Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yahoos Facebooking: What's 1.5% of your life worth? (Reprise)

With Facebook's announcement today that they passed the 500-million user mark, I thought it might be worth revisiting a post on the value of time spent with social media outlets. 

Forget segmentation + stereotypes for a moment. Forget our differences. Where we are all absolutely the same is in the number of hours in our day. 24 of them at last count. Each of us granted about 44,000 minutes a month to do with what we can or must.

And while that is certainly where we are all equal, where we are different is how we choose to invest our time.

Which brings us to the question? What’s everyone doing with that time?

If you believe some of the headlines on Nielsen’s June (2009) report (here), then apparently, we are all Yahooing and Facebooking our lives away…and Googling and Microsofting too. Or not.

Using Neilsen’s numbers, I ran a quick calculation and found that the online user universe spent a mere 1.5% of their total hours of life visiting, viewing or otherwise engaged with the Top 10 online properties in June (*see math below). That’s good, right?

So What?

Even at only 1.5%, the top 10 online brands, as defined by Neilsen, capture an extraordinary amount of the total time available in a life…some claim time online is a waste of time, but that’s usually a statement about someone else’s time. Even allowing for the generalizations that come with averages and big numbers, a few questions stand out for marketers:
  • How important is an online brand in one’s life? The top online brands are insufficient descriptions of what people are actually doing with their time: information seeking, instant messaging, commerce, socializing and games are just a few of the long tail activities that marketers must manage when opting for online engagement…and as big as Google is, it still only captures 0.002 of it’s typical user’s life each month.
  • Is timeshare market share? Increasingly, the top online brand look to me like information utilities: aggregating ever greater numbers of services and properties, but maxing out the upper limit to the eyeballs they can captivate. Google gets 75% of the universe as an example. Monetizing time spent--rather than impressions or clicks--might encourage incumbents to carve up the online universe as part of a regulator-approved truce, not unlike energy and telecommunications. Still, if the biggest brands online together account for only 1.5% of our time, it’s no wonder some of them are struggling to monetize what they offer.
Figure: Timeshare by online brand (with apologies to E Tufte)

  • Is there an online-only marketing strategy? As in any endeavour, the 98.5% of time not currently captured by the top 10 online brands will be the source of highly fragmented interests…including those that have no apparent online component (for instance, eating dinner with your family). Marketing that misses the mark will include marketing that forgets there is a lot of life beyond the network AND the top 10.
  • What should we actually take from the numbers? Numbers on aggregated online usage should probably be viewed with healthy skepticism: it remains incumbent upon marketers (as humans) to question numbers that purport to describe how or why ‘people’ behave a certain way. Looking at Neilsen’s numbers for top 10 and eMarketer’s numbers for time spent online, the average active user is apparently spending 17.5% of their online time with the top 10 brands. The top 10 may be an easy media buy, but it isn't a majority understanding of what people do about anything.

In the end, it's incumbent upon all of us as marketers to remember that one's life is not merely a marketing void to be filled.

*The Math (All errors are mine)
  • Total active online universe: 195,974,309 (per Nielsen)
  • Total Monthly Hours Available: (30.41dx24hx195,974,309) = 14.3billion hours
  • Total Monthly Hours of time spent on Top 10 Online properties = SUM (Nielsen unique visitors per property x Nielsen hours per month per property) = 208.6million hours
  • Percent of life consumed by Top 10 brands: (14.3billion / 208.6million) = 1.5%
  • Percent of online life consumed by the Top 10 brands: (top 10 brands total time)/(2h per day x active online universe).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Three things they ought to teach in marketing 101

Back in the 60's, marketers in undergraduate programs learned all about the four P's--pricing, promotion, product and...positioning. Then, in the early 1990s Integrated Marketing added the four C's to frame how marketing was supposed to work in niche markets.

With the emergence of 'teh webz', everything about marketing's control and role changed. Making good on 'customer insight' suddenly meant that the cool kidz in marketing had to add the obvious if long-neglected P to their marketing mix: People.

And not just implicitly, via concepts like SIVA or persona's or other behavioral generalizations that describe people more like cattle than as self-determined actors.

The challenge with understanding people as people, of course, is that you often have to use behavior as a proxy for psychology. And unfortunately, people misbehave consistently. Which makes group think about people's intentions based on observable behavior a, shall we say, incomplete errand.

So what's a marketer to do with people who refuse to follow the rules we'd like to believe they live by?

