Building sustainable, revenue producing customer relationships

Building sustainable, revenue producing customer relationships online comes down to 1) determining the right marketing mix for your organization and optimizing each channel, 2) setting up smart practices that lead to growth, both linear and exponential, 3) automating and systematizing processes wherever you can, and 4) establishing good data practices to learn and actively implement data insights.

1. Determining the marketing mix for your organization and optimizing each channel. Not only do you need to map out how to distinguish and map your marketing channels, you also need a data-driven approach that allows for smart and timely deployment and execution.

a. Owned vs. Investment channels – these are the channels that you control and deploy campaigns through (email, mobile push, social organic, etc.), vs. channels in which investment is required (boosting, SEM, paid influencers, local activations, etc.)

b. Core vs. Amplification efforts – simply put, linear/ diminishing growth vs. exponential growth channels. Linear channels are typically things like email (you have a finite-ish population size to serve) or social retargeting (you can only retarget those who have visited/ interacted with your content, thus a finite pool), whereas exponential channels such as referral networks or acquisition/ engagement loops provide exponential growth opportunities.

c. Push vs. Pull channels – I consider these to be fundamental separations in how an organization can communicate. You are either pushing content to an individual through email, mobile push, SMS, phone call, etc. (where you control the interaction time and place) or you are producing content that pulls individuals towards you to consume your content such as your website, social pages, blog content, etc.

d. Marketing Funnel and Growth Framework – once you’ve mapped out your channels across the strategic breakdowns above, you need both a process and approach to put everything into action. The marketing funnel allows you to better understand the consumer journey and the points in which conversions may be hung up, whereas your growth framework is the automation, logic, and machine learning that you put into place that allows you to maximize both your linear and exponential growth channels.

2. Setting up smart practices that lead to growth, both linear and exponential. As touched on above, there are channels that are typically linear in their returns and others that follow more exponential type returns.

a. Acquisition & Engagement Loops – explained earlier, acquisition and engagement loops are processes that help organizations gain greater scale. This is accomplished through setting up practices that leverage current users/ purchasers/ fans of your organization to help grow your following. Although similar to a referral program, acquisition & engagement loops focus on simpler streamlined processes that allow for sharing of content.

b. Local activations – also sometimes referred to as grass roots marketing, local activations on a national, regional, and local level allow you to hit a large number of people live, in a short period of time. When executed correctly, they also generate a large amount of content that can be used and disseminated on your core digital channels (social organic, web, email, etc.).

c. Influencer marketing – many think of paid influencers when influencer marketing comes up, when organizations should instead be thinking about both, yes, the paid options, but also the free/ low expense influencer options of their existing database and “fans” who can also act in this capacity to their respective networks.

d. Social media – a powerful tool and channel for a multitude of reasons, this channel should be used to build awareness of your brand, and should be one of the most consistent and managed of an organization’s arsenal, as it is one of the most forward facing ways in which to communicate with your consumer base.

e. Digital communities – an under-utilized resource for organizations, there are millions of people out there that have and share interests that align with your brand online. As such, it is vital to engage with these digital communities in an honest and organic way, and when possible to create an environment that allows for these digital communities to be created around your brand and organization. This means becoming part of conversations and communities with shared interests that increase credibility and downstream benefits and replicable revenue.

f. Behavior science/ Gamification – marketing is the practice of influencing individuals into buying and selling products and services. Inserting behavioral science practices examines both the macro and micro realms of how intrinsic and extrinsic motivations lead individuals to take certain actions. In today’s world, gamification of products is often leveraged to get consumers to consume or act more.

g. Referral & Networks – the ultimate amplification practice, referral and networks leverages an organization’s current members/ subscribers/ purchasers to do the heavy lifting by recommending family, friends, etc., to also consume both your content and products.

3. Automating and systematizing processes.

a. Automation – the first step marketers and organizations alike can take in creating efficiencies is automating the processes they have in place.

b. Programmed and data driven logic (Aer1.x) – once automating as many of the processes as possible, the next logical step is creating a set of rules and logic to help you make informed decisions relating to your marketing.

c. Machine learning – now that you have automation and data-driven logic working, implementing advanced learning techniques such as machine learning will help you get smarter from every interaction you have.

d. Artificial Intelligence – you’re learning more and more from every interaction you have with your consumers. The final step is to let AI assist in your decision making moving forward.

