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Zappos’ targeted ads: privacy violation?

About five days ago I decided it was a time to retire my old brown dress shoes so I went online, as I usually do, to shuffle over the hundreds of models that my search yielded.

So I went to my usual first option: Zappos.com, but couldn’t find something I liked so, I went to a few other sites until I did and finished my transaction. All good now, time to forget about brown shoes.

Today while reading a few blog posts at Alltop.com, one of my preferred blogs, I was creeped out by some ads displaying the shoe models I was looking at at Zappos! But on my favorite blog?

As an interactive marketer I had always supported targeted and personalized advertising but now that I experienced it, I think this went too far, it is just creepy.

It’s like I went to the shoe store and five days later the shoe salesman approaches me at lunch, out of nowhere, to tell me to buy the shoes I “touched” during my last visit, I personally find it outrageous!

So I tweeted the following:

@ferdelat 11:40am:
Zappos ads that show the shoe models I didn’t shop are annoying and creeping me out a lot. Stop stalking me!!

And this is the response from Zappos

@Zappos_Service 12:37pm:
@ferdelat I’m sorry. Those ads are running on your computer’s cookies and cache. If you clear them, the ads should go away.

Although Criteo, the company serving those ads, states that the information is anonymous you would have to go to configuration to prevent these ads from showing. What I’m concerned about is that I never signed-in and now I have to opt-out.

What happened to the question: Would you like to receive more information about ____________?

And the fact that a different company, not  Zappos, is controlling that information creeps me out even more! Why does Criteo know what I’m watching online? What else do they know?

When I’m done buying shoes I just want to close the window and forget about that. I don’t want to buy 25 pairs of shoes! Same as when I leave a store.

So, the ad wasn’t relevant, but it did creep me out. I’m blocking these ads and if you want to do so here is the opt-out link: http://ow.ly/2e9fU

And remember, you are being watched and followed – stalked would be a more precise word according to my experience.

What do you think?

Innovation vs. Best practices in Marketing

I recently got into a conversation with a fellow marketer about why an online campaign didn’t move forward. He then explained that his client’s offline campaigns where doing good enough to try something new.

Despite the new online campaign represented (probably) less than 5% of their offline spending, the client decided to focus those resources doing what best practices of marketing spending suggest (which by the way consisted on sending trash over the mail).

“Best practices are the antithesis of innovation*”, you can’t expect to get different (or better) results if you do the same over and over again, that is Einstein’s definition of insanity.
Innovation today is what will dictate the best practices of tomorrow; innovation is what will give a head start against your competition.

Why should they try something new if what we are doing right now is proven to be successful? Well, if you don’t search for new ways to do things, your competitors will, beware if they find something before you do.

And now the question is: How is your competition innovating? Is it with new technology, new processes, new markets? How do you know when your best practices have become old practices?

So, are you following best practices or creating new ones?

To finish this post I leave you with a quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince:

“…And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event. The result, however, is that whenever the enemies of change make an attack, they do so with all the zeal of partisans, while the others defend themselves so feebly as to endanger both themselves and their cause.”

What do you think?

* This blog post was inspired by a presentation by Christian Haas, a group creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, at OMMA Global San Francisco, the premiere online media, marketing, and advertising expo.

Web Apps you should NOT be developing from scratch

October 14th, 2009 No comments

I’m going to start with an analogy: Building some web applications (listed below) is like building a dresser yourself.

Let’s say you want a new dresser in your room. After thinking about it for a while, you decide to build it yourself because only you know what you want, but not only that, you have specific needs no one has had before. So you take the measurements and head to a hardware store. First of all you have to buy the tools, then some wood, steel or maybe plastic. For the drawers’ guide rails you notice that commercial versions are not to your specifications, so you end up trimming them to your own needs.

After a week or two of hard work and several trips back to the hardware store due to miscalculations, you are finally done. But the dresser is assembled in your garage, not in your room, so you have to move it up the stairs and have to call a friend for help because it’s really heavy.

Assuming everything went well and you didn’t hurt your back pushing this thing up, you finally have a new dresser, with some rough edges but it’s built to meet your needs. But you are not that happy because you just realized you can only put two and a half rows of clothes instead of three, that the guide rails get stuck really often because you trimmed them and that the whole structure is a little bit wobbly. Then you call a carpenter… who will recommend to build a new one himself.

I can continue the analogy, but I think you got it. After all you just spent more time, resources and money on a problem someone else already spent a great deal of time solving and making sure the solution is optimal.

What if you try a regular/commercial/popular dresser, at least if you don’t like it you can return it, or make small changes to make it work the way you want to.

Here is the list of the ones I hear more often:

  • E-commerce sites: usually what a entrepreneur with new products need. Plenty of options, from free to hosted with all payment options and even inventory and shipping integration.
  • Blog: the most popular. Great tools out there, with great plug-ins if you need extra features.
  • Online video players: do you want a playlist? Maybe votes? Different sizes, combinations, search engine friendly? It’s all there.
  • Online audio players: pretty much the same as video players
  • Social networking and group pages: do you want them private or public? Professional looking maybe?
  • Affiliate programs: this is a big one. If you want to run your adds, manage advertisers and channels, and distribute revenue, you can do it. Can be as cheap as 30 bucks.
  • Photo albums: again… what can you think of that nobody had the idea before?? Scrolling images? Fades? 3D? sort by date, size, keyword?
  • Wikis: What I’ve found here is that people don’t know the name of it. Usually they describe it as: [I need] a way to have a document that several people modify constantly at different locations, and I want also keep track of the changes. Basic wikis do this, and more…
  • Newsletter systems: what do you need? Tracking? Ease of use? Ability to manage your contact list? Design? Avoid being marked as spam? You got it!
  • CRM and sales software: free, hosted, open source, you name it.
  • Content management Systems: This one is a little tricky, because you can use a blog, a group page. Depends on your needs.

Let me know if you know other applications that should be on this list, or tell me about your personal story.

The importance of colors in usability

September 14th, 2009 No comments

Have you tried the following visual exercise:

Say out loud the color of the words below (not the actual words) as fast as you can:
It is difficult because the left and right parts of your brain are telling you different things, one is trying to read the color and the other is actually reading the word.

You may think this is just an optical illusion and that it has no real application whatsoever. Well, think again.
Our brains are wired to perceive several colors with an inherit significance such as red for danger or stop, green for “ok” or go, and yellow for caution. It’s everywhere.

This must be taken in consideration when you are designing for usability and here is an example of how not to do it:

In the Roku website, they make your brain hesitate over which option is better for you. Obviously for them the best option is if you buy the device with cables, more business for them right? But if you see a red button and a red button together, what does your brain think or read? It is the same as the exercise above: conflict. Which button do you think is your brain most likely to click on?

The bottom line is, when you are designing for usability and conversion is all you care about, be sure you don’t confuse your customer,don’t make them think.

Have you seen this somewhere else? Post it in the comments area.

F.

Security questions and adult ADD

December 23rd, 2008 No comments

As defined by Wikipedia, Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD/ADHD is “characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness and inattention, with or without a component of hyperactivity

Most system administrators are worried about the security of our personal information stored in their systems (yes, I wrote “most”) and spend time protecting it, even from ourselves. To protect this information some system administrator, IT gurus and empirical programmers came up with several (complicated ways) to overcome this. One of them is the security questions.

Why are security questions there? Well, let’s say someone breaks into your computer and steals your passwords for a certain page. If he enters the information he will have access to whatever you have protected there. So the smarts IT guys (yes it is sarcasm) opted to ask a “security question”, which is a random piece of personal information. It doesn’t sound like a bad idea, however, as I have exposed here several times, the problem is not the idea, is the implementation.

Have you seen a movie when one of the characters is absent for a long period of time and then comes back and have to prove he or she is not someone else have to reveal a small piece of information of the past that no one else would know… well that is the basic principle… and real life doesn’t work like movies

In real world, people forget things, omit details and have imprecise answers all the time. Now if you add other problems like excess of information, lack of time, ADHD and other common circumstances in our daily lives then it gets messy… here are some real examples:

  • If you ask someone that has ADHD and reads a lot which author is his favorite (question on Sallie Mae) with two months difference between questions you are very likely to get a different answer.
  • Could you imagine for a very sensitive person for example, what would happen if you ask him or her who his/her favorite relative is (question on Capital One)? It may change after a family discussion or even depend on the way that person feels on a particular day.
  • A matter of definition, a “school” starts at elementary or at kindergarten? It is arguable, right? Then which answer is correct if someone ask the name of the first school I attended? (just like Verizon Wireless asked me) Should I have the internal discussion of weather kindergarten is or not a school… Besides, other 60 kids know that answer probably. But don’t worry, on Verizon you can choose the last name of your best friend (I have 3 or 4) or your favorite vacation destination… (I know it is the beach, but did I put Cancun or Ibiza?)

If you add to all this that the answer is case sensitive and a exact match then you are in trouble. What if they ask the middle name of my grandmother and she didn’t have one?

For banks, ok, I think it is worth the hassle, but for a credit association like Sallie Mae… well is not like a digital-burglar is going to enter my debt account and payoff my loans! Don’t do things just because someone else is doing so!

This is probably the last post of the year, so wish you all the best for 2009.

