Let’s not confuse big data with knowledge!

There’s a famous intersection in Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing, where thousands of people cross each day, seemingly in random directions. Here’s the test: try to follow one person in his or her journey. That would be like picking a piece of information from a maze. But it would be impossible to know much about that person from just a photo.

So, let’s dig further.

Say that you have a log file of every contact to your website. Or that you are a cell phone company with a multi–billion record logfile of every call made from every location to every number dialed using your network.  You can accurately state that you have big data at your fingertips.  But it is useless in this raw, usually unstructured form.

Add context to your data

Adding context to data takes this information and creates actionable knowledge. There’s even a new term for this –“ thick data.”  That’s data dense with information that is useful and can be mined with available tools to create actionable strategies.  Google analytics provides this information at no cost for websites and pages viewed.  Google uses proprietary tools to do this quickly, with resultant information available within a day.  But once you find a similar need for other types of logged information, you find yourself in the need for a data scientist or data engineer, and the costs climb accordingly.

Data can be invasive in the wrong hands

[Email readers, continue here…]   Such knowledge can be amazingly invasive in the wrong hands or if used without consideration for the result.  For example: What if American Express offered credit card details about purchases by competitors to a big box retailer?  Could Sam’s Club find which households were shopping at Target and even know the annual spend amount by family?  Would that be invasive – or just a great targeted marketing resource?  Would you be happy to receive coupons from Sam’s Club knowing that they found you and your shopping habits from your credit card company?

Strategic marketing

And yet, there are times when strategic marketing demands information that is readily available in files owned and controlled by you.  There are tools and a new generation of experienced data engineers ready to unlock this treasure chest of big data and turn it into actionable knowledge.  You’d be remiss to ignore the opportunity; one that even recent generations of management could not dream of gaining access.

A moment on terminology   Finally, let’s spend a moment on terminology.  Today we all hear of “AI” or artificial intelligence – used for everything from a few rules inserted into code to true self-learning systems.  Here, we used “big data” as our title.  But this term is getting old, and often is replaced with “data analytics” or “AI.”  The latter describe the evolution of accumulation through structuring the data through analyzing it as needed to use it to drive results, such as self-driving car systems or decision-based self-driven robotics or recommendation engines.  Hope this helps!

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Mailing lists, email marketing, errors, oh my!

Using old email lists for the first time is like eating really stale doughnuts.  The taste is pretty bad, and the side effects could be disastrous.

Strict rules about spam accounts

Email companies like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and many others all have strict rules

they follow to avoid being caught in spam hell, with their servers blacklisted and worse.  Each has automated software watching over your uploads of new lists.  And each will block the use of any list they detect may be suspicious.

How many names to add to list?

If you have 4,000 names and add 12,000 more, that’s a red flag. Most services will automatically block you until you fill out a form and even speak to a representative.  They will ask where you got the list, and was it single or double opt–in?  Did you get the list from any third party? Is the list tested with opt–ins less than one–year old?

Opt-in process

[Email readers, continue here…]  Now the last question is a daunting one for any of us.  Which one of us has run any of our lists through the opt–in process each year with a special email to everyone on the list essentially telling them that they must opt–in (again) to continue receiving material from us?  I’ll bet the answer is “none of us.”  Yet that is what some of the mailing houses insist upon if they suspect a list is not generated by you directly through opt–in sign–ups.

Age of your lists

How about a list you have that is over a year old that hasn’t been used lately?  You can pay about a penny per name with a usual minimum of $100 to clean the list, which is quite effective. The list cleaning service will separate your list into five groups: verified (good name and not a trap), unknown (may be good but careful), undeliverable (bounced), unreachable (invalid domain), and illegitimate (known trap, monitoring domain, or black hole.)  The first group is the only safe one to trust.  Many of the common portals like AOL, Yahoo and MSN do not return a response to an email ping, leading all of those addresses to be classed as “unknown.”  And that’s a large part of anyone’s list.

