Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Author Archives: adamkmiec

On The Election

I pretty much avoid political commentary and discussion, on this site and in social media. There’s very little upside. That said, post election, there have been a ridiculous number of “hot takes” on what happened and why. Again, not going to give a point a view on that. I do, however, like to read a lot. I enjoy reading from a broad cross-section of opinions. The different points of view are helpful. The more you learn about another person’s point of view the better you can understand and empathize.

72andSunny Quote

The one article I read, that was actually worth sharing, analyzing and weighing in on, was from The Wall Street Journal and was titled, “Trump’s Win Has Ad Agencies Rethink How They Collect Data, Recruit staff.” In my opinion, the benefits from reading this thought provoking piece are not limited to marketers and data geeks.

Talk about a market correction!? From data, big data, modeling, predictive analytics…to…let’s go back to talking to people. As with most situations, we tend to over-correct. If you have a players coach and the team does bad, you hire the strict disciplinary coach. After you’ve focused so much on cost savings, that you’ve cut into the bone, there’s announcement about an unprecedented investment in the same area you’ve cut, for so long.

I don’t think a complete pendulum swing is needed, but I do think there’s a lot to be gleaned from the quotes. In particular, there were 3 things that really jumped out to me:

  1. The importance of the human element. It can’t just be about 1s and 0s. Ethnographic research is more critical than ever.
  2. Diversity is more than what is typically considered diversity. Socioeconomic and geography can’t be overlooked.
  3. What defines and makes up “aspiration” isn’t what we always think.

Data isn’t going away. But, what we do with the data, how we interpret that day and who is interpreting that data, may need a bit of a reboot.

Data Is Driving Accountability…Sorta

The hope and promise of digital marketing has always been, “you can measure it better than traditional media.” I got into digital marketing in 1997. Back then, decision makers were skeptical that the internet could be a business driver. The advertising options were basically limited to banners and paid search ads. Candidly, when you consider what digital marketing was up against, with those options, it’s easy to understand why marketers weren’t bullish.

Data Is The New Oil

However, the one thing that kep marketers coming back was the data. Digital was to be, the holy grail, of marketing measurement. Instead of wondering if something works, you’d know. Instead of debating if you were truly wasting 50% of your ad spend, you’d know. Were we making money from our efforts? Now, you’d have an answer.

Digital has always been held to a higher standard than traditional marketing, because of that promise. Few question the “viewability” of ads on TV, but everyone wants to question the merits of did real people see an ad, on the internet. Data and measurement, in so many ways are why:

  • Google remains one of the most trusted sources in advertising
  • Facebook has a marketing and advertising offering, that you simply can’t ignore
  • Uber, AirBnB and the rest of on-demand companies are skyrocketing

It’s almost 2017, we should be at a point where we don’t have to demand data. Data drives accountability and should be non-negotiable.

I was struck by this article from DigiDay, about Snapchat and their lack of data, accountability and transparency. This passage, is equal parts poetic and frightening.

Multiple brand execs have told Digiday that the hardest thing to swallow about Snapchat currently is that in a marketing landscape obsessed, ostensibly, with measurement and transparency, Snapchat worries them because it doesn’t provide the kind of metrics platforms like Facebook and Google do.

Why, on Earth, then, would you invest a $1? How could Snapchat be worth $25B, if it can’t tell companies, that their investment is driving business results? The answer lies in this passage, from the same DigiDay article:

Ultimately, the reason marketers don’t want to acknowledge that Snapchat may not work for them is because nobody wants to be “that” marketer who pooh-poohed it — only to find that it completely blows up later, said one marketer.

There were marketers, 1000s of them who pooh-poohed social media, in general. Invest a dollar into Facebook, that’s crazy, they said? Missing the boat on something like Facebook, meant you paid a significant amount to play catch-up. You also had to answer the question of why we/they/that company, missed such an “obvious” boat.

It’s been said that “data is the new oil.” For those of you think oil is an energy source of declining value, I’m willing to concede oil for the next best energy source (solar, electricity, etc.) and say, “data is the new solar.” But, the point is, you wouldn’t invest in an energy source that’s completely theoretical and in essence, vapor. To me, that’s what’s happening with Snapchat.

