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Mar 5

Can I Get a Little Privacy?!

And I’m not talking about your roommate walking in on you in the bathroom.  I’m talking buying behavior (though bathroom privacy should be noted), because the fact of the matter is, we’re being watched! By our browsers at least, and more specifically by the algorithms and cookies digging away at our info. But this has caused a stir in the internet community, companies like Microsoft were taking aim at Google

with a marketing campaign declaring that consumers were being “scroogled” with targeted advertisements based on their e-mails and search histories.

Is Google using that info to better advertise its other services? Many have argued that, or something similar, and lets be honest, with 70% of queries being done through Google why wouldn’t you? If you are Google at least, but they claim its to better the user experience and all in all, I’d say they have done a great job. Back to privacy though, just because Google, as well as any other site tracking consumer buying behavior, can track does not mean everyone wants them do so and that has lead to a high demand for online privacy. Naturally, businesses are responding to that distress call,

Mozilla, and underdog in the browser market, suggested last week that it would allow its users to disable third-party tracking software altogether. 

This is a potentially big step for Mozilla and a good way of gaining a larger audience concerned with privacy. The reality of the situation though..

Advertisers have said openly that they will not stop tracking just because a consumer sends a Do Not Track signal through his or her browser.

To some, the STOP sign doesn’t mean much so even if your browser is set to block those cookies and algorithms, some are still making their way through, watching your every search. “What is the big deal? They are just trying to improve your shopping experience!”  Whatever improvements are being made does not matter to some consumers though.

Forrester Research found that one in three consumers were concerned about companies having access to their behavioral data. More than 40 percent said they had stopped short of completing a transaction on a Web site because of something they read in a privacy policy.

 Who can really blame these people either. If I am buying something online that isn’t from Amazon and some other big name brand, I get hesitant because I don’t trust the site. The flip side to that is that the brands I do ‘trust’ are the ones that are applying the cookies (that’s not to say that smaller sites are not doing the same) and violating my ‘privacy’. What kind of world is it where you can’t trust your internet browser? Sounds a bit like a first world problem, and it may be, but that doesn’t change the fact that it adds a discomfort to many individuals. This is what is putting demand on these privacy companies.

a host of companies big and small are offering a variety of privacy tools like ways to encode Facebook posts and ways to secure personal data stored in the cloud.

Scrambls, it encrypts a social network post or e-mail, effectively locking it, and lets the author choose who should have a key to read it.

Both quotes are further examples of what is being done to aid in consumer privacy. It reminds me somewhat of what Blackberry has focused on heavily and that is encryption codes within the phone which makes it harder for others to intercept information. Luckily some companies are using some form of similar technology to apply to social media sites and e-mail. Like many things in this world, privacy won’t come cheap, but for now it is free since most of these companies are trying to get the ball rolling. We should all expect a spike in price in the future and then again, I’m sure there are plenty of us who don’t really give a damn. In which case, shop and search on! As for the rest of us, apply the Do Not Track button and THEN shop and search on!

A Social Media Overload

I’m sorry to break it to anyone reading this, but if you didn’t already know, social media is EVERYWHERE. The surge in smartphone and tablet users has increased dramatically and that means time spent on the internet is increasing as well. Lets look at some numbers, from July 2011 to July 2012 time spent on mobile phones nearly doubled from 52 million to 95 million minutes. One of the best features of smartphones is the availability of apps and if you haven’t already guessed it, the amount of time spent on apps doubled as well.

This is insane! Doubled?! I realize the population is growing at an alarming rate, but not that quickly. Human beings are simply spending more time attached to their mobile devices, and why not? Even in situations where we shouldn’t be on our phones (lecture, meeting, funeral, driving) many of us still find ourselves pulling up a browser or trying to beat your jerk buddy at Words With Friends. Why do we all invest so much time into these sites and apps? Is it because we are creatures of habit so it is an easy routine to fall into? An easy to obtain reward that can be refreshed constantly, always bringing that satisfaction? Or that we enjoy being part of something, part of a greater whole, and technology has made that a click away?

