Not stuck in park!

I don’t expect to get a great customer experience from local Government services. Which, made it all the more pleasant when I did. I went to my son’s school late last week for a presentation that he gave (and he did amazingly well). All of the school parking spots were taken, so I parked at a meter.

ParkMobile emailAnd, the meters in the town are clever. Sure, you can fire in your quarters and try to remember what time you have to get back to the car. Or, you can manage the entire process through an app. I’ve used the app for a while now, but on this occasion it led to an excellent customer experience. Why?

  • It was fast. I pulled up the app, punched in the four-digit code on my meter, confirmed which car I was parking (I had it pre-loaded), and accepted the price (including the 35 cent usage fee) which was billed to my registered credit card. I completed the transaction half way between the street one block away, where I’d parked the car and the school. It was a lot quicker than had I had to go in to a local store and grovel for quarters.
  • It provided a service. Ten minutes before my time expired, the app alerted me that my session would end soon. I had lost track of time and was grateful of being reminded.
  • It provided a valuable utility. Rather than having to run back to the car, I was able to extend my session on my phone. Yes, I paid another 35 cents for the privilege, but I was more than happy to do so.

Meanwhile, the town benefits too. There’s probably some form of monetary benefit — for example, if I remove my car before my time expires, there isn’t a way for me to transfer the excess time to another driver. For some percentage of the day, some meters will earn double time.

And, if they are using the data to its potential, there’s a lot to gain. They can tell which parts of town are busiest at what time of the day — potentially determining where to open up new parking areas, or changing parking rules to reduce the time that people can park in specific areas to allow for greater turnover.

But, listen, here come the privacy over-reactors! They don’t want the town knowing this and tracking that. But, I’m a huge believer that we’re generally willing to trade personal data for utility and value, and these smarter meters delver both. Who knows, in time they could even deliver more – it’s not hard to foresee a feature that highlights where there are meters that are (or should be as long as other drivers aren’t overstaying their welcome) available for drivers in search of a parking spot — after they’ve pulled over to safely look at their smartphone, of course.

Value and utility from a local Government? I’ll take it!



A novel approach to market intelligence: games and prizes, but not gamification

On a recent trip to Dublin, I met a cool startup, Upfront Analytics (UFA), which is creating a mobile game platform designed to deliver market intelligence. They’ve developed a really novel approach that reveals latent opinions of consumers and encourages honest answers to research questions. How? By creating a game platform which is free to play, but that gives real prizes to players. The games are designed in such a way to reward honest participation.

The company has launched a mobile (currently Android only) game platform “The Pryz Manor” which comprises several games and activity centers. The games are inspired by popular board or parlor games and similar in a way to popular mobile games like “words with friends” or “draw something”. Unlike those games, you don’t play with someone you know — when you select a game you are matched up against an anonymous competitor, which helps prevent people “gaming” the system. Most of each game is centered solely on fun for the players, but about 20% of each game is designed to gather market intelligence.

For example, one game — Name Dropper — requires players to guess words or phrases based on clues provided by another player, within a time limit. The player providing the clues uses words that are predefined, some of which carry the equivalent of time penalties. For example, if I was trying to get someone to guess the word Guinness, while I might think of it as “nectar of the Gods,” that phrase might not be available, and might not actually help someone else guess the word. So, I’d be more likely to choose words like “beer”, “black”, and “Irish” in the hopes that it would be more obvious to my team mate. You can bet that those words, if available, would eat in to the time that we’d have available.

The neat thing is that companies can use the game to see which attributes players select most often about their company, or about their competitors. To take a different example, if you gave the same attributes to different groups of players about Coke and Pepsi, or Target and Walmart, or British Airways and Emirates Airlines, the words players select to help the other person guess says much more than having people answer a survey question about “which of these attributes do you associated with brand x”. And, likewise, being able to track which words help people guess most quickly and most often (e.g. do people respond to Starbucks as “premium” or “expensive”) indicates perceived brand attributes that are far more real than survey answers.

Other games allow Upfront Analytics to help firms compare brands, products, and services; understand product combination affinities; estimate pricing tolerance; gauge market awareness; assess product sentiment; track and forecast trends; as well as ask traditional market research questions, while examining the data across a plethora of demographic or other segmented forms of data.