Here's three concepts that might help marketing graduates in the class of 2011:

The Long Tail: Hard to believe this already seems old school to some, but the reality of most brands (i.e., you won't be adored by millions) makes this look into niches and the marketing potential worth the (re) read. Where we are different is where we are often most engaged...Long Tail looks at how our differences can provide marketers with insights into where the real opportunities lie.

At worst, incorporating long-tail thinking reminds us to push back on the grossest generalizations about segments and audiences. At best, it helps define more relevant customization of the four P's based on the relationship that the long tail helps us define.

Systems thinking: When marketers talk about brand experience, of course we know that encompasses more than the product. But the reality of marketing's influence in most situations is that it ends where sales takes over, where customer support begins, or at the point that customer experimentation drives product development and innovation. Understanding how marketing is part of the system of an enterprise and its relationship to customers can help marketers fill a more meaningful role for the individual that is the customer.

Networking.  Not computer systems, per se, but rather the way that people join with one another for a task, for a time, for a life. How we network with others--in spheres as disparate as entertainment and finance (or as Jim Cramer would say, as financial entertainment)--is the subject of study by physicists, psychologists and politicians as the emergent behavior of individuals sums to a value greater than its parts...think open source software...or YouTube memes like dramatic chipmunk or...pants on the ground.

A network map showing the influence of 5 social relationships among 14 runaways living in 4 cottages. The four largest circles (C12, C10, C5, C3) represent cottages in which the girls lived. Each of the circles within the cottages represents an individual girl. The 14 runaways are identified by initials (e.g., SR). 

Pants on the ground you say? Lest you were one of the 300 million Americans who did not see it, here you go:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Calculating marketing's odds of success

Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing from something.  
-Wilson Mizner

We all play the odds. Sometimes the gamble is unconscious--as when we board an airplane, drive to work, or eat a Twinkie. We may recall fragments of statistics comparing the odds of death from eating dessert to being struck by lightning or meteors.

Ok, well, maybe we don't think about the odds of death by death-by-chocolate, but you get the idea: we understand that there are statistical risks to all of our actions...and mostly we ignore the cold, quantitative heart of risk assessment in day-to-day living: we have lives to live afterall!

But what about in our professional lives?  

What's so odd about risk?

No self-respecting executive invests  resources in pursuit of an objective without having considered the odds of success, right?  Shoot, even gamblers generally know the odds of success associated with the game they play...and then they play it anyway!

As planners, though, marketers are usually pretty good at identifying objectives and aligning appropriate measures. In some quarters, we even make regular eye contact with return-on-investment forecasts. But what about risk? 

Or put another way: how do we calculate the odds of success in our plans to pursue and deliver the perfect brand experience?

Here's one way for marketers to cut through unaccountable hyperbole and promises written in air: use a table of combined probabilities. 

What are the odds?

Combined probabilities is simple really. We've used this technique with clients to help identify program risks and to frame investments in new programs. It consists of 5 general steps:

1. Identify the individual critical events or activities that must take place to create the successful program or experience. These can include granular elements like advertising, sales, customer support and distribution or they can be higher level activities like Demand Generation and Fulfillment, Regulatory Approval or Research and Innovation.

2. Assign a best estimate of success for each event or activity. In other words, what do you believe to be the realistic odds of success. You can base this on prior, similar experiences, industry benchmarking data or the best instincts of your colleagues.

3. Repeat step 2, only this time be pessimistic. 

4. Repeat step 2, only this time be optimistic.

5. Multiply the odds of success (as a percentage) for all activities and events in each of your baseline, optimistic, and pessimistic scenarios to get your combined probability of success.

You'll quickly notice how quickly the odds move against you...even when you are 85% certain that each and every required activity will be successful.

So what?

The point of the exercise isn't to keep us from taking risk, it's to put the risk that exists into perspective. Some prefer to throw things on walls to see what sticks. That's an approach. This isn't for those situations.  

Combined probabilities are for marketers who want to understand risk in a broader context that helps focus investment decisions among competing areas.  In the process, activities whose success or failure might place an entire endeavour at unreasonable risk can be identified and supported in ways that increase the odds of success.

Like any quantitative tool, combined probabilities is no substitute for critical thinking. If marketing success were as easy as plugging numbers into a spreadsheet, then marketing wouldn't have a seat at the adult table. 

But when one sits at that table, knowing your odds of success can improve them.

To download a simple (i.e., five events or activities, no weighting) spreadsheet version for you own use, click here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What marketers can learn from game design: The essential experience

Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing
-Oscar Wilde

Games rule! We all play them. Some of us play Bridge, some of us play Call of Duty. Some, like Lindsay Vonn, ski down mountains at incredible speed. A few (?) of us can even make a game out of other people's confidence or a country's currency.