We can not, as marketers, demand viewability, attribution, etc. and then prop up Snapchat or any ad-tech offering, lacking end-to-end data transparency, as the future. It’s hypocritical.

We’re getting better as an industry. The detailed reporting from the ANA and the subsequent response from the marketing, regarding transparency, was long overdue and proportional to the warts that were uncovered. But, if we want to deliver on the promise of digital marketing, we need to evolve from accepting accountability…sorta to full accountability. We must be vigilant or risk a reset back to 1997.

The Comparison Conundrum

We’re all guilty of falling into the trap that is, comparison. When we’re at the gym, we look left, we look right and we then evaluate how we’re stacking up. If you’ve ever been running, especially in a race, we size of the competition, so to speak and make a snap judgement about whether we should be faster or slower than someone. There’s of course the old, “grass isn’t always greener” concept, where we look at our neighbor’s lawn, house, car, etc.

Apple vs. Organge

This passage from a study, published in Neuron, really nails it:

We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others,” says first author Marco Wittmann, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford. “The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.

In essence, we’re wired to constantly evaluate ourselves, not against our own goals, but against what we perceive someone else to be achieving. Perception is a funny thing. It can drive you mad. I know, because, I’ve definitely been there.

On the one hand, comparisons are helpful, because they provide context and a way to understand how something is performing relative to a norm or average. When used correctly, comparisons are incredible helpful. When I say “correctly”, what I mean is that when the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and a norm to work off of, you have a perfect combination of elements needed to make a comparison useful. For example, is my 7 year old son, underweight or not growing fast enough? Can my 9 year old daughter read at a 4th grade level? A 5th grade level? Or is she reading below her grade level? In both of those scenarios, you have known variables (weight, height), you have a norm (avg weight/height for a given gender, at a given age) and you have defined evaluative criteria (that height or weight relative to the norm).

In those types of scenarios, comparisons are helpful, useful and logical. But, where comparisons start to fall apart is when you begin evaluating situations that are not as mathematical and structured as the height and weight situations. In particular, as someone who’s worked for other people for ~20 years and managed people for more than 10, there are 2 workplace scenarios that come up, routinely, that create great stress, because the comparisons aren’t structured.

  1. Promotions: Why wasn’t I promoted, but so and so was? Good question. I’ve asked it before. I don’t ask it anymore. I stopped 10 years ago. Why? Because, trying to compare yourself to someone else, even if you’re in the same role, is a fool’s errand. There are so many variables to consider. Everything from soft skills, like “executive presence” to experience and tenure to active career planning conversations. Additionally, if what you’re looking for is a promotion, comparing yourself to the job description for the role you want is far more structured, logical and productive. Lastly, I once found myself in a situation, early on in my career, when a peer of mine had been promoted. An email was sent out. I was irked. I scheduled time with my manager and basically explained how unfair it was and how was more qualified than the other person. She let me go on for about 15 minutes. And, finally, she said, “You are being promoted. Well, you were. It was taking longer than anticipated, because we also wanted to give you a bonus, on top of your increase. But, candidly, this outburst, gives me hesitation.” I did get the promotion and I learned a valuable lesson. #1, don’t compare yourself to other. #2, there may be other things at work, that you’re not aware of. Be careful not to put your foot in your mouth.
  2. Compensation: I should be making more money. The market rate for my role is $X and so and so makes $Y. Fair compensation is important in an organization. In an ideal world, a great organization, continually evaluates existing compensation, market rates, employee potential and then continually looks to invest fairly into their employees. “Fairly”, you’re asking; yes, “fairly.” Let me explain. Let’s say you have 3 employees, with the same title, experience and role. Person A, has been with the company for 5 years and joined in the same role they’re in, today. Person B, was hired 3 years ago, but from another internal team. Person C, was hired this year. It is conceivable and likely, given how they came into the roles, that their pay would be different. As I wrote in 2014, if you changed jobs every year, you’d be guaranteed to be evaluated against the current market rate. Said another way, your max base compensation potential, is always gained when/if you switch jobs every single year. That’s just one problem with evaluating comp. You have other variables like performance level. Is person A, statistically a better performing person than person B? If so, wouldn’t their increases each year be higher? Or, would you pay equalize the increases so that a high performer is compensated the same as good or poor performer? It’s not black and white.

