Category Archives: Marketing

Cause and Effect and the Gratification of Audiences

At the start of ’07 there was a little startup called Justin TV, offering live streaming services at a time when bandwidth and ubiquitous Internet were still scarcities. As a proof of concept, Justin strapped a webcam to his head and began streaming his life 24/7. At any given time a couple thousand strangers were tuned in, watching Justin eat, hang with friends, vegging in front of the television or sleeping. I happened to catch a particular moment in which Justin and his friends went out for a bite at a nearby restaurant. Within minutes the chat had ID’d where Justin was eating and had posted the phone number of the restaurant. People began phoning in repeatedly. Some were pranking, claiming they were the police and Justin was a criminal. Others were trying to get Justin on the phone. In the background of the live stream you could hear the continuous ringing.

That particular moment summed up a great deal of the power the Internet holds. Aside from the access to information and the ability to collaborate, people realized that they could impact what was happening on the screen in front of them, and jumped to take advantage of that.

Cause and effect is a powerful stimulant to our brains. Our brains are continually examining patterns of events looking to piece together the cause leading to the effect. When we have an opportunity to instigate the cause, and our brain laps it up. You push the button, it rings the bell. Our brain does a little happy dance over our ability to control the environment around us.

Internet trolling is all about pushing buttons. There is no ideology at play. No political agenda. They don’t have a vested interest in a side of an argument, they just want to get the argument going and then watch from the side, knowing they made this happen. Knowing the bell that tolls, tolls because of them.

As much as social media platforms are built to facilitate discourse and sharing of content, they are equally built as a button with a bell. Post an image you know will get a laugh. Hear the bing-bongs of Facebook notifications as your social circle like and share the image. Share an article you know will lead to the same outrage you felt. Count the retweets.

Push the button. Hear the bell. Happy dance.

The smart marketing and communications professional has always been adept at wrapping the button and bell into their work. Cause. Effect. Give your audience mastery over the world, even if it is just a ding of a bell.

Business, however, has been less effective at dealing when the bell ringing is damage to their trade. We’re slow to identify when the button pushing is directed towards us and we fail miserably by thinking, if we just ring the bell a little bit, maybe they’ll stop pushing that button. Of course, every ring of the bell just encourages more button pushing.

Take five minutes today and think really hard about what’s going on today with your business. What’s the button? What’s the bell? Whom is that bell tolling for? Then go and change things for the better.

Happy dance.

Communications is About Change

photo credit: Nana B Agyei; CHANGE billboard

Professional communications is about change. Or rather, it is about a change in the market we are trying to create through our words, sounds and imagery.  That’s such a simple and self-obvious thing that it is actually very easy to lose sight of. Over the years, marketing and public relations have come up with elaborate ways to break past the gatekeepers, to capture people’s attention, and hold it long enough that we can try to introduce a thought or change their mind.

It is very easy, especially when deep in the slog of it, to lose sight of the end goal and get fixated on one of the steps for getting you there.  If the goal is to travel to Disney, most marketers are high-fiving one another at the airport as a job well-done and the bulk of PR folks are patting themselves on the back for having written ‘go to Disney’ on the calendar.  You can see it all the time where someone has devised an effective way of getting your attention, but then had absolutely nothing to say.

We fall into the trap of issuing press releases with no news because someone along the way forgot that it’s not seeing the company name in the Globe & Mail, NYT or evening news that matters, but bringing information to an audience that changes their behaviour in a manner that is beneficial to the company.

Every communications plan should begin by asking, “what change do we need to make?” and everything that follows should be judged against its ability to bring about that change. Otherwise you are just making a lot of noise.

Are You Pole Dancing in the Graveyard?


According to a story in the WSJ, in China the curious practice of hiring exotic dancers to perform at funerals has escalated to the point where authorities need to clamp down. The intent is to attract a sizable crowd graveside to mourn, as an effort to save face. “Otherwise no one would come,” explained one villager.

Now, I will freely admit there are likely cultural and religious nuances that are sailing well over my head here; but from where I’m sitting this practice misses the point.  A crowded funeral hall is a mark of a life that made a difference, that touched others in a meaningful way, a sign that others are moved by the passing and wish to participate in the moment. It is a byproduct. A symptom. A consequence.  Not the goal to be chased.

You can not earn a meaningful life by packing people into the funeral parlour so that it is standing room only. The people attending your grave to see the dancing girls are there to see the dancing girls and not to attend your grave.  One of the comments I saw tied to this story was, “well, that’s marketing for you.

But that’s NOT marketing.  Only, sadly, in many cases it is.