No matter what the game, there is something that speaks to just about every human when it comes to getting your game on.

Theories abound as to why we play games--from prime-evil competitive instincts to ego- or sensory gratification to a way to while away the time with friends--and everything in between. Beyond theory, one thing common in the practice of gaming is that game playing creates an experience.

Funny then, that gaming and marketing should have something so fundamental in common. And while great instances of marketing fun and games can be found, there's something more essential about the connection: designing a game has much in common with designing a brand.

personal branding

The Art of Game Brand Design

Books have been written. Quite a few even on game design! Beyond how-to's and theoreticals on flow, structure, narrative, action and scoring (including our own game example here ) a new book entitled The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell could just as easily be titled The Art of Brand Design.

The book takes a decidedly different approach to a discourse on games. It looks at what makes games worth playing by seeing game design through various lenses, including the lens of the designer; the lens of the team and the lens of the player among others. You could easily substitute 'brand' for 'game' and much would be equally applicable.

For instance: Just as gamers expect to unlock more value from a game as they develop skills, brands may have customers who have developed as much (or more) knowledge than the original product designers. Communicating with highly skilled users as if they were brand n00bs isn't likely to engender the loyalty or positive word of mouth one would want from these influencers.

Brands, like games, can design a pathway to increasingly robust experiences by balancing challenge and skill
(from Art of Game Design)

Essential skills

Schell lists the more than 15 skills game designers should have some experience with, from Anthropology to creative writing, mathematics to sound design and visual arts.

These skills should all look familiar to marketers: they are the broad skills required of the best marketers who operate in a complex, technology-enabled social marketplace firmly under consumer control.

But the most important skill according to Schell is listening: to clients, to oneself, but most importantly to the gamers themselves.  Focus groups, panel discussions and proxy surveys all hold value to marketers. But listening to customers, in all their variety, through direct channels like social media, customer service and sales is another skill the best marketers among us possess.

Essential questions

Other connections in the book that might just as easily address brands as games include the importance of iteration and testing, the interface, measuring interest, clients and users. But of all the lenses, there is none so relevant to marketers as the first: The lens of essential experience.

Brand designers--like game designers--do well when they remember that the brand is not the experience: it is a means to an experience. A very personal experience that resides in the mind of the customer.

Which brings us to the essential questions (not to be confused with these Three Questions Marketers Should Ask Themselves!) brand experience designers can take away from the Art of Game Design:

  • What experience do you want the customer to have?
  • What is essential to that experience?
  • How can your brand capture that essence?
By constantly assessing the experience you want to create against the one you have created, brand designers stand a chance at being in the game. Confusing or unhelpful product support, interruptive or annoying attempts at building loyalty, inconsistent and insensitive pricing or quality...are all essential brand experiences that no marketer would intentionally design.

Foreseeable experiences, however, are not unintentional ones. By focussing on the essential experiences that can be foreseen, brand designers can ensure that customers find their game worth playing.

For a loosely related musical interlude on the games people play:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Future of Marketing: Three Questions Every Marketer Should Ask Themselves

The condition of learning is most fully engaged when we undervalue that which we think we know and overvalue that which we think don't.

Ken Fisher manages investments...a lot of them. As son and heir to one of the post- 1930's investment legends, he's had a first hand look at nearly a century's worth of market cycles, successes, and failures. You'd think someone like that could teach investors a thing or two...or three.

But marketers?

I think so. Fisher has written an entire book on the subject of three questions every investor should ask. I've seen the questions. They are not small. They don't ask you to consider whether Ben Bernanke is a hero or villian...nor do they ask you to contemplate the future social influence of generations of teens, tweens, X's and Yer's with vampire and zombie obsessions.

In spite of that, I think theses questions can do more than guide investors. They are useful inquiries for the larger lives we all lead, beyond investing...big picture life questions worthy!

And so...The 3Q's
  1. What do you believe that is actually false?
  2. What can you fathom that others find unfathomable?
  3. What the heck is my brain doing to blindside me now?

So what?

The obvious element of all three questions is that they ask one to self-reflect. And that's their power.

In a time where social media seems on the surface to be so chock full of ourselves as to provide all the insight into all of us that any of us might need, one senses there is often a very blurry line between indulgent navel gazing and meaningful self study.

These questions, on the other hand, ask us to challenge what we know, personally, and to know ourselves better in the process.