4. Establishing good data practices to learn and actively implement data insights.

a. Data capture – are you capturing all possible data points from every interaction and touch point with the consumer?

b. Reporting & Measurement – are you able to take the data you’re capturing and create a series of dashboards that represent the data in an easily digestible way?

c. Insights – are the data providing you with information that helps you decide on next steps and how to improve your business?

d. Implementation – are you taking what you’ve learned and turning it into action?

Properly implementing these techniques go a long way in building sustainable, revenue- producing relationships with an organization’s consumer base. Although simple in theory, maintaining the right balance and focus is both time consuming and an on-going process that is continually evolving and requires refinement.


Alex-ism: Let Your Team Members Problem-Solve for Themselves

Every now and again I get asked about my management style and how I manage staff and team members. I try to be relatively laissez-faire. My philosophy is that everyone has a different way of problem-solving and coming to their own solutions, and that if you hired an individual to do a job, you should trust them in getting it done. Giving an individual autonomy and a show of trust by allowing them to accomplish things on their own goes a long way to building trust and optimizing individual efficiencies.


Alex-ism: I View My Role As a Coach / Mentor

I worked in the sports industry for a few years, and currently work for an organization that likes to use a number of sports related analogies. I suppose it’s only appropriate then that I see myself as a coach when it comes to working with those on my team. The reality is that I have a great deal of knowledge on a variety of things – whether that be strategy, marketing, business intelligence, etc. Although I am consistently learning new things and learning from my team, I try to impart as much of what I know onto those around me, and in that way, I like to think of myself as being in a coaching role.


Alex-ism: Question Everything

Ask anyone on our team and they’ll probably tell you that one of the things I hammer home constantly is “question everything”. My point is that everyone should be comfortable enough to ask questions and push people on their assumptions and opinions. One of the worst things that can happen to an organization is when people stop pushing one another and stop questioning why.


Philosophy on Hiring

I’ve often been asked when hiring, “what do you look for in an ideal candidate?” Of course, this answer may be somewhat dependent on the position you are trying to fill, but I believe the core of what I’m on the lookout for remains constant. Beyond having the right background and skillset, I look for individuals who are curious. In my experience, curiosity translates into pushing the status quo and results in greater professional and personal development .

 In addition to curiosity, I look for candidates that come to their interview well prepared. This may sound obvious, but it can be illustrated in several ways. My favorite measure of being prepared comes from the questions they ask me. Someone who has researched the firm, me, the department, etc., should have lots of questions. Even if some of this information isn’t readily available online, there should be organic thoughts and questions a candidate wants answered. In many ways this is connected to my above point about being curious.

 The questions someone asks can make or break an interview.  I learned this lesson painfully many years ago when I was interviewing for full-time positions after coming out of business school. I had spent countless hours preparing for a final round interview with a senior vice president.  I was ready to answer just about anything regarding my background and why I was a great fit for the position. The phone call began, and I was immediately thrown a curveball. It went something like this ... “Alex, I’ve heard a lot of great things about you from my colleagues. Instead of me asking you about you, let’s take the next hour to answer any and all questions you have for me.” My stomach dropped. I had prepared a few questions, but certainly wasn’t ready to carry the conversation for an hour. I did the best I could, but after about 20 minutes, I was out of questions and the phone call ended. I knew instantly I had lost the job. I also knew it had exposed a major weakness of mine -- not having really thought through the role of the interviewee .From then on, you better believe that I have rolled into every subsequent interview ready to carry the conversation if called upon and have at least a dozen well thought-out questions in my back pocket. And to be clear, when I say well thought-out questions, these are well -researched questions about the organization and the position in addition to the typical layup entry questions.

 Be curious. Ask lots of well-researched questions about the company and the role. I think you’ll be surprised how far that carries you both in interviews and in life in general.


As a Leader, You Don't Always Have to Have All The Answers

I’ve noticed a trend among managers and leaders over the last several years that I disagree with. The trend is always having to have an answer, even when they don’t have one. And please, don’t misinterpret what I’m trying to say either. Part of being a leader is knowing what to do at certain times and having answers – no doubt. But it’s also okay to say you don’t know, so long as you have a plan and course of action to go and figure it out. Your job as a leader should be to empower your team and steer the proverbial ship. At times you’re not going to know something, and that’s okay, and I wish more people felt comfortable saying they don’t know – it humanizes and creates a more collaborative environment in my opinion (given you’re surrounded by the right supportive mindsets).

