Wednesday, June 11, 2008

X Change 2008 - Be There!

I'm very happy to be able to say that I'll be attending the X Change 2008 conference in San Francisco this August. In my book it is the best web analytics conference running due to its intimate, participatory, and conversational format. If you did not attend the inaugural X Change conference last year in Napa, you really missed something special.

Special kudos to Eric T. Peterson and Web Analytics Demystified for sponsoring this year's event, too.

I'm really excited for this year's X Change. It's shaping up to be even better than last year, if that's possible. I'll blog more about it soon.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eric T. Peterson Doubts the Importance of Twitter

Eric Peterson spoke at Web Analytics Wednesday last night at WebTrends HQ in Portland. As usual, he was engaging and animated. I'd say there were about 30 people in attendance, and Eric kept the attention of every one of them. The question and answer session went on for 20 to 30 minutes.

Afterwards, a smaller group of us, including Eric, went to Dragonfish for beer and sushi (Eric's treat -- thanks Eric!). Eventually the conversation turned to Twitter. I found myself in the unexpected position of being the only one in the room who a) uses Twitter; and b) actually understood what Twitter is, how it is used, and it's potential value to the marketing organization.

Eric actually went on record with this statement (paraphrasing here): "Twitter has no value. You can't measure it. It's just a bunch of people talking." (Cue uproarious laughter.) Eric's a friend of mine, so I'm poking fun at him here. But seriously, I think he's missing the boat.

I can think of a way that Twitter is immediately measurable with web analytics, and some ways that it can be measured or support future measurement outside of traditional web analytics.

Use it as a viral or direct marketing tool. Use a URL minimizer (or smallerizer, as I like to call them) such as Twurl for all embedded links. Twurl has built in measurement, allowing you to see click-throughs on all your links. It's just an experimental tool at this point, but there are a lot of things it's creator, Rick Turoczy, could do with it. Of course, you could put a web analytics campaign tracking code on the redirect URL to track response and subsequent site behavior, too. Seems pretty measurable.

Use it to mine past or monitor for present conversations occurring about your brand. Track those conversations across the social mediasphere as they start on blogs, move to Twitter, and then end up back on the blog again. Use this as a component of buzz measurement. Go a step further and score sentiment. Are people talking positively about your brand or negatively about your brand. Identify the influencers and model the conversations. Are you trending in a negative sentiment direction? Does a negative comment from an influencer change the sentiment of those in their sphere of influence? Twitter's APIs provide access to a massively rich source of data about conversations about your brand, and even provide the FULL TEXT of the conversation. We're not too much engineering effort away from being able to mine that data, follow the conversations to other social platforms, map out who's influencing who, and get notified who you who you should be engaging and why.

As I write this Chris Grant and John Hawbaker are having a conversation on Twitter about the the engagement model Eric Peterson has proposed.

Regardless of measurement, though. Twitter is important for the same reason that blogs you don't write are important. Your brand has an online community whether you choose to participate in it or not. (I read that somewhere, but I don't remember who said it. Citation, anyone?) Participating allows you to impact the conversation.

Update: Forgot to mention, Eric did create a twitter account from his iPhone last night while he was arguing its unimportance. Welcome aboard, Eric. ;-)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Web Analytics Wednesday (as in Thursday) at WebTrends HQ tomorrow.

Web Analytics Wednesday in Portland will be held tomorrow (Thursday) at WebTrends HQ. Eric Peterson will be presenting on The Future of Web Analytics. If you are in Portland, please plan to attend.

More info and RSVP here:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Measuring Web 2.0 Technologoes - Panel Discussion

I'll be a panelist on the Web Analytics Association's upcoming webcast Measuring Web 2.0 Technologies on Thursday, March 20, 2008 @ 12:00 PM ET / 9:00 AM PT. Other panelists include Brett Crosby of Google Analytics, Brian Tomz of Coremetrics, and Wes Funk of Omniture.

If you want to hear some lively discussion, I recommend that you register and attend.

Narrowing the GAP

Here's another example of a languishing brand attempting a turn-around. The GAP hasn't stood for anything in particular in years (except bland, I guess). I'm not sure they've actually narrowed the focus to a point where they will be successful.

Laura Ries has some thoughts on what happened and where they should go. It's an interesting read, and I recommend it.

This will be another one to watch.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Semphonic X Change 2008

The 2nd annual Semphonic X Change is now on the calendar. Eric Peterson has some good thoughts about last year's conference.

I was a huddle leader (there are no presenters) at X Change 2007, and it was an awesome experience. X Change is different because we are all there to learn from each other in intimate, small group settings. As a huddle leader, what I witnessed was a group of people who realized that each of them held key pieces of knowledge that, if they opened up to the group, became incredibly valuable as a part of the whole body of knowledge and experience contained in the room. We all learned far more from each other through discussion than any of us would have learned just listening to me talk.