How many strategy briefs have you come across that amount to little more than a pole dancer in a graveyard? Because many of our performance measures in marketing and public relations focus on the number of eyeballs in the room, it becomes easy to lose sight of what actually matters… the measure of the brand. You can pack the room to the brim but if they are not thinking about your brand in the right way, or even considering the brand at all, then you may as well have nobody there.

What’s the last campaign that crossed your path that undoubtedly packed the room full of eyes but did absolutely nothing of benefit for the brand?

Keeping Communication Measurement On-Budget

photo cc-by it comes to marketing and communications, information has a value that is very straight forward to calculate. All too often the cost to retrieve and share that information exceed its value, leading to a general consensus that measurement is expensive; a luxury that may fit in someone else’s budget but, with the limited resources in your hands, the money is better spent doing something rather than observing something.

Measurement shouldn’t be breaking the bank. If it is, then you are making one or more of the following mistakes.

You’re measuring and reporting too frequently

Those of you who are continually refreshing your social news feeds and compulsively checking your emails will understand what I’m talking about regarding the fear of missing out. There is an underlying anxiety that builds when we don’t know something and the need to check and check and check can be overwhelming. All the worse when this desire for an update is coming from several rungs up the ladder. This continual call for a report is being done to satisfy a curiosity rather than accomplish anything and it churns quickly through the dollars.

Your data retrieval ought to occur at an interval in which meaningful change will have occured. Rather than asking, are we there yet? “No.” are we there yet? “No.” are we there yet? “No.” are we there yet? “No.”are we there yet? “No.” are we there yet?

…it would be better to ask at the start, how long do we expect this trip to take? What’s the next turn? What’s the next stop? At each turn of the road a quick exam as to the conditions ahead. At each stop a quick view as to whether you’re making the time you thought you would and is there a change in route necessary? A few checks when they’re actually needed instead of an exhausting litany that can’t help but become just a droning background annoyance.

While your cadence for measuring should match the rate of any significant change occurring, your reporting should come in advance of any decision making process. That is when the information is actually needed. It makes no sense for hourly reporting to be going on through the wee small hours of the morning if everyone who could reasonably do something with that information is fast asleep. Better a single report timed to arrive as the decision makers are starting their day. Better yet, timed to arrive a few hours in advance of the weekly meeting where they make the actual decisions.

You’re being too precise in your measures

Do not forget why you are taking these measures. You are trying to make better decisions and this is the information that will help you do so. A lot of people end up chasing the numbers and losing sight of the decision.

Let’s say you are testing messaging in a new market in advance of a large campaign, and a quick poll of a few dozen people shows that 90% find your phrasing offensive. Well, a quick poll’s not very precise, is it? So let’s do some more formal focus group testing of a couple hundred people. From that testing, 85% found it offensive. That number’s different from the poll, and how precise are focus groups anyways? This campaign is important, and you really want to be sure, so you splurge on a large, random telephone survey of over 10,000. Now you have a really precise number. You know with 95% confidence and a small margin of error that the number who find your messaging offensive is 72.43%.

What was the acceptable number? Maybe you’re an edgy brand that embraces controversy and you’re willing to accept a number of people being turned off in exchange for the exposure. Most brands entering a new market want to be putting their very best face forward and would have little to no tolerance for offending potential customers.

Before the random survey, before the focus groups, before all of that additional expenditure chasing after a more precise number, it was obvious that there was a problem. The difference between 95% and 85% and 72.43% were not going to change that.

You are collecting information in order to make a decision. Once the decision is clear, you have all the information that you require.

You’re not measuring against your objectives

What are you trying to achieve? What is the change in the market that your actions are intended to make? What decisions need to be made? If you don’t know the answer to these, you will not know what you need to measure.

Not knowing what to measure leads people to try and measure everything in hopes that they will capture something of value. The resulting reports are number soups filled with some information that’s interesting and a great deal that is irrelevant. But without knowing your objectives, there is no way to know what information is important.

It may be interesting to know that 5% of your website visitors are using their mobile device from the bathroom: an odd factoid. However, if you’re in the middle of a campaign and you know that 30% of your visits are coming from a single media market where you’ve been doing a heavy push on daytime radio, that’s important. That will help you make decisions as to what to do next and where to push your resources.

Much as there’s always more precision to be had, there will always be more information to be had. You could keep at it until you’ve burned through the budget ten-fold and still have new avenues to chase down for more information. So to keep from breaking the bank, you want to focus your measurement on the important over the interesting.

In short…

  1. Start from a solid objective and ensure your measures are against that objective.
  2. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Choose your tools and methods so that you get enough information to make your decisions accurately.
  3. Set a cadence in lockstep with the precision you need and report on it as the decisions need to be made.