I think it is a little of all that.

17% of consumers’ PC time is spent on Facebook, the most popular web brand in the U.S.

That quote is only relative to the U.S. but still gives light to where a lot of online time is being spent. 

Compared to last year, consumers increased their social app time by 76 percent.. While the social media audience via PC declined a slight five percent from a year ago, time spent increased 24 percent over the same period, suggesting that users are more deeply engaged.

Much like the title, we are talking social media overload. Don’t take that negatively though because we all have our reasons for checking our Twitter and Facebook’s constantly. Boredom I assume is the main reason but there are plenty of more that substitute having nothing better to do. The ability to share and respond make Facebook what is though, even the ability to simply ‘Like’ something draws in appeal. And now social media is taking a step further because more and more firms are getting involved. Not only can we can connect with friends through social media but businesses as well. They seek our input and ideas and criticism and through social media they can connect on a personal level. I think this is because we can connect with these businesses from the comfort of our home:

Nearly of third of people aged 18-24 use social networking in the bathroom.

A little detailed I know, but it gets the point across. As humans we differentiate ourselves from animals with our ability to use tools and develop technologies. So obviously, as the social creatures we are, have developed multiple ways to communicate through a single device, which has been built for ease-of-use. With all the data gathering being performed by these social sites, I see the social media experience changing ever further to help provide a more customized and personal user experience.

(Source: courses.wwu.edu)

In Case You Haven’t *face palmed* In A While, Introducing Fake Internet Girlfriends!

Establishing yourself as ‘In a Relationship’ on Facebook can feel really good. Letting the world wide web know that you are taken and proud! But for some, that relationship status means a little bit more. And by ‘little bit’ I mean about $750 more. Yes folks you heard right, for a mere $750 a company will pose as your girlfriend on Facebook.. 

Questions like ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ and ‘seriously?!’ are probably coming to mind, at least they were for me as I read the title to the video. Fakeinternetgirlfriend.com (who is hiring right now for any hopefuls) is the culprit of this madness and they advertise to individuals trying to impress their bosses by showing they are in stable relationship and, a more noble route, to people trying to make and ex jealous. 

Now I’m not going to say this is sad because this is pretty damn sad. ‘Sad’ alone doesn’t fully grasp the entire situation in my opinion. An interviewee shared my same opinion stating..

"You’re still lonely and now out of money." 

I realize some people will do what ever it takes to get to the top, but taking it all the way down to your social network? When anyone is applying for a job in today’s world, they should make a point to clean up Facebook. Whether it is clearing yourself of a potentially negative post or a not-so-flattering picture of you half-way through a fifth, the fact of the matter is, employers are checking. 

But I can’t speak from an employers perspective. I can’t tell you how much weight is put into the fact that someone is in a relationship compared to someone who is not in a job interview. If two identical job applicants applied to a firm with the only difference being their relationship status, would the firm choose the ‘committed’ applicant over the ‘single’? Fakeinternetgirlfriend.com would like us to think so, that is not to say that the $750 someone has to fork over will be any easier. $750! You are paying, what I’m sure you hope is a woman, to sit and socialize with you in an online presence. The best part for me was at the end of the video where they defended themselves as a strictly fake internet girlfriend site and not an expensive escort service. For that amount you would think you would get a firm handshake at least, but if that job interview really means that much to you and you happen to have $750 lying around, go for it. 

I refuse to comment on making an ex jealous because that is just plain sad. You could do that for way cheaper than what they are charging. Duh.

(Source: USA Today)

The Beginning of the End for Credit Cards?

With mobile phones becoming more and more prevalent in consumer culture, it is all too likely that companies like LevelUp will find great success in the coming future. The idea behind LevelUp is rewarding customers with free cash (essentially) because businesses are able to save on transaction fees since purchases are made through a smartphone. Phones can download an app which connects to the users debit/credit card so when they make a purchase they use a scanner through the app. 

