What do Pinterest, Tinder, and the shopping mall have in common?

Here’s a fun thought exercise for you.

Question 1: What do Pinterest, Tinder, and the shopping mall have in common?

If you said image-driven marketing, you’d be partially correct.

Here’s the flip side of the coin.

Question 2: What do WhatsApp, Google, and your GPS have in common?

A tougher question to answer.

The answer is that the items in question 1 are serendipity engines. They provide serendipity, a sense of discovery, a chance to stumble upon something that you didn’t intend to look for. Pinterest is masterful at this, at presenting all kinds of content that is tangentially related, but with lots of different rat holes to run down.

The items in question 2 are the norm in the digital world, items that provide you focus. You talk only to the friends you explicitly want to talk to on WhatsApp, and no one else. You find exactly what you’re looking for with Google (or that’s their hope, anyway). Your GPS finds you the most direct, most effective route to your destination.

If it feels like the world has lost of a bit of its wonder, a bit of the magic of life, it’s because we’ve made the sorts of services in Question 2 the norm. Cortana, Google Now, and Siri never say, “Oh hey, I know you were looking for the nearest coffee shop, but there’s a really cool one that’s further away and harder to get to but might be a lot of fun”. That doesn’t happen. Our GPS doesn’t have a “intentionally get lost” button (though certainly apps like Roadtrippers can help).

I love America's highways

When we do have the opportunity to avail ourselves of serendipity, we sometimes enjoy it. We pick a new dish on the menu, or we ask a new acquaintance where to eat in an unfamiliar city. The sommelier brings us a different kind of wine. We meet someone unexpected at a conference.

So here’s the marketing angle for you. If your company provides a focus-based service or product, consider what it would take to offer a parallel serendipity offering. Amazon has figured this out to a certain degree with the “things other people also buy when they buy X” but those are algorithms around your theme. You generally don’t get something completely from left field in those recommendations. What if you offered something even more extreme?

Imagine even adding a “surprise me” button to the search box of your website, or a special series of tweets on a Friday afternoon that have nothing to do with your brand (but are obviously not brand-damaging) of cool stuff you’ve found.

How else can you introduce serendipity for those folks who are looking for it?


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The Real Question Underneath ROI

Here’s a thought for you the next time someone asks you about the ROI of any given marketing method. There’s a secondary, implied question beneath the question of ROI, and that question is simply, does this marketing method work? Will it help us to meet our business objectives?

When you think about the equation of ROI – (earned – spent)/spent – it’s actually fairly unhelpful for making strategic and tactical marketing decisions. Because it relies on the computation of all value produced down the entire value chain, from audience generation down to closed sales, it’s subject to a lot of interference. For example, you may have an effective marketing program or an effective PR program, but an ineffective sales program. Thus, your ROI can be negative even if you’re doing your job as a marketer superbly.

If you can provide objective, actionable marketing metrics that have a line of sight to revenue and real business objectives, chances are you can make the requestor just as happy. ROI is only applicable in financial outcomes, which means that a lot of marketing activities that are not directly linked to sales will not have a direct ROI, so other performance-based metrics such as lead generation will tell you more about what you have to improve about your marketing.

When is ROI an ideal measure of marketing performance? Simple: when you are in charge of the entire organizational funnel from top to bottom, such as when there’s no sales department. For example, if you run an eCommerce website that is entirely self-serve, meaning that your customer comes to the site, buys, checks out, and pays without interacting with a system that’s not under your control as a marketer, then ROI is a great measure of your marketing skill because you’re in charge of everything, and can make system changes to improve performance.

Another example would be when you’re a sole proprietor, where you’re marketing, sales, service, and PR all at once.

When someone asks you what the ROI of something is, chances are good they’re really asking you if something works, and if this is covered:

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(in case it’s not obvious, that’s a donkey, or in other parlance, an ass)


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How do you know when you’re overanalyzing marketing data?

Tableau_-_Bollinger_Bands_example

During last week’s MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Tim Washer asked forgiveness on stage from me and other analysts in the crowd for lambasting over-analysis of data as one of the top obstacles to creativity in business. The thing is, he didn’t have to apologize: he’s totally right.

The logical followup question then is, how do you know when you’re overanalyzing marketing data?

The answer to this comes from what I call the Marketing DAIS.

Data is the stuff.

Analysis tells you what happened.

Insights tell you why.

Strategy tells you what to do next.

You are overanalyzing when you keep going back for more data, and more data does not change the analysis substantially.

You are overanalyzing when you know what happened and you haven’t made progress on knowing why.

You are overanalyzing when you haven’t made the transition to what to do next.

That’s it in a nutshell. You are overanalyzing when you keep treading water, when you fail to move forward beyond the data and the story it tells you. We all love a good story, but if that’s all you ever do, then you’re overanalyzing.


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