this will be integrity. You need to state your rules right up front (like how many times you’ll contact the person if they give up their number and send a message to you). After that, you have a two way dialogue you’d never have had.

SMS Survey

After completing a SurveyMonkey survey today for work, it dawned on me that you could take that basic tool, leverage a SMS gateway application and have a very cool marketing tool. Here are a few general areas I believe SMS surveys could be used:

Use Cases:

1.) Product/Service Development – Identify key customers that are put on a team that participates in providing feedback on alpha or beta releases of your product or service.
2.) Trend (Pulse) Analysis (consumer markets, employee morale) – Find out up to the minute insight on how a message is being received in a demographic of people or bounce ideas off of a target group to see what their response is (e.g., “Should we provide a subscription service to iTunes for music?”, “Do you want to know where your friends are on a map from your mobile phone?”
3.) Customer Feedback (amusement parks, restaurants,) – On your exit sign, receipt or other take-away collateral, provide a short message code to have your customers participate in an exit survey. You could find out: how the service was, were the bathrooms clean, will they come back, did they have fun, and what else would they want. You could even follow this up with an electronic coupon.
After thinking this through, I figured there must be some vendors out there that provide this platform. And of course, after some short google searching, I found the following:
Existing Vendors:
Apollo Mobile
However, my searches seemed challenging and the messaging of these companies seemed to target technology people or application developers rather than marketers. I think the one that understands better how their product could be used and who their likely customers could be will find huge success in the coming years. The other trick will be to provide an easily accessible hosted solution for small to medium size companies that want to leverage this type of mobile marketing service.

SMS Marketing on Outdoor Advertising Billboards

idea: Create additional service offering for outdoor advertising companies to provide an additional value added service of SMS marketing
Background: Having just returned from India, a more advanced mobile phone market than the US, I experienced first hand great usage of outdoor advertising and SMS marketing. While driving I saw a billboard for a bank that was promoting a specific account with a great interest rate. To get more information, the billboard instructed to text a short code. I had a Hutch mobile phone at the time and thought I would give it a try. After sending the text message to the short code advertised I received a message instantly thanking me for my interest and informing me someone would get in touch with me to discuss further. Only a few minutes later my phone rang from an outbound telesales agent ready to answer any questions I had and promote the product.
Thoughts: Not only is the integration with the call center extremely effective for those travelers stuck in traffic, but provides an instant connection with the customer and drives real sales from the outdoor ad. An alternative approach would be to simply capture the customers info and provide basic info in a reply SMS, additional menu options to get additional info or a reference to a web address where they could visit later. After a brief search for potential platforms in the US to support this marketing strategy, I found a large number of them. Given this, I think the key is to not be the platform, but the service provider that educates the customer on how to build, manage and monitor the campaigns. Goomzee Connect should stay focused on offering services related to specific industries such as real estate, classifieds, and potentially outdoor advertising. Goomzee Connect could partner with the outdoor advertising companies such as ClearChannel, CBS, and Lamar to allow them to provide this capability as a value added service to their portfolio of outdoor billboards.
Potential Customers:
Outdoor Advertising Association of America
Platform Competitors:
Soapbox Mobile
GoLive! Mobile
Mobile Interesting Facts and Figures

Magazine Article Trackback Blogging

Part of the excitement of blogging is the dialogue that is created between different people. Initially, we had the simple comment responses, but as the product developed the idea of trackbacks was included. This allowed each blogger to post their commentary on their respected blogs and link the two so viewers could still understand the dialogue and expansion of thoughts. After reading CIO magazine, I see that they do a great job of providing a short URL to each article for reference. Wired does this as well. The really cool trick would be to provide a trackback URL instead so that if a reader wanted to comment on a particular article, they could trackback to the original publisher’s article.

Have Fun Now – Instant Discounts on Last Minute Activities

How often do you get the whim to just go see a play or concert. Have you ever found yourself needing to plan an afternoon adventure for you and your friends or a lover? It seems to me, this should be a simple effort, but after doing some research, I didn’t quite find what I was looking for. There are plenty of ways to get discount coupons for everything from a dinner out to the hottest adventure theme park, but wouldn’t it be nice to browse all available activities in one place? My idea is to create a marketplace for individual businesses to post their services and provide instant day of discounts when their supply is shorter then their demand. For example, if you run a small speed boat rental company and you’ve got a weekend coming up that is low on bookings, you could post a special offer on this site to close out the gap. For the system to truly be awesome, it would have to be flexible for the businesses to load their excess capacity and cover enough different types of activities that it’s interesting to the consumer. The theatre industry has done well at this with their “half price” tickets at specific box offices. They sell a deeply discounted ticket on the day of the show when they didn’t sell enough seats. It’s obviously beneficial to the business as this is revenue otherwise lost.
To get really fancy you could add a recommendation engine to it based on previous activities purchased and/or recommendations from others with similar interests.

Just-in-Time Inventory Management

I think most good ideas are like cooking. Most of us want to be like Emeril, but few of us really have the knowledge to mix the right ingredients to make some new masterpiece. However, I think it?s easier in the business world. Take one cool technology, connect it to another and bam! you’ve got a new meal. So, a few nights ago I was laying down to go to bed and started thinking about Supply Chain Management and Just-in-Time inventory management. I have no idea why I started thinking about this as I?m not in either industry, but I know that since studying information systems in school I have always been impressed and annoyed by those companies that have what I want on the shelf when I want it. (I?m really tired of stores not stocking enough Mach3 razors) Yet it still amazes me that the connection to the consumer is not there. Now if you think about it, WalMart would really appreciate a phone call a few weeks prior to your shopping trip where you would let them know what you were going to shop for. Yet this doesn?t seem like a likely scenario. However, take those nasty little club cards from chains such as Safeway, add some fancy modeling and pattern identifying technology, and you?ve got the connection. Let?s take a specific product for example. Toothpaste is purchased by almost everyone and has a finite quantity that is most likely consumed in a linear fashion as you usually put the same amount of tooth paste on your brush each day. Take this average usage pattern and determine when that toothpaste is going to run out depending on the size of the container (you?ll know the size of the container purchased if you track it at the time of the sale). Now that you have this information, you can look at my individual buying habits. How often do I come back into a store, and which store, to buy toothpaste. Combine these two averages and you?ve got a pretty good bet as to when I?m going to need you to have my tooth paste stocked on your shelves. I imagine you could do this with most products from bread to toiletries. If you?re really on top of it, you?ll send me a coupon for the toothpaste just to make sure I come into your store.