Follow those three steps and you’ll not only have the information you need to make better decisions, but the extra dollars in the budget to act on that information.

cross-posted from Linked-In Pulse

When is a Crisis on Social Media a Crisis?


One of the keys to understanding social media is context.

Although social media has been with us for more than a decade, in a business setting it is still quite new, and as such there is a tendency to inflate the importance of messages on these digital platforms because of that very novelty.

Anyone who has been in digital communications has, at one point or another, had to talk an executive off the ledge because they were out of their minds with what was said on a single blog. Rantings on a scraped together blog that’s read by the author and his mom, have your exec over the moon and demanding somebody do something right now! Yet, had the very same words appeared in a small town newspaper they would have shrugged it off.

It is fair enough because without any reference you could mistake any molehill for being a mountain. Having seen a lot of kerfuffles on the webbernets over the years, let me share with you the three points of reference that I use for context.

Where’s the hate coming from?

Even the most loved brands have a steady contingent of naysayers pumping out negative commentary. Or in Internet parlance, “Haters are going to hate.

The more recognized your brand is, the more it becomes something that people adopt as a reflection of their own personality and beliefs; the more persistent and steady the stream of hate from those who are not your customers. Passion goes both ways; as much as your brand stands for something your customers are, for these people your brand stands for something they are not.

This hate-on will ebb and flow over time, dependent on how often your brand crosses their paths. This is one of the reasons that poorly targeted social ads usually bring with them a glut of negative posts. It’s important to realize that this doesn’t constitute an actual change in opinion, just a change in the engagement of that opinion. You crossed the paths of the haters and they’re going to remind you of that hate.

However, if the current displeasure is originating among those who were previously positive towards the brand, then you may have a serious problem. Keep handy a list of the authors of positive brand sentiment and start with a quick cross-reference to see what proportion of them are jumping into the fray.

Jumps from social to any other stream of media

If you review the news feeds of Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, you will see that a significant share of brand related content is linking to something. A video. A blog article. A news story. Especially a news story. Headline sharing is going to be a large chunk of what’s happening in social that day.

The moment a story jumps from social to the mainstream media, it will amplify the issue ten-fold and solidify what that message is.

Of course the idea is to try and mitigate before the jump occurs. So know and pay attention to where the analysts, journalists and people who cover the beat around your brand congregate.

Kerfuffles of Future Past and the Velocity of Content

Hindsight is 20/20. So knowing what issues in the past have had an actual impact on reputation and business, use that as the benchmark moving forward. Knowing that the current event is only one-tenth the reaction of your last online issue, and that there was only nominal impact to the brand from that, gives you clarity as to just how strongly you should react.

I would strongly recommend not benchmarking just the totals, or looking solely at the peaks. What your really need to know is the velocity of reaction. If the speed at which new content is being issued remains constant, how soon will you hit, or surpass, that peak? If the rate of new posts is increasing you will surpass that peak even sooner and you need to react faster. If the rate of new posts is decreasing then it is quite possible that the issue is already past and any action on your part risks blowing on those embers and rekindling the matter.

If your brand has been fortunate enough to not yet face a crisis moment online, you can use other brands experiences to inform your own. It’s all publicly available information, after all. When everyone around me is insisting that it is the end of the world, I like to use what I refer to as the Z-index as a point of reference. It’s real easy. Using Google Trends, which provides a normalized measure of search traffic, I compare against “walking dead”. Seeing how deeply your issue penetrates into the minds of the general population in comparison to a fictional zombie apocalypse helps keep things in perspective.

Long Story Made Short

  • Take the time and collect your points of context.
  • Know who your promoters and detractors are.
  • Figure out where the journalists who write about your brand are congregating.
  • Use past events to better understand today.

Having context will save your blood pressure from spiking with each and every grumble or mutter on the Internet. You can be clam in the face of adversity, knowing that today’s tempest belongs in a teapot. More important it will free your time and budget to focus on proactive versus reactive measures and let you focus on what really matters.

cross-posted from Linked-In Pulse

Are You Sure Your KPI is a KPI?

Invasion of the fraudster metrics

Most of us have been in a meeting of this sort. You’re working out the details of a program and the conversation turns towards metrics and the need for KPIs. By the end of the meeting you have a list, somewhere between thirteen and twenty-seven different KPIs. Someone is tasked with putting together an excel sheet to track everything and you commence an ongoing saga of trying to visualize the results onto less than three slides in a PowerPoint deck.

Drop the PowerPoint and step away from the Excel file.