 Great leaders, however, are the ones who can then devise a plan to get answers, and move forward.


Spotlight- Social Media (A Growth Division Sub-Department)

Social media, sitting front and center within our Growth Division, is a channel that has undergone many changes over the last several months. Of all the sub-departments within our Growth Division, social is probably the best known, so I won’t drone on about how it works. What is new, is the department’s alignment under our group’s purview.

 The objective of our social team is to be nimble and agile when it comes to distributing content, and to grow their existing following. This has been easier said than done, and my hope now that we’ve aligned the group under our Growth Division is that we’re able to streamline our processes and start producing consistent content that is timely (i.e. a measure of our ability to be nimble and agile) and start building our following by correctly leveraging our other channels (i.e. email, mobile push, additional amplification channels, etc.) and directing both content and members towards them.


Alex-ism: Teach Your Team to do Your Job

It’s funny. I meet and hear about managers all the time that don’t take the time to teach those under them how to do their jobs. I understand, in theory, why this might be – why teach someone how to replace you. However, I disagree with this sentiment, and take a somewhat opposite approach. Yes, individuals are hired for specific roles, but developing these individuals for bigger and greater things down-the-road is, to me, a sign of a great manager. My thinking is why would an organization ever want to replace someone who actively takes part in developing the talent underneath them and spreading knowledge? It makes for better people and better organizations both in the short-run and long-run.


Alex-ism: Be Curious

I’ve found that finding genuinely curious people can be difficult, and that’s a real shame. Those that are curious about how things work and curious about why things are the way they are, are real rock stars in the workplace. They typically ask great questions and are the ones who continually push themselves to  learn more. When people ask me what intangibles I look for when hiring, I almost always produce an answer that revolves around finding individuals who are innately curious.


Constantly Reporting Backwards is... well... backwards

I’m a data nerd at heart. Thus, it should come as no surprise that analysis and reporting are things that I love and that are critically important. Too much time spent on looking back and reporting, deliberating, and building presentations may leave little actual time to implement change moving forward. Further, if you’re constantly building reports and presentations looking back, the time you have left is spent trying to enact change, which leaves virtually no time to examine the process, making it even harder to correct the balance between the two.


Processes Break at Times, Deal with It (that's what good teams do)

Things aren’t always going to go as planned. People are going to forget to do things, processes will sometimes break or lead to further delays. It happens, that’s life and how the world works. When good teams hit a wall, they find a way around it or through it. And when there’s no way around or through, good teams learn from it for the next go-around. It’s easier to give up than it is to roll-up your sleeves and grind something out. It’s also a critical point that separates the exceptional from the norm.


Alex-ism: Be Honest & Straightforward

Something that both of my parents hammered home when I was younger, was the importance of always being honest and doing the right thing. Sure, it took some practice, and I didn’t always get it right growing up. But as I’ve gotten older and as my professional career has developed, I time and time again find this to be one of my golden rules. It’s so simple to say, but not as widely practiced as one would think in the workplace. I say this only because hard or difficult news can be hard to deliver. However, being honest and straightforward will build your credibility and trust amongst your team and colleagues much more than the alternatives.


Alex-ism: Overcommunicate

As with any good relationship(s), the key is communication. When in doubt, over communicate. One of the biggest problems I witness in organizations is communication. I also happen to understand why it happens. We each typically work in silos of some sort, no matter how flat an organization tries to be. We work with different folks and we may even talk openly about what we’re working on at times at team meetings and the like. That said, these quick recaps or accountings of what we’re working on generally lack context or specifics on how it impacts different parts of the organization – not to mention most people tune out after about 2 minutes. Given all that, it’s a bit easier to understand why it may feel like communication is occurring when it isn’t – at least not accurately or effectively.

 So, what can we do about this? Overcommunicate. Re-communicate. Put things into context for others. It can be exhausting, but those who communicate well are often looked upon as the best collaborators and well respected throughout their organizations. The great thing is that it shouldn’t be hard, it just takes practice.


Lean & Scrappy

At Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), I was tasked with building and running our Strategy & Research department. The team oversaw all consumer insights operations (surveys, focus groups, empirical research) across MSE’s properties (NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards, WNBA’s Washington Mystics, AFL’s Washington Valor, AFL’s Baltimore Brigade, eSports Team Liquid, and our venues Capital One Arena, EagleBank Arena, Kettler Capitals Iceplex). Within each of these properties we worked with each department (marketing, sales, corporate partnerships, etc.) to help them meet their insights needs with a blend of quantitative and qualitive approaches.

