June 30th, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

At any one time, Facebook has 1,500 possible items it can insert in users’ News Feeds. It inserts just a small fraction of that total. Apparently, it’s okay for Facebook to change that algorithm to improve engagement and earn the company plenty of money, but it’s not okay for Facebook to choose posts that would make those reading their News Feed feel more cheerful—or depressed.

A recently published academic study has drawn negative reactions and cries over a lack of ethics. Researchers, working with Facebook, actively manipulated feeds to show posts with either more positive sentiments or more negative sentiments. The idea was to test if emotional states could be transferred via social networks. Psychologists have already established that the principle of emotional contagion works in person. As a result of the study, they learned emotional contagion also works online, which likely confirms the gut feeling of most people who have used social networks.

Why are people mad? Because psychologists made thousands of people feel sad without their informed consent. I’m happy that there are such strict standards for psychological research. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to participate in Milgram’s famous study or the Stanford Prison Experiment. But I wouldn’t have minded if Facebook manipulated by News Feed and monitored my posts afterward. That said, informed consent would have been nice.

To probe a little deeper psychologically, maybe people’s anger here is misplaced. Many people are uncomfortable with how social networks shape our relationships and eavesdrop into the goings-on of our lives. This study is something people can point to, a flash point that allows people to express the more subtle sense of unease they feel with services like Facebook.

People may be upset about this study, but if anything, it’s the tip of the iceberg. For just a hint of the kind of observations and correlations that can be found in social networks, look no further than the dating site OkCupid, which  often releases data about what affects people’s popularity on their site. Things like tattoos and views about religion and relationships affect compatibility ratings and how likely someone is to initiate communication with others. It’s even possible to game their system in order to get more dates and find love, which one PhD. Student tried (It worked!).

This was a psychological study with published results. Facebook is under no obligation to share what’s behind its algorithm. I’m sure the Facebook News Feed and Data Science team, which the researchers thank in the study, probably have manipulated News Feeds far more, and to greater effect, than the researchers did. Facebook states that one factor in their News Feed algorithms is “How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past” [my emphasis]. Of all their criteria, this is the one that allows Facebook the most flexibility to create different predictive algorithms and unusual groupings. Is it just a coincidence that my News Feed today is cluttered with people all expressing the same opinion about a recent Supreme Court ruling? Or that if I click on one baby picture, a cascade follow?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, because Facebook doesn’t share the specifics. That goes counter to what many in the industry are advising: transparency as a way to earn consumers’ trust. OkCupid’s nerdy transparency is just one example of how this leads to success and earns them great marketing in the process. For Facebook to be transparent would be much trickier. They must look at situations like these that lead to negative press and start quaking from the reaction that would happen if their algorithms were released.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously stated “privacy is no longer a social norm,” but it appears that statement doesn’t apply to the privacy-busting network itself—just yet.

June 27th, 2014 by Leonard Klie

W4THWith Independence Day just a week away, brands are, no doubt, gearing up for their annual Fourth of July sales. They’ll run ads featuring the flag, Uncle Sam, fireworks, marching bands, a red-white-and-blue color scheme, or some other patriotic, all-American symbol to woo  customers looking to save a buck or two to their stores, to buy their product, or use their service.  But are they missing the mark? Can brands buy a piece of patriotic flare.

A new Brand Keys survey of iconic American brands has revealed what consumers consider to be the most ‘patriotic,’ with Jeep, Levi Strauss, Coca-Cola, Colgate, and Disney leading the pack. Apple, Amazon, Google, American Express, Facebook, and eBay all moved onto the list this year.

To determine which brands actually led when it comes to patriotism, Brand Keys did a statistical ‘drill-down,’ part of a larger brand values survey, to identify which of 225 brands were more associated with the value of ‘patriotism.’

“When it comes to engaging the consumer, waving an American flag and actually having an authentic foundation for being able to wave the flag are two entirely different things, and the consumer knows it,” according to Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys.

It’’s not surprising that many brands in the top 50 could be considered American icons, even though they might not necessarily make all of their products here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
The rankings in no way should give the impression that other brands not on the list aren’t patriotic or that they don’’t possess any patriotic resonance. Rational aspects, like being an American company, or being ‘Made in the USA,’ or having call centers based in the USA,– all play a part in brand identity and consumer appeal as well.

Still, Passikoff urges brands that want to differentiate via a value as emotionally charged as patriotism, to blend the image with believability, According to Passikoff, marketers should now know that “brands that can make an emotional connection with the consumer always have a strategic advantage over competitors.” So don’t just wave a flag for me next weekend during your sale, let it fly proudly throughout the year, and you’ll be rewarded.

June 26th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Though data and dollars typically tend to be the stars of the brand strategy show, this year’s Forrester Customer Experience Forum shone a light on the importance of corporate culture, the power of design, and the need for companies to be more “true.” Sounds a little vague, yes, but TRUE is actually an acronym that represents a pretty powerful message. In a breakout session on Day One, analyst Tracy Stokes discussed what it takes to for a brand to be considered “truly TRUE”: it has to be Trustworthy, Remarkable, Unmistakeable, and Essential, she explained, and the extent to which it exhibits these qualities orients it according to Forrester’s True Brand compass. Stokes also went on to highlight brands that are heading in the right direction (pun intended!) and scold those that have fallen behind.

Car service company Uber earned praise for excelling on all fronts, with Stokes noting that its cab tracking display and its moving black car icons make it “remarkable” and unlike any other service. The business model is unique as well–Uber cars can’t be hailed like a yellow cab, but don’t have to be ordered hours or days in advance like a town car. With a few taps on the Uber app, customers can order a car, pay for the ride, and track the car in real time as it makes its way to the pick-up location. The company is a disruptive force, Stokes pointed out, because it didn’t set out to take on taxi services or limousine services, but rather completely shake up the space and bring together the best of both worlds.