I don’t need to know your brand, or your tactic or the planned executions.; but I can tell you right now that you’re doing it wrong.

If you’ll let me help you, it’s time to stop the KPI insanity.

All KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs

KPI - you keep using that word.  I don't think it means what you think it means.

Or put another way; not all things that can be counted, count. KPI is an acronym for Key Performance Indicator. It is the one measure that shows that you have achieved what you set out to achieve.

It is natural for people to want to include more. When you see that jam-packed PowerPoint slide filled with charts and graphs and tables filled with numbers, it feels all very impressive.

Look at all the numbers! Everyone must have worked ever so hard for there to be this many numbers and charts moving up and to the right.

But it’s all just surface razzle dazzle. Those that know what they’re doing are going to be less than impressed by attempts to baffle your way through the numbers. And those people tend to be C-suite execs with their fingers on the purse strings for next quarter’s budget.

You can’t set your KPIs before you set your objectives

Putting the cart before the horse

Most people don’t realize this – as everyone tends to skip past terms of service and just check off ‘OK’ – but it is a basic part of every single employment agreement that anyone who recommends setting KPIs before objectives are identified must go up to the rooftop on a rainy day and run forty laps around the circumference of the building.

Okay. So, maybe not. But it would certainly stop short the useless exercise of defining what success looks like in advance of defining what you’re trying to do.

A KPI is a metric that the program hinges on; a metric inexorably linked to your objectives. When you look at your KPI it is a no-brainer as to whether you achieved what you set out to do.

 Your KPI is a unit of measure, not a specific measure

When asked, “What are some good marketing KPIs if the objective is to create a positive association with our brand?” you will never find that the answer is 27. Or 1.32. Or 1,589.

Your KPI will always be a unit of measure, and not a specific number. The specific number is your target or goal.

For example, if you ran a shop, your KPIs might be cash flow and net profit. These are the indicators that your business is thriving or not. Within cash flow you would set a specific number that ensures you can maintain operations as a target. If you have an eye on expansion you would set a goal within net profit that will allow you to achieve that expansion.

You should be able to count your KPIs on one hand

If you need more than one hand to count your program’s KPIs, then you have let a metric slip in masquerading as a KPI. You need to be ruthless with respect to KPIs and slice out measures that people toss in because, “wouldn’t it be interesting to know?

Your KPIs should all fall into the category of, “we absolutely have to know.” Rare is the program that needs more than one measure to determine pass or fail. I’ve yet to encounter a program that truly required more than a half-dozen measures to track performance.

The easiest way for you to suss out the frauds is to honestly ask yourself and your team, “If this KPI came in really high, or came in ridiculously low, would it change our reaching the objective?”  If it doesn’t matter, then it shouldn’t be counted.

Why does it even matter?

Why get picky about what’s a metric and what’s a KPI and if they ought to be numbers or not? What’s all the hub-bub?

Information is vital. If your information is poor, then your decisions will likewise be poor. If you end up, like all too many of us do, tossing aside all of the information because it’s just a hodge-podge of number soup you end up acting purely on instinct and gut-feelings.

Steering the ship based on your gut may keep you free and clear of the rocks most of the time, but the bigger your ship and the more people you carry along with you, the more tragic a single misstep can become.

As vital as information is, however, every dollar spent on watching what you’ve done is a dollar you can’t spend doing something.

Instead of measuring everything, the smart business person looks to what they are trying to achieve and focuses their resources towards measuring that and measuring it well.

The ROI of Measurement: What’s That Information Worth to You?



When it comes to public relations and marketing, there is a lot of focus on determining the return on investment (ROI) of tactics, campaigns and strategies. But what is often missing is the ROI for the measurement itself.

As a brand manager, you can feel pretty burnt when you’ve devoted thousands of your budget this quarter to research and what comes back is a spiral bound pamphlet of a PowerPoint deck spewing a lot of things that you already had a strong gut feeling for.

It can be pretty daunting when your agency recommends a measurement approach that’s in the tens of thousands. Those are dollars that could be directed towards additional tactics.

How do you know that your research has any real value? How do you know that the information is worth what you are paying for? What is the ROI for having research and measurement in place?

This is actually a very straightforward calculation to make. You simply need to answer:

  • How confident are you that you are making the right decision?
  • How much do you stand to benefit from being correct?
  • What will it cost you if you are wrong?

Say you’re running a million dollar campaign to drive trial of a product; the goal being to bring in new customers. You’re targeting a demographic several steps removed from yourself and so while you are liking the direction that’s being taken there is some doubt whether it will resonate with your intended customers.

The value of having perfect information, of making all the right decisions and no strategic missteps is the sum of the costs and the gains:

  • The cost of being absolutely wrong is $1M: the cost of your campaign.  You spend your money, keep yourself, your team and your agencies busy for a couple of weeks and change nothing.
  • With the lifetime value of a customer and knowing the intended goals for reach and conversion of the campaign you can estimate what you stand to gain if your decisions are right. In this example, we’ll say that comes to $5M.

Suddenly the value of information becomes very tangible in dollars and cents and you can begin to make informed decisions as to whether it is worth the cost to pursue.

There is no such thing as perfect information.  But we all have a solid sense of how confident we are before pulling the trigger.

If you were 95% certain that you were making the right call, then there is very little value in further validation. But if you’re making a call that will determine millions of dollars and you’re feeling it’s a coin toss as to whether you’re right, suddenly a few thousand to validate those decisions becomes the bargain of the century.

Contextual Advertising is Still Klunky and Dumb

Antique Robots

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” – John Wanamaker

Of course we know that it’s more than half that’s wasted. Direct mail is considered successful if you get one out of a hundred to convert. The marketing team high-fives one another and everyone goes home for the day if you get one out of a thousand to convert on a digital ad. With radio and television, most often we don’t even bother to track conversion and simply take the number of eyeballs the ad passed in front of as a job well done.

The reason most of these ads don’t work is because of context. No matter how many flower filled fields with dancing women in white dresses that you show me, as a single man I am not going to be purchasing your sanitary napkins. I don’t care how much blue water you demonstrate it absorbs.

When your brand shows me an ad that doesn’t relate to me, it is an interruption and most likely an annoyance. You are wasting money to annoy me. But when I see an ad for something I am currently in the market for, suddenly your ad becomes of interest. In many ways I may not even see it as an ad, but treat it as content.

It’s for that reason that I am a huge fan of contextual advertising. After visiting the Radian6 website, I am met with ads for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud and the Dreamforce Conference. I am much more likely to view these things. I may even be pleased for the reminder of the upcoming conference.

I look forward to the day where the web of data I leave behind me is such that I am served up ads for a new computer around the time that my current one starts creeping towards obsolecence. That I’m shown ads for venues and restaurants in a far away city based on the airline tickets I purchased. That my lack of purchasing a new winter coat this year triggers the serving up of ads for a coat early next year.

But right now we are in early days and much of what exists in contextual advertising is klunky and dumb. It’s like the early days of keyword matching where ads for new cars would be matched against news stories of horrific traffic accidents. And so much could be solved if the ad networks knew two simple things:

  • Have I ever clicked on any of these ads?
  • Did I make the purchase?

I bought a new drafting chair from Staples. I booked a trip for my son and I to visit Disney World. I bought my son a quadcopter for Christmas.  All of these actions and the online researching before purchasing have triggered contextual ads to show up as I browse the web.

Why am I still being served up ads for office chairs? I only need the one. It just arrived this week. There’s not a chance in the world I’m going to click on any of those ads. Why is Disney still extolling me about the very deal I took advantage of? I booked that trip in October. It’s paid for. A done deal. I’m not going to book another one. Why am I being shown the same image of the very same toy I purchased repeatedly? It was quite clearly a one-time purchase and I’ve not clicked again on any of those ads since making it.

These ads are no longer a helpful reminder or a gentle nudge to get me from consideration to conversion. They are an annoyance. And in the case of Disney and the toy, came close to tipping off my son on impending gifts.

Along with purchasing the chair I picked up some notepads, pens and pencils. I browsed for illustration board and art pads and glanced at the graphics tablets. If Staples waited a week or two and then started feeding me ads for some of those consumables, there would be a much better chance I’d view that as pleasant serendipity instead of the annoyance at being asked yet again, “so ya wanna buy an office chair?

It would be nice if I were offered ads for other attractions and places to visit in Florida rather than the same Disney offer that ceased being of relevance to me a couple of months ago.

And after more than a month of not clicking on any ads for quadcopters it would be nice if they just went away.

I realize that rules around privacy and silo’d data-sets are the cause of much of this stupidity. But a stupid ad, clumsily presented, is almost more of a hindrance than the blind shot-gun approach we’ve taken in the past. Because it is so close to what we want but not-just-quite it ramps up the ‘creepy‘ factor. It’s mired in the uncanny valley where we are so aware that this is an attempt at serendipity that it fails to be serendipitous. It trumpets ‘we are watching you‘ louder than it suggests, ‘wouldn’t your life be better with?‘. So long as that hurdle can’t be crossed we will continue to throw away more than half of our dollars and the kicker is we will know exactly which half that is.