Though I am coming from a bit of a biased background, since my current phone has no data plan and I’ve never experienced all the joys and benefits of apps, I think think this is a smart move for small businesses to get into. Not only will it help them build loyalty programs but it cuts down on costs, as stated earlier, through zero transaction fees.

The company is one of the only mobile payments solutions that doesn’t charge per transaction, with competitors like Square charging per-transaction fees of around 2.75 percent.

A program that builds and rewards loyal customers, the only stipulation being the smartphone requirement (which I am still working on). At least for customers, that is the major issue, LevelUp’s real challenge will be getting businesses to integrate there new technology into their business (there are a few more issues this brings up but I’ll discuss those a little later).  But this process has already begun, LevelUp has been recruiting and has found about 16 locations to support its new custom white label app.

At the end of the month sweetgreen will start what LevelUp is calling the “credit card diet,” only accepting cash and LevelUp payments in its stores for a three-day period. When that happens users will be able to use sweetgreen’s own Android and iPhone apps or LevelUp’s app to pay, and the company has tied a loyalty program into the apps so for every $100 they spend, customers unlock $10 free (sweetgreen is migrating its current card-based loyalty program, which has over 120,000 users, over to LevelUp). 

I imagine this running into some issues but I think it is a great way to gauge how smooth/rough of a transition it will be for customers to switch from card to phone. I can’t be the only one who is out of touch with recent technology, at least I hope, so for that simple reasoning can be a cause for some of the resistance. Not to mention the convenience that comes with using a card is still relevant and may not be that much more convenient through the phone. I don’t think LevelUp was specifically designed for convenience in the sense of time spent making a transaction and not having to deal with change, the real benefit comes through the loyalty programs created through the transactions.

Companies are already able to track a lot of our buying habits through our debit/credit cards, and that is another benefit for businesses using LevelUp because they will be able to see which customers respond to the program and monitor purchasing habits. All of which will help build a better customized user experience. I hope at least. Or just another way to data farm. 

All this brings me to my last point. If I wasn’t already attached to my phone enough, this is takes it to a new level. Having your card connected to your phone bring up all kinds of security issues, the most prominent being, ‘what if I lost my phone?’ which already happens to me all to frequently. The phone will become just as valuable as a credit card if not more and that potential risk might be too much for some.

Earned Media, One Piece of the Media Trinity

Paid, owned and earned media all play vital roles in the marketing strategy of many firms. In the articles I read they specifically covered the importance of earned media and how it has engaged customers.

“Consumers are simply looking for the most relevant and engaging information – in the instant that they need it and in the channel they are seeking it, and to remain relevant, a brand message must be wherever they are” 

Sharing a common theme in ads through different media can aid in keeping relevant with consumers. Kind of like the Geico gecko, regardless of which platform or media content he shows up in, you know he represents insurance. That theme carries through all media making him easily identifiable. Regardless of where we are be it at school, on a bus, at home, or where ever, we can easily be connected with media content. What firms and marketers want though is that word of mouth and quirky video to spread because this is their earned media! A lot of what these articles touched on was spicing up your earned media and making it more shareable.

  • ·         Share, “Like,” Tweet, and (Especially) +1 It
  • ·         Blog About It
  • ·         Reach Out to the Author
  • ·         Play up personality
  • ·         Make sharing worth their while
  • ·         Mix it up

Many of these points are no brainers, but ones like play up personality relates to consumers considering themselves part of the brand. They are more likely to respond and interact with the apps that ‘reflect their style, aptitude, or personality’. This is why marketers need to be thinking outside the box with getting attention to their media.

“PR pros are doing more than managing brand reputation, but are evolving their role as storytellers to influence consumer behavior and drive demand through earned media.  The convergence, while it opens up the door to more opportunities for a brand, also requires willingness to adapt, an integration and collaboration among departments, a strategy that aligns across departments, as well as to the overall business goals, and the ability to act with agility.”