Your mailing list company must protect themselves, and in doing so, protect you.  A large number of bounces or many unsubscribes in a single mailing are red flags that will be caught by the mailing company system.  Depending upon the size of the list in relation to the total size of all of your lists with that mailing company, your account may be placed on hold while you complete a form with detailed answers about where you got the names, if you got them yourself, and if you have verified them with an opt–in during the last year.

How do you grow your list?

So how do you grow a list if you purchase names from a service?  The first answer is in the form of a question.  Does the service guarantee that the names have been run through their verification filter in the last month or two?  If not, the bounce rate will be as much as one percent higher for each month the list has not been trimmed.  That amounts to big numbers in a short time.

The second answer is to divide the list into small bites that are less than a third the size of your present lists in sum, and feed those in slowly into the system.

Register your domain for spam protection

Another protection with an incremental benefit is to register your domain with emailreg.org, which will verify that your domain for mass emails is legitimate and not spam, then provide a whitelist of legitimate email servers with their domains – to reduce the chance of false positives while spam filtering.  Many ISP spam filters check the legitimacy of domains as one test before tossing your email into their spam filter.  The cost is a minimal annual fee, and may be worth it, especially if you use your “regular” email address for mass mailings and do not want to have normal email traffic challenged as spam.

The days of spam mailings to spam lists are gone, and we have all benefited by the enforcement of laws in many countries, especially in the United States.  Follow the rules and suggestions above, and your doughnuts will not be stale.  And you’ll not suffer a stomachache or worse.

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Here are tricks to find yourself on social media.

Finding your needle in the haystack

There is so much information being shot at us daily via social media streams that we should monitor and control that which pertains to our business – and do so with some level of expertise.

Start with a simple tool.

There are tools to inform you when your company name or personal name is mentioned.  Google Alerts can be set for any parameter and then be set to deliver your results daily or more often using Google.com/alerts.

Then add more complex listening posts.

You can do the same for the various social media and streaming sites at Mention.com or by subscribing to a tool like Tweetdeck.com.    You will be able to control (to a degree) the placement of your name in the rankings with a little work one step beyond search engine optimization.  Try a subscription with Brandyourself.com, where the monthly subscription is quite inexpensive and worth the price.

Proactively link outward from your site.

[Email readers, continue here…]    You might consider a special page on your website just for links to positive press and mentions.  Those links will improve your search results as well.   Measure your relative success with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and LinkedIn by searching with SocialMention.com, a site that ranks your mentions by source and as positive, neutral or negative.   Try registering in Hootsuite Insights and work to protect your brand with intelligent social listening, and monitoring trends.  Then try BuzzSumo.com a free tool to measure your engagement score with the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and more.

Listening posts are all about your brand – personal or corporate. 

You need to know what people are saying and how often you are mentioned.  Your aim is to control the bad information, reinforce the good postings, and react to suggestions while you engage with your fans.

And it’s all newer than classic marketing texts.

None of this information about listening posts is available in classic marketing texts; it was not dreamed of even a few years ago.  You and your staff need to learn about these tools and engage aggressively with your fans in as many ways as possible.  More and more, this form of engagement will define your marketing success.

There is still a great place for traditional advertising.  But you will find that this new generation of digital natives communicates and reacts to buying opportunities using social media, recommendations, reviews and comments from influential sources.

So, be where they are.

Posted in General, Positioning | 1 Comment

How powerful has new media advertising become?

We think of media advertising as either paid or free – placed by paying a fee or by a PR firm or by you at no placement cost, especially when you provide editorial content beneficial to the publisher.

But now there’s new media…

But this new era of Internet advertising has given rise to two more forms you should know and use in addition to the two traditional types above.

What resources do you already own?

Owned media comes from the databases you own, such as your company’s web site, email newsletters, profiles in social media, or apps you have created requiring registration or download.

And here’s the most powerful new media model.