I have found, over the years, the single distinguishing characteristic, between good and great employees, is an appreciation for context. For example, asking for a promotion, 3 months after you’ve been promoted, is unrealistic. Demanding a raise of Y%, when the company just had layoffs and reported poor financial results, is tone deaf. Context is critical. Context is understanding the nuances. Having an appreciation for context, makes you a better, more well-informed employee. With context, you can make smart comparisons.

Just because you can make a clear, structured, factual and logical comparison, doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. The world is filled with scenarios where value is in the eye of the beholder. The Miami Heat didn’t value Dwyane Wade the same as the Chicago Bulls. As such, Wade left the Heat and joined Chicago. Why? Context. The Heat wanted to get younger. The Bulls wanted to win now. It’s that simple.

Lastly, I’ll answer the age old maxim of “that’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Yes, you can, in fact, compare apples and oranges, if the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and there’s a norm to work off. If the question is which fruit is a better source of Vitamin C, this is an easy comparison. If the question is, which fruit is better, you have a difficult comparison, full of subjectivity.

 

10 More Whiskeys To Try

Hibiki 17 at an ancient temple in Kyoto.

2 years ago, after starting a journey that I didn’t even realize I was taking, I developed a list of 10 whiskeys to try. Since then, I’ve personally tasted nearly 100 distinct and unique whiskeys, in 4 different countries and more than a dozen states. I’ve found whiskeys that are just not for me, but I know would be great for others and then I’ve come across whiskeys that I’ve absolutely fell fallen in love with. What a trip it’s been!

In adding 10 more whiskeys to the original list of 10 whiskeys to try, I wanted to keep with the same basic principles.

  1. You should be able to easily buy this bottle online or at a store.
  2. If you can’t buy the bottle, any solid whiskey bar, should have it.
  3. The cost should equal good value. That doesn’t mean the cost will be cheap, but in thinking about overall taste and/or experience, the cost should be in-line.
  4. I’m not choosing a specific bottling year. Keep in mind taste does change subtly in different vintages.
  5. Where possible, I’m avoiding large mainstream recommendations.

With that out of the way, here’s 10 more whiskeys to try.

Westland Sherry Wood: Sherry finishing has become a thing, again, thanks to Yamazaki’s offering being named the 2014 best whiskey in the world, by Jim Murray. This is a young whiskey. Roughly 3 years old. Usually young whiskeys are raw, untamed and lacking a smooth finish. Sherry helps manage that issue. This is such a great whiskey. You get a wonderful flavor, a beautiful color and a nice finish. A bottle will run you ~$85.00 and a glas ~$16.00.

The Hakushu 12: I don’t normally go for peated whiskeys. They’re just not my cup of tea. I don’t like the smoke. The Hakushu 12 changed my point of view. You get smoke, but you also get sweetness and spice. It’s a flavor conundrum, but oh so pleasant. At $75 a bottle and $14 a glass, this is a solid value and is sure to please all palettes.

Nikka Coffey Grain: They also offer the Nikka Coffey Malt. They couldn’t be more different. Make sure you know what you’re buying. I don’t recall what prompted me to buy my first bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain, but I’m glad I did. It’s probably become one of my top 5 favorite whiskeys. There’s nothing bad about it. It’s rich in color, has a wonderful nose, smooth on the taste and with a pleasant finish. At roughly $55 a bottle, you can’t go wrong.

Oban 14: My friend, Zach West, introduced me to Oban. From the first glass, I could see why. This is the whiskey people should be given when they’re introduced to whiskey. It’s light in color, neutral in taste (goes with anything) and lacks the “burn” people associate whiskey with. There is simply nothing not like, including the price! For only $50 a bottle, you get all that!

