Marketing to normals

My wife and I held our annual holiday party last weekend for a few dozen close friends. As usual, it was awesome: Southern cocktails, homemade treats, a nice fire going, two dogs and a decked-out tree. Good times. Over some drinks, I took the opportunity to conduct a totally unscientific poll about something I was curious about – the mobile commerce behavior of our friends. Specifically, I wanted to know: do you actually buy stuff on your phone?

phoneThe reason I asked was because of a weird pattern I’d seen while trawling through the annual ecommerce reporting data from the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. According to IBM, on Cyber Monday, roughly 1 in 10 online sales was on a smartphone, with an average order value of approximately $100. ($100!) Nor was this an outlier – similar figures were cited by Adobe Digital Index and comScore.

The idea that some people are not only actually shopping for stuff on their iPhones (the percentage of sales on Android devices is far lower), but also spending quite a bit of money on them, honestly mystifies me. I don’t understand the use case at all. Yet – the data is there, and I’m not one to argue with hard evidence. This paradox has gotten me thinking quite a bit about the ongoing fragmentation of paths to purchase, and what it means for 2014’s emerging marketing buzzword: customer journeys.

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The Taylor Swift model for ecommerce

The tech web is awash in coverage of the kickoff to the holiday shopping season in the U.S. this week. Predictably, ecommerce sales are up strongly year over year, with lots of interesting detail about sales patterns between different device platforms. But that’s not the interesting news. What many found surprising, though probably shouldn’t have, was that total retail sales over the long weekend were actually down somewhat this year. The National Retail Federation reported an 11% drop, others less. The drop, of course, is all from in-store sales, which took it on the chin as shoppers simply didn’t show up for the “door buster” sales.

Amazon-Black-FridayIn many ways, the trend towards shopping online has had a tremendous, historic leveling effect for retail (and most other industries). After all, companies are now all equally discoverable on the web or via app. But while this evolution has demolished some of the old empires (ex. Radio Shack, Staples), the reason why is because ecommerce enhances the premium of a powerful brand and great customer experience, and strongly links the two together. Some companies have started with the first and developed the second (ex. Walmart, Target), while others have done the opposite (ex. Amazon). Interestingly, both Walmart and Target are reportedly doing just fine over the holiday shopping weekend.

The onset of the holiday shopping season, and the flurry of coverage surrounding it, provide a great example of how this process is playing out. The web’s asymmetry and winner-take-all markets are fracturing the traditional model of marketing, selling, and customer acquisition, and in the process creating a lot of new winners – as well as solidifying some of the old ones.

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How Apple Pay will accelerate adoption of marketing technology

A few months ago, I went shopping for clothes in a real, brick-and-mortar store at the mall. I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, and my experience inspired a blog post about the future of brick-and-mortar retail that has now become one of my most-viewed/linked posts ever. In it, I basically pointed out that the physical store shopping experience hasn’t really changed in decades, and that that’s a huge problem for retailers catering to consumers in the midst of a massive shift in buying behavior.


The retail sector broadly is grappling with any number of new ways to connect to customers digitally: the now-table stakes ecommerce offering, to social presence, to in-store analytics and beacons and much, much more. Some retailers have embraced this new paradigm of selling enthusiastically, while others have ignored or even fought it. While this is often framed as a cultural issue (cue “legacy retailers resist change!” lede), I’ve long suspected that it often has a lot more to do with incentives and business strategy.

Since I wrote that post, Apple Pay was released to much acclaim (my take here). The reception to Apple Pay in the retail world has created some key signals that I believe are relevant to everyone in ecommerce and marketing tech today. Namely: how important are building relationships with customer experiences, really? And what are each company’s priorities for its own (inevitable) digital transformation? Apple Pay has helped answer these questions and gives us some clues about how different retailers see themselves relating to their customers.

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Analysts confirm: no one has any idea what’s going on in MarTech

dog and ponyTwo pieces of analyst research have hit the wires recently that confirm what many of us already knew: no one really knows which way is up or down in marketing tech.

The Forrester Enterprise Marketing Software Suites Wave (thank you for not saying “marketing cloud”) and Gartner’s Integrated Marketing Management Magic Quadrant both hit within a week of each other last month, and have now created a lot more confusion than they resolved. While these reports aren’t technically direct comparators (or, for their firms, competitors), you sure wouldn’t know that by reading their respective descriptions of the market, which sound substantially identical.

Between the hair-splitting that included/excluded vendors from participation and the obvious heavy influence of vendor marketing in report rankings, it remains to be seen how this research will be received. Nevertheless, these conflicting reports suggest two things to me: first, the analyst community continues to struggle to comprehensively understand the burgeoning marketing tech space; and second, that a crowded market space has promoted vendor marketing near the top as a source of information.

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How exactly do we deal with privacy?

scalesTwo weeks ago (before taking some vacation), I wrote a critique of Glenn Greenwald’s recent TED talk on the importance of privacy in which I accused him of pillorying a silly straw man argument instead of substantively considering the issue. Having had some time to reflect, I feel like it’s only fair for me to better articulate my own view on the actual question that I wish Greenwald had used his platform to address: how is privacy going to work in our modern, wired society, and what will it actually mean for us in practical terms?

In preparation for a speaking engagement I have coming up, I spent some time recently organizing my thoughts on these questions. Like everything else on this blog, they are a work in progress; but here’s a summary of what I’ve come up with so far. In short: individual privacy is certainly important, but not to the exclusion of other public interests as well.

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Glenn Greenwald, ducking the issue on privacy


An example of some of the hard-hitting questions at the TED Global conference.

Last week, the TEDGlobal 2014 conference was held down in Rio de Janeiro. Among the global luminaries delivering the brief nuggets of info-tainment that has made TED so famous (and somewhat infamous) was Glenn Greenwald, the journalist and erstwhile attorney, who rose to fame last year when he and Laura Poitras helped leak classified documents from the NSA with the help of Edward Snowden.

Greenwald’s speech was largely a spirited argument against the familiar trope that “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” from government surveillance. Greenwald attributes this argument to people like Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose respective companies he likened to Bentham’s Panopticon, the home monitors in Owell’s 1984, and even the Abrahamic god for the pervasiveness of their products’ visibility into their users’ lives. In Greenwald’s view, not only is this argument deeply cynical when deployed by wealthy technology tycoons who have the resources to essentially purchase their own privacy, but it’s also inimical to modern notions of liberty.

Of course, he’s correct on both accounts – but it’s utterly irrelevant, because Greenwald’s speech was also a classic example of skilled rhetoric: presenting an odious straw man as his opponent, making obvious points cutting it down, and claiming a moral high ground with maximum indignation to boot. (My high school debate coach would’ve scolded me for such an obvious strategy.) In other words, Greenwald swung at a softball. Here’s the real, and more challenging, argument that Greenwald could’ve used his global platform at TED to grapple with.

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Salesforce/ExactTarget is about to shake up the digital marketing and analytics space

Some pretty interesting news came out of the Salesforce/ExactTarget Connections event in Indianapolis the other week.


The first, nearest and dearest to my own heart, was the announcement of new web and mobile analytics features in the “ExactTarget Marketing Cloud,” as well as new enhancements to the Journey Builder application, which uses Salesforce CRM data to personalize mobile application experiences. Interestingly, SFDC/ET has chosen not to brand their digital analytics module. It’s simply an “embedded” (read: standard) feature in the ET Marketing Cloud. Analytics, once again, as table stakes to the marketing platform.

The second, and potentially more groundbreaking, item was less of a formal announcement than it was a clever form of “leak” from Marc Benioff via Twitter:

There on Wednesday, October 15th, the first major product keynote of Dreamforce 2014 is titled “Analytics Cloud Keynote.” Yep – Salesforce is about to (formally) get into the analytics business.

These developments are directly related, and aimed squarely at incumbents like Adobe, IBM and Google (in different ways).

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Some real talk on the question: “Should I get an MBA?”

Recently, I’ve been asked for career advice from a couple of undergraduates and recent grads who are interested in technology and analytics. I’m always happy to talk with these folks – it wasn’t so long since I was in their shoes, and in the years since, I’ve enjoyed the benefit of some very generous professionals who were happy to share their experience and career advice with me. I believe it’s very important to pass the favor forward.


One big question that I hear a lot is: should I get an MBA? (Sometimes, another graduate school program is mentioned, but the MBA is far and away the most frequent.) If so, when? And from what school? Do I have any tips or advice for getting into School X?

There are any number of viewpoints on this question: myriad online MBA applicant forums, recruiting networks, and a whole cottage industry of application and GMAT consultants (not to mention the test prep textbooks). I am, of course, not a part of any of those, and as such hold a relatively contrarian view of the grad school question.

Nevertheless, my advice comes down to a supremely unsatisfying: it depends. A person’s suitability for an MBA program depends on a lot of factors which I’ll try to outline in this post. Here goes.

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Scaling social, and the future of the social web

Sometime over the summer, Facebook officially surpassed IBM in market capitalization:

market cap

I’ve been thinking about this rather momentous shift in market value for a while now. There are interesting business dynamics behind it, which I’ll address in a moment; but what I’m particularly fascinated by is how the surge in market valuation of this (very) young company reflects the rapid maturation, and bright promise, of the social web itself.

It’s increasingly clear that the consumer web of the future is being built around what we today call “social” frameworks. This is being driven by two key trends:

  1. Changing user behavior that builds on the network effects that social platforms encourage; e.g. as more and more of my friends and family adopt Facebook as a central node for communication/coordination/sharing, I too communicate/share more; and
  2. The steady increase in new users, across diverse markets, quarter on quarter.

This is key to the major social companies’ strategy to create virtuous cycles within peer groups: capture more new users, offer them appealing new services (all free!), and get those users to “engage,” which exerts greater pressure on the rest of the peer network to also join the service. There is abundant evidence that this strategy is working (though certainly more for some companies than others)

As social scales, in both terms of “breadth” (market penetration) and “depth” (pervasiveness into the web experience), how will it change? And what does this suggest about the social web just a few years away?

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Apple Pay – and the missing link in mobile payments

apple payWhat Apple unveiled at their big September 9th event was, without hyperbole, revolutionary. I’m not talking about the watch (I remain a skeptic there). I mean Apple Pay, the company’s new mobile payments service.

Let me go on record: Apple Pay is a big, huge deal. Most of the early reviews/criticism have focused primarily on its applications for in-store purchases (and indeed, Tim Cook cited big retailers like Disney, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Whole Foods and, of course, Apple itself as examples), but the real implications – and biggest value – of Apple Pay actually go much, much further than that.

Apple Pay really represents Apple’s strongest move yet into online commerce and identity brokerage. It’s a sharp elbow in the ribs of Google and Facebook (in different ways), and a beautiful example of some of the smartest strategy in the industry. It’s also a clear call to action for merchants and marketers: true mobile commerce is nearly here. Start getting ready. Now.

More after the jump.

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