Aaron Gray // Greater Returns


Musings on Web Analytics, product strategy + other stuff.

Welcome to Day2

I’m pleased to announce today the public launch of Day2 – the project I joined ISITE Design nearly a year ago to conceive, lead, and bring to market.  I joined ISITE becuase we shared a mutual belief that the traditional agency model of launching projects and walking away is fundamentally broken. When there should be a focus on continuous optimization of the work just launched, instead the agency and internal stakeholders move on the the next project.

We also shared a belief that there was not a good solution to this problem offered to the market.  Agencies continue to launch projects.  Web analytics consulting firms are largely focused on short-term, project-oriented work, not on delivering long-term results.  Landing page optimization firms are just that…landing page optimization firms.

We believe that a website is an on-going process – a program that is managed for long-term gain.  We also believe that optimization goes far beyond landing pages to include the entire customer journey through the sales process from the first marketing touch-point to the landing pages, routing pages, key content pages, and conversion pages on the site.  Doing less than full-journey optimization is short sighted, and leaves potential gains in conversion and revenue performance on the table.

So together we launched Day2.  A digital optimization program that delivers continuously improving results starting on day 2 – the first day after the launch party.

Hop over the the newly launched site and check it out!  And, let me know what you think.

Filed under: Marketing, Web Analytics

Your Web Site is a Value Generation Machine

Read that headline again, and make sure it sinks in.  Your web site is a value generation machine.  You feed it visitors, and, if it’s working properly, it converts them to value for your business.  It works by getting the visitors who arrive at your machine to perform a set of behaviors that lead up to a specific value-generating behavior – a conversion.

Your job as a marketer or site operator, is to optimize the efficiency at which your machine is working.  You want it to produce more value for less cost.  To manage the efficiency of this machine, you need to understand two things very clearly: how does your site contribute value to your business; and what are the visitor behaviors that lead to that value.

If you don’t have clear understanding of those two things, or buy-in from all of your stakeholders on those two things, no web measurement tool in the world can help you.   When you do gain a clear understanding of those two things, and when you become comfortable with them — when they are second nature — it will be easy to figure out what you should be measuring to help you manage and tweak your machine.  When you know what you need to measure to manage and tweak your machine, web analytics tools will cease to seem overwhelming and daunting.   You’ll know just what you need them to do, and, conversely, you’ll know what features of your tools you can ignore as simply more noise.

Filed under: eCommerce, Marketing, Web Analytics

JanRain – Great Products (that Need New Names)

I’m a huge fan of JanRain and what they’re doing with their products, especially the RPX product (more on the products below).  I think there’s going to be a huge business here, and they’re poised to capture it.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the product names themselves, and I wonder if they’re holding JanRain back a bit.  Meaningless letter names are a common, but less than ideal solution to the challenge of naming products.  They provide no clue for understanding the differences between the products and they’re not memorable.  A good product name should do both.  By contrast, the Company name, JanRain, is great…it is completely memorable.  Once you know about JanRain, you’ll never forget the name.  It does what a good company/brand name should do – stick in the mind.

Back to the products.  JanRain’s other product is OPX.  RPX and OPX.  One of the products allows site operators to accept logins via 3rd party credentials / OpenID (i.e. I can use my Facebook login to log onto your site), and receive authenticated profile data in the process.  The other product allows site operators to become a 3rd party credentials provider.   Any idea which does which?  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Marketing

Why Sentiment Matters in Social Media Measurement

I originally posted this piece more than a year ago, but it remains relevant given all the attention on social media, social media marketing, and social media measurement.

Sentiment marketing, the practice of engaging consumers directly with the express purpose of influencing consumer opinion about a brand, is coming fast. Sentiment marketing is being enabled (or, maybe more accurately, made necessary) by the proliferation of social media and the inherent trackability of the conversations that occur between consumers online.