Ichiro’s Malt and Grain: Not a lot of people know about Ichiro’s whiskey. Google Ichiro Akuto to learn more. The Malt and Grain product, is a marrying of his whiskey with whiskeys from across the globe, to create a perfect blend. Heck of a story, right? It’s a heck of a whiskey too!  Fruity, floral and smooth, this is one great tasting whiskey. This might be a little harder to find and will set you back $125, but like I said at the beginning, I’m focusing on value and this is great value.

Very Old Barton: I was persuaded to visit the Old Barton distillery by a friend. She raved about it. So, I visited. She was right. Let me get this up front, Very Old Barton costs $20 a bottle. Yes, $20. Why it’s only $20 is anyone’s guess. It’s a fantastic bourbon.

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram: What is this whiskey? Well, it’s complicated. Technically, it’s just their Rendezvous Rye. But, it’s then finished in port and French oak barrels. Similar to sherry, a port finish offers a certain sweetness to a whiskey. I snatched this bottle up from the High West Distillery in Utah. At $90 a bottle, I had high expectations. I was impressed.

Sazerac Rye: This is the perfect whiskey for making cocktails. The Sazerac Rye is fine with a cube, but shines in a cocktail. I was once a Bulleit Rye or Basil Hayden cocktail guy. After having Sazerac Rye, that all changed. Full of flavor and the right amount of spice. This is a great choice for reminding you what a good whiskey cocktail should taste like. Oh and it’s only $35 a bottle!

Angel’s Envy Bourbon: At $45 a bottle, you’re getting one heck of a unique bottle, a refined smooth finish (thanks to the port barrel finishing) and enough punch to remind you that you’re drinking whiskey. I find it to be spicy, but balanced, with a great nose. One of the few whiskeys, in my opinion, that benefit from a drop or 2 of water.

Knob Creek Rye: Dark and rich, like maple syrup, in color, with a good, but not great nose and surprisingly butterscotch/toffee smoothness on the palette, this rye was so much more than I expected. And, at $35 a bottle, it’s a steal!

That’s 10, folks. You should be able to score these at your nearest bar, liquor store or online. I would like to add, that if you’re willing to spend some time hunting and/or opening up your wallet, here are 5 other whiskeys to check out: Yamazaki 18, Willett XCF, Blade and Bow 22, Old Pulteney 21 and my personal favorite, Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope.

On Camera Gear

There’s a long standing joke, told by photographers, based on Arnold Genthe’s autobiography, ‘As I Remember‘ that goes something like this:

A photographer invites his friend and his wife over for dinner. While waiting for dinner to be plated, the wife looks over the great photos on the wall and says, “I love these photos, they’re amazing. You must have a great camera.” The photographer smiles and nods his head. A few weeks later, the couple returns the favor and invites the photographer friend over for dinner. After clearing his plate, the photographer expresses to the wife who made the dinner, “I absolutely loved this dinner. It was amazing. You must have great pots and pans.”

The point of the story of course is that it’s the photographer who is responsible for the great photos, it’s not the gear that’s used, just like it’s the chef who prepares the meal.

Photographers love this story, because it over-values their contributions, while undervaluing the tools. I subscribed to that line of thinking for years. But, eventually, you realize the gear does matter and probably matters more than we’re willing to admit.

I’m often asked why my photos are so sharp, have such great color, etc. And I tell people, outright, it’s the gear. It’s because I’m shooting a Nikon D810 with a Zeiss 50mm Makro Milvus lens and you’re shooting with your iPhone. This isn’t to say an iPhone can’t take great photos. They absolutely can, under the right conditions.

Buddha in Kyoto. Taken with Nikon D810 and Nikon 35mm 1.4 G.

But, better gear gives you a better shot of capturing the moment. When you can shoot 8 frames per second at 24 megapixel resolution, with a full frame sensor, you’re going to have a better chance than shooting with an iPhone 6. That said, the gear can only take you so far and it can also highlight mistakes in technique.