The problem our organization (and nearly all in sport) had was frequency of reporting, connectivity of reporting, pricing and valuation of assets, and data visualization structure to help those without data backgrounds feel empowered to act and build relevant data-backed strategies. In order to do this, most organizations would need to spend north of a hundred thousand dollars on systems, software, and personnel. However, sports organizations are notorious for having extremely limited budgets. Therefore, obtaining the necessary outside resources to assist with the extensive data connectivity, housing, cleanse, and creation of centrally accessible dashboards and visuals, would not be an option. Instead, I was faced with needing to create solutions for the following:

• Frequency of data refreshing and reporting

• Connecting and housing data together

• Creating the first comprehensive pricing and valuation predictions

• Telling a story and identifying opportunities through data visualization

• Implementing insights

Although it might sound simple, accomplishing these steps would take a great deal of effort, alignment, and collaboration. And that’s exactly what I set out to do. Here are some of the notable frugal and scrappy ways in which we made the task a success:

• There was a lot of data. It lived in multiple different programs or databases, some of which our organization had direct access to, some of which were controlled by third parties. Not everyone wanted to share the data they had. But over time and through great effort and alignment, we were slowly able to receive the data feeds we needed and started manually connecting disparate data sets together through common unique identifiers. We did this in part to avoid expensive automation systems.

• Some data sets were easier to work with than others. In a few instances, we had to work with internal tech teams to either change or build custom reporting capabilities to ensure the data was usable.

• Several of our external vendors couldn’t produce the data we required en masse, so custom API’s were developed with several vendors to allow better flow of data into our data repository.

• Once we felt we were in a good spot to collect and work with data, extensive time was spent with managers and directors from across the organization to better understand what they needed and the applications in which they might be able to use different data insights.

• Being short on budget and building complex data visualizations meant a lot of trial and error and self-teaching. I enlisted other industry experts I had relationships with to offer their consults on how to go about undertaking such a large and complex build.

• We took our data practices and insights a step further and started to tie in both internal empirical research (surveys, focus groups) and external empirical research (Nielsen Scarborough) to help in forecasting and pricing schemas.

• After we felt our data was clean and ready to use, we systematized pricing our assets and recording inventory levels in relation to partnership assets.

• Essentially, we created a Wiki for the corporate partnership division of our organization.

After several months, I was able to aggregate our data sources and create a series of visualizations that helped transform our data into actionable insights. As this was the first iteration of a major sports team piecing together this many data sources to tell a more full and better picture of team assets, I was asked to present our approach at team-wide attended meetings for both the NHL and NBA.

Gaining Buy-in

Recently a decision was made to completely rebuild our entire organization’s communications framework – what I call our Growth Framework. This includes all outward facing communications from the organization (email, mobile push, marketing/ advertising, web and mobile experience, trigger notifications, etc.). The need for this is that current operations are disjointed and disconnected, both in message and in experience, and this has resulted in a very convoluted operational function. This is a business-critical undertaking required for long-term success, but rebuilding a 55M+ database for a mature business ecosystem is complex and requires the buy-in of not only C-suite executives but also the teams responsible for implementing the rebuild.

In order to secure buy-in of this rebuild with C-suite executives, I needed a persuasive argument for this scale of project. I also needed data and metrics to support my argument, bottom-line information, an organized plan and timeline, and credibility.

• Persuasive Reasoning. I put together materials that walked through a comparison of what current vs. future state capabilities could look like, compared our current state to what best practices looked like throughout the industry, and described how I believed current gaps within our current system could be addressed through a new approach and framework.

• Data and Metrics Support. To support my reasoning, I provided current engagement data from our existing framework and compared it to industry averages, citing where current experience points were broken or lacked clarity. There was a lot of data that told the story that everything we were currently doing was not as effective as it needed to be.

• Bottom-line Impact. In addition to marketing funnel metric improvement data, I supported my argument with estimates to what I believed bottom-line impact to increased revenue would look like. I accounted for budgetary needs and resources required.

• Organized Plan, Process, and Timeline. You can promise the world, but it means nothing if you aren’t able to implement. In order to help organize my own thoughts about how to implement an overhaul of this magnitude, I devised a multi-phased plan complete with processes, timelines, and resource requirements to enable a timely and effective rebuild.

• Credibility. As I’ve discovered throughout my career, you can devise the best possible plan, but if you don’t have the right credibility and trust of the room, your biggest challenge might be convincing people to come along with you. Fortunately for me in this situation, I had already established credibility throughout the organization on several other major frameworks that I had previously designed, introduced, and implemented successfully at our organization. More so, the previous frameworks each leveled-up and built upon one another, and would be playing central roles in this next challenge. Put another way, if we were building a car from scratch, the chassis and transmission were already built.

Regarding how I prefer to work with colleagues at all various levels, I try to take a similar approach. For example, with any idea, whether it is from higher leadership or elsewhere, I’ll typically try to stitch it all together and vet the idea with my team to build out and make sure all cross functional actions are accounted for.

Once buy-in is obtained I typically operate within a flat-archie style type of management (a flat-archie is a blend of a hierarchical structure and flat structure – instead information and communication flows freely from the top down and back up, and then amongst peers – it promotes communication, ideas, collaboration, and feedback at all levels). In turn, I believe this type of approach makes individuals feel 1) valued, and 2) that they have a stake in the business and solution, which helps with buy-in and support all-around.

Accountability. As mentioned before, I like to have an understanding of the full organizational process and efficiency flow of how everything works. This helps paint clear pictures for everyone on how all of our roles roll into bigger initiatives and goals. We’re only as strong as our weakest link, so we all need to be accountable to one another and understand how each of our day-to-day and job functions need to work in harmony in order for us to reach our full potential and hit our goals.

Laying a Marketing Foundation

The use of data is paramount to the success of nearly any business today and should have resounding impact across all divisions and departments, all of which impact marketing spend. From a marketing only perspective, data should assist in driving consumers through each stage of the marketing funnel, or as we call it at our organization, our AER framework. After setting up the basics of the framework, the application of data-driven logic to help decide where to send consumers is the next logical step – or as we refer to it, Aer1.x logic. Finally, once you’re able to implement and leverage if/ then logic, you need to roll out the strategy through all your communications – what we refer to as our Growth Framework.

1)    AER Framework – The Chassis

Pronounced “air”, the AER strategy for our group is a framework we developed to help our group focus our marketing efforts. Often, I am asked whether or not AER is unique to our group or something that I developed out of thin-“air”. Although we developed the framework from scratch for our organization, the concept is hardly new as it’s simply an altered view of the marketing funnel. Our iteration has 8 stages to form the acronym WAAERRRW, W-welcome, A-awareness, A-acquisition, E-engagement, R-redemption, R-retention, R-referral, W-winback). Taking this a step further, the true purpose of AER is to develop data fueled strategies for each program, partner, or product. This includes building segmentations and targeting based on member data insights for each partner and service. In turn, this leads to personalized communications, behaviors, and experience. Finally, we can’t lose sight of what is good for the business. Some members may be a positive margin to our business while others may be negative to our bottom line. Because our organization includes points and cashback incentives, AER also focuses on insights and modeling dedicated to turning negative margin behaviors into positive margin behaviors.

 2)    Aer1.x – The Transmission

We decided to evolve AER to incorporate greater persona and value-driver insights to improve precision in our targeting and communications approach. Part of the reason we did this was to achieve deeper personalization in our communications, doing so by continuously sub-segmenting our audience to extract more specific insights. The new approach was simple and helped us accomplish a few things:

  • Greater resonance with members through higher quality, more relevant content

  • Better identify members who drive the greatest value to our business

  • Better activate and engage with our existing member base

  • Increase exposure throughout all of the elements of our existing AER framework beyond just awareness, acquisition, and engagement.

3)    Growth (Comms) Framework – The Engine

After reaching a point that saw us utilizing a customized marketing framework (AER), and injecting data-driven logic (Aer1.x), we created a Growth Framework to allow further customization and personalization across all organization communications and channels. The Growth Framework combines the data logic that had been applied to our AER framework, but now applied to the broader ecosystem of all our products (apps), programs, partners, and services, with accounts for what medium to communicate with a consumer on (email vs. mobile push vs. SMS vs. personal outreach, etc.), and data-driven logic from our Aer1.x development.

Each of these initiatives are heavily connected and each grounded by use of data. The data flows through our business intelligence unit that oversees our analytics, reporting, forecasting, modeling, data visualization, and empirical research. Their data-driven research and analysis fuels the frameworks above and is the backbone behind the actions for the marketing strategy and growth divisions. Data keeps our marketing design moving forward with a consistent feedback loop that optimizes our results.


The (formerly) Dreaded First 90 day Question

A question often asked of candidates is what they would seek to accomplish in the first 90 days of a new role, and how they’ll define success at the 12-24 months mark.

My approach to starting anything new, whether a project or new responsibility, is to quickly take a step back and learn as much about a current environment or landscape before acting. This involves conversations with key stakeholders, asking lots of questions, and a great deal of research and study of internal and external practices and forces. Here are several of my major goals for the first 90 days:

Days 0-30

1)    Understand business processes and how parts function together

a.    Create a process flow diagram for the organization

b.    Understand the brand & conduct personal brand audit

c.     Who is the consumer base, breakdown of digital vs. non-digital

d.    Identify efficiencies

2)    Understand needs of other departments

3)    SWOT analysis – what’s working and what’s not

a.    What are the major issues?

4)    Survey current marketing landscape and marketing mix

a.    Owned vs. Investment, Core vs. Amplification

b.    Automation abilities // comms & growth framework

5)    Understand current business intelligence practices

a.    Strategy & Research

b.    Data, Analytics, & Reporting

Days 30-60

6)    Solid understanding of the industry, the company, and competitive landscape

7)    Identify gaps in the marketing flow, prioritize, and start addressing them

a.    Marketing Mix

b.    AER framework application

c.     Acquisition & Engagement Loops

d.    Bottoms-up plan

e.    Business Intel

i.    Build automation

ii.    Build data foundation that informs strategy

iii.    Growth and persona opportunities

iv.    Setup empirical/ quant/ qual research

Days 60-90

8)    Assess/ build team

a.    Determine needs

b.    Hire quickly if needed

9)    Start meeting the goals that have been put into action

a.    Marketing Mix

b.    Bottoms-up plan

c.     Business intel

10)  Adjust actions items

a.    Marketing Mix

b.    Bottoms-up plan

c.     Business intel

Defining Success at 12-24 months.

At the 12-24 month mark there is a multitude of elements and indicators that should have gone into play in the initial year.  However, many of these elements are ever evolving and are moving targets. Here are a few of the elements and indicators that I have used in the past. 

Has the team adjusted to their roles and are they functional experts and mentors in their domains to the rest of the organization? It’s one thing for an individual to come into a role and provide value and feel comfortable with both the business and surrounding environment. It’s another when those individuals become curious teachers and mentors. I push my teams to be curious, to never stop learning, and to never stop teaching one another. This makes for stronger teams, better people, and long-term loyalty to organizations.

Have we identified bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and more importantly, what have we done about them? One of my mantras is for our team to question everything. If I develop an idea I expect to be pushed on my reasoning, and expect they’ll be ready when I push them on theirs. I encourage the team to take this line of thinking outside of our group as well. The advantage of this way of thinking is that it forces people to think through ideas and initiatives in greater detail, and leads to great collaboration and comradery. This method has helped my groups identify and take meaningful action on a number of bottlenecks to help create greater efficiencies – from organizational flow, to user experiences, to reporting, and to clearer marketing campaigns.

Have we gotten smarter and do we understand variable mixes and the predictability of how they influence one another? It’s a process with no end as there is always a new way to grow or leverage data. However, success should be measured on having become smarter and setting up foundational practices that allow us to continue to grow and learn about both our business and about our consumers. Part of this should be our ability to predict how changing certain marketing variables impacts sales and revenue.

 A simple example is understanding the CPAs of each individual channel – if I pour marketing dollars into social retargeting ads, I should have an estimate of cost of that acquisition channel, but should also be cognizant if I’m working with a channel of diminishing returns (I can only retarget people that have shown interest, so as I convert individuals form this pool, CPA would be expected to rise in time and be finite in respect to its exponential growth capabilities).

A slightly more complex example may involve additional layers of the marketing mix. I served you a banner ad that made you aware of our brand. I continue to serve you banner ads to build awareness and recall and eventually you come across an influencer you follow that talks about my organization which then leads you to visit my website where I collect additional information from you. Over the course of the next several weeks I’m able to serve you an email, targeted social ads, and a follow-up phone call to get you to come in-store. After several visits and interactions with staff you make a purchase. Each of these channels deserves credit/ attribution for the end purchase. This “slightly more complex example” within itself is not overly complex, but this is the extent of complexity that most marketers will come across. This is shocking as there are additional marketing layers that, when addressed, separate good organizations from great ones.

A complex example. Consider for a moment if the influencer you followed hadn’t been involved in the above marketing mix, and as a result your interest in my brand didn’t spike, leading you not to visit my site, and subsequently never making a purchase. The point is that the order and the mix in which marketing channels are deployed and hit individuals are important, but few marketers focus on the individual components and variables within the mix. Marketers may understand this conceptually, but putting this into action IS HARD. Additionally, everyone is different – the marketing mix that gets you to convert is different than the mix that gets me to convert. Studying behavior and trends based on what data you can collect from an individual is paramount to help one make inferences to help increase downstream conversion. Getting to a point where we’re collecting and identifying the data and trends that matter to this type of predictability is an important factor in being successful and moving in the right direction.

Have we identified the bottlenecks throughout the marketing funnel, have we decreased pain points and increased overall conversion percentages? Furthermore, do we understand why individuals are stalled in various portions of the marketing funnel? Knowing what variables we control and can manipulate (user experience, look & feel, interactions, etc.) and calibrating them such that we reduce pain points and increase conversion will be a strong indicator of success and moving in the right direction.

Has the database and market share increased? Ultimately one of the most important indicators for success will be increasing the database size, and continuing to carve out and increase market share.

How automated and turnkey are our processes now? Marketing campaigns can either be fun and impactful, or a drain on time and resources. Another indicator of success will be how turnkey and automated our practices have become (at least the ones that are able to be automated). Understanding how data informs strategy and how strategy gets executed efficiently (i.e. automation) should be a top priority and factor in evaluating success – make your life easy where you can.

Have we successfully built acquisition and engagement loops? Acquisition and engagement loops are processes that help organizations gain greater scale. For example, say the goal of a campaign is to grow a subscriber base to your organization’s email database. And let’s say one of the calls to action is to import their contact lists to be sent sign-up messaging. If 100 users sign up, on average ~30% will import their contacts (30 people). Of those 30, there is on average a 10X of the number of people who will receive a sign-up message (300 people). Of those 300, on average 40% will click the link (120 people), and 50% of those will sign up (60 additional sign-ups). In the end, creating an acquisition loop like this (if done correctly), should help grow 100 user sign-ups into ~166. These are easy wins that I think need to be set-up as part of the definition of overall success 12-24 months into the role.

Simply put, is marketing paying for itself? This will be a major measurement of true success. More specifically, will incremental revenue outweigh the costs of deployment and SG&A?


The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray

Our organization has a multitude of business components – a premier partner business with major brands, an affiliate partner business, a series of mobile apps, products and services, a card-link program to earn points, and our own MasterCard credit card. Individuals who participate in our partner businesses earn points with us once they register to be part of the program. 

Earlier this year, we decided that we wanted to make a large and concentrated effort to increase the number of participants of one of our premier partner businesses in a very large urban market.  An acquisition for our group is relatively simple and straightforward. As long as someone has both an account with our premier partner and an account with us, they earn points that can be used to purchase items on our platform. 

The plan for increasing this particular urban market involved a large, intricately layered, multi-channel approach to be launched around a major holiday. A local activation plan involved “hiding” over a thousand branded wallets around the urban area, each containing real dollar bills along with information on our partnering program and the specific premier partnership in order to drive buzz and create viral and organic content. This effort was to be supported through additional investment in professional influencer marketing to help get the word out and generate more buzz. Additionally, internal channel support through geo-targeted emails, mobile push notifications, and SMS messaging, in addition to social posts that were both from our organic channels and paid social, were also part of the plan. 

The strategy made sense, and it was backed by multiple reports and data sources that made both the timing and investment an easy sell. However, the handoff between strategy and implementation turned out to be nearly disastrous.

Despite months of planning, the timing of the initiation of the various campaign components was misaligned. The emails, mobile push, and SMS campaigns making the urban residents, who were the targets of the campaign, aware of the wallet campaign was scheduled to deploy 10 days before the wallets were “hidden.” Instead, they deployed a day after the campaign was already underway and wallets were already “hidden”, though residents had no idea they were out and around the city to be “discovered” by them. 

The timing error was due to too many cooks in the kitchen. Although this campaign was specific to a single premier partner, numerous teams representing other partners became involved. The result of the involvement of numerous teams slowed down the entire process as the original message was altered and added to and then passed to other teams to respond to one another. Each additional group wanted to add more verbiage and explanations to introduce other products and services that it was interested in marketing. By the time the messages went out to highlight the one specific partnership of the original strategy, other partner and product messaging had also found their way in, deemphasizing and convoluting the original message, making it overly complex and hard to follow. The original, simple focus on one partner morphed into a message that was long and unclear. It made for a bad consumer experience, and potentially hurt our ability to reuse some of our influencers in the future since it’s in their best interest to avoid serving their followers long and difficult messaging. 

To make matters worse -- although unrelated to the multitude of teams needing to be involved in campaign creation -- multiple different technical and analytics teams were involved in the most important aspects of the campaign – tracking and reporting on results and impact. Similar to the campaign creation process, the technical and analytics teams were unable to properly work together and resolve differences. Instead of producing immediate insights into the campaign, allowing us to immediately respond, results were not available until a week after the campaign went live.

There were many lessons learned from this campaign. First, a breakdown at one point can lead to failure in multiple areas. Second, the addition of too many teams or groups to a project can hamper a project or task in a multitude of ways, even if given the extraordinary amount of lead-time this campaign was given. And third, the ability to be agile, especially with campaigns that involve several moving parts and require a particular order and sequence of how components need to be executed, cannot be overstated. Problems will arise, but those that can be agile will typically be better positioned to deal with issues and still find ways to be successful.

Still, the campaign wasn’t a total disaster and we were able to salvage some of it. We were eventually able to extrapolate lift within the region and cross reference that lift with the timing of other campaigns. We were also subsequently able to correct the messaging on follow-up campaigns and compare the lift we witnessed between the longer non-ideal campaign vs. the better calibrated and ideal messaging campaigns. This analysis showed aspects of success and helped us understand what elements had a significant impact on user acquisition, and how to better calibrate campaigns in the area moving forward.


Spartan Races Concluded for 2018 - What's Next?

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m feeling stuffed to the brim … yet I’m still hungry, hungry for more Spartan Races! Ugh, even reading that makes me want to vomit from how stupid I sound. But seriously, it’s been a hell of a ride this 2018 with getting into the world of OCR.

 For me it’s been a blessing, although my friends and girlfriend may say it’s also a bit of a curse since now it’s essentially all I talk about and train for in my free time. Over the last several years, I’ve oscillated between getting back in good shape, then slowing down on my regimen and putting a few pounds back on. It’s never been horrific or a major health issue, but I don’t hide weight well, so if I gain 5 pounds, you can see it – which fortunately works the other way, that if I lose 5 lbs or put on any muscle, it also shows. But the problem has always been two-fold. Never having anything other than vanity as a reason to lose weight to be in shape, and never having a reason personally to do much weight lifting since I focused on running to lose any weight. Being introduced to the world of Spartan this past year has given me something to address both pitfalls. I have something specific to train for and look forward to, and I’ve incorporated weight training into a cardio regiment – a much healthier way to go about leading a healthier life.

 So, what’s next? I’ve accomplished a lot this past year having obtained a double Trifecta. Well, I’ve turned my sights towards the next level of OCR racing, which in my opinion, is completing the Spartan Ultra. The Spartan Beasts are approximately 13-15 miles of obstacle course racing through rugged terrain and 30+ obstacles, while the Spartan Ultra’s are 30+ miles and 60+ obstacles and considered to be some of the hardest OCR races in existence. It gets better though. My goal isn’t to settle for any Ultra, it’s to conquer the hardest of the hard in 2019 – the Ultra Mountain Races, which as you have probable guessed, are Ultra format races up and down mountain peaks. I’ve signed up for 4 of them already, and training started this pat Monday.

 ·         Lake Tahoe

·         Colorado Rockies

·         Killington

·         Iceland

 The completion rate of these races is typically in the mere teens, making them both the most difficult and most prestigious if you can complete them in the allotted time frame. Many participants are cut because they give up, but many more end up disqualified for not making the various time cuts.

 So, am I crazy? Maybe a little. The races will reveal a lot about myself – both mentally and physically, as the body will follow where the mind tells it to go. I’m not sure if I’ll finish, but at the very least I’ll learn about what I must work on. So, get ready 2019 Ultra’s, I’m coming for you.