Departments and goals must align and earned, owned, and paid media need to be seen as one at the end of the day. They all play a pivotal role in promoting ones firm because they can all benefit from each other. And it makes reaching out to consumers so they feel engaged and a part of something, really accessible convenient.  

(Source: courses.wwu.edu)

The World is Changing, Paid Ads Might as Well Too

"Web readers, viewers and social-network users are more likely to respond positively to marketing tactics that don’t look like advertising and instead take the form of the rest of the content on the website or platform."

In South Park, this is about the time Stan or Kyle yells, “you bastards!” But then again, it is something we should have all saw coming, and that is the transition from banner ads to new marketing content. Just one more way marketers can let us know they are figuring out our habits more and more. We’ve got big corporations like Target tracking our buying behavior and sites like Buzzfeed watching our click throughs and time spent on pages. I view this a lot like I view police officers, I know they are their to help, but I can’t help but feel uneasy whenever they’re around. Regardless, this information helps these websites place these ads where they will generate traffic.

"Since they’ve found that click-through rates increase more than one-and-a-half times when an ad is placed next to a piece of content from the same advertiser."

I feel like this strategy has evolved from food placement in grocery stores. Marketers realized that products at eye-level were more likely to be sold so companies will now fight for these spots! I believe banner ads were the first basic evolution of this ‘theory’, as they are essentially the first thing users see when they arrive on a web page. The first visual engagement that occurs and that can make all the difference. But users are changing, what used to stimulate our interests, now needs more. And more than just placement, it needs to be likable and have the ability to be shared and reviewed. This is why I believe there is a push for more article and video ad content, forcing ad to evolve further. Seriously though, when was the last time you saw someone share a banner ad? 

However..

"If you talk to agencies and brands, few are close to turning their backs on display advertising altogether.. We leverage display for reach and frequency and driving to the right experiential destination."

In terms of reaching a broad audience, display ads are undoubtedly good at it. I guess that is something to expect from an algorithm that shares no bias. I agree with the quote though, in another article I read recently, it talked about inbound and outbound marketing and how there needs to be a healthy mix of the two for companies to be successful. Display ads still generate click-through results and that is why many agencies continue to use them as an outbound marketing strategy. It is when that banner ad takes you to content that can be shared or inspires you to blog about does the next evolution of advertising step in. 

(Source: courses.wwu.edu)

Feb 5

Inbound Marketing All Day

At its core, inbound marketing is about creating interesting, informative, and even entertaining content and optimizing and distributing it across online channels so it can be found by - and hopefully engage - prospective buyers.

A little straight forward but still true to its purpose, anyone running a business today needs to know how successful inbound marketing can make their company. If you consider how insanely massive the internet is, getting your business’s website some click through’s can be pretty challenging. And that is why inbound marketing exists! Instead of going out and finding customers, you just help them find you instead! So how does one go about doing that? One word, content. This includes, but not limited to:

  • Blog posts
  • Web Pages
  • Podcasts
  • Surveys
  • Videos
  • Email
  • Images
  • Demos
  • Live Streamed Events
  • Free Trials
  • Information Guides

The list goes on.

You must create content that begs to be shared, that educates and inspires… offer content that is not promotional in nature, but instead is relevant to your prospective buyers.

This is crucial, with millions of people connected via the internet, constantly sharing, blogging, recommending, Facebook creeping, you name it, those involved in a company might as well try to make as much of that buzz going on about them! Content is able to spread so incredibly fast it is sickening and it’s all because of social media (‘all’ is a little exaggerated).  Unfortunately that doesn’t guarantee the content we post will be seen by millions. To make that kind of impact, it helps to treat your content like SEO would.

By surrounding your own content with that from third parties, you’re seen as a trusted resource and your credibility rises.

Getting others outside of your company to write, report, and share your content not only spreads information fast but also provides a link to your actual content. The more fingers (links) pointing at you, which in most cases I feel is bad thing, this being the exception, the more web traffic you gain. And web traffic brings all kinds of opportunities to your company whether it be in sales, new loyal customers, or advertising.

Inbound marketing alone isn’t enough however. Companies should use a healthy mix of both in and outbound marketing to really help promote their content. Relying completely on word-of-mouth can be risky, so paying ad agencies to get your name out there can help drive your popularity. A benefit that comes from from combining the two: 

Create brand recognition - and Business: The greater the number of outbound campaigns you execute, the more likely that people will recognize and get to know your brand. The more they know and trust your brand, the more likely they will be to respond to your inbound marketing, and ultimately, become a customer.

Independently, inbound and outbound marketing are pretty effective, but when put together it’s like marketing on steriods. Except it’s legal. And no calls you a cheater, or a liar for that matter. 

(Source: courses.wwu.edu)

I Don’t See What All the Mahout is About

To be fair, I do actually see what all the Mahout is about thanks to the article written by Cade Metz. It’s origin still unknown, Mahout is an open source software that “provides the world with a set of freely available machine learning algorithms - algorithms that give computing systems at least a modicum of artificial intelligence, letting them adjust their behavior according to what’s happening in the past.” In English that translates to: it keeps track of ‘activities’ you’ve done in the past and uses that information to recommend similar ‘activities’ for right now!

Sounds familiar right? Well if you’ve ever visited Amazon.com or Overstock.com multiple times you will notice they recommend products based off your resent purchases or searches. That is because these sights use Mahout! Some insane algorithm, I couldn’t possibly begin to understand, watches us, reads us, learns us.. Predicts what we want to see we think we want to see and displays it for us. And then stores the data. Yeah, I’d say I’m a little creeped out. Some robot knows what I want more than I know what I want! I get the whole personalized experience but does it have to watch us the whole time? 

As far as I know, it does, and because of Mahout these websites using it are able to give us such a good online experience. Though there are some aspects of Mahout that compare to “literally student projects” but companies like Overstock.com still have use for it. After hiring six developers to make it work right of course. What’s even more is that Mahout has been starting to “cluster recommendations, creating groups of people who are likely to respond to certain types of recommendations.” The next step is to throw in a marketer, have him crunch the numbers and throw in demographics, whip out a map and BOOM! Your neighborhood has just been targeted because you all share similar interests.(probably not true but entirely plausible). I think the online community should all be made aware they are being followed so that we may share this minor torment together. At the end of the day though, who really gives a Mahout?

Online Retail Using Offline Retail Methods

In the article What Matters Most in Internet Retailing, writers David Bell and Jeonghye Lodish bring to light a creative yet simple way of finding and acquiring customers. Traditionally, I would say most online stores reach their potential customers through banner ads, pop-ups, and paying sites like Google to display their items relevant to a users search. Social media sites, word-of-mouth, and tracking consumers online activity also play a big role in the acquisition of new customers.  But David and Jeonghye, after using “classic theories of retailing and consumer shopping behavior along with econometric analysis of sales data linked to data on environmental characteristic,s” have identified some issues that can hurt both on and offline retailers. Through their findings they put together five principles.

1. Individual consumer acceptance depends on offline shopping costs.

A big factor behind why many people chose to shop online more frequently and also why Canadians flood the stores of Bellingham, WA, lies in sales tax. For a long while online sales tax rate was around zero, which can be a huge cost advantage for online retailers. But if consumers have ‘easy access to well-priced offline stores’ they essentially lose the incentive to shop online. So a lot of retail consumer targeting should be based on geographic location. This was the major theme in the article and for good reason. People who have to travel longer distances to reach offline stores are more likely to shop online. And this makes perfect sense! Why go out of your way to buy luxurious items when you can do it comfortably from home?

2. Sales evolution is structured and predictable.

'Social capital' is a good term to describe this second principle. These two writers were obviously not the first to look into demographics based on location or consumer behavior but their insights when looking at the two together were enlightening in a sense. Growth for most online companies is not necessarily fueled through sales but more the sharing of its content be it through the online community or friends and neighbors. The social capital comes from how much trust and interaction is shared in a neighborhood, the more interactions shared the higher the social capital. This is very valuable for marketers! Social activity still takes place outside our computers, which might be hard for some to believe. Whether it be bragging about a new set of hand towels or this new online lamp shade store, word will travel much faster in tight knit communities and these are the communities that need to be targeted.

3. Migrating from ‘good’ to ‘great’ requires expansion to niche locations.

This principle was a little confusing for me. When I have addressed a niche market in the past it was always around a behavior or lifestyle or some sort of attribute about the consumer. This article takes a view on niche markets in terms of location. Similar to what was addressed in the first principle, online sales are most profound where ‘customers face high offline shopping costs’ as well as a large distance between home and store. Some customers are geographically separated from offline stores making it an inconvenience to drive yet they share the similar preferences to those closer. These are the ‘niche’ markets online marketers need to be targeting as well! Though they are smaller, they are also EVERYWHERE, so acquiring customers from each can add up quickly.

4. ‘Isolated’ prospects are worth pursuing.

I had a harder time grasping this principle but I definitely agree with what it says. It’s a simple fact, there is limited shelf space for offline retailers so they need to use the space they have for products that sell. So your location has an adverse affect on what is in a lot of your stores. Living in Bellingham, WA up in the Northwest I would say that I am surrounded by outdoor related shops be it bike, climbing, kayak, frisbee, board, you name it. The gist of this principle says, and I agree, that online marketers would have a lot harder time reaching me compared to someone with similar outdoor interests living in South Dakota. They might not have as many opportunities to purchase outdoor goods offline which makes them a prime target for online marketers. This goes hand in hand with targeting the niche markets.

5. Different locations require different customer acquisition strategies.

All the principles prior to the fifth essentially build up to it. Location and population density play a role in which acquisition methods work best. ZIP codes with a high density of consumers who interact regularly sync best with offline word of mouth. Less dense areas on the other hand are better suited with print ads since there isn’t as many opportunities to contact reliable sources. Almost seems like I’m repeating myself at this point. All five principles bring good reason to focus on ZIP code demographics and density when trying to acquire new customers. 

Finding Success Through Cocreation

It is both refreshing and inspiring to see topics I’ve learned about in class, cocreation for this example, and see it actually being applied and with great success in the business world. In the article about Quirky  written by Alyson Shontell, she discusses how this  company has taken a new spin on the product idea and production processes.

Quirky uses a cocreation technique called crowd sourcing as a means to come up with new products. Consumers are encouraged to submit their ‘million-dollar’ ideas to Quirky which has received over 75,000 ideas so far. Quirky’s staff then goes through what I’m sure is some arduous task of picking a couple hundred ideas to move to the next round and of those, just handful they build prototypes for. The company takes on all the manufacturing but includes the community members in the entire design process. I think this is such an awesome idea for a few of reasons.1) Quirky saves a TON of money in research and development costs since all the idea brainstorming has been crowd sourced. 2) They provide a consumer-level motivator through financial factors by giving up 10-30% of sales to the one who came up with idea and to the people whose suggestions they used in the design process. And 3) Quirky also acts as a distributor, shipping products to 35 countries in 35,000 retail stores.. They take on all the expenses and as long as they are able to sell tens of thousands of the products they make, they turn a profit! 

All they seem to ask from consumers is their input, and through crowd sourcing they have paid over $2 million to its community. They are providing a means for consumers to have a say on the entire production process of products so it fits easily into their lifestyles. I believe this is why they have been so successful thus far and why they have been able to build strong relationships with its customers. Showing that you value their opinions and are willing to pay them for them I think speaks loudly for consumers. Well played Quirky.