I’ve been shooting since I was about 8. Always, Nikon. Always. From manual manual focus lenses and manual camera bodies like the Nikon FE2 to the legendary auto focusing Nikon F5 to the first real digital consumer SLR, the Nikon D100 to my current Nikon D810, I’ve owned many different camera bodies and no shortage of lenses. I’ve also tried dozens of digital image processing software suites. Here’s my accumulated knowledge and advice for what to buy:

  1. You’ll have a lot of options for camera bodies. But, at a high level, you have Full Frame, Cropped Sensors and Micro Sensors. As a general rule of thumb (but not an absolute), the larger the sensor the better the image quality, color fidelity especially at night. You pay more for Full Frame…and by more, nearly double. If you can afford Full Frame, go Full Frame. But, never invest in the Full Frame at the expense of quality lenses. Never.
  2. Once you pick a body type, you’ll pick a brand. Though my allegiance is with Nikon, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which brand you pick. Honestly, there isn’t.
  3. Lenses are more important than bodies. As a rule of thumb, avoid zoom lenses. Most are cheap. They promise you versatility, but you sacrifice so many other benefits. Think of lenses like knives in a knife set. Knives have a purpose. Lenses have a purpose. Don’t buy a new lens, until you’ve mastered the previous one. Also, don’t buy a knife set. Buy individual knives. Also, buy lenses that are fast. Where possible F1.4, but you won’t lose much going to F1.8. And generally, you’ll save hundreds of dollars going from F1.4 to F1.8. My recommendation is to look at a 50mm F1.4 lens. Regardless of brand, it will run you about $500. A F1.8 version will be half that.
  4. Get a good quality camera strap. I recommend the OP/TECH Reporter series.
  5. There is no such thing as the perfect Camera bag. Too many options. Too many use cases. But, I nice versatile solution that’s low cost would be the Lowepro Orion. It’ll carry your camera, 2 lenses a flash and some other supplies. It’s also lightweight, durable and doesn’t look like a camera bag, which means it doesn’t attract the same potential theft risk.
  6. Work on your form. There’s nothing more impactful than holding a camera the right way. Doing it the right way, eliminates vibration, making your images sharper. There’s no shortage of links and books that will help you improve in this area.
  7. Avoid cheap tripods. What you gain in cost, you’ll lose in performance. Here’s the thing about tripods. You’ll probably only need one, over your lifetime. Yep, just one. Spending $300-ish, might see, crazy, but not when you amortize it over a decade of shooting.  I recommend something like this, from Giottos. It’s carbon fiber, a solid height and supports 3rd party heads and plates.
  8. You will need software to process and manage your images. Think of it like a digital darkroom and file cabinet. For oganizing and managing images, I use Adobe Light Room. If you’re looking to save cash, both Microsoft and Apple, offer free options that do the job. Your camera manufacturer will also offer you free software with the purchase of your camera. They’re fine. At some point, though, you’ll want something better. When that happens, get DxO.
  9. Buy a portable hard drive to backup your library. I have over 10,000 digital images. They’re backed up to a Lacie hard drive and backed up again to another hard drive.
  10. Avoid anything called a “kit.” For example a camera kit, will contain a camera and 1 or 2 lenses. Run. Run. Run away. Per advice #3, you think you’re getting a deal, but in reality you’re getting mediocre lenses. You’ll also see things like a starter kit, which might contain a cheap tripod, a memory card and some other things. Again, this seems like value. It’s not.

Beyond the gear, take a class. Yes, I’m serious. Take a class that will teach you how to use your camera, proper form, composition, etc. Your pictures will be better for it. Your local community college probably has a course that’s less than $150. It’s money well spent.

Lastly, go out and experiment. Decide you want to shoot something, be it a bird, graffiti, architecture, alleys or trains. It doesn’t matter, just practice. Tied directly to this, never accept or offer to shoot someone’s wedding or other major moment, until you’ve practiced, apprenticed and are willing to put your name and finances behind what you’re committing to. It’s irresponsible.