Poor design begets cheap customers

October 13th, 2008 No comments

We all have heard sayings such as “Love at first sight,” “The first impression will never be forgotten” or “You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

It shouldn’t come to a surprise that these sayings apply to your marketing communications as well, specially where the customer is going to buy the final product, like a store, a catalog and of course your website.
With an overwhelming number of offerings in the market, customers tend to make snap or gut decisions, usually determined by what they see and their reaction to it. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no educated buyers that do an exhaustive research before buying, because there are; however it will depend on what are you selling and how the benefits of your product (or service) are evaluated by your customers.

If you portray a poor image of your product or service, especially during the first impression, that doesn’t match your desired positioning you are in big trouble because you will be losing an important time to connect with your customers. I have seen countless websites that sell computer security and the look sketchy. How the hell are you going to trust someone that doesn’t look trustable?

Well, some people may not like the following statement but the vast majorities of humans are superficial and tend to judge based on appearance (maybe not all, but be honest, you have done so at least once in your life). Therefore if you are selling based on the image or brand your product begets then make sure you are sending a compatible message between not only your brand strategy and your product, but also your customer. You have to make that connection in order to excel on perceptions and expectations.

This is why design is an important part of marketing communications and should be carefully guarded. It should be a tool to reinforce your product or service benefits and if you get it right, it will contribute to consumer’s good will and loyalty. But here is a tipping point on this especially for designers and marketers: Your opinion is irrelevant; it is your customers’ what matters… but I’ll leave that for another post in which I’ll talk about it and about customer-centric organizations.

If this is the first time you read my blog, I hope I’ve made a positive first impression.

How to freeze a warm lead

August 27th, 2008 No comments

After the problem I had with Amica (read past blog) I tried to find a new insurance company for my car. I called many agents, filled out thousand forms with my data, driving records and car info to compare different quotes, coverage and reputation . You have no idea how annoying this is.

After several quotes I got curious about how an Amica quote would look like, after all I had been a customer for the last 2 years and that could give me lower rates. So I thought, “Ok, I’ll give this guys a second chance.” I picked up the phone and after 30 minutes I was able to get a quote that was, indeed, lower than the others I got before. Great!

After that, the operator asked me if I wanted to close the deal at that time, and I said: “No, because I would like to see the policy first on my screen to check that I’m not missing anything important. Could you send it to my email?” Of course he replied a yes and proceeded to confirm my email address. Later that day I didn’t received the email, nor that night, nor the end of the week. A week after I sent an email to customer service at Amica to get my policy on the mail for revision, being very clear on my e-mail that I WANTED TO BUY the policy.

No response whatsoever for 48hrs, I decided to search just one more quote from (probably) the only company I haven’t got one yet. To my surprise it was lower than Amica’s with same coverage; moreover, I was looking at my policy on the screen and I felt comfortable to buy it on-line right away, so I did.

One day after I bought my policy with another company, I got a call from Amica’s customer service and they were saying something like now we are ready to take your order… that was two (or more) days ago!, I had to tell them that I wantED to buy… but not anymore, sorry. Moreover, later that day, I got another call from the Online service center to talk about my previous post, alas I wasn’t available but they wanted to hear from any other improvement idea I could have. I think it is great to learn from our own mistakes, I’ll give you that Amica, but learn from others’ as well.

In the end, the answer to the title of the post… how to freeze a warm lead? Waiting. If someone wants to buy from you now, sell now!

Also, if you are one of Amica’s phone/chat operators, don’t feel guilty about these situations; as Edwards Deming said once “The worker is not the problem. The problem is at the top! Management!”

A good idea poorly executed is a bad idea.

