Tag Archives: technology

Serving The Wrong Master

One of the things you learn about if you’re in the digital marketing space is Search Engine Optimization and its cousin Social Media Optimization. I work with clients on both from time to time and frankly, it’s a time-consuming and frustrating process. I say that not because it isn’t worthwhile – it is. In my mind, the biggest challenge in digital marketing is being visible. Call it discoverability, call it what you will, but unless you are presented as an option to consumers you aren’t going to make a sale. If you don’t get a turn at bat you’re unlikely to hit anything, right?

Photo by Alex Knight

That said, the frustrating part comes from two places. The first is that it’s always much harder to hit a moving target and the algorithms that drive how search engines and social media platforms behave are constantly changing. Google’s search algorithm changed half a dozen times this year and 10+ last year, although researchers on those numbers have to guess because Google doesn’t announce most of the changes (or how the whole damn thing works for that matter!). Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and others have all done similar things, so getting your content to be visible is like herding cats if you’re chasing a changing formula.

The second part of my frustration comes from a philosophical place. I don’t think any of us should be serving the algorithm rather than serving our customers. The algorithm is the wrong master. Before you object, think about any content you’ve written lately or that your organization has put out. I’m willing to bet the creator thought about keywords and making the title “click-worthy.” There is nothing wrong with that up to a point. I do it and I advise clients to do so as well. However, when what we’re creating loses relevance and meaning to humans while becoming more attractive to computers, we’ve gone too far. You see it in the repetition of words in an article making them less interesting. Content that uses sarcasm or clever writing might delight a reader but confuse an algorithm.

Given where artificial intelligence and machine learning are headed, I’m not sure how long we humans will be writing a lot of what we consume now. A significant percentage of sports and financial reporting, for example, are made by machine today and most of us can’t tell the difference. There is software on the market that will help you create content that’s perfectly optimized for whatever algorithm you’re chasing. But ask yourself this: when was the last time you met an algorithm at a cash register? Serve your customers – they’re in charge, not an ever-changing bit of code. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Losing The Lottery

We’re all bugged. If you carry a smartphone, you may rest assured that it’s possible to identify that device as it moves through the world and interacts with various services. How difficult do you think it is, once someone has a device ID, to associate it with a phone number‘s owner?

I think none of that is a surprise to you, nor is it to me. I try to keep the list of organizations tracking me to a minimum and to a list of companies I trust. Unfortunately, that takes more effort that most people are willing to exert but it can affect you in more ways that you might know.

I uninstalled a lottery app this morning. It was doing a number of things that caused me concern. First, it alone was responsible for 65% of the data traffic from my phone when the phone was idle. The app was idle too, or so I thought. In fact, it was busy sending my phone number, my device ID, and several other very personal pieces of data (Facebook and Twitter ID’s among them) to…someplace. Who knows what happened to the data from there.

I installed this app a few months ago when the Powerball prize pool was ridiculously large. It seemed like a convenient way to input my tickets and get notified if I won anything. What I won, apparently, was the ability to be tracked as an individual and have my battery drained unnecessarily. Buh bye.

What’s the point today? I guess it’s a message for you as you’re on either side of the desk. As a marketer, we can’t violate our customers’ trust by using the permissions they give us to collect usage data and selling or sharing that data to companies with which the customer has no relationship. More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics. Generally, those companies are there to improve the user experience. The problem is that in many cases, app developers that that permission as carte blanche to send the data anywhere. I’ve seen how that data can be used for profiling and targeting and believe me, it’s frightening.

As consumers, we need to pay more attention to privacy and where our data goes. It’s not just to keep your battery from running down. Given the role that our smart devices play in our daily lives, it’s quite possible that a bad actor could know way more about you than you’d care to share. I don’t just mean by monitoring your texts or any unencrypted data you send. It’s also tracking your movements. As a positive, location-based services can help us (you get an alert for a sale at a store you frequent as you pass within a quarter mile) but the possibility of an unscrupulous third party misusing that data is exceptionally high. Check your app permissions. Why would a game need to know your location or have access to your camera, for example? Turn off the permissions that don’t make sense.

I’ll be looking up the results of the money I risked on Powerball some other way since trying to make my life a little easier made it a lot more risky in other ways. It was a good reminder to let my devices work for me and not for people who want to spy on me. You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Be Inefficient – It’s Better For Your Business

Representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been summoned to Capitol Hill to explain what they know about how Russia used their platforms to interfere in the last Presidential election.  Their testimony began yesterday, and there was a recurring theme that I think has implications for any business. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with serving your customers.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may remember something from a few months back. There was a kerfuffle about Facebook using human editors on the News Feed who had a liberal bias. Whether that’s true or not is immaterial to our discussion. Facebook removed human editors from the “trending topics” feature seen in the news feeds of users. Given the decreased human oversight, gaming Facebook’s algorithm became easier, as demonstrably false news reports spread with increasing speed during the election. As Recode reported:

Sen. Jeff Flake is asking Facebook how it monitors its service — humans or artificial intelligence or both? Stretch (note: Facebook’a lawyer) said both, and explained a bit about how algorithms can detect non-human behavior, like someone creating many accounts in a very short amount of time. But while software can detect some of this stuff, humans often need to make a final decision on whether or not contents should be removed. Twitter and Google confirmed they have similar setups.

Fewer humans means fewer edits, apparently. What caught my attention yesterday was that each of the three platforms testified that putting in human-based solutions are inefficient for their business. What about the people on their platforms? A significant percentage of young people get their news only from Facebook. How can they be expected to understand the issues when the facts that are presented to them may be propaganda and not news or factual at all?

None of us in business can afford to make decisions solely on the basis of what’s good for the business. We need to stay customer and consumer-centric. After all, you wouldn’t want doctors in an ER failing to administer expensive drugs because it’s inefficient for the hospital, right? The restaurant that cuts the quality of their ingredients or service because they need higher margins won’t be around for very long.

Like most of you, I use these three platforms every day. Twitter is a cesspool, in my opinion, filled with trolls, hate-speech, and spam, but it’s also critically important. It’s a shame that they use the “free speech” argument to ignore that crap. There are limits on speech – try yelling “fire” in a theater and see what happens to you – and Twitter needs to clean up its act. All three of these companies need to quit using the profit motive and their responsibility to shareholders as excuses to let the bad actors do their thing. Be a little less efficient and more customer-friendly. Facebook admitted they knew something was going on and did nothing, allowing the “fake news” and propaganda to disseminate. That’s not consumer-friendly, is it?

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Filed under Huh?, What's Going On

Tolls

As you might have guessed from the name of my company (Keith Ritter Media), I’ve spent a great deal of time in the media business, both as a marketer and as a publisher. The business model used to be pretty simple. Create something about which people care, make them aware that you’re offering it, get them to read, listen, or watch it, and aggregate those people into a saleable audience. You hired salespeople to meet with the representatives of your real customer – the advertiser. Usually, these representatives were media buyers from an ad agency. You with me so far?

In TV, we’d offer a unit of time at a “gross” price and asked the agency to remit a “net” price, which was usually the gross minus 15%. That commission was the toll we paid to get the revenue. Obviously, how much of that the agency kept was between them and their client but it wasn’t really our concern. We did our budgeting on the expected net revenues we’d get which was pretty much a straight line derivative of the gross monies sold. Other media had similar models but in every case, the dollars received by the publisher were directly and clearly tied to the size and desirability (to marketers) of their audience.

That statement in no longer true for digital publishing and the fact that it isn’t has serious negative implications for other media as they shift to a more programmatic sales model. I have no idea how digital publishers are able to do financial plans since they can’t project revenue from audience size. That’s because they’ve allowed themselves to generate billions of dollars in ad revenue while only capturing somewhere around a third of what is spent. The 15% that used to be paid in tolls is now more like 67% although some estimates are even higher. More importantly, it’s usually impossible to predict the net revenues received from the gross revenues sold. Digital audiences are growing while publisher revenue is declining.