If you have a chance to go this year, I highly recommend it. I hope to be there myself.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tracking Your Reputation Online

Over the last several days I've been doing some research and experimentation with tracking reputation online. I'm a little surprised at the lack of tools to do what I think should be done. (I know, product opportunity.)

There are a lot of solutions that track "buzz". But buzz is one dimensional. It's fine and useful to know that 95 blog posts mentioned you last month, or that 35 forum discussions mentioned your brand. But what does that really tell you? If you believe that all PR is good PR (I do not believe this) then I guess that's all you need to know. Here are a few things that are missing in the solutions I've seen so far:

Qualitative Information: Were the mentions of my brand in a positive context or a negative context? Am I trending positive or trending negative? Is that spike in buzz last week due to that bad press about my brand, and is it fanning the flames? Do certain social media environments tend to favor my brand while other tend to disfavor? I don't expect the solution to know this, but I want a way to easily score or mark each mention, and then report on it.

Collaboration / Ability to operationalize acting on data: This esoteric sounding requirement is really just me saying "I need to be able to do something with this data, now. It's not good enough to just have it sitting there". In my vision of a healthy internal online reputation management program you've got people throughout your organization ready to engage and contribute to discussions throughout the social mediasphere. As you discover new discussions that warrant engagement, you need to be able to assign those discussions to people in your organization, allow them to update their progress on a particular assignment, and collect important information about the engagement such as details about key influencers (like other channels of engagement key influencers use). In other words, if I discover a conversation about my brand on Twitter, and that leads me to a blog post from that same person, and it turns out that person is a key influencer, I need to keep track of the channels that key influencer uses. If I later find out that this key influencer is a regular contributor to an online forum, I need to be able to keep track of that detail, too. Why? Because key influencers are people I need to develop a relationship with. To have a relationship with them, I need to know where to follow them. By the same token, I need to be able to treat some mentions as just aggregate noise. I don't care about the person, and I don't need anyone to engage, but I want to score it and report on it. Then, don't show it to me again.

Categorization & Reporting: Going back to my first want, I need to be able to categorize each mention for reporting and analysis purposes. Aside form the pos/neg score (which isn't a category), I want to tag each one for the products or topical references made that are important to me. Is it about one of my products? Is it about the company in general? Is it about the industry in general? All of this detail doesn't really do anything for me at the individual mention level, but when you aggregate mentions, and the start looking for correlations between various attributes and your positive/negative score, you are suddenly armed with real insight that can help you form or reform your strategy for reputation management.

Lastly, I want this tool to be a rich internet application (RIA). I'm already living in my web browser, I don't want another desktop app, even if it pretends to be a browser. My browser is highly personalized to my work style. A browser based app allows me to leverage my browser setup, rather than making me move back and forth.

For sure, I haven't see all the tools out there yet. So far my experience has been on the extremes: internet applications that are too simplistic; and desktop applications that aren't really built for what I'm trying to do.

If you have any experiences to share in this arena, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Eisenberg's Hierarchy of Optimizaiton Needs

Bryan Eisenberg's article today on the hierarchy of optimization needs is a worthwhile read. In it, he layers the concept of prioritizing site optimization opportunities on top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. An interesting concept, though I think his separating Usable and Intuitive onto two separate layers is a bit of a stretch, meant mostly to make a nice, marketable pyramid.

Still, very useful. You could take this same concept and apply it, with slightly different labels, to optimizing any business process. If you don't have the fundamentals (the bottom of the pyramid) in place (e.g. an operation that works) then driving more and more leads into to your operation is going to be of limited value.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hooked on Pandora

Lately I've become completely hooked on Pandora. If you don't know about it, it's a free streaming music site based on the Music Genome Project. You create your own stations based on "seed" songs or artists. Pandora then uses the genome qualities of that song or artist to feed you other similar songs. You can "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" a song to tweak what it is that Pandora feeds you. You can also bookmark songs, which sends them to your profile page where other people can see what you like and you can link over to Amazon or iTunes to purchase the track.

I use Pandora primarily at work, but I love it so much that I've started using it at home, too, by connecting a laptop to the stereo we use most often - the one in the kitchen (my wife is also hooked). Sonos makes a home music distribution system that will connect to Pandora, but that seems like overkill to me.

Now I'm starting to want Pandora when I'm on the move. Some phones can be used to connect to Pandora, too, but not my BlackBerry Curve. Not even with the web browser. I know I can buy and download my bookmarked songs, but I bookmark songs from multiple stations, not all of which I'm interested in buying at a given time. It would be great if Pandora allowed me organize my bookmarked songs by station, and then buy all (or selected) bookmarked songs from a station in a single action. It should be as easy as possible (see below - I hate managing MP3's).

