Tag Archives: Digital marketing

Flying Blind

I almost called this post “Nobody Knows Anything” but that might have been overkill. I’ll say what I have to say and let you be the judge. Let’s say that you buy a friend’s newborn a gift. You have it shipped to your house. The data says, correctly, that you bought an infant gift. That might also lead to an inferred piece of data that places your household into the “presence of infant” bin, leading to you seeing lots of ads for diapers. If you’re the one placing the ads for those diapers, you’re wasting money.

Lots of the data marketers routinely use is of that sort. It’s inferred. You can see that some thinking at work if you’re a Netflix user: the recommendation engine infers what you might like based on your past viewing. Of course, if your kids or someone else in the house watch something in which you have no interest, the accuracy of those recommendations is diminished (which is part of why there are separate profiles available when you log in). Inaccurate data is, sadly, more the norm than an aberration. Since this data is really what’s behind personalization and targeting, that inaccuracy is a big problem. Any business that buys data from third parties – and an awful lot do so – may be putting garbage into their system. Unfortunately, most don’t know that because there is little transparency in the data business and it’s impossible to verify what’s good and what’s not.

What should you do? Invest in collecting your own, first-person data. You can also demand transparency in any other data you use (good luck with that) with respect to how it was gathered and what it really represents. Is it inferred or does it come directly from consumers (did someone tell you they had a baby in the house or did you guess they did because they bought one infant item?). Who owns the data and was it gathered with the consumer’s permission?

When Facebook tells its customers (marketers) that they have data on 41 million adults aged 18-49 in the US and there are only 31 million of those adults living in the US, you know much of the data is inferred and also that we have a problem. A recent study that found that 70% of marketers believe that the customer data their organizations are using for marketing is low quality or inconsistent. Why bother to market at all when you’re just flying blind?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Zuckerberg Unbound

Philip Roth wrote a series of books in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The middle one is called Zuckerman Unbound and deals with the relationship between an author (Roth’s alter-ego Zuckerman) and his creations. It’s not a great relationship although it is a pretty good book. Roth’s character seems to express regret for the books his younger self brought into the world, and at one point he finds out that a book he wrote has caused his mother a great deal of pain and suffering.

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought about Zuckerman as I watched (and am watching as I write this) another Zuck – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – testify before Congress about how his creation, designed to bring people together, has morphed into something that has blown many people and institutions apart. I doubt any of you reading today’s screed touch billions of people every day the way Facebook does, but I think there are some lessons to be learned here.

One thing that rings hollow for me is the apology offered to the committees. I and many others have been writing about Facebook’s lack of privacy and transparency for years. This isn’t something new nor is it something about which Facebook was unaware. One might suppose that they, like so many others in business, were of the mindset that it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Bad call, and they’ll be doing a lot of begging as the inevitable new regulations on the use of data are put into place. That’s lesson one.

My favorite moment of yesterday’s hearing came when one senator informed Mr. Zuckerberg that Facebook’s “user agreement sucks.” It does, but it’s far from alone. I’d also argue that any “simple” agreement that links out to a dozen other pages for further explanations of things not explained in the initial policy is far from simple. I doubt I could pass a quiz on what Facebook can and can’t do with my information and I’ve been on the platform since 2006. Anyone that generates data that you’ll use to benefit your business should understand what they’re giving you and why. Lesson two.

I do know that Facebook gives the user a lot of control over who sees what although it really doesn’t do so by default. I’m less clear as to what they gather although I’ve downloaded my data and gone through it. Some of what is in there comes from activities off of Facebook, probably either through my use of a Facebook ID to log in or via the Facebook Beacon. How many users understand that they might be tracked EVERYWHERE by Facebook and not just when they’re using the service? Facebook would argue that you’re using the service when you use your Facebook ID to log in elsewhere but I think that’s specious. Yet another lack of transparency, and lesson three.