I’ve already started playing their games and I see immense potential. I’m hoping to partner with the UFA team to uncover consumer attitudes around topics relevant to consumer-oriented businesses — topics such as loyalty, preference, privacy, personal data, and brand trust. If you have ideas of what I should be digging in to, please email, tweet, or comment below. I’ll tag the findings with “UFA” for those of you that wish to follow along. Also, consider downloading it and playing yourself if you have an Android device.



It’s AboutTheData, stupid

About the dataToday (or yesterday by the time I post this), Acxiom released a beta version of a site/service they have called AboutTheData. It’s both a brilliant and relatively simple concept, but certainly the first of it’s kind in the marketing arena. Natasha Singer trailered the service in an article in Sunday’s NY Times. In short, it’s a portal that allows consumers to view some of the data that Acxiom compiles about them, to correct it if they wish to, or to opt out of its use for marketing purposes.

Acxiom bills the service in terms of relevance. The home page splash reads: “If you want to get the best advertising delivered to you, based on your actual interests, start here.” Once you identify yourself — using your name, date-of-birth, address, and last four digits of your social security number — Acxiom will then show you “the data used to fuel many of the marketing offers you receive” from Acxiom clients.

Acxiom divides the data they share into six categories of data: characteristic, home data, vehicle data, economic data, shopping data, household interests.

Here are my thoughts on the concept and execution so far:

  1. It’s an awesome concept. Acxiom gets first mover advantage and moral high(er) ground over its competition. As one of the largest data compilers in the country, this will likely force every competitor’s hand to follow suit.
  2. It’s a decent start. The information provided is by and large clear, mostly accurate — in my case, at least — and the user interface and ease-of-use was carefully designed — no mean feat for a company that has never tried to be a consumer brand.
  3. It shows immense courage. Acxiom provides people the opportunity to opt-out of having their data used by Acxiom and it’s clients. Yes, they explain that opting out will not prevent consumers from seeing ads, it’ll just mean that ads will be less relevant, but still, some consumers will opt out just because they are freaked out! And, to Acxiom’s credit, they don’t hide the opt out form in some dark corner — it’s prominent on every page of the site.
  4. There’s runway for improvement. To be fair, this is a day-old service that’s still in beta, but there are some real opportunities to take this in multiple directions. One area would be the opportunity to add information about yourself. If I really want these relevant messages, let me give you more information about me. Acxiom pegged me as living in a household with an interest in aerobics. While that’s certainly inaccurate, I do enjoy cycling, swimming, scuba diving, golf, kayaking, and a host of other activities that they haven’t tagged me with. Wouldn’t it create even more relevant advertising if I could somehow inform Acxiom of these things. How else do I expect it to improve? With regards to the length of time it takes for changes to take effect, Acxiom updates the information on the screen immediately, but point out that it takes 90 − 120 days for the changes to take place in all systems. While I applaud their honesty, I can’t help but lament the fact that consumers are giving this golden information that might not benefit them for 4 months!
  5. It’s open to backlash. When Acxiom introduced the newly refreshed Infobase-X a few years ago, they heralded the 1,600 elements of data in hundreds of categories. Assuming they still have the same depth and breadth of data, never mind if there’s more, Acxiom is only sharing a fraction of that data with consumers. If consumers start to wonder what else Acxiom knows about them, how much will they be willing to share? And, despite their desire to be pegged as the poster children of transparency, there’s still room for clarity. In explaining where they get their data, one of the sources is “general data from other commercial entities where consumers have been provided notice of how data about them will be used and offered a choice about whether or not to allow those uses.” OK then, that’s clear!

Overall, this is a laudable undertaking. Credit bureaus had to be mandated into providing an annual credit report to consumers for free, but they don’t give the level of detail that Acxiom is sharing voluntarily. Other vendors such as the likes of BlueKai have offered something along these lines for some time, but it’s anonymous data based on browser activity. It certainly doesn’t know who you are, validated with the last four digits of your social security number (one more potential area of backlash might be when consumers question how Acxiom knows the last four digits of their social).

I expect this initiative to have a significant ripple effect across the marketing and data ecosystem. How can you prepare?

  • Prepare to make the data that you have about your customers available to them. There’s no reason to believe that this will remain a data broker/compiler phenomenon. If I as a consumer can find out from Acxiom what they know about me, why wouldn’t I expect to find out the same from my bank, my favorite shopping destinations, my cellphone company, my insurance company, etc.
  • Think hard about the value that you deliver to customers. If you can’t explain it and describe it; yet you end up showing them all the data you have about them, prepare to lose access to it.
  • If you’re going to send people to your privacy policy as justification or explanation for the data that you capture and what you do with it, make sure it could be read and understood by an average person.
  • If you do go down this road and provide visibility into your data, treat customer access as an engagement. Use it as an opportunity to update other preferences — how often do they like to be contacted? In which media/channels? With what types of information?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more interesting, the world of marketing data just experienced what might prove to be a tectonic shift. Buckle up and ride the ripples!