JetBlue, on the other hand, is struggling. When JetBlue emerged as a major airliner, the company stood out thanks to its promise to not nickel and dime people. Customers were treated to a full complimentary can of soda rather than half a cup (looking at you, Delta!), a free snack, live television already built into the price of the fare, and other amenities that set it apart. But in recent years, the company has changed.

Not only are prices of basic flight essentials like headphones and pillows getting outrageous, but employees are also becoming downright nasty, and customers are noticing. Just weeks ago, a woman on a flight from New York to Boston was almost kicked off for non-compliance after a flight attendant didn’t allow her three-year-old daughter to use the bathroom while the plane waited on a taxiway. The little girl had an accident, and instead of offering to help, the flight crew argued with the passenger and threatened to have her removed until an off-duty pilot intervened. The accident is, unfortunately for JetBlue, one of many. The company is losing its trustworthiness, the first pillar of being a TRUE brand, and that could hurt it in the long run if things don’t change, according to Stokes.

Consumers’ expectations of brands are rising, analysts unanimously agree, and with little to differentiate their products, customer experience is what will make the difference. For companies that are well-aligned along the TRUE Brand Compass, the goal is to keep moving forward. For ones that are losing their way, the time to get back on course is now.


June 20th, 2014 by Leonard Klie

I am a huge New York Rangers hockey fan, so it pained me to watch the L.A. Kings beat up on the Blueshirts to win the NHL’s coveted Stanley Cup. I have to dislike the Kings to some extent based on that fact alone, but I also can’t just dismiss the team’s accomplishments in the past few years, both on and off the ice.

stanleyOn the ice, the Kings did away with the Rangers in five games to take their second NHL title in three years. Not a small feat by any means.

Off the ice, the Kings have a great CRM story to tell. Using Adobe Campaign, the team was able to score a digital marketing hat trick: increased revenue, retention, and fan loyalty. Using Adobe, the team brought greater automation and efficiency to its marketing operations, and centralizing fan data in Adobe Campaign has allowed the team to increase targeting sophistication.

In one campaign designed around the team’s holiday pack, properly segmenting fans generated more than $70,000 in revenue.

The Kings are also using Adobe Campaign to drive online season ticket renewals. As a result, renewals are up 10 percent to their highest level in team history.

When the team launched a new campaign to acquire fans from Twitter, it generated a 6 percent to 7 percent response rate, yielding hundreds of new contacts in its database.

Aaron LeValley, the team’s CRM director, says the greatest benefit from Adobe Campaign has been the ability to automate campaigns. “We are able to interact with our fans in real time with messaging that is appropriate for them rather than having to worry about manual campaigns,” he states.

In fact, the implementation has been so successful that the Kings’ parent company, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), is planning to bring its Major League Soccer team, the L.A. Galaxy, onto the platform. I only hope it doesn’t yield the same results on the field. My fan loyalties couldn’t take another hit.

June 19th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

In an announcement that surprised basically no one, Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 4.56.54 PMJeff Bezos introduced the Amazon Fire during a presentation in Seattle yesterday. The phone is designed for “Amazon’s most engaged customers,” and is the company’s first stab at competing with Apple and Android devices, he said. With fancy features including a 13 MP camera sensor, unlimited photo storage, and Dynamic Perspective display (which mimics a 3D display by tracking your head movements to show content at the optimal viewing angle), it sounds like a great gadget. Its coolest feature, and the one that’s generating the most buzz, is Firefly–a tool that’s sort of like Siri, but with a lot more shopping and a lot less talking.

Firefly is easy to access with a designated button on the side of the phone, and once it’s called up, the service can see barcodes, hear music, and recognize most physical products sold on Amazon. It’s got over 100 million items in its data bank, and can help consumers purchase every single one with just a few taps. If you’re watching a How I Met Your Mother marathon and engage Firefly, for example, it will listen to the audio, determine where the audio is from, and send you to a page where you can buy an entire season on DVD. The device is not a phone; it’s a “shopping machine that calls itself a phone,” Quartz’ Dan Frommer wrote.

So what does this mean? It means that Amazon might get even better at doing what it already does best. “Firefly will make it even easier to pursue a habit that has proliferated in the smartphone age and driven brick-and-mortar stores crazy, ” CNN’s Doug Gross writes. “A user will presumably be able to walk into a store, pick out a product they like, zap it with Firefly and, within a second or two, find out whether it’s available on Amazon for less money. (And then maybe even order it right there from their phone.) ”

But it’s not all bad news. Critics argue that it’ll be a long time before the device becomes popular enough to be a threat, largely due to its price ($199 with a two-year AT&T contract for a 32GB model) and the limited availability of popular apps. The phone doesn’t support apps from the Google Play or Apple App stores, so Fire users are left with only Amazon apps until developers start actively building apps for it. And of course, there’s the obvious caveat: the phone makes it easier to shop, but at just one store. Just one Web site, rather.

Already getting mixed reviews, the Fire phone could be a hit or a miss for Amazon. Still, its release emphasizes the urgency with which brands should be building their m-commerce strategies. With targeted couponing, location-based marketing, and other deeply personalized experiences, brands can combat showrooming. The birth of mobile shopping doesn’t spell certain death for brick and mortar stores, but it does call for major changes. Who knows? Maybe the launch of Amazon Fire could be the push that brands need. 


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