I wonder where Facebook goes from here. As far back as 2010, it’s been under attack for its privacy failures. It’s a business founded by a man who called users “dumb f^&ks” for giving him their information. Maybe like Zuckerman, he’ll come to realize that he needs to be unbound, cut loose from everything that made him what he was and fix the problems in a way that fulfills the promise of connecting the world that he espouses. At the moment, it appears that others may step in and take steps that alter his world forever.

What’s your take?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Today We Say I Told You So

I was at a startup event last evening and of course, the topic of Facebook‘s data problem came up. I’m sure you’ve heard something about it but what you’ve heard might not be accurate since many of the reports I’ve watched on TV are pretty off the mark. Since I’ve written a lot of not nice things

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about Facebook here on the screed, let me add my two cents here. I also want to taunt you, politely, by reminding you that not of this should be a surprise. I won’t retell the story of what’s been going on but you can read it here if you’re not familiar.

First, the inaccuracies. This wasn’t a data breach nor a data hack. It isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. The whole point of Facebook’s business is to collect a lot of data from and about its users and sell that data along with ads to marketers. They’re not alone in this. If you use Google, they pretty much know what Facebook knows and a lot more. Like Louis in Casablanca, you might profess to be shocked by this but you knew about it all along, didn’t you? After all, you agreed to let it happen when you clicked through the app install or joined the service some other way. You didn’t realize that using a Facebook or Google sign in on other sites meant they could track you? Hmm…

What’s inaccurate is that many reports say Facebook was collecting voice calls and texts from Android phones. First, it’s not the actual calls or texts, it’s the metadata – who you called or texted. Second, that was a feature of some versions of Android that allowed that to happen and Facebook just scarfed up was available and THEN, only because YOU said ok when you installed Messenger. Please don’t be mad at them for doing what they said they were going to do and don’t be shocked the data is in your file.

I downloaded my Facebook data, Other than seeing a few photos I don’t ever recall uploading to the service (which makes me wonder if they’re just grabbing stuff off my camera roll), I wasn’t surprised. No metadata from my phone because I never granted the permission for them to have it. No weird ad stuff because I go through my Facebook settings fairly regularly to clean out things I don’t want them to store. You should too. In fact, you should do that with ALL your digital stuff – check your Google activity, your ad profile, etc. Go through every app on your phone and check the permissions you’ve granted. Why would a game need access to your camera? Why does a barcode scanner need your location? You can probably revoke the permissions individually and if it breaks something in the app, turn it back on. Better safe than sorry. You want Facebook to know less? Delete the app and only use it from a desktop.

Now the “nyah nyah” part. I wrote a post in 2010 about Facebook and their privacy practices (or lack thereof). I wrote another one in 2012 about how Facebook might go the path of AOL or MySpace. I wrote then:

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.

  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

I think what’s happened over the last 10 days has me convinced that I was right then. Facebook are no angels but you shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. Unless and until each of us takes control over our privacy, which means understanding that data is currency and you wouldn’t just throw your currency around, this will happen over and over again. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Measure What You Can Measure

The NFL is getting ready for the annual combine. This is where players get tested both physically and mentally to see if they’re NFL material. There is psychological testing to test intelligence. They run the 40-yard dash. It’s a 4-day job interview, much of which plays out on TV.

Teams use the data to make decisions about which players to select in the annual draft. They can stack the reams of information from the combine with the data generated over the course of a player’s college career and choose someone who will, hopefully, fit into a team’s depth chart as well as its philosophy.

Anyone who follows the NFL will tell you that all of this data has its place but it’s far from infallible. Kurt Warner, a 2-time NFL MVP went undrafted. So did Warren Moon, a Hall Of Fame quarterback too. Put Tony Romo on that list as well. No team looked at the data and thought any of these men were worthy of a draft pick. Oops.

You just might be guilty of the same thing in your business. The data isn’t infallible and the data only measures what it’s designed to measure. Tom Brady (selected 199th in his draft year) recently told NFL prospects that they can’t measure heart. He’s right, and it’s because there isn’t a solid way to capture that data.

