Thursday, December 31, 2009

Truth and Consideration: When Homophily is Murder

We were talking about race and different approaches that people take to resolving century old prejudices with modern notions of equality. She argued that people in Austin refuse to discuss race but claiming not to see it as a factor, which simply prolongs predispositions. And if you have been to Texas, even Austin, you know that racism, sexism and homophobia are pretty overt. Erika argued that the key is to recognize and discuss difference and celebrate those differences.

I wrote a blog a while ago on some notable differences between African Americans, their African counterparts and some discussions of evolutionary psychology, which of course is a very tricky subject given that evolutionary psychology has been used to justify racist policy in the past. My brother, Eric, argued that to even to discuss such things is to validate that difference and that was a danger. The mere coverage of it, perpetuated the perception of difference.

To me, the overriding principle in such tricky situations is truth. Intellectual honesty and curiosity is key and that to always consider every way the article can be taken, especially those who are not as intellectually honest, is a poor principle to follow. It subverts the greater good, the pursuit of knowledge.

Well, I struggled with this some more this morning. I am reading an interesting book on my Kindle, called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. One of the chapters is the effect of homophily on decision-making, how people we associate as similar to us can affect our decision making. Now this bears itself throughout history in some well-documented cases. The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Goethe in which the main character commits suicide, prompted hundreds of suicides throughout Europe. Then there is the behavior of people in emergency situations are much more likely to act if there aren’t other people around who are also wondering whether to act or not. It’s group paralysis as we look for social cues on whether to act.

But this is documented in other, absolutely bizarre ways. For example, after a well-publicized heavyweight bout, there is an increase in the homicide rate. Violence on TV, violence in life … makes sense. But what’s fascinating is that if it’s a multi-racial fight, if the African American fighter loses, there is an increase in African American homicide rates, and if the Caucasion loses, an increase in fatalities among Caucasions. So overt violence maybe makes sense, even with the strength of association of race. Maybe we can trigger a natural violent instinct. But is there more here?

This one truly baffles me. After a well publicized suicide, the rates of car accidents and plane crashes in the area goes up. Could such a communicated case, similar to Werther, trigger sub-conscious mimicry? And mimicry in the face of our primal nature to survive? That’s pretty amazing. So if life or death is in the hands of journalists who report on a suicide, should they bury it? Should they be concerned about the potential effects? Should we report on the depravity of the human condition, if it encourages repetition?

Seems like a pretty tricky line that extended could be used for justification of Orwellian policy. That’s why I like the simplicity of honesty, not that's it's always simple. But I guess this answers the age-old adage. “If all your friends jumped off of bridge, would you?” You would. Just hope that it doesn’t end up on the news.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fight for Control of Your Internet Experience

There is an interesting thing going on that I predicted a while back. There's a fight for who gets to present your Internet to you and who gets the ad impression. You probably have seen glimpses of it.

For example, you probably have noticed that sometimes when you click on Facebook there is a little toolbar at the top that says that you were directed to the page from FB from a certain person. They were playing around with it a couple months back. They were invading sites outside of the Facebook domain. Just a couple pixels at the top, but it is invasion, which is why they probably removed it recently. Imagine a world where the person who links to you controls your user experience.

Then there are some of the URL redirection services like tinyURL, or On some of them, when they redirect they had an ad on the top. So even though you are now on the NY Times, there is an ad at the top from another service. They have been moving away from it lately, but there is experimentation.

I mentioned one example of intentionally poor design in Internet Explorer on my recent post about Microsoft. They intentionally take advantage of every typo and mis-step as an ad opportunity.

But as I found out this morning, there are a lot more players in the Internet chain that can take advantage of tricks like this. Today my ISP, Time Warner, wanted a piece of the typo pie too. My Firefox browser only corrects "yahoo" to "" if it first gets a 404 error from the initial request. But the ISP can do that work and just return a valid result off the initial request. So Time Warner wants a piece. Where else could they insert themselves? Couldn't they alter the HTML and create a frame just like Facebook?

There are many creative ways to make lots of incremental revenue based on the linking structure and inefficiencies and errors of the Internet. I've got a couple creative ideas, but the point is that every link has value. Value to the place you are linking to and value to the property you are linking from.

Here's another example. You may notice that every link on Facebook or on Google is not really a pure link to the website. If there is a link to the "" when you click it, it actually activates a Javascript or other service on Google or Facebook to record the click, before sending you off to where you are going. Why is this important? For Google, recording what people are clicking is key to optimizing their algorithms. It started with optimizing ad clicks, then the same approach is being used for organic search. For Facebook, they similarly want to know what to show and whether that Fan page of yours is spewing spam, or links that people care about it. They prioritize good links in your feed to make your feed better.

The point is that there is a wealth of info from augmenting the simple version of the Internet, controlling data and controlling the display experience. The question, of course is what's next? Where are there unrealized revenue opportunities in the existing structure? Could there be a way to get pennies, millions of times a day? There are...

The Confluence of Digital Marketing and Traditional Brand Marketing

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is a SVP of marketing for Bank of America that reminded me the importance of bridging the gaps between digital and traditional marketing. Now as a digital guy, I usually think about it in terms of what traditional marketing has to learn from the digital world, but this conversation reminded me that it's a biased approach.

Digital marketing, most specifically Internet marketing, is amazing in it’s exacting nature and real time feedback. I can put a campaign up targeting 36-45 year old married women who have expressed an interest in cheerleading and that day know what I spent, how many of them came to my site, whether they registered, whether they created a group on Weplay, whether they invited anyone and how much they spent. These are the important things to my business and I can know exactly how the campaign performed and make changes. Maybe I change the wording, the creative of the ad, and in fact on launch I probably had at least 2 versions up to test which one did better (A-B testing). And I probably A-B tested the landing page too. So I am constantly optimizing. As soon as I have enough data to declare a winner, I use that as a baseline and try a new test. As long as the incremental value is worth my effort, then I keep testing until I am a well-oiled machine.

