Bridging the CMO-CFO divide

With advances in AI, predictive analytics, distilled big data, customer analytics, web and social analytics, the CMO’s role has evolved and at times been misunderstood. Their outstanding achievements in this new digital, customer- centric, data driven, and ROI centric times has not been easy.

Not taking any sides – traditionally, the CMO has been the center point between the external agency of record and the business. To realize $$ for the intangible Don Draper- ish magic of TV, Print, Billboard advertising, with a splash of behavioral psychology thrown in ‘was/Is’ yet not really convincing to rest of the C-Suite.

Pepper in demographic shifts, the new customer experience desired by customers, the emerging touchpoints, the 8 second attention span (a goldfish has a 9 sec attention span) and hypnosis into the equation, it gets even tougher to determine’ Where is Waldo’, the holy grail in dollars, the infamous ROI.

Hard to attribute ROI in ‘dollars’ which the CFO does not frown upon, CMO/CFO relationship has seemingly been like ‘Apples and Plums’. ‘Apples and Oranges’ would simply be absolution.

The CMO accountable for building, maintaining the brand equity, marketing the organizational revenue generating segments, staying ahead of the curve with Customer experience, while balancing the introduction of new devices, channels, and the application of emerging marketing technology, it is a big plate……and extra laps around the track.
It is a persuasive argument for the C-Suite to consider ‘Marketing’ as a ‘revenue generating center’, not as a ‘cost center’, a burden.
Alignment and the prevailing climate between the CMO, and the CFO has to give way to solutions:

– Hammer out a sound unquestionable ROI attribution strategy, for intangibles and tangibles.
– A ROI attribution which audits the existing determinants and adopts CFO inspired tweaks. Having ‘Skin in the game’ makes the entire game plausible.
– A quarterly ROI health check which tracks monthly variances, with historic and cyclical attributes factored in.
– This proposed health check would lead to a robust Marketing plan for the next budget planning year.
– Finally, a forecast, where ROI and spend could be traced back to the budget

These efforts do require time and effort. From my cost accounting days, I know how crucial and illuminating this exercise can be.
From a business road mapping perspective, it brings agility and a shortened roadmap from the traditional 5 year plan.

Social amplication, curated style

An entirely new job description is emerging in the social/content space – ‘ Social Curator’. This new job is emerging out of a natural evolutionary process of sharing and collecting. Think Pintrest as one of the destinations.

A social curator would ‘curate’ external content, although not necessarily one’s own (spoon content from other sites, blogs, etc ). Think of these newly created posts or pages as a destination which would begin and perhaps end with a short intro and/or ending from the curator, mixed in with links to valuable external content.

This customer centric content could potentially be ideal for brand engagement and retention. Although with clever UX, acquisition could be folded into the mix. Socially curated content goals should be very clear from the beginning. The recipe and servings may be different for B2B and B2C.

For SEO diehards, the very principle of sending links to external sites would initially appear like assisted suicide, however the social amplification effects which would likely occur via social sharing may win the SEO contingent.

There are several important considerations before proceeding down this path. Some of these could be:

a. Content destination/s
b. Content logistics and calendaring
c. FTE support
d. Compliance considerations
e. Clear and well defined goals for the business
f. Measurement of ROI or ROO
g. Web analytics

Have fun curating.

Tuning and configuring enterprise site search

We all know that a good enterprise site search experience not only positively fosters the brand but also compensates for any navigational and UX related deficiencies.
So, let’s talk enterprise site search and look at considerations you should have when improving the search experience for your site and your users.

Understanding how your users search is of course paramount –

Couple of Prerequisites please:

1. Partnering with business is a must. Direct-loaders (people who go straight to your site and then use your site’s search facility) need their searches to be looked after by the business, the guys who understand the products and how they are marketed and sold to the customer.

2. Deep understanding of the target site. Rely on yourself. Familiarize yourself with the site. Get to know the users. Peruse through the persona matrix.

Begin with a Search Term Analysis by extracting the analytics data associated with site search (This data may be hooked with Coremetrics/Omiture, etc, or the search engine logs/reporting platform, depending on what your site search product is).

Look for searches which retrieve zero results. These are the list of terms that users have entered and yielded zero results. Check for the following issues which may be leading to the zero results

-Misspelled Words
-Users entering terms that do not relate to the meta data
-Users searching for content which you do not have
-Technical issues with the way your search product is configured

Remedies may include
-implementing a spelling correction feature
-optimization of site content (adding content what the customers are searching for)
-optimization of meta data (usage of Beauty on the site when the customer means Makeup). The dreaded industry jargon – leave it at home.
-understanding and reacting to the language of the customer (hmm, personas anyone?)
– reconfiguring the way content is indexed (tweaking the relevance rankings, stop words. Consideration of pure content, product pages, brand pages, video, images, etc.)