So there your have it! Hopefully, this will help you become a better photographer, even if all you’re capturing are your kid’s birthday parties. And believe me, as a father of 2, those are some of the most important memories to photograph.

 

Killer Customer Service Strengthens Loyalty

Happy Customers (Photo Credit, Shopify)

In any “relationship” between a customer and a company, there are no shortage of things that can go wrong. I get to see this up close and personal, every day, in my role, at Walgreens. From the item wasn’t in stock, to an extra call to your Dr. needed, a coupon not working the way the customer expected and a line at checkout there’s a lot of ways for us to miss the mark. Granted, I’m biased, but I think we do a great job of listening to customers, understanding their tension points and looking for ways to reduce, or even eliminate those tension points all together. Try the “refill by scan” feature in the Walgreens app, the next time you need to refill your prescription and you’ll never go back to calling in.

Statistically, with so many things that could go wrong and high customer expectations, I always appreciate and in some cases, find it quite remarkable, when companies either:

  1. Proactively address a bad experience
  2. Go seemingly, above and beyond

Generally, if you were to ask someone about their last negative experience with a company, they can answer instantaneously. But, ask them about a great one and it’ll take some time to provide an example. Just look at your social media feed; you’ll see complaint after complaint and negative experience after negative experience. I too am guilty (though less so these days) of over highlighting the bad and rarely shining a light on the good. And yes, there is a lot of good out there.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about 3 fantastic customer service experiences I had in the past month.

Southwest

I love Southwest airlines. I tell people how wonderful Southwest is, so much, I’m sure they think I work for the company or somehow get compensated. They don’t always get it right. And, when they don’t I share that with them and others. Airline travel is tricky. There’s a lot of variables that are 100% out of the airline’s control. For example, weather. On a recent flight, we were 4 hours delayed. This was not a weather issue, necessarily. This was mechanical one. It started with the inbound flight being delayed because of weather in Denver, I believe. But, they were able to make some magic happen and re-route another plane to Minneapolis, leaving us only 30 minute delayed. Much of that, they could make up in the air. But, when that plane landed, they had a mechanical issue. No idea, what it was. But, an hour later, they let us board. We go to take off and…another mechanical issue. Back to the gate. 2 hours later, finally, we take off. All-in-all, we were 4 hours late. This was a 7 PM flight, originally. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. But, before I even had a chance to complain, I received an email from Southwest, apologizing for the situation. To boot, they even provided a $100 flight credit. Think about that. They knew they screwed up. They knew customers were impacted. They knew loyalty would be tested. And they knew to try and make it right. Bravo!

Verizon Wireless

Raise your hand if you love your wireless company? That’s what I thought. I’ve been with Verizon for 10 years. Yes, I pay more than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and every other competitor, but Verizon has always had great reserve, that’s reliable and killer customer service. The other day, was a great example of that amazing customer service. I woke up, as I normally do, at 6:30. I picked up phone, which apparently, was blowing up all night. I had 20+ text messages. Well, look at me, Mr. Popular, eh? Not exactly, it was a text message warning from Verizon every time, we, as a family, went over our 12 GB monthly plan. Somehow, we chewed through 20+ gigabytes of cellular data…over night…on just one person’s phone. This made no sense, for a lot of reasons. I mean, let’s start with, that’s a lot of data to go through in 8 hours, over night. Also, it was limited to just one family member’s phone. Then, you have the fact, we’re always under our 12 gigs. Oh, and, we were only 4 days in to the billing cycle. Something was wrong, right? I called Verizon and spoke with Justin. Justin listened to my situation. Offered some help. Reviewed my history. He was mystified and agreed something was off. He connected me with Apple, directly, so they could trouble-shoot. Justin promised to call me back within 30 minutes to see what Apple had to say. Apple did and agreed something wasn’t right. Justin called back. Yes, he called back. When’s the last time that’s ever happened? I filled him in. He then put me on hold, connected with another Apple person and someone else at Verizon. Time on hold, was no more than 5 minutes. When he came back, he said, he didn’t have a solution. But, to make things right, he would up my plan to 50 gigs, ensuring I’d have the data needed for the rest of the month. Then, next month, he would personally credit us for the difference, switch our plan back to the original plan (a legacy plan, by the way) and call me back personally to confirm. We even set an appointment for that call. Mind, blown!