The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive continuous improvements to consumer sentiment about your brand. You could argue, of course, that sentiment marketing is just PR; same practice, new channel. It’s related, for sure. But this is different. A radical change has occurred Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Media

The Registration Page Will Disappear – Where Will Your Leads Come From?

At the Internet Strategy Forum Summit 2009, happening today in Portland, Jeremiah Owyang posited in passing that registration pages will go away as a result of the advent and growth of identity management and single sign-on solutions.

Identity management solutions allow people to log-in to sites using credentials and social network profiles they’ve already created elsewhere. Key providers of identity management solutions (and holders of users social network profiles) include Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, myspace, AOL, Windows Live ID, as well as various OpenID providers.  From an end-user perspective, the value is obvious, and the experience is simple:  I already have a log-in and profile at Facebook, let me use that log-in (and my profile info) to log-in to your site; I don’t want to fill out your registration form.

Jeremiah’s point was that, because of the adoption of these solutions, the way site operators collect leads from the site will change as a result.  Without a  registration form, you won’t be collecting email addresses and other lead data and passing to your CRM, at least not in the same way. This piqued my curiosity, as lead capture is a key part of digital markeitng operations and analytics.  As it happened, I was sitting next to Tore C. Steen, VP of Business Development at JanRain.  JanRain, a Portland company, is creator of the open source libraries that power most implementations of OpenID.  JanRain also offers a product called RPX, a SaaS offering that makes it easy for site operators to integrate any or all of the OpenID, OAuth, or proprietary identity management systems into their site.

My big question to Tore was “what data is made available to the site operators who adopt an identity management solution on thier site?”.  Jeremiah was right…how site operators collect leads is going to change, but wow, what a postive change it will be.  The data available to site operators, from the big players especially, is almost stunning.   Think about the about the information about me stored in my Facebook or Plaxo profile – name, age, sex, email address, interests, etc.   Most or all of that data (depending on the specific player) is made available to site operators when I log in using my Facebook (Plaxo, etc.) credentials.  And, everytime I log back in to your site you get updated profile information from the identity provider I used to log-in.  Most surprisingly, site operators can also access the list of user IDs of my friends and connections.  What marketer doesn’t want that?

As a site operator and a marketer, letting customers log in to your site using an identity management solution has significant benefits:

  • Customer experience: End-users like it because it eliminates registration friction on your site
  • Registration volume: registration rates will go up due to eliminated friction
  • Data Accuracy: Data is kept up-to-date as users update their social network profiles
  • Data Richness:  There’s no way I’d give you all the data in a registration form that you’ll get from my Facebook profile

The value prop to site operators and marketers is clear.  This is certainly the way of the future – the registration page will disappear.  Marketers will need to form new data strategies around the types of data that are going to be available from the identity providers.   It may not be quite as easy as pasting a form on your site, and using a Salesforce.com plug-in to collect it, but the robustness of the data should more than make up for the little additional effort and planning required.

I really like the JanRain RPX solution, too.  There are too many identity management providers to try to integrate them directly on your site.  With RPX, you simply deploy the RPX solution, select which identity providers you want to support, and JanRain brokers all the data transactions and registrations for you.  I think they’ll have a nice buisiness.

Filed under: Marketing, Social Media, web 2.0

Sentiment Marketing is Coming – and it Looks More Like Direct Marketing than You Think

Sentiment marketing, the practice of engaging consumers directly with the express purpose of influencing consumer opinion about a brand, is coming fast. Sentiment marketing is being enabled (or, maybe more accurately, made necessary) by the proliferation of social media and the inherent trackability of the conversations that occur between consumers online.

The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive continuous improvements to consumer sentiment about your brand. You could argue, of course, that sentiment marketing is just PR; same practice, new channel. It’s related, for sure. But this is different. A radical change has occurred: consumer conversations and the dynamics of consumer influence (word of mouth) are happening on the network. Word of mouth, influence, and shifting consumer opinions now happen at lightening speed across intertwined networks of connected people. This is fantastic if you are the purveyor of a darling brand, and can be hell if your brand has some tarnish. There are multiple upsides, though: sentiment and influence can now be measured directly and in real time; you have the opportunity to engage directly with consumers and influencers to impact sentiment.

