March 10th, 2014 by Sarah Sluis
Like so many people, I grew up with fond memories of watching “60 Minutes” reporters chasing down guilty-looking people in parking lots and confronting them. The show has long been known for calling out bad actors, fraudsters, and other people who are cheating consumers. Last night, there were no people being chased down, but the news show turned its attention to companies’ use of consumer data. Did it find a new enemy in the advertising industry?
The target of its investigation was data brokers, with the show specifically calling out Axciom, Experian, and Epsilon, and Take5 Solutions among others. Of course, “60 Minutes” wasn’t there first. Slate and Mother Jones are among those that have looked into the kind of information available through data brokers. The Federal Trade Commission reported to a Senate committee in December with updates into its investigation into the practices of data brokers. But “60 Minutes” has a broad audience that includes older viewers and those that aren’t particularly tech savvy. For them, what was mentioned in the piece must have been a revelation. What will this piece mean for the industry?
As “60 Minutes” put it, consumer awareness of the kind of information data brokers have is currently quite low. The reporter watches stunned as they browse the Internet using the browser add-on Disconnect, which allows a user to see all the tags on a site that track a user’s clicks across the web. The report also pointed out a number of deceptive practices in the industry. Take5 Solutions gets its data from websites geared toward parenting or healthy living. It gathers up the information consumers submit, and then sells it. Information is available about medical conditions. How many of those consumers realize what they’re getting into? The reports from Slate and Mother Jones are worse, turning up information about Ok Cupid which shows no promise to keep the personal survey questions it asks confidential, and letting us know that companies sell information about where your license plate has been.
Then there’s this unfortunate comment from Epsilon CEO Bryan Kennedy, who admits that though he runs a company that sells information, he himself opts out of sharing. “It does surprise me [that consumers are rushing to the Internet to provide more information about themselves]. I don’t do it myself. I’m a consumer, like, like you are,” he told Steve Croft. “I think that consumers ought to understand that the Internet is an advertising medium.” If a fully informed person is careful not to share the very information his company collects, that’s not a good sign.
The industry has long talked about allowing consumers to opt-out, or, the gold standard, to only choose to opt in. Pieces like the “60 Minutes” on may show that the tide against self-regulation is turning. Transparency and opt-outs among data brokers will go a long way towards keeping consumer trust and showing consumers information is used to provide value, not invade their privacy.
March 7th, 2014 by Leonard Klie
Salesforce.com is celebrating its 15th birthday by honoring and thanking its customers, employees, partners, and local communities.
What began as a startup in an apartment in San Francisco has had a dramatic impact not only on the CRM world, but on the software industry as a whole. Just to give you an idea of just how much, consider these facts and figures from salesforce.com’s history:
- Customers: 1,500 customers in 2000. More than 100,000 today.
- Employees: 87 employees in 2002. More than 13,000 globally today.
- Dreamforce: 1,300 registrants at its first Dreamforce in 2003. More than 143,000 registrants in 2013.
- AppExchange: 100 partner apps built on the AppExchange in 2006. More than 2,000 today.
- Developers: 100,000 in 2008. More than 1.4 million today.
To further mark the occasion, salesforce.com’s CEO, Marc Benioff, sent out the following email:
“Today, as salesforce.com celebrates our 15th birthday, I want to say THANK YOU to each and every customer.
“We started salesforce.com in 1999 with a goal of making enterprise software as easy to use as a Web site like Amazon.com. Fifteen years later, it is truly awesome to see how much our industry has transformed.
From our very first day, we have stayed true to our number one value of customer success. We are both humbled and inspired by the incredible innovation we have seen from our customers and look forward to many more years of helping all of you grow, innovate, and succeed
“Please help us celebrate at www.salesforce.com/15 and by sharing your own story with the hashtag #salesforce15. The past 15 years have been truly amazing. Thank you for your continued support.”
March 6th, 2014 by Maria Minsker
One of my favorite e-commerce retailers, Gilt.com almost never disappoints me. The company was founded by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson as a by-invitation, members-only flash sale site, and launched back in 2007. Each sale lasts roughly two days (though you should consider yourself lucky if the goods aren’t sold out within two hours) and features merchandise from a mix of luxury and mid-tier brands. Gilt buyers acquire inventory at an extreme discount, and sell it at a pretty hefty discount as well, typically offering over 50 percent off.
The reason I consider Gilt a favorite is because in my eyes, they’ve got the whole package. Well, almost. They’ve got a great presence on social media, their customer service is top notch, they have a strong dedication to sale personalization, and they even recently added a comprehensive loyalty program to reward frequent shoppers with points that can be redeemed in the form of free shipping, early access to sales, and other perks. But their email marketing? Ugh.
The company sends out a daily email to inform users about upcoming sales. I rarely open it, but shake my head at it almost every day. This morning’s email subject line was as follows: “Minimalist-Chic Shoes, Tweed Spring Jackets & Dresses, Spring Tees & Polos, The Ultimate Dress Shop, Men’s Undershirts, J Brand and More Start Today at Noon ET.”
Yesterday’s subject line was just as…informative: “Easy Knits Feat. Firth, March Steals Under $30, It Takes Two: Must-Have Earrings, Pink Chicken for Girls, Lodis, Charles David, Super-Cool Clothes for Little Ones and More Start Today at 9PM ET.”
Notice a problem? Yup, me too, and I’m not alone.
This “word-vomit” approach to email subject line writing is common among flash sale sites and is, as it turns out, exactly the reason why their marketing campaigns consistently underperform. Retention Science, a company that specializes in retention marketing, recently conducted an email marketing study, which revealed that nearly 80 percent of flash sale email campaigns had subject lines consisting of 20 or more words and, of these, most perform significantly worse than campaigns with shorter subject lines. Why?
“A subject lines that’s basically just a list of brands or items is not engaging. It’s not catchy,” Jerry Jao, CEO of Retention Science told me. “You might get a customer here and there because they see the name of a brand they like, but you don’t just want to attract people that already like a certain brand. You want to attract new users too,” he adds.
The disappointing performance of some flash sale email marketing campaigns could also be attributed to the frequency at which they are sent; flash sale brands tend to email their customers four to eight times a week, where the norm for others is two to four times a week. A growing number of users accessing their emails on mobile devices could also be to blame. Retention Science’s study found that roughly 35 percent of emails are currently being opened on a mobile device, which displays only the first five or six works of every email subject.
So what should email marketers do when it comes to promoting these deliciously addicting flash sales? Keep it simple! “Shorter subject lines tend to perform better across the board, across industries,” Jao says. Six to 10 words is usually ideal, and it doesn’t hurt to throw in a pop culture reference. Subject lines with song lyrics or quotes from popular films can boost open rates, the study found.
March 3rd, 2014 by Sarah Sluis
Awards shows are an advertisers’ dream. They take place in real time, which discourages DVR’ing and fast-forwarding, and they’re also one of the few live events that engages a predominantly female, not male, audience. Traditionally, they’re the kind of event you invite your friends over to watch for the commentary, but increasingly, social media does the job. Here are five things any marketer should know about this year’s Oscars.
- Ellen breaks Twitter’s retweet record. Holding a super-wide screen phone (I smell a sponsorship), Oscar host Ellen engaged fans on Twitter during the ceremony. She had Bradley Cooper take a group shot of her and the star-studded group of nominees, and asked everyone watching to retweet. She later announced, “We crashed Twitter!” According to these Twitter shots, the engineers on call were not happy when Ellen announced her plans to break a retweet record. The previous record? A tweet from President Obama celebrating his reelection in 2012. The lesson: when you give viewers the opportunity to be a part of something special, like breaking a record, they’ll respond.
- Banana Republic and People Magazine’s use experiential marketing. If you can’t get an invite to the Oscars, the next best thing is an invite to a swank Oscar party. There have long been other sister events, like Vanity Fair’s Oscar party, but they were mainly designed for celebrities. People Magazine designed an Oscar party for their best customers, selecting 200 people from its VIP subscription to get the invite. Banana Republic took a more unofficial route, creating a red carpet tab on its YouTube page that featured commentary from YouTube celebrity Justine. Both of these brands were able to piggyback on the interest in the Oscars to create memorable branded experiences for their most loyal customers.
- Social Media Wins Don’t Equal Oscar Wins. Everyone has long known that winning Best Picture doesn’t correlate with total box office. The same holds true for social media. RelishMix, a social media marketing and analytics company, analyzed 40 million Tweets, Facebook shares, and YouTube video reposts and came out with a clear winner: The Wolf of Wall Street. Meanwhile, ListenFirst looked purely at Facebook fans, and Gravity came out on top. The Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave, shows up in the middle of the both arrangements. Perhaps more interestingly, social media engagement doesn’t neatly reflect what’s going on at the box office. The Wolf of Wall Street has the third-highest gross among the Oscar nominees, yet according to RelishMix’s data, it’s the most popular. Parsing success from social media results continues to be tricky.
- Big Data Predicts Oscar Winners. Six of the six predictions provided by analytics company Farsite came true. I’m not impressed with the perfect prediction record, I’m impressed that the company was able to create a model to predict the Oscars. Insiders have long been able to get near-perfect predictions by analyzing quality against buzz and those stories Oscar voters love to tell (Always double down on a winner if it will be a “first” in some way, for example). But to model the Oscar predictions is much more impressive, and the latest win for Big Data as marketing moves toward data-driven decisions.
February 28th, 2014 by Leonard Klie
The Academy Awards telecast is still a few days away, but data scientists at Farsite claim to already know who will take home the Oscars on Sunday night.
Farsite, the advanced analytics division of ICC, specializes in helping companies use big data and predictive analytics to empower smart business decisions, solve their toughest challenges, and gain a competitive advantage, and it claims to use the same sophisticated, predictive modeling it uses in industries like retail and healthcare to predict Oscar winners quite accurately.
According to the firm’s predictions, the Oscar this year goes to….
- Matthew McConaughey for best actor in Dallas Buyers Club;
- Alfonso Cuaron for best director for Gravity;
- 12 Months a Slave for best picture;
- Jared Leto for best supporting actor in Dallas Buyers Club;
- Cate Blanchet for best actress in Blue Jasmine; and
- Lupita Nyong’o for best supporting actress in 12 Years a Slave.
Last year, Farsite correctly predicted Christoph Waltz would win best supporting actor for Django Unchained and Argo would win for best picture. In fact, the company was right in five out of the top six categories for the 2013 Oscars. Either its data modeling is sound, or it’s very lucky.
“Our predictions are far more than lucky guesses. Most people are surprised to hear that the same sophisticated predictive modeling we use in industries like retail and healthcare can predict Oscar winners quite accurately,” Ryan McClarren, ICC’s chief science officer, boasted in a statement.
Farsite’s data modeling tool analyzes more than 40 years of film industry and Academy Award-related information to forecast probabilities for the winners. This information includes real-time data and an array of variables, including total nominations, industry and media buzz, and nominees’ previous winning performances. It also factors in voting results from other awards contests, including the Critic’s Choice, Golden Globes, the Producers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Directors Guild, among others.
According to Farsite data scientists, the first factor to consider is that during awards season there are other award winners that can provide insight into likely Oscar winners. The second factor to consider is the momentum or buzz behind particular nominees. Since Oscars are at the end of awards season, if the results of previous awards and other buzz by the glitterati are strong enough to sway the votes of some members of the academy, then signals that historically point to the “correct” nominee could be hijacked. The third factor is the history or prior performance of the nominees. Some nominees may have an edge given their past.
We’ll have to tune in on Sunday to see how all that data did. Will it be a hit or will it stumble right there on the red carpet? The envelope, please…..