Why is General Electric starting an app store?

November 7, 2015

Why is General Electric starting an app store?

Re/code mentioned at the end of September that GE will be launching its own App Store, Predix.io. No dating apps or Angry Birds clones here:

These apps won’t look like the consumer apps you’re likely used to, of course, but they’ll offer ways for those in industries tied to manufacturing to better learn from the machinery they use every day. At launch, the store is expected to have close to 5,000 apps, but Immelt expects that number to jump to 500,000 by 2020.

500,000 apps is a pretty respectable number. By contrast, the iOS App Store has about 1.5 million apps right now. And the revenue opportunities are big. Gartner predicts overall app store revenue to grow to about $75 billion by 2017, and enterprise apps will make up a significant proportion of that. GE joins Apple and IBM, and many others, in developing them.

The development of these apps means a completely new field for mobile engagement solutions. But what if your customers are your employees? A well-executed app is suddenly a way for you to monitor and improve their performance and happiness at work, every day. Many hospital systems have tens, or even hundreds of thousands, of employees. What if you could send all your nurses updates on the latest standards of care, but target a different message to your cardiologists? Or integrate between your app and learning management solution to make sure required training is completed?

Or take it a step further, as Apple does:

IBM MobileFirst for iOS apps are designed to learn how a person uses them and what type of information is most useful… and those insights are recorded back into the systems of record and the cycle continues — enabling users with more intelligent information and incredible insights at the time of engagement.

The app enables an unprecedented level of personalization and engagement. GE’s app store will allow businesses to join that deep level of engagement directly with their business objectives. And GE’s app store is probably the first of many.


Transforming personalization from creepy to cool

October 15, 2015

CMO Magazine published a post with a provocative URL a few weeks ago: “Why Your Customers Don’t Want Personalization”. The actual headline is less pessimistic, but the point is: it’s easy to confuse truly valuable personalization efforts, with personalization that your customers view as intrusive.

It’s worth reading the entire article. But the basic point is that customers want control of their own shopping journeys (see this Deloitte report for more). In fact, the same technologies that give you more data about them (the Internet, mobile, and search) give them more data about you and what you sell. Customers are better-equipped than they have ever been to make an informed purchase decision without your help. And they want to exercise that power.

So how can you use personalization effectively? The key is to create value for the customer on their own terms. Create value that the customer recognizes as value, and that fits into their buying process. If your customer is going to carry you around in their pocket all day, they need to know how it benefits them.

The article’s author, Lisa Cramer, identifies three things you can do to communicate these benefits:

1) Customers should be able to tailor their content preferences. This goes beyond opting-in, or opting-out. It means that customers choose what types of offers are valuable to them, when, how, and how often they’re delivered. 2) View the information you’ve gathered as a way of improving the customer experience, not as a way of reducing the amount of effort required to sell to them. Use privileged information thoughtfully. 2) Consider not using personalized data directly. Instead, aggregate it and use those profiles to better your target your customers.

The key is to be thoughtful. Don’t freak your customers out. Use their data to support them, not to extract more from them.


Your prospect is machines

October 7, 2015

A little while ago, Google added the ability for Gmail app users to easily block and unsubscribe from email. It’s a button in the app that extracts the unsubscribe link from an email, then clicks it for you.

The irony here is that the vast majority of emails are sent automatically, anyway, thanks to MailChimp, Pardot, Marketo, Eloqua, SendGrid, and a million other email automation tools.

So this entire interaction is between machines.

There are lots of similar machine-to-machine interactions happening throughout marketing — not just the simple stuff, but to produce and respond to content. Another great example is ad-blocking. Machines place the ads. And the user installs a script that decides what to show and what not to. The key there is figuring out how to get around the machine, and get to the human.

The biggest example of this, by far, is search.

It used to be about “search engine optimization”. In the early days, that meant displaying relevant keywords as much as possible, on your pages. That continued for a really long time. And now what it’s about is backlinks, relevant content, and matching the user’s intent. It’s about a million other things, too, but it’s really about great content.

And yet the decision on what content is “great” — is still mediated by a machine. What Google wants us to believe is that the machine-mediation is so good that it can really understand the user’s intent, and match results to that accordingly. It’s robots all the way down, though.


Why branding doesn't matter (just kidding)

September 28, 2015

Branding is hard at startups. Why? It’s the ultimate abstract marketing activity. It’s not at all clear to most people why it’s valuable or important. In fact, many people perceive it as getting in their way.

But branding has a huge effect on people outside your organization, and therefore on your success. If it’s done right, it makes it a lot easier for your customers and prospects to see your company as a consistent, coherent, whole — as a personality that can deliver a great experience end to end. That includes marketing, but also sales, customer service, the product team, HR, recruiting, and so on.

Where does the brand come from? We know from Jeff Bezos that brands are “what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. These “people” say what they say because of a huge swath of interactions, including contact with every public-facing employee in your organization.

That includes marketing and sales, but it also includes customer service, recruiting, HR, and even the product team (who are busy designing the features that people will use). And actually, counting public-facing employees is too narrow, since every employee experiences culture, and your work culture is your brand, too.

So pay attention to what they say (“Amazon”, “big ideas”, “bruising workplace”).

This means, in order to have a brand that’s consistent, everyone in your company has to be on board. Your customers want to perceive you as a person, and they’ll take every interaction as part of their picture of you. Your website and visual identity, your written communication, your social media presence, your customer support, and everything else.

And this in turn means: Marketing doesn’t own the brand. Marketing can own the identity and it can own much of the content that’s produced. Marketing can even own the tone and voice, and it has to own the positioning. But the brand has to be woven into everything the company does; it can’t be viewed as Marketing’s sole responsibility.


Re-positioning digital marketing

September 12, 2015

Digital marketing has a branding problem. The tracking, data gathering, and information processing associated with it are mostly viewed as an invasion of consumers’ privacy. It’s not specific to digital marketing, either; look at the objections to Spotify’s privacy policy, which collects huge amounts of data from your phone, ostensibly so that Spotify can compete with Apple Music’s feature set.

Those objections may very well be justified, by the way. But nobody’s first thought was, “maybe what Spotify is doing is OK.” Everyone’s first thought was, what about privacy? Everybody’s first thought was, this is bad.

This is marketing’s fault! Users presume they’re up to no good, because often, marketing is up to no good.

So much digital marketing is terrible. Irrelevant offers, poor design, and intrusive experiences are everywhere. Companies that can re-position their digital marketing into a positive will have a huge advantage.


The more data you have, the more you can do. This is true in very simple terms - think about optimizing interactions on your site, for example, to drive more revenue. But you can also use it in so many other places, including product development, and more direct customer acquisition. As Bryan Kirschner points out, the Nike+ platform is a great example of this.

Through the Nike+ digital platform, tens of millions of people—both current and potential Nike customers—are volunteering billions of data points on where and when they exercise, how and why they exercise, and what they are trying to achieve.

Gold’s Gym is doing the same thing. With health data, no less!

If your company can’t (or won’t) gain consumers’ trust, the danger to you is that other companies will get that trust. And the result is that those companies will get to know your customers better than you do.


Don't worry about them

September 5, 2015

If you’re like me, every time you see somebody who’s accomplished something that you’d like to do, you immediately start wondering: “How did they do this? What do they have that I don’t have? Am I not as talented as I thought I was?”

Here is some difficult advice to follow: Don’t worry about them. (I suppose the real audience for this post is me.) You shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling this way — I think everyone does. But you have to focus on achieving your own goals. Thinking about what others are doing won’t help you do that, because:

1) It’s unlikely that you can follow someone else’s path to success.

Great achievements are hard to copy. That’s what makes them great.

For example, if they got lucky, you can’t copy that. Or if they have an innate talent, you can’t copy that, either. If they are spending their time or energy differently, you can copy that, but wouldn’t you be better off choosing a path that is matched well with your skills and talents? If you’re a good writer, rise to fame by blog, not by networking like crazy.

2) You’re comparing your inside to someone else’s outside.

Sure, that person started a successful company already - in your field! They’re already a noted speaker at conferences. They’re married and they have two kids and a house.

That’s what you see, because that’s what you care about. But what tradeoffs did they make to get there? You don’t see that. How much might they feel like a failure in some area of life in which you take your success for granted?

3) You will never run out of people to compare yourself to, no matter how successful you are.

If your accomplishments relative to others’ were a good success measurement, you should able to “win” eventually. But it’s unlikely that you ever will. What’s more likely is that you’ll keep resetting your frame of reference.


Why didn't Google Here work out?

August 25, 2015

A few weeks ago, Google shut down a project called Google Here that would have used Google Maps as a way to get around local retailers’ difficulties in sending notifications to their users. (As reported by The Verge and Fortune.)

For Google, the ability to tie their online advertising to in-store sales, which after all still represent more than 90% of all retail, is a big deal. So this makes sense.

iBeacons (and Google’s version, Eddystone), let a phone know its very exact location — down to within a few centimeters. A typical use case is to pop up a coupon on a customer’s phone when they enter a store, for example. Or even make it extremely specific: Pop up a coupon when they get near a particular item.

But actually using this technology is not easy.

  • First of all, you have to get a user to install your app. Given that most retailers don’t have apps, this is a deal-killer by itself.
  • Even if you as a retailer do have an app, you have to keep it installed on your users’ devices. You can always rely on inertia, but really what you need is some kind of content program that backs the app, or some great value that you’re providing to your users.
  • And on top of that, users have to give you permission to use location services on their phone.

Without any one of these things, you can’t send local messages.

Google Maps would have been an ideal platform for this. One app that acts as a channel, that retailers could then use to do this location-based marketing. Much easier to fulfill all three requirements. It wouldn’t even have been totally necessary for a retailer to produce their own app for this to work. And it would have been key for Google to connect online to offline data.

So why was it shut down?

1) Potentially too invasive. A terrible outcome for Google would have been that users’ reluctance to be bothered by in-store advertising — part of the reasoning behind not installing apps on their phones in the first place — would spill over to Google Maps.

2) Google wasn’t sure if retailers would use it. Digital marketing technologies are very, very hard even for large retailers to use effectively. As McKinsey points out,

While over 70 percent of companies believe that digital marketing holds significant potential, more than half struggle to measure its exact impact on sales and profits.

In its dataset, McKinsey is targeting large-ish companies with a social media presence. And more than half of those haven’t been able to realize digital marketing’s potential – at least not in a measurable way. Imagine how difficult it must be for small retailers.

The key to all of this would be producing truly relevant, high quality offers that consumers are happy to receive. That would solve the invasiveness problem. But given how difficult it is to do good digital marketing at all, I doubt very much that retailers would have been able to do this effectively.


Does progressive profiling work?

August 18, 2015

In the marketing ops world, you hear a lot about “progressive profiling” as a way to increase lead generation and quality. The basic idea is, if you want to collect 10 pieces of data about a lead, you do it in subsequent visits:

First conversion:

  • [Email]
  • [First Name]
  • [Last Name]
  • [Company Name]

Second conversion:

  • [Email]
  • [Job Title]
  • [Company Size]

Third conversion:

  • [Email]
  • [Phone Number]
  • [Interest in buying]

And so on. The upsides seem pretty obvious, right? Why wouldn’t you want to reduce your form lengths, while gathering more data about your leads? It seems like a way to boost conversions (by reducing form lengths), without the tradeoff of having less information.

The downside to progressive profiling

However, progressive profiling has one really obvious downside, which is that it requires repeated visits in order to get that data. As a result, you:

  • Can’t send repeat visitors directly through to the content; they must fill in a form every time.

This is a bad experience for them, and it reduces the chance that your prospect will actually read the material you’re producing. On the other hand, maybe you want your visitor to jump through hoops… to show commitment?

  • May have difficulty reactivating dormant visitors.

Let’s say you wait to ask for Company Size until the second visit. But they don’t reconvert for a while after their first visit. Do you send them the Small Business or the Enterprise reactivation campaign? What if they keep coming back to your site (showing interest), but they never convert again? Why not just ask upfront?

  • Get locked in to your marketing automation vendor.

If you have a bunch of progressive profiling data in your Marketo instance, you’ll end up resetting all visitors to Form #1 if you switch to Pardot or Eloqua. You could use your own JS instead, but that’s an extra layer of technical complexity and only works if you are hosting your forms on your own site.

  • Get bad funnel data.

A use case that’s often proposed for progressive profiling is that it tells you where your visitor is in the funnel. If they’re coming back to fill in another form, they must be further in their buying journey, right?

I’m not sure this is true. It seems like the most reliable way to know this is to infer it based on the content. If you produce a whitepaper called “what is Product X?” and another called “Evaluating Product X vs. Product Y”, data on which is being requested is probably more reliable in determining buyer journey stage, than simply seeing how many times a visitor has come into the site.

Another pernicious effect: marketers will use a single form, and then rely on progressive profiling to hide certain fields based on the assumption that number of visits equals readiness to buy.

Seems like it would be much better to have separate forms tailored to separate funnel stages based on content, and only then, if one of those lacks necessary data, implement progressive profiling to make sure it’s captured.

Or just cut down your forms so that getting all the data from a late-funnel lead is not arduous.

I’m not sure what the right answer is

I totally get the appeal of progressive profiling.