Where is the money going? A sponsor pays $1 for an ad impression. The agency still takes their commission, but added to the toll-takers are trading desks, DSP providers, data providers, supply side platforms, ad serving platforms, verification services (viewability, etc.) and who knows who else. In some cases, it’s the agency double-dipping, but most of the time these are third parties. Most of these ad services have no interest in either the publisher’s or the marketing client’s success. They aren’t about a quality ad environment. They facilitate a transaction. In some cases, a platform that connects both buyers and sellers charges each side a separate fee without disclosing that they’re doing so. In short, publishers, agencies, and marketers have created a system that works for no one but the VC’s that fund these ad tech companies. What happens when programmatic spreads to other media such as TV?

Publishers have many other challenges. Facebook, for example, makes more money off of some publishers’ content than do the publishers themselves without paying the publishers a dime. But the real threat to a healthy media environment is the toll-takers. When you create great content and grow your audiences, you should be the entity that benefits and not some opaque service provider. More eyeballs used to mean more money to the bottom line. Can we make that equation true again?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Cars For Dummies

I bought a new car yesterday. Mine was going on 10 years old and was beginning to show those little warning signs that it was heading downhill. Advocate for proactive action that I am, I decided that 10 years was a good run and that the car and I should part as friends. I know this will come as a shock to you but today’s post isn’t a screed about how my salesperson mistreated me (he didn’t) or how the paperwork takes forever (well, only about an hour) or how I had to negotiate my butt off to get a fair deal (we agreed on numbers in about 30 seconds – yay for the internet bringing transparency).

What has surprised me instead is how much more complex the car is. The decade has turned our vehicles into rolling computers. The owner’s manual – which comes in a few volumes – is roughly the size of a paperback edition of War And Peace. It should have a “hernia hazard” warning on the cover. The car has radar on all sides so that there is no longer a “blind spot”. I can set the cruise control and the radar in front of the car will keep me at a pre-determined distance from the car in front of me regardless of the speed I’ve set. The car will also hit the brakes if it thinks I’m moving toward an object too quickly – useful for idiots that are texting and driving I suppose, but also in case the car in front of you stops short.

I have the ability to connect via Bluetooth, which I had in my old car, but the functionality is much more advanced. In addition, I can link in via a USB cable and have the car perform dozens of functions through my phone and the car’s software. I can install apps in the car, which has its own ISP address. Of course, that’s assuming I can understand how to use all of this. The media center has its own rather large manual as well. My favorite passage in both manuals so far? A warning not to test the collision avoidance system. I suppose some moron thinks driving at a wall doing 40 to see if it works might be fun.

Why am I bring this up? Cars are very complicated machines and while I’m certainly a long-time user of them (as well as a relatively sophisticated user of digital products) I’m kind of overwhelmed. Part of what we need to remember as we introduce new features to current users or our product to new users is that they need help. Jargon isn’t helpful nor are explanations written by technical writers who are engineers first and consumers second. I would have loved a short pamphlet that showed the “Top Ten Things You Will Want To Do First”, written in plain language, highly illustrated, and backed up by a newcomers’ hotline I could call if I ran into trouble. Expensive to support? Sure, but cars are expensive products. Could the dealer have sat with me and provided that service? You bet. Did they? Nope.

Selling the product is only part of the process. Making sure the customer gets every bit of value out of what you’ve sold them is just as important. I’m off to figure out just what I’ve bought here. At least I knew how to get it home!

 

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

I Want To Watch

Yet another brouhaha over privacy has reared its ugly head and the group which represents marketers – the Association Of National Advertisers (ANA) – has weighed in on the topic. In a blog post entitled “Don’t Bother Us With The Facts“, the ANA talks about a new set of privacy rules contemplated by the FCC. Their quarrels have to do with the complexity of the rules and the timeframe given for analysis and comment before the new rules go into effect. That, however, isn’t our topic today.

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing I’d like to discuss is a quote at the end of the post. The new rules are going to be imposed on broadband providers – generally, your cable company or telephone provider. It says:

Most importantly, ANA will remind the FCC that “there’s no free lunch,” and that consumers receive information today at little or no cost in return for companies’ ability to reach them via directed advertising that surveys show are acceptable to consumers. This approach has fostered a healthy, vibrant, and economically valuable Internet and mobile media ecosystem that must not be allowed to be severely undermined.

I have an issue with that since the topic isn’t monetization of websites and content but the ability of ISP’s to make extra money capturing and selling information about their customers. These customers (that’s us, folks) pay handsomely for our broadband service, a service which is generally inferior to that found in other countries with respect to speed and bandwidth caps (we rank somewhere in the low teens in terms of countries ranked by average speed). Is it too much to ask that we give permission to yet another entity monitoring and monetizing our behavior?

Another lobbyist stated that requiring consumers’ opt-in consent to behavioral targeting, would prevent broadband providers “from efficiently monetizing online data in the same way that Google and Facebook have long done, with astounding consumer benefits.” Sorry, my friend. Google and Facebook provide a free service. Anyone you know receiving free broadband access in return for being tracked?

Unless and until everyone involved in marketing recognizes that consumers should control what data they give to which entities in return for what benefit, problems such as ad blocking aren’t going to go away. The customer is in control now, and tracking them just because you want to watch what they’re up to can undermine even the best marketing.  Do you agree?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Frictionless

One of the most basic principles of selling is that when a customer wants to give you money, take it. Take it as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. Any delay or friction is a chance for the customer to reconsider and for you to lose the sale. I saw this in action yesterday and it’s instructive for all of us.

English: Golf balls.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost golf season. Rotten golfer and cheap person that I am, I generally buy “recycled” golf balls for my non-tournament play. These are balls that some intrepid soul fished out of a water hazard (nasty work as this article shows) and which are cleaned up and sold by any number of websites. I usually purchase 8 or 10 dozen before the season begins and since I had a couple of discount coupons in my mailbox, I logged on to the site from which I’ve made several purchases before.  I put my purchases in my shopping cart and went to log in so I could check out quickly.  My login credentials are stored in a password manager, which filled in the user name and password automatically.  Unlike the other few times I’ve used the site, a box popped up letting me know that my credentials would be shared with Hubspot, a well-known CRM system.  That’s when the fun began.

I suspect it had to do with the use of a third-party cookie, but I couldn’t log in.  I was told my information was incorrect (it wasn’t) and they couldn’t log me in.  Sure, I could have called their phone number (listed right on the cart – props for that) but who knows how long that would take.  I also could have checked out as a guest, but then I needed to find my credit card and type in all the billing and shipping information that was already on file.  In short, they’d created friction in the sales process, and at the very worst moment to boot.  What was worse is that a chat window popped up (more CRM) asking me if I was finding everything I needed?  I responded immediately, explained the situation and was greeted by a reply that stated “Matt” (the name that popped up) would be with me shortly.  At that point “shortly” was too long.

Since I had a coupon for another site that offered the same balls at a lower price and a 15% discount along with free shipping, I ordered from the competition. Sure, I had to type in the information but at least now I was getting a better price.  While I was willing to pay a bit more to do business with a site I knew in a seamless manner, when it became a hassle, thereby lowering the value, price became an issue.  Interestingly, about an hour later I received an email (automated) asking me if I had forgotten something since there were items in my shopping cart.  I responded to the customer service address with a shorter version of what you’re reading.  Maybe I should have charged them for the consulting?

These guys did a lot of things right.  Their site is  helpful and easy to navigate.  The pricing and costs of shipping are clear.  They clearly are using CRM and lots of it.  But they failed at the most important time. Selling is hard but the process isn’t.  Explain how you’re solving the customer’s problem.  Provide them with great value for the cost.  When they agree, take their money, say thank you, and leave them alone. Prevent friction, provide support.  You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?