Of course I also do this across all my campaigns, targeting and segments so I am slowly weeding out the campaigns that don’t perform so the aggregate performance is great. There are some tools that help with this automated bidding, since campaigns can be optimized by single metrics like cost per registration, cost per group, revenue per cost, etc. The key mantra is always be testing. Always be improving. The only creative, and thus human, decisions on an ongoing basis are wording and basic creative, which a very junior person can do. It’s a machine.

The problem is that traditional media doesn’t have the metrics and real-time feedback so this process is completely different. Imagine creating multiple TV commercials and trying to measure which one was more effective. Tough. Even if you had an answer, how long would it take to change the programming, the budget, reshoot a commercial and leverage that info. The tracking and correlation is difficult and takes too much time. Clicks are instantaneous. And imagine the damage of having a bad ad. I can quickly pull an ad off the Internet, each of the tests in digital are small so they don’t need the same level of effort, creative or buy in. Traditional marketing is slower, more time intensive and each campaign casts a wide net.

So the exact mantras of digital marketing set an unrealistic expectation for traditional marketing. And frankly, the digital guys look down on the traditional guys. How can you run a high cost marketing campaign and not know the ROI? Well, large enterprises have developed sophisticated models to help calculate the ROI, but it still is a little fuzzy and there are a lot of moving parts so you can test the overall ROI, but not pinpoint the exact phrasing, creative, or in store collateral that converted the customer.

But it’s too easy to get caught up in the glory of digital as my friend pointed out. For Bank of America, digital is fine, but they don’t run their business by pure cost per reg. People go into the banks to set up accounts. And measuring how the Internet ad affected consumer behavior and brand impression is not something us digital guys specialize in. When you care about branding and traditional commerce, we are less sophisticated specifically because it’s contrary to our exacting and real time philosophy. It’s not that we can’t apply the same models measuring the impression of a brand before and after an ad just like traditional media does with ad spots. We just don’t. It’s not that we can’t cast a wide net with a single ad to measure effect, it’s that we think it’s against our principles. Why not optimize and measure the clicks, exactly?

Well, it’s easy to forget in our digital fantasy that the world is more than clicks. For Bank of America, it’s brand that drives the business. When you think bank, who do you want to go to? And for a traditional media guy who believes in art as much of science, I imagine digital looks like task work for ajunior guy. It’s a tactic, not a strategy. I imagine they look down on us.

Well traditional media is declining and digital marketing is expanding, so we’ll see an increasing mix of exacting methodology. But in the process, I expect a lot of the traditional guys to come over and teach us digital guys a thing or two.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why I Will Never Go Back to Microsoft

Been a tough couple weeks since my hard drive crashed. First Mac issue and for a variety of stupid reasons, I hadn't backed it up in over a month. So it was off to data recovery for 2 weeks in which I squatted on a Dell.

After Mac-ing down for so long, you forget all the inefficiencies and annoyances of working in Windows, even XP. Something ironically called "SmartAlert" kept popping up telling me iexplore.exe wanted to access the Internet and I was in danger. That's right, Windows was warning me about it's own browser trying to connect to the Internet. Then my anti-virus software AVG. Then Excel. Crazy. Number of pop ups in one day? Guesses? 75. 75!!! Worst part is the checkbox that said remember the setting (Allow), which never seemed to remember. Uggg....

Or when I plugged in a monitor, I had to manually go into settings to activate it. As if me plugging in the monitor isn't statement enough of my intent. Yes, activate the monitor automatically.

Or the fact that in IE, unlike every other browser, doesn't recognize what you mean when you type in "NYTimes" without the ".com". Why not just try to add the ".com"? Well of course it opens up the search page and look it's and ad view opportunity.

And that's really the rub about Microsoft. They design products for their business not your life. They care about the ad view, not about your ease of use. And this is endemic to all their decisions, or lack their of (the other big design issue is that they cram everything in and don't know how to say no for the sake of simplicity). They want to bundle, cram, charge, lock you in, make it difficult to switch rather than build products you will adore.

And they deserve the criticism they get. Like the Apple ads lambasting them for not creating a migration from XP to Windows 7. You know there was a conversation about this where some draconian bastard stated the case that not creating a migration from 2 versions ago sets a precedent that users always have to go to the next version, which means more revenue.

Well, MSFT. I look at the bugginess of Excel on a Mac and all the intentional ways they hamper open browser standards and interoperability as a failing strategy. So I hold on to my Apple stock, revel in Linux-based netbooks and celebrate every point of market share lost.

I wonder if Microsoft actually has conversations about how little time they have resisting the wave of open standards at which point they will be ill positioned to compete with their culture of poor design and malicious practices.

In this, they are a perfect example of Michael Porter's framework on innovation, where established players find it too hard to undermine their core business by investing in disruptive technologies. It's too hard to align the organization's established departments with the ones trying to kill them. So you look at the profit potential of migrating the business and the risk and find that it is easier, and more importantly more profitable, to extract revenue from existing customers who lag the upcoming technology switch. Less investment, extract revenue.s

That's a lot of words that basically say that it is more profitable to slowly die as a dinosaur then to try to turn into a bird. Extinction is a slow, gradual process and is more than just a path of least resistance but sometimes an advantageous strategy.

That said, F U Microsoft for the literally billions of man hours lost from Vista and all your other recent "innovations."