If You Can Track it, You Can be Accountable for It

Practically speaking, this means that marketers can now directly attribute to their work both positive and negative changes in consumer sentiment. With measurability and attributability will come accountability. Marketers and advertisers will increasingly be held to account for their impact on consumer sentiment. The days of being able to defend lack of measurability and hide behind “it’s a brand effort” are numbered.

This brings brand marketing and PR a whole lot closer to direct marketing. Direct marketers have been able to easily track and measure the performance of their work, in real time, allowing them to make midstream adjustments to programs that under perform. Direct mail, infomercials, call centers, and e-commerce are all deeply measurable, and the people who do marketing in those areas are held accountable for their performance. Brand marketers, on the other hand, if doing any measurement at all, have relied on dubious backward-looking analysis of past programs and consumer attitudes that provides little actionable insight that can be put to use in tweaking today’s efforts.

More than Buzz

Many people are talking about measuring buzz. Companies have been built around the concept. Buzz isn’t new, however. The PR folks have always been able to measure buzz; it’s nothing more than media mentions. It’s equally simple to measure buzz online by counting mentions in the blogosphere. But buzz isn’t a particularly useful metric. What is useful is being able to measure against your goal. Remember what it is? It’s all about sentiment, and changes in sentiment over time. The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive or maintain positive consumer sentiment in the same way that a direct marketer drives for a continuously increasing conversion rate. (Or, in the case of a crisis, your goal is to slow and reverse the potential onslaught of negative consumer sentiment.)

Buzz doesn’t help you quantify performance against this goal. Think about it. If you’re Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol cyanide crisis in 1982, your buzz numbers for Tylenol are through the roof. But that’s probably not a good thing. You’re getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Or, are you? Maybe the sentiment of the buzz is positive because everyone is impressed that Johnson & Johnson is doing a great job getting the word out, pulling Tylenol off the shelves and has generally behaved like a great corporate citizen should. The only way to know is to measure sentiment.

A Slow Trickle

That’s an extreme example, for sure, but it illustrates the importance of sentiment over buzz. In truth, a crisis isn’t what brings down most brands. It’s like the slow drip drip drip of water onto concrete. Hard though the concrete may be, the dripping water will slowly erode it away until it’s worn a hole right through. Similarly, the slow trickle of un-noticed, un-engaged negative consumer sentiment can wear a hole in your brand that can be difficult or impossible to repair.

And that’s where the real value of sentiment marketing is: understanding current consumer sentiment and trends; and finding and engaging in the right consumer conversations to keep sentiment needle moving in the right direction and, if you can’t prevent the unforeseen crisis, building up enough positive sentiment to cushion the impact of one so that you might survive.

Filed under: Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Media

Narrowing the GAP

Here’s another example of a languishing brand attempting a turn-around. The GAP hasn’t stood for anything in particular in years (except bland, I guess). I’m not sure they’ve actually narrowed the focus to a point where they will be successful.

Laura Ries has some thoughts on what happened and where they should go. It’s an interesting read, and I recommend it.

This will be another one to watch.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning

Tracking Your Reputation Online

Over the last several days I’ve been doing some research and experimentation with tracking reputation online. I’m a little surprised at the lack of tools to do what I think should be done. (I know, product opportunity.)

There are a lot of solutions that track “buzz”. But buzz is one dimensional. It’s fine and useful to know that 95 blog posts mentioned you last month, or that 35 forum discussions mentioned your brand. But what does that really tell you? If you believe that all PR is good PR (I do not believe this) then I guess that’s all you need to know. Here are a few things that are missing in the solutions I’ve seen so far:

Qualitative Information: Were the mentions of my brand in a positive context or a negative context? Am I trending positive or trending negative? Is that spike in buzz last week due to that bad press about my brand, and is it fanning the flames? Do certain social media environments tend to favor my brand while other tend to disfavor? I don’t expect the solution to know this, but I want a way to easily score or mark each mention, and then report on it.