Next, extract a ‘commonly searched for terms‘ report. Typically, a small number of search terms account for a high percentage of site queries. Yes, the classic 80/20 rule of long tail shows itself once again. This should be a top priority to ensure that the most popular search terms return optimal results by fine tuning them individually.

Then, extract a report which contains a list of Uncommonly Searched Terms. This report may fill a gap, and is especially crucial for a multi channel retailer where a user may search by entering a Sku # which they perhaps noted down from a TV show or a brick and mortar. This report may represent fewer searches but in the long run it can pay off to track these less popular searches over time. This report can show emerging and waning customer interests, which you can then translate into trends and implement appropriate fixes.

Embarking on improving search tuning can be a daunting task. However by taking a carefully planned approach the process can be tactically simplified.

Does the search product meet the site’s objectives? Perform a gut check and ask the following questions-

Is it fast enough?
Are the results accurate enough?
Are the displayed results on the page complete enough?
Does it integrate well with the rest of your systems?
Does it fit your business goals and deliver on your brand’s promise?
Are users finding what they need?

If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory then it makes sense to tune up the search engine.

Configure or Reconfigure your search product

Beyond the issues of server load, simultaneous users, response time there are some adjustable functions you could look into. The existing configurations may be no longer valid and should be revisited often.

Some common configuration options-

Turning on and tuning predictive search

Many users have come to expect that a search engine will offer them tips and suggestions on the results page. These suggestions could take the form of spelling corrections. If your search engine offers spelling suggestions, you may be able to modify the dictionary that supplies the corrections to add common misspellings found in your search logs. Synonyms are another form of suggestion offered by many search solutions. It is important for the search engine to recognize and interpret the language the user is accustomed to.
It is estimated that 20-30% of all search terms used on the internet contain a misspelling or a typo. If that is the case and your search engine doesn’t manage to auto correct them or the typo is on a made-up word such as a brand or product name, then your customers will get zero results, the dreaded dead-end.

The solution; find out the terms that customers are using that return zero or few results and setup a synonym to the term that does match products.

Some examples where you would use synonyms include :
– Numbers – equate 2 with ii and two
– Acronyms – to equate product-acronyms with the full product title e.g. LOTR -> Lord of the Rings
– Common misspellings e.g. cart kart
– Made-up product titles with spaces taken out e.g. (wii) motion plus = motionplus
– UK / US spellings (if not auto-corrected) e.g. color colour, metre meter

Tweaking the relevance ranking

Most search engines feature some type of relevance ranking for results. Sometimes the method or algorithm for ranking results is transparent to users, and sometimes it is purposefully obscure. Some solutions allow you to adjust the algorithm to give more weight to certain results. For example, it might make sense to tell the search engine to calculate a higher relevance score for content found in a particular channel of your site (e.g. depending on user needs, product descriptions might rank higher than press releases; product pages w/videos may rank higher than product pages w/images).

Revisit your Stop Word List

In most circumstances, there’s no point in a search engine searching for words that are so common that they appear in large numbers of product titles or descriptions. It results in too many, often irrelevant, results for the customer and wastes the search engine’s resources in matching them. Typically these words include ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘of’, ‘the’ ‘i’, ‘is’ etc but the business really ought to work out for itself which words are so common that the search engine should ignore them. This may include some words that are core to the product set being sold e.g. a entertainment retailer might get the search engine to ignore DVD, CD etc. Be wary of adopting the standard set provided by the search tool vendor. For example, a ‘stop word list’ provided by a search tool vendor may include the word ‘that’, but for a CD retailer, this would not be an appropriate stop word if it meant that it made searches for CDs by ‘Take That’ of lower relevance than results that don’t contain the word ‘that’. Try it, you’ll find there’s a band called “Take”

Enforced or Automatic Phrasing

If your customers are getting too many results for certain search phrases, of which you find that many are irrelevant, then you should instruct your search engine to only consider results where there is an exact match to the phrase (words and their order). e.g. “32gb ipod touch” – assuming you didn’t want the search engine to return 4/8/16gb ipods or ipod nanos in the results set)

Search Keyword Redirects

Sometimes it is desirable to redirect a customer to the landing page that makes the best representation of a product or product set that the customer is looking for. This gives the customer a better experience than the presentation of a product list (which may well not show the full range of potential product type matches on page 1). It is a common occurrence for customers to search for types of products e.g. Toys for 5 Year Olds, so a redirect for such types of searches would be a good idea.