And perhaps the most recent, most misunderstood, and most powerful media is that which is “earned” using social media ambassadors, bloggers, or influencers with massive followings.  These third parties have built a trusted following sometimes into the millions.  Many of these are not generally paid directly for their posts but earn reputation points and sometimes free goods for their efforts when including brand information in their postings. Others make impressing livings from these opportunities.

One of “my” companies learned and grew to spectacular size

[Email readers, continue here…]   One of the companies I am involved with started out by throwing expensive parties at events, giving free access to those influencers with massive numbers of followers, and showering these celebrity posters with free gifts, free food, and even free rooms.  That was quaint and unique at the time.

Since then, that company has grown to the largest influencer marketing company in the world, with over $100 million in campaigns, $2 billion in measurable sales and trusted by 60% of the Fortune 500 companies.

It’s a great business that didn’t exist a few years ago; and many national advertisers are redirecting funds into these “earned” resources as they find new ways to reach this generation of digital native customers, those who don’t generally respond to traditional advertising.

Expand your definition of advertising to include four, not just two methods of finding your potential customers.


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Question: Do you know three types of advertising?

If we never advertised, we’d never sell anything.  Right?

Perhaps right, but there are three major types of advertising, some requiring large outlays of cash, some not.

The types of advertising

First, you can advertise your brand so that people recognize it when they see it in later materials.  Second, you can make a call to action, using an ad to bring people to your place of offer, buy your services or product, or take advantage of a special incentive.   And third, you can invest in direct response advertising.  Here you make a pitch with a price attached and ask the target to respond immediately to take advantage of the offer.

Measuring your results

There is a vast difference in the way we can measure the results of our advertising. For example, direct response ads yield precise statistics, and the pay–off is easily measurable.  Yes, you might have made a more attractive offer with better results; but you can test direct response ads with various offers and price points to determine that optimum level.

The call to action

With a call-to-action ad, you have a more complex measurement problem, since people can come to an event or buy the merchandise by finding out through any of several sources other than the specific ad.

[Email readers, continue here…]   And with brand (or lifestyle) advertising, there is no way to directly measure success.  It is this kind of ad which must have prompted John Wanamaker to state, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Creating value, the old fashioned way

We angel and venture investors look to build brand and enterprise value, sometimes at the direct expense of profitability or even revenue.  A good manager of a business should work to create value the old-fashioned way, by working IN the business, not ON the business (as investors are prone to do.)

You should not succumb to the investor’s prodding unless there is plenty of money in the bank and an agreed upon time to seek a sale.  Advertise to build the business’s revenue and profits whenever possible.

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Sometimes your gut is the best you’ve got.

How I didn’t follow my own advice

Years ago, I led a deal and invested in a company that looked like it had lots of promise to disrupt the women’s clothing industry with special algorithms and an online store.  But something had bothered me from the very start – unsalable inventory.

An entrepreneur makes a claim that stretches comfort

You see, women’s clothing is subject to fashion changes so frequently that inventory becomes obsolete quickly.  Add to that knowing that there are three distinct buying seasons each year, and that this site was offering to mix and match sizes to fit, leaving orphan matching skirts and pants – and you can see why my concern.  The entrepreneur–founder explained this problem away by stating that the designers and manufacturers would ship direct after we’d grown to a large enough size.  I had my doubts but led the deal anyway.

But we overcame the fears and…

[Email readers, continue here…]   We raised six million from angel investors for this otherwise brilliant concept, and several first tier VCs followed with another thirty–two million over time.

In the end, you can guess the outcome.

And the company ultimately died a painful death.  It never got its corporate arms around the inventory problem, first among other issues.  And designers or manufacturers never did offer to ship direct.

Looking back at that complete financial loss, I keep thinking of my gut response to the brush–off about inventory being a problem.  To my gut response.

How about you and your gut feelings?