Collaboration / Ability to operationalize acting on data: This esoteric sounding requirement is really just me saying “I need to be able to do something with this data, now. It’s not good enough to just have it sitting there”. In my vision of a healthy internal online reputation management program you’ve got people throughout your organization ready to engage and contribute to discussions throughout the social mediasphere. As you discover new discussions that warrant engagement, you need to be able to assign those discussions to people in your organization, allow them to update their progress on a particular assignment, and collect important information about the engagement such as details about key influencers (like other channels of engagement key influencers use). In other words, if I discover a conversation about my brand on Twitter, and that leads me to a blog post from that same person, and it turns out that person is a key influencer, I need to keep track of the channels that key influencer uses. If I later find out that this key influencer is a regular contributor to an online forum, I need to be able to keep track of that detail, too. Why? Because key influencers are people I need to develop a relationship with. To have a relationship with them, I need to know where to follow them. By the same token, I need to be able to treat some mentions as just aggregate noise. I don’t care about the person, and I don’t need anyone to engage, but I want to score it and report on it. Then, don’t show it to me again.

Categorization & Reporting: Going back to my first want, I need to be able to categorize each mention for reporting and analysis purposes. Aside form the pos/neg score (which isn’t a category), I want to tag each one for the products or topical references made that are important to me. Is it about one of my products? Is it about the company in general? Is it about the industry in general? All of this detail doesn’t really do anything for me at the individual mention level, but when you aggregate mentions, and the start looking for correlations between various attributes and your positive/negative score, you are suddenly armed with real insight that can help you form or reform your strategy for reputation management.

Lastly, I want this tool to be a rich internet application (RIA). I’m already living in my web browser, I don’t want another desktop app, even if it pretends to be a browser. My browser is highly personalized to my work style. A browser based app allows me to leverage my browser setup, rather than making me move back and forth.

For sure, I haven’t see all the tools out there yet. So far my experience has been on the extremes: internet applications that are too simplistic; and desktop applications that aren’t really built for what I’m trying to do.

If you have any experiences to share in this arena, I’d love to hear them.

Filed under: Marketing, Social Media

Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimizaiton Needs

Bryan Eisenberg’s article today on the hierarchy of optimization needs is a worthwhile read. In it, he layers the concept of prioritizing site optimization opportunities on top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. An interesting concept, though I think his separating Usable and Intuitive onto two separate layers is a bit of a stretch, meant mostly to make a nice, marketable pyramid.

Still, very useful. You could take this same concept and apply it, with slightly different labels, to optimizing any business process. If you don’t have the fundamentals (the bottom of the pyramid) in place (e.g. an operation that works) then driving more and more leads into to your operation is going to be of limited value.

Filed under: Marketing, Web Analytics

Eddie Bauer Embraces its Inner Male

Eddie Bauer is another example of a brand that got big, then moved away from its position in an ill fated attempt to expand and paid the price in declining sales. In 1996, prior to the brand expansion efforts, Eddie Bauer had sales of $430 per square foot according the the Puget Sound Business Journal. That had declined to $250 by 2006. The expansion efforts included moving to dressier lines and more women’s clothing, and abandoning the rugged outdoors position that made the brand so powerful in the first place. Stick to your position, or watch it erode and die.

As a clothing retailer, Eddie Bauer owns “outdoors” in the mind of the consumer. Straying from that proved disastrous. It appears that CEO Neil Fiske wants to return the Eddie Bauer brand to the rugged outdoors, where it came from.

Hooray for Neil! This will be another interesting turnaround to watch along with Starbucks. Interesting that both are taking place in Seattle. Don’t know if that means anything, but it’s nice to see this stuff happening in our own back yard here in the Pacific Northwest.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning