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.


Spartanburg Beast - Double Trifecta Acquired

Aroo! And with that, I obtain my 2018 Double Trifecta (completing two full cycles of 3 different race types – Sprint, Super, Beast) and bring my 2018 OCR racing schedule to a close. Along for the ride was my sweet girlfriend who obtained her first Trifecta of the year!

The course we ran through over the past weekend is considered to be one of the “easier” 15mile obstacles courses, but running through that much terrain and through 30+ obstacles is a tough racket for just about anyone. I had flirted for a time with attempting two loops of the course for 30+ miles and 60+ obstacles to obtain a coveted Ultra status and being awarded a cool looking belt buckle of a medal (no kidding, the medal is actually a belt buckle you can wear around and glows in the dark haha). I think I could have pulled it off, but my first attempt at an Ultra will have to wait until April 2019 when I take on the mountains out on the east coast.

Heck of a day, and heck of a season. Proud of my 2018 that introduced me to the world of OCR for the first time, and proud of my girlfriend who decided to come along and join me for much of the journey this year and for her completing her own Trifecta in the process.


A Note on Delivering Hard News and Moving Forward

A few thoughts on delivering hard news or having to let someone go.

  • When delivering hard news, be both respectful of the individual and honest. I’m a huge proponent of clear communication, even if that feels like the more difficult route. You show respect for the person you’re engaging with and I think they end up respecting you more for doing it that way.

  • It’s easy to mope and be down, but you still have to lead and move forward – God only knows how sad and heart-broken I am inside, but as a leader you need to keep moving forward for the team still around you, and you need to rally the troops and continue to march forward.

  • Be honest and make time for those still with you. Survivor guilt is a very real thing. You should allow your team a forum or opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling and address it. That said, the team that’s still here has a large amount of responsibility and tremendous opportunity in front of it. They’re important and they need you to tell them that so they know it. 

Delivering hard or bad news is never fun. Respect those around you by being honest and as communicative as possible. You’ll get through it, so will they.


What's For Breakfast?

Priorities. Determining and communicating what they are from the top down is critical to success. I know this sounds obvious, but having the right priorities and aligned priorities is often more difficult in practice.  And when they don’t align properly it’s akin to figuring out what’s for breakfast on the Titanic when there are bigger things that need to be addressed.


Toyota Park Sprint

This past weekend a Spartan Sprint (3+ mi) came to Chicago at Toyota Park (home of the MLS Chicago Fire). Seeing as this is my backyard, I was able to enlist 4 additional friends in addition to Courtney and myself. The weather was nice but is starting to turn in Chicago – it’s only going to get colder from here for the last few races of 2018.


Pittsburgh Super

I finally convinced someone other than my poor girlfriend to join me on a Spartan Race this past weekend. The victim? One of my best friends from business school, Kevin.

Our race consisted of 9 miles through Midwest terrain outside of Pittsburgh. The race got off to a rocky start since the venue location actually changed a few days before the race when toxic waste was discovered dumped across the course. The new location that it was moved to consisted of three mile loops. Allegedly it takes weeks to set up for an OCR course, so although rather lame to run laps, I was appreciative they were able to secure an alternate venue on such short notice.

A grueling course in its own right, it was a heck of a weekend catching up with an old friend and hopefully getting another person hooked on OCR!


1 Year In Somewhere New - Acceleration of Learning and Building Galore

I can’t believe it’s been a year at my "new" job already. It feels like I just left Monumental Sports a few weeks ago – wow how time flies. Incredible to think how much has happened over the last 12 months or so. Holy moly, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup -- thrilled for the organization and my friends still at the organization. Beyond that, at my “new” jobI have been pushed harder and further than I thought possible. With that, I feel fortunate to have learned and developed at a rate I did not think possible. Part of this is due to an incredible amount of responsibility and oversight, part of this is due to the opportunity to build an entire department from scratch, and part of this is due to the pace in which our group has been forced to iterate and develop strategies that are both adaptive and agile to the business environment around us.

Some notable highlights:

  • Built a full stack marketing strategy team from scratch

  • Capitals win Stanley Cup

  • Pioneered a marketing strategy framework - AER

  • Developed machine learning marketing automation programming – AER 1.X

  • Hitting over 100k partner connections for a single partner in less than 6months and obliterating our 2-year goal


1 Year Out of Sports... My Reflection Back

A year ago today I put in my 2-weeks’ notice at Monumental Sports. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I wondered greatly whether or not I was making 1) the right decision, and 2) how I would feel leaving the sports industry.

To the first point, hands-down the right decision, no doubt about it. The opportunity to challenge myself and grow at my current organization is unparalleled. From pioneering marketing frameworks to building three separate divisions from scratch with some of the best talent I have ever had the good fortune to be around, has been incredible.

To the second point, do I miss working in sport? The answer is somewhat more complicated. Would I work in sport again? Absolutely. There are certain aspects I miss – the comradery, sexiness to the product you were marketing and working for, the behind-the-scenes access, and all working towards winning a championship together. There are other aspects I don’t. Salary was horrific, and I mean horrific compared to what the open market would pay, the talent was at times hit-or-miss, and the politics of what is still, in areas, an old boys club.

Again, I would certainly be open to jumping back into sports at some point down the road if the opportunity was right, but I must admit I am surprised that I don’t miss the industry more. I feel fortunate in many respects to have come out of it, as I’ve been exposed to a much broader landscape of opportunities, opportunities which I now find just as exciting and “sexy” as working in sports.

I still have many moments of missing aspects of having worked at a sports team, but also feel incredibly fortunate to have been given an opportunity to broaden my horizon and skillset.


Spotlight- AER Strategy, Building Our Marketing Strategy Foundation

Pronounced “air”, the AER strategy for our group is a framework 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”. I developed the framework from scratch for our organization, but the concept is hardly new as it’s simply an altered view of the marketing funnel. Here is what it all stands for and means:

A - awareness

A - acquisition

E - engagement

R - redemption

R - retention

R – referral

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 – more on this in a moment.

AAERRR Funnel: Awareness, Acquisition, Engagement, Retention, Redemption, Referral

Let’s talk about the divide halfway through at the engagement step. A moment ago I pointed out that the framework accounts what is good for the business and focuses on turning negative margin behaviors into positive margin behaviors. This tactic starts at the engagement stage, because this marks the point in which a member is fully considered to be part of our ecosystem, and whose actions from this point moving forward will determine whether they are good or harmful to the bottom line of the business (positive or negative margin as a result of our organizations ecosystem being partially based on points and cashback discounts/ incentives). The behavior throughout the next three stages, Engagement, Redemption, Retention, are marketing funnel stages that require different tactics depending on how the member impacts the business.

In a nutshell, we take persona level data on our positive margin members and create look-alike models that feed back into our awareness and acquisition funnel stages. As for our negative margin members, the strategy is to break away from our core marketing practices and target to change the fundamental behavior and actions of our members through the methods in which we communicate with them and incentivize them to take actions that are believed to turn negative margin-based behavior into positive based behavior.

Finally the framework reconvenes at the final R – referral. Studies, as well as our internal data, show that a referral from a friend or colleague is nearly 5X more likely to connect and engage within our ecosystem.

The Activation & Growth team is developing holistic cross-channel campaigns supported by data and behavioral insights across the entire ecosystem inclusive of partner, product, and services. It is the team’s responsibility to survey the landscape and develop horizontally designed strategies that sit across each partner/ product/ service vertical. (i.e. understand how all the pieces fit together). Using the comprehensive strategy framework we designed specific to our team, called the AAERRR (“air”) strategy. AAERRR helps strategy teams understand where in a fluid-based lifecycle a member is in relation to a specific partner or service (awareness, acquisition, engagement, retention, redemption, and referral).  From a health-of-business perspective, AAERRR separates what attributes facilitate a positive vs. negative margin member in relation to each of these touchpoints (A-A-E-R-R-R). In action, we leverage this data for targeting to not only keep positive margin members positive, but also to change the behavior of negative margin members so that they ultimately become positive margin to the business. The last piece is utilizing a positive margin look-alike model to then use for acquisition targeting. This strategy is being created out as the foundation to each and every one of our products, partners, and services. This creates custom targeting and insights based on member behavior and engagement.

This is an incredibly detailed and complex matrix of data. Not only do we look at each member in relation to each stage they engage with, we also use cross program data to build out theories and messaging to create more retention and in turn higher MNOPs. Our ecosystem is unique in that it isn’t a single “brand”. We have the ability to gather data insights from our partners, build daily journeys for our members, and impact behavior changes. The Activation & Growth team looks beyond just acquisition, as our strategies allow us to view the ecosystem holistically, end to end, across an entire lifetime of a member and how we can earn that member’s trust and affinity to become a brand ambassador and utilize referral to then grow our brand. This is the 1:1:many halo effect central to other leading strategy departments at organizations such as Google and Facebook.

Beyond the strategy itself, AAERRR impacts other major components central to the Activation & Growth team, and SYW strategy at large. One of the biggest pieces that gets developed based on this strategy is our comprehensive “bottoms up” plans. These plans create the week over week campaign and omni channel plan to hit our goals, stay in budget, and grow ROI. We develop a plan around internal vs. external marketing channels and integration into our organization as a whole. We can forecast investment, acquisition, and build out CPAs. As part of this foundational strategy to our marketing, our growth team acts as the innovative arm of our group to enhance every touchpoint. The growth team develops gamification, community activation, local activation, influencer & networks, and behavioral economic strategies to externalize and amplify our communications and marketing messaging.

Finally, everything we design, create and externalize is backed by our Strategy & Research division. This team develops the data insights and visualizations that give us the full backing to understand how to develop our strategy, test our strategy, and optimize campaigns. We rely on them to provide full insights and theories as to what results are and why they happened, so that the rest of the activation team can then utilize those insights in the next iteration of their strategy.

The AAERRR strategy is our foundation to grow a successful and sustainable business. We use a complex matrix of data to understand our members and customize their experience. It is the A&G team’s goal to give our members a seamless personalized experience every day, to grow affinity, engagement, and MNOP across our team as a whole and across all the individual programs, products, and services.

Some final thoughts. The reality of our AER framework is that it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately we need to build a strong foundation to our data and marketing practices, and this is where we need to start – get really good at this, and add additional layers of insights, automation, forecasting, and modeling into the equation to build a better member experience that provides both value to them and to the business. 

Today we’ve built AER version 1.0. Tomorrow we’ll look to build AER version 1.X – more on this once we get there.


Spartan Race - Well that was "Super"

Oh boy – what a weekend. I just ran my first Spartan Race, a Super 8+ mi obstacle course race for those of you who don’t know. Our organizations President emailed our leadership team about six months ago about signing-up for this race. A few people replied including myself. I invited my girlfriend along. Neither of us had over done an obstacle course race (i.e. OCR race) before, but it sounded interesting. I knew I needed to either start running or lifting to get myself prepared, but the last few months at work had been busy and I was burning the candle at both ends to build three separate divisions from the ground up and create organization-wide strategies. So I decided to leave that for a bit, and I headed into this past weekend feeling very intimidated about everything I had heard about Spartan and obstacle races. And as it would turn out, not very many people made the race for a variety of reasons. In fact, it was just me and my girlfriendI.

Even though I hadn’t been working out regularly, 8+ mi would not have been a big deal to me since I regularly walk just about everywhere I go. However, it had been raining for nearly a week straight before we took the course, and there was mud thicker than glue and 10inches deep. Trudging through that for 8+ mi is a totally different animal however than walking. I’ll spare the drawn out details but needless to say, it took us 5 hours to complete, and took just about everything we had to get through the 30+ obstacles and 10 inches of never ending mud and freezing streams. Eventually we came to the finish, thoroughly exhausted, and a funny thing happened – even after a grueling 5 hours, we both had ear-to-ear grins on our faces. The moment we leaped over the burning fire pit and across the finish line where they placed heavy medals around our necks, a real sense of accomplishment washed over us.

As we hobbled back to the car and started the hour drive back home, I started thinking more about why I felt such an incredible sense of accomplishment. I had friends and co-workers taunting me the weeks leading up to it that gave me fuel to prove them wrong, but it was the fact that it was legitimately difficult and that real suffering and struggle was involved that made the experience.

Game Over. I am hooked. And for whatever reason, I feel like going to the gym tomorrow, for the first time in a long time, to get ready for the next one.



Spotlight- Digital Communities (A Growth Division sub-department)

So let’s start with a couple questions for this one.

What is a community and how do we define it?

Simply put, it’s a group of people who communicate, share ideas, and develop relationships around a common interest.

What’s the difference between an online community and a social network?

Online Community:

  • Members usually do not know each other in “real life”

  • Most communication is based around a common interest or characteristic (fitness, cooking, sports, etc.)

  • “Nested structure” with sub-communities, threads, etc.

  • Social Network:

  • Formed around pre-existing interpersonal relationships (family, friends, coworkers)

  • Interaction is much more diverse, not always based on commonalities

  • “Webbed structure” where each person has their own social network that can overlap someone else’s (i.e. mutual friends/followers)

Following so far?

Sitting under our Growth Division, our digital community’s department focuses on the communities already within our organization’s ecosystem. These are individuals who communicate, share ideas and build relationships around a common interest. For example, we have millions of members who belong to our DIY (do-it yourselfers) digital community, who share tips and ideas on a variety of home improvement and building projects.

The objective for our digital community department is to grow and sustain these integrative communities that provide a unique and inclusive member experience, encourage participation, and ultimately build brand identity, loyalty, and advocacy for our programs, products, services, and affiliates.

Our goal is to give members a way to communicate and build relationships across our ecosystem in a more conversational environment. Aggregate consumer feedback and insights. Create a sense of belonging for members, resulting in stronger brand awareness and advocacy. Provide a place to integrate partner programs, journeys, and other ecosystem related entities to unique target audiences.

So what does our digital community group focus on day-to-day?

  • “Seed” communities by posting relevant content

  • Engage with active members to encourage discussion

  • Community moderation – make sure everyone follows the rules

  • Track community trends and sentiment

  • Increase awareness, participation and loyalty


Forget the Raft, I'm on a Boat in the Middle of an Ocean

If you read my earlier post on what it was like to come into my new role, I suggested it was similar to being a raft captain who had been thrown overboard in the middle of a rapid, only to then climb back in the front of the raft in the middle of pure chaos

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and now I’m not sure the analogy still holds water (see what I did there 😉 ). Safe to say I’m at a point where I feel like I’ve made it to the back where I could captain us out of immediate danger. However, now I’m left facing a totally different boat related problem analogy. Okay, hang with me here …

You’re on a boat. A big one this time, and you’re the Captain in charge of all crew and operations aboard. You’re in the middle of the ocean. Still with me? Okay cool, here’s the deal. Your rudder is out. To make matters worse, your engines are out too. You’re in trouble, but that’s not the worse part. You guessed it, there’s a hole in bottom of ship and you’re taking on water… but here’s the kicker, you’re a good captain and you’re not going to bail on your ship because you like a challenge (remember, you like challenges!) and this is what you signed-up for.

Alright Captain, what’s the play here?

Okay, enough fun with weird analogies, although I have used this exact one with my team at work to put some things in perspective. I’m not quite the Captain of the boat per-say, but call me the guy who’s in charge of getting the engines back up and running. The rudder is our analytics and insights teams across the organization, and the product experience (our various apps, partner experiences, etc.) is the hole in the boat. In order for us to make it out (and turn this company around successfully), we’re going to need to believe in the product team fixing the hole, and the analytics team getting the rudder going (get it? insights lead you in the direction that’ll make you successful… like a rudder… never mind). And that leaves us as a marketing department to get the engines up and running (i.e. what is going to get us moving and moving fast once we know the direction and have something that works).

So here we are, May 24, 2018, in the middle of fighting the good fight and getting internal portions of the organization aligned and running properly. It’s an exciting time to be here, and I look forward to continually turning on portions of the marketing engine more and more as time goes by.

Oh Captain, My Captain!