August 14th, 2008 1 comment

Sorry for not writing earlier but I’ve been very busy.
Well… lets start again…

All of you must agree with me that the most important part of the business is the customer since without them there is no business at all. Also it is overwhelmingly true that the easiest sell is to you current customer. Based on these two statements, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has its reason to exists, helping companies to keep their customers happy thus buying more from them. Ways to implement CRMs are for example call centers, rewards programs, etc.
The question is, what if your CRM system is alienating your customer? Let take a closer look based on personal experience:
The great idea: Offer online (real –time) chat support to customers while they are in your webpage, so they don’t have to call, send an email or go the company’s office. Great!
Well folks, let me tell you that the road to hell is built with good intentions, here is an example. I have Amica as insurance company for my car and I recently moved to a different city so I have to change my plates and my type of insurance, so I went to the web page and while I was reviewing my policy a banner caught my attention, it said: “Get help from an online agent. Live chat”, and I thought to myself: sweeeeet!
After rigorous process of confirming your personal information, I painted the picture to the Valeria, girl on the other side of the screen and I asked her to change my plates on the system for the new ones and she replied: “ I can’t do that over chat, you will have to call.” Then I asked for a quote, and he said: I can’t give you a quote over chat.” What???  Then I asked for information regarding cancellation and guess what was the answer… yes… she can’t cancel my insurance over chat.
So I closed the chat window really disappointed. Just imagine, I contacted Amica to give them more business, that is, more money for them… I went to knock on their door to give them cash and they said… NOT NOW, call me later. And this is an insurance company, could you imagine what would happen the day I’m making a claim for some damages? If it’s hard for them to take my cash I can’t imagine how difficult would be to take some from them.
This is not an isolated event, I had a similar problem with Verizon and an airline (don’t remember which one).  Verizon’s guy was funnier, after several I-can’t-help-you answers, he had the silly idea of asking me: “Is there anything else I can help you with?”… I typed: “I can’t reply that over chat, sorry”
This post could not be complete without making some suggestions to Amica, Verizon and to the people who offer these services (because my best guess is that this is an outsourced service):
–    If you can’t help me, call me or ask me how else can you help me, not just push me away.
–    Remember that the agent in contact with your customer is the face, voice or text of the company at that moment, don’t screw that up.
–    If you are there to answer questions about the services, put the live chat offering only on the pages where makes sense, not where you know you can’t help me.
I’ll stop here, if you want to know more about how to fix these little nuances that will give your clients a headache, hire me.
In the meantime I will say bye to Amica and Verizon as soon as possible.
Have a great weekend!

Measure… measure… measure… but measure the right thing!

I flying back to San Francisco from Austin after the SEM for SMB conference and I’m thinking about how many times the word measure came up during the conference. I agree 100% with the “measuring statements” such as “you don’t get what you don’t measure” or “if you can’t measure it, better don’t do it” but what these statements assume is that you are measuring the right thing.

For example, I was really surprised when small business owners from Austin where asked the main objective of their Search Engine Campaigns. One out of eight people said “increase sales” or “increase revenue” whereas the other seven were more focused on being the number one result in Google, increase visits to the site and be found by the keywords they wanted. Yes, yes I know that some of those are good indicators, but those should not be the final variables to measure. For example:

  • What if you have 100,000 visitors per day but none of them purchased your product? Wouldn’t you rather have 100 visitors and five of them making and actual purchase? If you are selling several kinds of products then also watch for margin, you may direct demand of your product with the best margins.
  • What if you are happy because you are listed in Google with the keywords you wanted, but those keywords are seldom used by your real buyers. That would mean that despite being the number one, you are not what people are looking for; hence, you just put money and time on the garbage.

So, if you are about to start any kind of marketing campaign and you are planning how to measure it, be sure to measure what matters for you, margins, EBITDA, profit. Not only measure eyeballs on your advertisements, unless you have tons of money to throw out the window. Even if you are tracking lead-genration in your website, follow those conversions to see how many ended up in a real sale.

Have a great weekend

Wants vs Needs and Features vs Benefits

Let’s assume you have a great product or service and you would like to sell it. That is pretty much any entrepreneur challenge, to sell. Since you created the product you will think that is so amazing that as soon it hit the market, people will fight each other to get it as if they where future-brides on a wedding gown sale.

Alas, the truth is that situation seldom happens (unless you are selling wedding dresses to future brides at half-price or less), and usually is really depressing or shocking for the entrepreneur to notice that no one understands how marvelous product or service offered is and how is going to make their lives simpler, more comfortable or more entertaining!

If you are having that problem even after your marketing campaign has started, then you may need to re-evaluate what are you broadcasting to your customer and what kind of product or service are you offering. Among many possible issues, I will mention two common problems when creating comprehensible marketing campaign:

  • First, you need to know if you are selling something that is “a must have” or “a nice to have.” Your marketing communication have to make emphasis on whatever the nature of your offering is, so you can tell the consumer either how does it solve their pains, or how does it make their lives even better.
  • The second one is whether you are broadcasting the features or the benefits. Usually is better to broadcast the benefits of what you are selling, for example: let’s say you sell a top notch computer mouse, and you know that it is ergonomically designed and has 3000dpis of resolution. Those are features and that may not be understandable for all your potential customers, but if you translate those features to benefits such as “your hand will never get tired after playing computer games all night” or “the accuracy of the mouse will let you click on what you want without struggling” then you are telling something easy to understand to the consumer. After this step you will need to figure out which benefit is the most important for your potential customer.

Defining these two concepts will help you to determine what you need to tell to your customer in your marketing copy so they can understand and see the value on what you are offering.

By the way, I know this blog is not (yet) a “must read”, I’m just warming up. I hope it is at least “nice to read”