Room & Board

Some people refer to Room & Board as, Room and Broke. Yeah, you pay a premium for their great furniture, white glove delivery and, you got it, great customer service. Last fall we purchased a coffee table. We love this coffee table. Last week, I noticed something wrong with it. The front left corner was separating. Strange. Odd. R&B has great craftsmanship and all their furniture is very durable. I emailed R&B about my situation. Leah responded the same day. She expressed dismay, shock and indicated how bad she felt. She asked for photos to help her understand the situation. What she didn’t do was accuse me of somehow being behind the issue. She didn’t cast blame. She asked for information that would help her, help me. I sent the photos. She asked for a few more, from a different angle. Each time I responded, she responded, the same day. After 2 days of back and forth she wrote me to say:

  1. She felt bad
  2. They want to make it right
  3. She had already conferred with her manager and her manager agreed they should replace it
  4. But, there was a problem, the designer, no longer makes this piece….
  5. However, she was going to write the designed and ask if they could make a 1-time exception, given the circumstances

From there, she explained, she’d back to me in a week. 4 days later, she wrote with unbelievable news. The designer, would in fact make the replacement unit…at NO charge. R&B would handle the delivery and the removal of the defective unit. Again, this was an item that was 9 months old! Think about that. Wow!

Look, there are great examples of companies doing the little things and the big things. But, it’s true, the old maxim about a person with a good experience telling 10 others, but a person with a bad experience, telling 1,000. Of late, I’m trying to celebrate the great examples and pausing before I share the bad ones. Try it.

5 Reasons To Not Be Bullish On Snapchat

Snapchat

I like taking the contrarian point of view. I’ve yet to meet a better champion of the Devil’s Advocate. As Patton perfectly stated, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” I have found that there are 2 types of Devil’s Advocate players. The first, simply likes to disagree. They will always take the opposing point of view, just to feel the thrill that comes from a spirited debate. I know that person well. On more than a handful of occasions, I’ve seen that guy, staring right back at me, in the mirror. Now, the other type of Devil’s Advocate, is one who brings some type of data and insights to the discussion to back an opposing view. That’s the version I’m going to play today as I outline reasons you shouldn’t be bullish on Snapchat.

Before I get started, I think it’s important to get on the table that I’m saying Snapchat is a bad investment. I’m not saying don’t put your money there. I’m not saying, it will fail. There’s great value in playing the role of the Devil’s Advocate. As the CIA (yes, that CIA) states (pdf) in their training, The Devil’s Advocate’s “primary value is to serve as a check on a dominant mind-set that can develop over time among even the best analysts who have followed an issue and formed strong consensus that there is only one way of looking at their issue.” With seemingly a new “Snapchat is killing [insert competitor]” article, popping up every day, I thought this was a great time to introduce the Devil’s Advocate tool to provide some opposing views.

Bad Data For Advertisers

When Snapchat first launched, it required only an email address and a password. The core base of Snapchat’s power users were people who bought into the idea that anonymity and a self-destructing (as we saw from the repeated data breaches, not true) approach to content, created a safe space for them express themselves, without pressure. All you needed was an email address and a password to join. Realizing how bad of an idea this was from a future business potential standpoint, some time later, Snapchat started requiring a first name, last name, birthdate, username and a cell phone number. Better, but compare the rich data trove Facebook offers advertisers. It’s the equivalent of Snapchat bringing a paperclip to a gun fight. Beyond the core data in the registration flow, Snapchat can also track location. All of this, in theory, is pretty good, but not great. Data drives accountability and validation. You don’t necessarily need all the data in the world. Sometimes, you just need the right data.For example, Google, with their core paid search offering can track intent all the way through to direct purchase, despite not knowing your name, email address or birthdate. Today, the Snapchat is rudimentary, at best. They know that. It’s why they continue to increase the investment in their data stack. But, the more they ask of their users, the more the alienate the base…who bought in to Snapchat, for an ad-free and anonymous way to share.