How are you making this mistake? You might be using one data point to draw a conclusion that isn’t right. Correlation isn’t causation, as we hear so often. Grateful Dead fans don’t all smoke pot and have long hair. Identifying a target as those fans doesn’t mean you should be promoting to the stereotype.

Another faulty conclusion might be due to an error in the data itself. I had an advertiser on a site I ran complain that they weren’t getting great results. They had neglected to respond to a question from their salesperson about turning on frequency capping to extend their reach and limit the number of times a day someone saw their ad. They were reading the data correctly but the data itself was faulty due to an underlying issue.

One of my favorite data error is the foundation of the entire TV business, the Nielsen Ratings. The TV and ad industries have attached an accuracy level to Nielsen ratings that even Nielsen says is unreasonable. A study of a few years back found in analyzing 11 years of data that the margin of error for reported results was often more than 10%. That might not sound like much but it can represent hundreds of thousands or even millions of impressions. The issue here is that buyers are too focused on the (inaccurate) numbers rather than on precise metrics such as sales.

Measure what you can measure. Don’t extend that measurement to other things that aren’t measured as well. I bet your results will improve. Let me know?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Your Focus Is Fake

Over the weekend the NY Times published an article about a company called Devumi that sells followers. As the piece says:

Photo by Jehyun Sung

Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online.

Since social media is, well, media, an outlet’s ability to charge is based upon its reach. Since everyone has the ability to be a little piece of the media these days, having a bigger audience or the ability to demonstrate great influence by having hundreds of thousands of followers is a big deal. Take Facebook where:

up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.

I’ve seen this happen first hand. I was working with a client and we were approached by someone (actually a pair of someones) who wanted to work with us. They proudly showed off their 1million+ Twitter followers as evidence of their ability to impact what we were doing. They seemed a little shady so I ran their Twitter account through one of the services that examine followers for signs that they’re fake. 95% of their followers were bots or fake accounts. No deal.

The Times piece is really excellent because the thing it points out to me is something that is important to you, or should be. The reason having fake followers works is that brands are too focused on reach and not enough on results. The thing those fake followers won’t do is to buy. Yes, you can buy fake click-throughs as well, but I’m quite sure that your conversion rate will plummet if you do so since no bot-master is going to spend a nickel going through your sales funnel. When celebrities (or celebrity wannabes) inflate their follower totals, it’s part ego and part to demonstrate their popularity. Does anyone look at real-world results that might point to those things? Ratings? Box-office? Ticket sales?

Have you ever heard anyone giving out advice (marketing or otherwise) tell you to be fake? Probably not. Authenticity is the underpinning of great marketing today. There is no incentive for Twitter or Facebook to fix this since their financial well-being is partially judged by how many people are on and use their platforms. It’s a shame, and if we did politics here we could talk about how this same problem has gone beyond marketing products and services and into influencing our political system. You can fix it, however, by measuring what matters. Reach doesn’t really matter. Results do. That’s how I see it. You?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?

The End Of The World Or Just A New Start?

You’d think that the world was coming to an end.

That was my thought as I read the response in the marketing and advertising trades over the last week since Facebook pulled the rug out from under publishers by making (yet another) algorithm change. What Facebook announced was that they are going to be prioritizing content from friends and family over public content posted by brands and publishers. Currently, they look at engagement metrics such as the number of likes and comments a post receives when determining where that post will appear in users’ News Feeds. That sparked publishers to create various forms of click-bait. This change will force publishers to create content that fosters engagement – comments, sharing, etc. – between friends to get the content shown more often.

Why is Facebook doing this? I’m assuming it’s based on two factors. The first is that by making it harder for brands to have their content displayed those brands will ramp up their ad spend on Facebook. That’s Facebook’s business, folks, and it’s hard to criticize them for that. In fact, I’d once again criticize those publishers who relied on Facebook for traffic rather than creating reasons for people to come to their content directly. Instead of spending resources trying to figure out how to game Facebook’s algorithm, maybe spending those resources on targeting specific audiences and bringing them to their content. Building a loyal audience of your own rather than being a remora of sorts on the back of another platform is smart even if it’s not nearly as easy.  If you’re focused on creating engaging content that sparks conversations, I think you’ll be just fine, both on and off Facebook and other social platforms. Facebook must satisfy their users so they keep coming back and stay on the platform (younger users are abandoning it in droves). They own the audience – you don’t.

The second reason I assume Facebook is doing this is to mitigate the effect of “fake news.” Generally speaking, news outlets and especially dubious news outlets will show up less often in the News Feed. I don’t know if the algorithm has been tweaked to evaluate the authenticity of some post but I’m sure that unless something is interesting enough for users to share and comment on it will be downgraded.

Has this been a bit of a bait and switch by Facebook? After all, it has spent years cultivating publishers to build their brands on the platform and now, suddenly, it’s saying pay me or you’re on your own. No, it’s not. Any marketer should have been wise enough to know that the Facebook audiences are generally fly-bys – they don’t engage very much and they certainly aren’t very loyal based on what I’ve seen in the analytics I’ve looked at. Paid audiences are different, and while the short-term pain will be there, over the long-term learning to build better engagement is a positive. I’m sure we’ll see all sorts of brand posts begging people to comment and share in yet another attempt to game the algorithm. That’s too bad.

I’m also not sure how this will affect Facebook’s business. Think of travel agents. The number of them has declined precipitously (down about two-thirds) in the last 20 years as online travel sites grew and people could book themselves. Maybe as publishers get back to doing what they were doing before Facebook – creating loyal engaged audiences on their own platforms – they’ll figure out that a paid Facebook audience need to be icing and not cake. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world but just a fresh start?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, digital media

What Has Happened?

Maybe it’s because the start of the year is also a time of reflection, but I continue to be appalled at the state of the online advertising business. It’s not so much about the fact that 2 players – Facebook and Google – gobble up the majority of money spent. In fact, in terms of ad revenue, Facebook by itself is twice as big as the newspaper business, according to eMarketer, and will be bigger than the entire print business shortly. Google is twice as big as Facebook. There’s a third player – Amazon – on the way to suck up a huge share of the ad pot as well.

While that isn’t the problem, it does mean that the rest of the industry is fighting over relative crumbs. When you’re desperate, you might do things that you know are wrong or foolish and that’s where I think we are. In fact, I think we’ve gone way over the line from foolish to criminal.

Some examples. Yesterday while I was reading an article via the web browser on my phone, up popped the screen you see on the right. Those of you who have an Android phone know that what you see looks very much like the Google Play store and it seems as if there is a critical app update I need to make. It is an ad, of course, trying to get me to install what I assume is malware. Had I not noticed that it was in a web browser and not in the native Play Store, I just might have clicked.

This is why the online ad business is doomed or at least the part that’s outside of the big 3. On the consumer side, people are forced to use ad blockers to prevent malware from infecting their devices as well as interrupting their tasks with annoying popups. On the business side, publishers keep pushing ads knowing that some percentage of them are scams or worse yet unable to do anything since in many cases they’re not the ones selling the ads. They’ve offloaded that to third parties and 74.5% of US digital display ad dollars transacted programmatically will go to private marketplaces and programmatic direct setups.

Speaking of those third parties, they might just be the worst thieves in the bunch. They claim to be there to help publishers increase revenues or marketers to buy efficiently yet they inject numerous fees, both known and hidden, into the process, siphoning off at significant (upwards of 25%) amount of the available money in the transaction. Those hidden fees, by the way, might just violate any number of local and federal laws.

So what has happened to the ad business in which I grew up? What has happened to agencies being honest brokers and nearly full transparency on all sides? Where is someone in the ad chain (looking at you, ad networks) saying “no” to scams, malware, and the other crap that serve no purpose other than to encourage adblocking or to harm someone? Anyone?

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Huh?