Best Bet Results

Frequent searches and most important pages could have a ‘best bet’ result. You are probably familiar with seeing paid advertisements on public search engines like Google. In these cases, organizations have paid for their listing to be associated with particular keywords. The idea of tying certain results to keywords works well for site search, too—even when paid advertising is not part of the game.

The perfect site search is a moving target. The out of the box search engine is a myth. It has to be constantly nurtured and tweaked to cater to the evolving demands of the consumer related to the evolving product catalog of your site.

Massive Google update being rolled out

Google has removed the sandbox for developers and word is, that the caffeine update will initially roll out to one single datacenter and then populate the other datacenters “after the holidays”.

Anyway, my expectation is that the 2 major updates to make the most impact shall be ‘real time news events‘ and ‘twitter updates’. The ‘News‘ and ‘Information‘ categories are going to be very prominent after this next update. Twitter updates will definitely be indexed fast, to show up in Google Search results.

Google’s vulnerability was evident when they could not display real time links during the ‘Iran voting crisis’ earlier this summer. As soon as Bing announced their agreement with Twitter, Google rapidly followed. It appears they are licensing their data feed instead of connecting via the regular public API. Where does Facebook stand in all this?

Additionally, there may be fewer search results displayed – I believe someone may have noticed, most searchers do not go past the first five search results, let alone the first page.

Social Media Listening Platforms

UPDATE 08/16/2014: The Radian6 acquisition by Salesforce has propelled the listening offering into a mighty contender with a Salesforce Marketing Cloud coupling it with publishing (Buddy Media), email (Exact target), Ad buys (Social.com) and just this week the acquisition of RelateIQ, a big data player puts it ahead of the pack.

Another project oriented noteworthy listening insights contender out of Boston is Crimson Hexagon.

End Update

While enterprise marketing software, search, email and web analytics are fairly mature, the listening platforms for social media are beginning to take shape, to gather and provide insights from conversations. The brand and reputation management sentiment has not yet translated into meaningful trend shaping insights for marketers. The metrics surround themselves around mentions, reach and discussion volume.

There are some players in the listening platforms space which the recent paper by Forester has identified as making some movement in narrowing the insights gap. Among those listed in the report were Nielsen Buzz Metrics and TNS Cymfony which offer the best balance between technology, insight, delivery, and strategy. Nielsen got top honors for strong analytical and insight capability which TNS Cymfony appeared to excel in data collection and media coverage.

Some of the other players in the report were Biz 360, DowJones Insight, JDPA, Visible Technologies and Radian6. Visible Technologies is identified to best positioned to extend its capabilities into CRM systems.

As the natural language processing algorithms improve for the platforms we will hopefully see some metrics which present insight value. Currently, the measurement and results for Social Media are growing in maturity but still vague. Seemingly, more effort has been made into making pretty dashboards than meaningful metrics. Long way to go. It shall be exciting to watch as maturity sets in – they certainly are the toughest analytics yet, to conquer.

Behaviour Targeting Targeted

Ok, Behavioral targeting has been in the news and apparently is under further scrutiny as 10 consumer *and privacy organizations* (list below) on September 1, called on congress to enact legislation limiting and preventing behavior targeting and tracking.

What is out there? – There are onsite advertising decision providers like Omniture, Audience Science etc? After all, there are no third party cookies to be blocked, the load time is quicker. Hardly, the third party cookie advertising targeting systems guys like Double Click, Value Click, Tribal Fusion, etc are still the best game in town for ecommerce companies who are reliant on advertising as their core revenue generator, like publishing. Since they serve advertising across a spectrum of sites they have a reservoir of personas and demographics – a great advantage. Additionally, they have a readymade data set.

The onsite advertising decision providers do provide value and an advantage in the authenticated space like financial institutions, online banking, etc. Once a user is logged in, there is a lot more personal information that that can be added on to develop a target dataset. However, to track a user over time, takes time.

Online advertising continues to walk that fine line. Well, let’s see how it all plays out.

*Center for Digital Democracy
*Consumer Federation of America
*Consumers Union
*Consumer Watchdog
*Electronic Frontier Foundation
*Privacy Lives
*Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
*Privacy Times
*U.S. Public Interest Research Group
*The World Privacy Forum