How many times have you had this nagging feeling that an answer to your question just didn’t seem right, but that you accepted the answer because the person offering it was closer to the problem than you were?  It is human nature to do so, deferring to the person more expert or more knowledgeable.

“What if…” we had seen this coming?

Over the course of these insights here and in my BERKONOMICS series of books and blogs, we explore the use of tools to help overcome this natural tendency.  Perhaps the greatest of these is use of the “what if” or “why” question streams.  I admit that I should have taken my own advice for that one and continue much further down the chain of “what if” or “why” questions, let alone doing more due diligence with a handful of designers and manufacturers.

Yes, sometimes your gut is the best you’ve got.  Listen to it!

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Go ahead. Revert to “old school” marketing. If you dare…

“Broadcast the message and they will come!”  “Segment my broadcast and I will have better response.”  Both of these time–honored methods of reaching our customers have worked for as long as there was print and radio–TV to get the message out.

The obsolete marketing message

And both have become increasingly obsolete as new channels of reach have evolved, allowing direct and personal contact with our potential customers, and better yet, free and near–free forms of marketing just for the asking.

Today’s marketing tools and methods

Today, if you are not targeting your marketing effort with predictive analysis and segment–focused communications, you are way behind others who do.   Big data analytics enable us to find and target just the right audience at the right time, something we could not do even a few years ago.  If you feel overwhelmed by this, there are experts waiting to serve you with new tools, ideas and channels you have never used, and which will open your eyes to powers that may shock you.

But the leaders of this new school practice customer–driven communication, personalized to the point of basing communication upon individual customer behavior.

A personal story

[Email readers, continue here…]   My spouse visited a website for women’s clothing, then followed it with a search for a service using a browser.  Immediately, seconds after her shopping effort, ads for that same online retailer surrounded her on the other site.  Those ads could have been for a competing online retailer looking to take business from the first. But either way, targeted marketing worked with her that day.  She bought again.

Interactive conversations with your customers

But the pinnacle of direct new–age marketing comes in the form of interactive conversations between company and customer, progressing from the contact through purchase through follow–up offer. Surely you’ve experienced this in your own online shopping efforts and perhaps have used that time–limited 15% discount to purchase something you may or may not have needed.

Old school or new school. Spend lots and not be sure of the return on investment; or spend much less and offer some of the savings to the customer.  Hmm.  Which is the win–win here?

Now, if you had a choice and the inclination to do something about it, which would you want to be?  Old school?  New school?

Posted in Positioning | 5 Comments

Steve Jobs’ “aha moment!”

There is a process to innovation that can be summed up with four words: “Whoa. Wow! Hmmm. Yes!”  Credit Dr. Mark Goulston with this. He states, that’s exactly how Steve Jobs described his “aha moment.”  So, let’s paraphrase the late Mr. Jobs as we describe this process.

A bit of history that “made” Apple rich

Jobs was invited to Xerox Parc research facility and – against the better judgment of the research coordinator – shown three projects the engineers were working on.  The first of the three was a rough cobbling together of a graphic user interface, complete with a crude “mouse.”  Jobs hardly remembered the other two.

Whoa! Here’s how to change an industry…

“Whoa,” he must have thought when seeing that GUI for the first time. “Wow!” he states in later recounts was his intense impression.  “Hmmm” – that could be the future of computing everywhere, he says he thought immediately.  “Yes!” he must have said to his colleagues as soon as he was away from the facility.

And that’s how the Macintosh was conceived.

His vision for the Macintosh and later for all that followed came from that “Yes!” moment, defining what would become one of the most valuable companies on earth with a single “aha” moment.

Let’s define the process.

[Email readers, continue here…]    This is a process that you and I can use.  Think for a moment.  Have you ever had such a game–changing “aha” moment in your business life?  And if not, could you recognize it as a defining experience as Jobs did?

…and your ability to realize the “aha” moment.