Really, though, I hate managing MP3's. I want Pandora to work on my phone so I don't have to manage files. It's a completely friction-free way of listening to music if you don't mind not being able to go directly to a particular song (you can skip ahead in the stream, but you don't have direct access to specific tracks). I don't have to manage anything to make it work. I like that.

Pandora, please work on my phone. Until then, I'm patiently waiting. And loving Pandora.

Composed on my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Monday, February 25, 2008

Eddie Bauer Embraces its Inner Male

Eddie Bauer is another example of a brand that got big, then moved away from its position in an ill fated attempt to expand and paid the price in declining sales. In 1996, prior to the brand expansion efforts, Eddie Bauer had sales of $430 per square foot according the the Puget Sound Business Journal. That had declined to $250 by 2006. The expansion efforts included moving to dressier lines and more women's clothing, and abandoning the rugged outdoors position that made the brand so powerful in the first place. Stick to your position, or watch it erode and die.

As a clothing retailer, Eddie Bauer owns "outdoors" in the mind of the consumer. Straying from that proved disastrous. It appears that CEO Neil Fiske wants to return the Eddie Bauer brand to the rugged outdoors, where it came from.

Hooray for Neil! This will be another interesting turnaround to watch along with Starbucks. Interesting that both are taking place in Seattle. Don't know if that means anything, but it's nice to see this stuff happening in our own back yard here in the Pacific Northwest.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prediction: $1.00 Starbucks Coffee = Bad Move

Quick Prediction: Starbucks attempt to move down market with $1.00 coffee will prove to be another in a recent string of brand mistakes. Starbucks stands for "expensive coffee" in the mind of the consumer. Adding a $1.00 cup of coffee to the menu, and attempting to compete with McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts will dilute that perception, eroding the core perception of "expensive coffee", and revenue growth with it.

Another recent mistake was the hot sandwiches for breakfast. While I personally loved them at first, the quality seemed to wane after several months. Worst of all, the ovens made Starbucks smell like a fast-food joint, not like a coffee shop. Frankly, it was disgusting. In a business like coffee, smell is a huge part of brand perception...and the sandwiches were killing the coffee shop vibe.

It's funny [not so funny, I guess, more sad] to watch big companies like Starbucks start to mess with, and in some cases throw away, that which made them powerful brands in the first place. Starbucks is "expensive coffee", Dunkin' Donuts is "everyman coffee", and McDonalds "fast food and kids". Dunkin' is doing great job with embracing who they are, and presenting an alternative to Starbucks. Starbucks could stand to learn from them. Stick to your position, Starbucks, or watch it erode and die.

UPDATE (2/22/08): Looks like movement in the right direction. Of course, its very unfortunate to see layoffs, but previous management laid a course that was unsustainable, so the course has to be corrected. My hat's off to him for doing what needed to be done. Now, will he dump the $1.00 coffee, too? Time will tell.

UPDATE (2/25/08): I just heard from my wife that some stores are reporting that they won't be getting rid of the hot sandwiches due to so many people complaining about their disappearance. This raises another interesting question: how to weight the protests of a vocal minority when trying to pull a brand back to its position. I'm sure there are people who would love Starbucks to sell cheeseburgers, and if Starbucks had introduced cheeseburgers, they would complain when they were taken away. The instinct, of course, is to try to please all your customers. The problem is, you can never be all things to all people. When you try to, you lose your focus. When you lose your focus, customers stop coming because they don't know what you stand for. If I want a burger, I'll go to McDonalds. If I want coffee, and I don't want the fast-food burger experience with it, where do I go? Not Starbucks, I guess. We don't have Dunkin' Donuts here, so I'll go to my neighborhood coffee shop. The point is this...I don't have research on it, but I bet Starbucks is driving more people away with the fast-food experience than they are gaining by keeping the hot sandwiches. The counter-intuitive thing about positioning is that it, by definition, drives some people away, because your brand doesn't represent what they want. But it also strongly attracts those that want what you represent (assuming you're well differentiated from competitors). Those are the people you want to please, not the loud people tugging you away from your position.

Blog Remodel

We're undergoing a bit of a remodel here at Greater Returns. Shedding the stodgy look for something a little more dynamic and modern. Also, broadening the focus a bit, since I think about more than just Analytics and financial services.

I'm not entirely happy with Blogger's new templates. They're better, but they're still missing some things. For example, I don't seem to be able to have links to the previous and next post within a post. Seems obvious enough, but it doesn't seem to be there. If you know how to enable that in Blogger, let me know.