Are you preparing for the Collaborative Economy?

Share The RoadI spent some time last week reading about what is becoming known as the “sharing” or “collaborative” economy. Versions of the sharing economy have existed since the beginning of time — and, I remember my parents when I was a kid had an “allotment” that provided land and shared tools, etc within a larger, shared vegetable growing space. But, as Jeremiah Owyang points out there are forces at play today — societal, economic, and technological (as well as legislative) — that are accelerating, cementing, and legitimizing this phenomena by the week.
There isn’t a single sharing economy. Ownership and access models vary — and are fragmenting. For example, you can imagine a spectrum of car “sharing” that begins with leasing a vehicle, rather than owning it. Of course, you’ve been able to rent a car from Hertz or Avis forever and a day; but then along came Zipcar (recently acquired by Avis) which allowed us to rent by smaller increments of time; followed by Uber and Hailo that altered how we think about car hire; followed by lyft and getaround that allow us to share a car that someone else owns (or has rented) or to monetize our own. And, a similar spectrum exists in multiple industries.

The whole subject is intriguing, but in this new Wild West, what stood out to me is that there doesn’t appear to be too much of an emphasis on data and IP ownership. From an IP perspective, collaboration is great while I’m getting some benefit, but as soon as someone else starts to benefit more than I do off the back of my idea or work, how will I react? And, who’s liable if something goes wrong?

As it relates to data, how do I learn about the types of people that collaborate on my product or business? Who owns any data output? For example, what information does lyft or airbnb own about me and about the people that I have shared/collaborated with? Do I have access to that data? Of course, I also have data about the types of people that I have shared with, opinions on what worked and didn’t, and preferences for how I share moving forward. Is there any value to my sharing that data — either with my collaborators or any central entity that is managing the process. Unless these questions are considered and thought through, I am concerned that we’ll end up in a similar situation to the mobile market where the device manufacturers, carriers, app producers, payment players, and corporations all own disjointed elements of customer/user data without a useful and holistic customer/user understanding.

Building on the data theme, there’s also an interesting question about “trust” and portability. If I’m a respected seller on eBay, a highly rated traveler or Hailo, or a trusted guest with airbnb, how can I take that reputation and benefit from it elsewhere? In chatting with Jeremiah, he pointed to FaceBook connect (which he also pointed out doesn’t have a reputation index) and TrustCloud, which seems to have the right idea, but lacks traction. I sense the growth of the collaborative economy (and its embrace by the mainstream) will be linked tightly to the idea of trust and reputation portability — it’ll be interesting to see whether TrustCloud or some other entity emerge as the credit bureau for reputation.

Overall though, as I read about this growing phenomenon, I was intrigued by a quote in Jeremiah’s research from the CEO of about how disruption in the future may come from meeting needs in new ways. What’s cool about this is that it begins from an understanding of customer needs. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s where most companies start from today in their customer service, promotion, and even, in many cases in their development of products and services. But, if you’re not thinking in those terms today, it’s going to be even harder to pivot your business, to think about new ways to meet those needs — and it’s going to leave you wide open to disruption by smaller, more nimble competitors that have figured out what it is that customers really need, and how they can deliver it to them in new, more interesting, and more effective ways.

Smart firms are already adapting, and collaborating to offset disruption. Regus (which offers office sharing) and Zipcar recently trimmed up to offer a combined offering to customers. Are they meeting customer needs in new ways? Not necessarily, but it’s a smart defensive move in the immediate term.

How about you and your company? What are you doing to understand customer needs and how you can meet them differently? If you’re not thinking in these terms, watch out, because your competition is starting to do so. And, your competition may be some small company that you haven’t even heard of yet!



Can marketers actually learn from the NSA and NYPD?

Stop and friskLet me be really clear from the start. I don’t intend to enter into a political debate with this post. But, a thought occurred to me while reading the arguments raging in the political and public sphere lately about two unrelated Government programs — the NSA surveillance issue, and New York’s “stop and frisk” policy. I’ve been struck that ultimately both programs (and certainly the conversations surrounding them) appear to center on an idea of “targeting” — targeting which phrases to listen for; which ethnic minorities to engage; which languages to listen to; and so on.

It’s pretty analogous — albeit at a different scale and with a different desired outcome — to how marketers target customer segments. Marketers ask questions and analyze data to target customers and prospects alike: they determine who to send which message to; consider who’s likely to churn; and try to predict what products a customer is likely to buy.

And, yet the NSA issue in particular is raising public awareness and getting certain privacy oriented organizations salivating at the opportunity to curb marketer’s opportunity to leverage customer data. And, here’s where the analogy breaks down — whether you agree or disagree with these political programs, their advocates are seeking to justify them by evoking a need for a balance between privacy and security/safety. These programs, they argue, are for our own benefit. They protect us.

Even if you don’t agree with that sentiment, it is at least a meaty idea. You can picture the front cover of the Economist with privacy on one end of a see-saw and safety on the other.

But what about marketers? What do we offer in return? Better targeted stuff we’d like them to buy? More relevant ads? Unless marketers — and the companies they work for — start to demonstrate the customer value and utility that derives from using customer data, they should start to prepare for the day when they have a lot less access to it.



How often do your execs interact with your customers?

The BBC reported this weekend that Norwegian prime minster, Jens Stoltenberg worked incognito as a taxi driver one afternoon this summer, in order to hear what real Norwegian voters really think, in the belief that people share their true opinions in cabs. While admirable in theory, this seems to be as much a publicity stunt as a genuine attempt to hear from citizens. All of his exchanges were captured on a hidden camera and the footage – compiled by an ad agency – is already posted to the prime minister’s Facebook page, and has been made into a film for his re-election campaign.

But, there are plenty of other examples of company bosses getting in to the trenches to get closer to their business. My former colleagues Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine wrote about Kevin Peters, former North American president of Office Depot, wearing beat-up jeans and baseball cap in order to interact un-announced with in-store customers. I have a buddy who’s a Jet Blue pilot that often speaks about how he used to look down from the airplane and see David Neeleman – one of the airlines co-founders – loading and unloading luggage from the plane.

How much time does your executive team spend understanding what employees and customers experience?

Focusing on employee jobs helps executives see the reality of how their processes impact employees, and how those processes often get in the way of delivering a positive customer experience. Interacting with customers gives executives first hand knowledge and direct feedback of what’s working and what needs to be fixed.

And, even if getting out and interacting with customers is difficult because of the circumstances and nuances of your business, it doesn’t mean you get a pass. Spend time listening in on customer service calls, or take a leaf from Credit Suisse’s book and encourage your executive team to follow your customer’s process of intreracting with your firm. Nothing will encourage them to fix problems faster than experiencing your customer’s pain.


Engagement plus data capture? Brilliant!

Those of you that know me are probably shocked that it took this long for me to write a post that centered on Guinness. I’ve long believed that Guinness excels at marketing, but this week it introduced a brilliant concept leveraging near field communication (NFC) which will give it the opportunity to engage with customers, learn more about them, and reward them in a single swoop.

Photo by Lyn Hughes Photo

Photo by Lyn Hughes Photo

During the 119 seconds that it takes to pour the perfect pint, customers can hold their smartphones to the harp on NFC-enabled Guinness taps (or founts as they are apparently called) and discover whether they have won a complimentary drink. There are already more than 13 thousand taps installed in the UK and Ireland, with another 65 thousand to come during the next couple of years.

This is smart on so many levels:

  • It gives Guinness the opportunity to engage directly with its customers. CPG/FMCG firms have always struggled to engage with customers, since they don’t sell to them directly. Now, Guinness can engage with customers during consumption — the ultimate moment of truth — as well as capture all sorts of personal and device information;
  • It’s 100% opt-in;
  • It makes data capture an integral component of their engagement strategy. It will give Guinness data that they can apply elsewhere – for example by understanding consumption by time of day/evening, it could help guide their media buying decisions; or they might be able to determine how environmental factors (like weather) impact consumption;
  • It provides a platform to capture more information. I’d be more than happy to answer a question each time I connected if it increased my odds of getting a free pint. If Guinness asked just one question each time a customer connected, they could quickly build a phenomenally rich profile of their customers.
  • It will drive brand awareness. Just seeing people take out their phones and connect with the tap is going to encourage conversation. It’ll probably also drive sales in the immediate term based on the novelty factor alone.

I simply love this idea – and can’t wait to try it out. As the Guinness ads would say: Brilliant!



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