There are many examples of great advances in technology or industry from such aha moments.  But it is as much a skill to be developed as an accident of fate.   Discipline yourself to notice things that not only interest you but draw deeply into your emotional self as you see them for the first time.  And when you do spot such an anomaly, “whoa.”  Slow down to absorb what you’ve seen and how you are reacting to it.

How to get to “Wow!”

Your “wow!” moment follows if you can identify why you stopped to look and connect that with your reason for excitement.  “Hmmm.”  This could be important and lead to something big for us. “Yes!”  I know what we can do to change the world with this.

It’s a process that is repeatable, even if the time this happens is rare, perhaps as in Jobs’ case, once in a lifetime.  But isn’t it worth making this a skill in your inventory of skills?  Perhaps the result is not a game–changer, just a great lift for the business.  Or perhaps it is the beginning of everything grand to follow.

Posted in Finding your ideal niche, Surrounding yourself with talent | 1 Comment

Branding yourself: A critical decision

We’re talking about brand strategy here.  Not advertising, and certainly not an easy grasp for amateur marketers.  So how developed is your company’s brand?  Is your message clear, concise, and consistent?

Here’s the professional’s process:

There is a process used by professionals to get to clear messaging.  It starts with “discovery,” the process of finding the strengths of the company in the minds of all stakeholders.  That requires careful questioning, accumulation of results, and then the creation of a strategy for making a message reflect these advantages.

Branding a cow seems so much easier.

We start with our intended audience, asking ourselves who we are talking to, what we need to say, and how we are going to say it.  We want our audience to know what we stand for in the fewest, most memorable words.

Think of this as our core message. 

We define (clearly) what we give (our core attributes) and then why it matters, or what our audience gets (the benefits).

[Email readers, continue here…]   A good brand strategy then lists supporting arguments for both the give and the get.  Once we have done this, we should be ready to create our audience–facing message, which we know as advertising.

What we usually do wrong

Very few of us have conducted a brand strategy effort, and much of our advertising reflects this, with wasted ad dollars spent as we nibble around the core message and miss targeting the primary “get” message in our ads.

You can follow the steps outlined above and attempt to define your core message or seek help from a professional.  It seems that most often, this extra effort to define brand message would be cheaper and much more effective than our present attempts at “spray and pray” advertising today.

Or you can hope your present advertising is effective – and concentrate on learning a new skill at the ranch.

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Customer empowerment? Blame the Internet.

Customer empowerment is moving so fast nowadays that many of us are running to just catch up.  Yet if we don’t or can’t, it is a sure thing that someone else will.

Yes, we can blame the Internet for this.  But don’t close your eyes to the fact that your customers have grown to expect your products or services in the form of…

‘WHAT I want, WHEN I want, and WHERE I want.’

Especially for those of us producing forms of media for consumption, from books to movies to music to games to blogs to podcasts and more, our customers expect delivery in the form of bits over the Internet upon demand, usable on a multitude of devices, and sometimes stored and available in the cloud at no additional cost.

Expectations rise with technology.

For those producing physical products (atoms, not bits), Amazon and a few others have set the bar of expectation that already includes one–hour delivery at a cost and for certain items in many urban areas.  At the very least, two–day delivery has become the minimum expectation to virtually anywhere.

Embrace remote outreach to save everyone time.

[Email readers, continue here…]  If you provide services rather than products (neither bits nor atoms), consider offering discounted rates for remote phone or video appointments if applicable, for un–booked appointment times if not possible, and for early booking of time if neither works.

Entering the age of mass customization

As to selection (WHAT I want), do not be surprised to see your customers moving you to find ways to use 3D printing and other mass customization tools to create unique products without inventory cost to you – and certainly moving you to consider “additive manufacturing” (3–D printing) as a new norm for some or many of your products.  Be ready:  remote 3–D printers may soon make “WHERE I want” common for some products produced locally on demand.

If you are not considering these demands and your responses already, surely someone else is.  Be an adaptive business leader.  Create strategies to lead in areas where new technologies can give you a competitive edge.


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