And yet I’ve never seen any data on whether it actually achieves its stated goals. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone propose a test for it.

I guess a simple one would be to divide your leads into 2 pools at random, one using progressive profiling and one not, then see which one generates more revenue over time. (But isn’t that every test?)

A more practical and faster one might be to:

  • Decide what constitutes the information that you truly need for effective marketing and qualification.
  • Present this all in one form to a set of visitors, to establish a conversion baseline.
  • Present this in separate progressive forms to another set. See how many visitors get through all the forms.

It really boils down to: Which do you think is more likely? That a visitor will complete a form with eight fields?

Or, that they’ll complete a form with 4 fields, visit again, complete another form with 2 fields, visit again, and then complete another form with 2 fields?


Marketing analysts and technologists have bigger roles to play

August 10, 2015

Are you a marketing analyst or technologist? Your job can be more than creating reports on how the latest campaign went or making sure the website is up. (I view that as extremely important work, by the way, but your job could be even more).

Marketing is increasingly about technology, analytics, and data.

  • Every major business intelligence vendor has a section on their site about big data for marketing.
  • “Marketing technology” is a thing.
  • So are rigorous marketing experiments.
  • There’s an increasing role for UX in all aspects of marketing, and there are lots of evidence-based recommendations in that area.

But in marketers’ day-to-day work, a lot of this stuff isn’t being used and the technical and analytical knowledge hasn’t spread yet.

  • Email click-through rate benchmarks exist, but when was the last time you saw these benchmarks included in a spreadsheet that calculates where marketing time and money should be invested? How often are these even read, especially at small companies?
  • As a digital marketer, I often get requests for “how to make content search-engine friendly”, and what keywords to use: the popular conception of SEO as keyword stuffing still exists.
  • Pageviews are still used as a measure for success on the web. Even unique visitors are still used, though what really matters is something else, like revenue.
  • When was the last time you did a survey of what new marketing technologies are out there, that can replace what you have? I’ve always been a CrazyEgg devotee, but then last week I tried HotJar and Inspectlet. I’ve always used Buffer, but had never checked out HootSuite, which does some things a lot better. Is ProductHunt’s Marketing list on your daily reading list?

Marketing is not as creative, fun, effective, and efficient as it could be. This is actually our fault, as digital marketers, as analysts, and as marketing technologists. It’s our job to help our colleagues work better and more efficiently. The good news is that we can provide tremendous value to the organizations we work for by educating them on current trends, and by making suggestions for ways to improve.

So, to get back to what I was saying above: you can expand your job dramatically. In addition to running reports, you can add:

  • Educating people on the latest digital marketing best practices. Maybe that’s just one quick email every couple weeks. Include sources, and data for what you say.
  • Understanding best practices for reporting, and suggesting metrics that are aligned well with what your organization is trying to accomplish.
  • Automating everything you do and giving your colleagues the tools to do it themselves.
  • Suggesting better technologies that replace what you’re currently using. Using what you have more efficiently.

In doing so, you become a trusted advisor within your organization and help drive better performance.


What is marketing?

August 3, 2015

From Rob Enderle’s take on this:

Marketing in a broad sense is about manipulation and this is why engineers, by and large, don’t understand it. It’s not that it isn’t based in solid science, it is, but that it is based more on psychology than it is on thermodynamics. ... Or put a different way, it is more like sales than it is like design or manufacturing. In effect it is sales at scale and the ultimate goal of a marketing effort would be to convince people that otherwise wouldn’t buy a product to instead buy it in mass [sic].

Well, no. Marketing in a broad sense is about facilitating valuable exchange. That can mean a lot of things:

  • Finding out what people want
  • Developing a product (providing the inputs to do that, dealing with pricing, features) so that it delivers value but also so that it is sustainable to produce
  • Figuring out the best way to position it so that the value of an exchange is apparent (explaining what it is, showing how it can benefit the user)

So, it’s not about “manipulating people who otherwise wouldn’t buy it.” (What does “otherwise wouldn’t buy it” mean, anyway? How would you determine who these people are?)

Of course there’s psychology involved, and there’s, for example, experimenting with what words to put on your “Download Now” button so people will be more likely to click it. But you’re doing that to remove obstacles to the transaction, and the transaction is one that you truly believe is valuable to both sides. (Right?)

“Engineers don’t understand marketing” (not always true, but assume true for the sake of argument) because it involves a very different set of skills from solving engineering problems.

It’s more like being an actor or a writer, or even like being someone who makes musical instruments. It’s not like building a house. It encompasses a broader range of the human experience, in less depth.