More than a handful of bloggers have asked what the future will hold for marketing, marketers, and the brands we serve. Many thousands have offered their answers with variations on wishful thinking themes or dramatic doomsaying.

But while facts certainly are not personal, truths often are. The personal truths about marketing's future will exist as thousands of variations in individual marketer's minds...some will be satisfied to co-opt the truths of others.

For the leaders, though, these three questions can help us discover our own truth about marketing...usually in the form of new questions. For example:

  • If I believe that online display advertising is useful for branding, what if that is false?
  • If I can fathom a world in which privacy is routinely exchanged for added service, what opportunity does that present my brands...and my customers?
  • If I'm focussed on using social media for my PR, what larger societal trends might I be missing in my planning?

For marketers--just like investors, politicians, parents and every human ever born--the first step to understanding the truth in others often comes in the form of a question...of ourselves. Ken Fisher's three are a great start.

For a mysterious question mark with an answer of 96 tears, check it:

Friday, February 05, 2010

The customer satisfaction prison: When one becomes a five

I am not a number: I am a free man!
-The Prisoner

Back in the late 60's, British Television aired a series called The Prisoner. In it, a British Intelligence officer abruptly resigns, and finds himself kidnapped and held prisoner in an isolated, seaside location where he is known only as...Number 6.

He finds himself amongst hundreds of other nameless but numbered individuals living tranquilly in a surreal Orwellian resort village. The perpetually sunny space is outfitted with the dark shadows of surveillance, hypnosis, and mind control schemes, administered by a series of nameless Number 2's who want to know, on behalf of an unseen Number 1, but one thing: Why did he resign?

I bring this up as a loose link to a new number 1 in the quest to quantify customer satisfaction: Number 5.

Number 5 being the number expected when asked to rate our satisfaction with whatever customer experience we've had. It goes something generically like this:

'Hi, On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being completely satisfied, how would you rate the service you just received?'

The Likert-ization of customers serves a valuable data capture and analysis purpose. I've worked with clients using five-point thinking to:

  • identify directional trends in collective pools of product feature and attribute feedback; 
  • gather a point of objective reference in a world of subjective customer service nuance; 
  • and occasionally, to provide actionable insight on pricing, promotion or positioning.

But, like the seemingly tranquil village in The Prisoner, a look below the surface of 5-point customer satisfaction surveys sometimes reveals a dark undercurrent: when the Number 5 becomes an end unto itself, we risk transforming people into numbers.

Turning constructive feedback into an unsatisfying feedback experience

Here's a story. I recently had my car serviced. I was handed a two-page survey to complete when I left. I set it the recycling pile.

Five days later the phone rang and, soon regretting my decision to answer the Toll Free number, I spent 5 minutes answering ten questions from a polite corporate representative about my local dealer service experience.

In the course of asking me 10 questions, I rated one area a 4, rather than a 5. I also mentioned that my service rep was helpful and professional. End of story. I had provided honest feedback on my mostly excellent experience. Or so I thought.

A day later, I got a call from my local dealer service rep. He seemed a bit nervous. My 'not 5' rating on 1 of the 10 questions the day before had already made it back to him. He implied that he needed 5's, even though the 4 I provided was in an area beyond his direct responsibility (scheduling).

It was very personal to him: Because, as I found out, his job performance was evaluated based on whether his customers all give all 5's.

He mentioned that the same corporate entity that called me, would be sending me a more detailed survey via the email address on file and hoped that if there was anything he could do to get all 5's he sure hoped I would tell him.

I spent 5 minutes on the phone telling him what I told the corporate surveyor. When I got the email survey it said it would take about 10-15 minutes to complete. Right.

So what?

The story I relay above is meant to illustrate, in real terms, how good intentions in seeking completely satisfied customers sometimes go awry. To borrow a phrase, let me be clear: I believe in research and I believe in customer survey data. The modern world is built, afterall, on that which can be quantified. But it's also built by that which, perhaps, ought not be quantified quite so easily.

Quantifying one's perceptions, for instance, doesn't magically make them anyone else's.

As marketers, we understand that a good customer experience can be undone pretty easily and a bad one can be hard to overcome. So why let the otherwise useful act of satisfaction surveys be a risk to the very satisfaction they survey?

Four principles for putting quality in the quantity

Here are four general principles--derived from being both purveyors and party to hundreds of customer survey initiatives--that I believe will help create a good feedback experience:

1. Align time + value: Ensure that the time requirement you ask of the customer is only a small fraction of the time invested in the actual experience being surveyed. In other words, a survey on a 2-minute transaction should probably take far less than 2 minutes. Likewise, align what you invest in measurement with the value of the customer.

2. Identify what's being evaluated: If you are asking about an overall experience, state that and mean it...and be comfortable with the limits of generalized conclusions. If you are asking about a specific aspect of the experience, then clearly state that. Knowing what you are asking requires a clear understanding of your satisfaction survey objectives. In other words, why ask? Broad based questions seldom result in specific feedback. Using general responses to draw specific conclusions is risky. Likewise, using specific feedback to draw generalizable satisfaction conclusions can easily eliminate any relationship between effect and cause.

3. Use data first to learn, then to confirm: Learning often comes from failure. If the point of a customer satisfaction survey is to confirm what you already believe or hope is true, save everyone their time and let it be true because the organization believes it is. If the point is to learn, then something that is not a '5' should be embraced as an opportunity to do good.

4. Keep it personal: Behind the numbers are real people...customers and associates...who defy descriptions in 5 shades of gray. Incorporating some facility for open-ended response helps keep people present in the analysis.  

Customer satisfaction surveys need not create a prison of numbers. Applying a few reasonable considerations helps ensure that people are Number 1 in the customer satisfaction show.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wagging the dog: Using collaboration to shorten time-to-traction

One of our partners at the world's largest management consultancy used to channel William Gibson to remind us that 'The future is here, it's just unevenly distributed'.

Now, Bill Buxton, a researcher at Microsoft, describes The Long Nose of Innovation as the path that the real world of innovation takes in its journey out into the world. The path is largely through an interative process of idea refinement over time...usually much more time than we might think. Here's the chart he uses:

What's obvious, even if the words 'Long Nose' hadn't been used, is that it's the mirror image of Chris Anderson's popularization of statistical power laws, the Long Tail :

And while it might be tempting to relate these graphs as handing off to one another (ideas that enter through the nose exit through the, um, other graph), I believe it would be erroneous to do so.

Why? Because while Buxton's Nose describes an idea's 'time to traction', Anderson's Tail describes a distribution of the markets for an idea...and many ideas will stand tall only under a very short ceiling: Tongue piercing for example.

So what: Letting the tail wag the dog

The two views can be joined in the context of collaboration.

In the Long Nose, the time that an idea spends in the refinement and augmentation phase can determine market potential. For those companies whose business strategy is built on large-scale adoption of innovative products or services, shortening the time to traction would seem to present an opportunity for competitive advantage.

And what better way for product developers, researchers and marketers to move quickly through the iterative refinement and augmentation phase of complex products and services than by engaging the long-tail interests of collaborators?


Something happening and something being made to happen are two different things. Aside from reading this rambling post (which might generously be characterized as part of the refinement and augmentation phase of Buxton's Long Nose idea!), marketers and their bosses can make reducing time-to-traction a planned process using cost-effective, long tail approaches to collaboration.

A post on creating  The Collaboratory back in May contains some details and further examples, but the gist is this:

1. Engage lead users first
These are the user scientists who have a need for something other than a homogenous service/product offering. They are recognizable because they already have adopted or modified a product/service to fit their needs. Most importantly, they have a bias for collaboration, experimentation and persistence...and they are already your customers.

2. Structure the participatory process:
Participatory design requires much or how little will depend on the expectations of the output and the size of the community. But in general the structure should focus on four stages...
  • Identifying issues/opportunitities (in other words, the questions to explore)
  • Prioritizing the issues/opportunities against criteria (what comes first--or last--based on what success criteria might look like. The hypotheses if you like)
  • Ideation/Solution building (the actual design/create activities)
  • Test-Modify-Retest (validating innovation against the outcome criteria)
3. Reward participation:
The reward can be monetary--or it can be the emotional notion of ownership and contribution to community. The expectations should be honest, transparent and upfront...which is to say, you'll have to work with a lawyer on issues of ownership and licensing, but tread lightly lest you trample the trust inherent in effective collaboration.

Personally, I find occasional comfort in the cultural myth of the lone visionary locked in the garage, only to emerge holding the revolutionary, next big new thing we all need. In the very complex real world, though, I know that a better mousetrap usually comes from refining the diverse collective experiences with the current mousetrap: the domicile in which it will be used, the disposal practices of the local environment, cultural beliefs about the sanctity of mouse life... 

Collaborating with niche groups of people who are highly engaged around the many contexts within which every product or service is used is one way to accelerate the learning required for real innovation to take hold ...and begin to embed itself in the collective imagination.