The Fickle Nature Of Youth

Snapchat has a user base that 70%, under the age of 22. Their growth is from kids. The last thing kids want to do is be where their parents are. It’s a truth. As adults start joining Snapchat, kids will move to the next “it” platform. This is a cat and mouse games, kids have played with their parents, since the dawn of time. Snapchat needs the older audience to join. Need, I say. Why? Older people have actual money. They’re a more valuable marketing segment, because they’re also more trackable. They have credit cards, loyalty cards, etc. Those are important elements for matching ad impression data to purchase, to determine the value and impact of an advertiser’s dollars. Without that matchability, an ad campaign on Snapchat is the equivalent of taking a bunch of money, lighting it on fire and wondering if it drove sales. The blow back from the original customer base (aka young kids) is already happening in full force.

Kids don’t want to hang out with their parents; it’s simple as that. Balancing the need for adults and their money, while keeping the experience genuine for the core/original user base, is a difficult balance to maintain. When you consider that millennials use more apps and spend more time in apps, than any other consumer segment, there’s always another app vying for their interest. And, just as the youth was the first to MySpace, Facebook, Instagram and yes, Snapchat, they’re also the first to abandon that platform in the search for the next breakout platform…especially, when they’re parents start crowding their space.

Chasing Cheddar Ruins The Experience

Snapchat, at the end of the day, is a business. They have investors. They have employees. They need money to pay back investors and to keep paying employees. This is basic economics. So, how do you make money for an app that’s free? Well, that’s easy. The oldest rule in monetization for apps/platforms has always been, if you’re not paying for it, you are the product. That’s right, they make money, just like Facebook and every other social network, but selling information about its users to advertisers, who then pay Snapchat money to advertise. Again, not a new concept. But, here’s what happens, when you’re core group of customers (remember the young, under 22 year olds, who joined an add free app) start seeing ads.

Snapchat Users Hate Ads

Granted, every social platform goes through this cycle. The launch. They grow by focusing on the product. All the while, they’re harvesting user data and building an ad platform. Said platform is ready and they introduce ads. As they introduce ads, users say, they’ll leave. Most don’t. But, here’s the rub. Millennials “aren’t influenced at all by advertising. Only 1% of millennials surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. Millennials believe that advertising is all spin and not authentic. That’s why they use Tivo to skip commercials regularly and avoid banner advertisements on Facebook and various news websites.” – That’s a big problem, if you’re a Snapchat advertiser.

A Quickly Eroding Premium

To me though, what offers the most pause for being bullish is how quickly the Snapchat ad product went from being an insanely priced premium offering to being reduced, reduced and reduced again. The drop, inside of 2 years, from $750,000 to $100,000, is staggering. Glass half full people will say that the cost was reduced as the platform has scaled and now moved to an API offering, which means you can use a 3rd party platform or DSP to purchase media. Ok, let’s go with that. I will accept that. However, the minute Snapchat moves to a biddable inventory world, two things will happen. First, my point about lack of great data will become more apparent. When you can buy on age, gender, interest, device and an infinite set of options on Facebook (as an example) and can only buy on a limited set of targeting criteria in Snapchat, the data disparity becomes crystal clear. Second, DSPs are all about performance. That’s the reason you use them. DSPs also typically scale across platforms. For example, Brand Networks, one of the approved Snapchat DSPs, can also buy media across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others. That means, as a marketer, you’ll have comparative data for performance. Said, differently, when someone asks where you should spend your next $1, the data will be even clearer.

Voodoo Math And A Lack Of Standards

As discussed above you need clean data as a baseline. Part of clean data is standardization. For example, if I asked you, do you weigh more than me? An easy way to determine the answer would be for both us to get weighed on a scale. But, if you used one type of scale and I used a different scale, we would have far too big of a variable, to trust the answer. But, if we both used the same scale, we’ve eliminated a critical variable. When marketers buy ads, it’s no different. The IAB, love them or hate them, has standards for every type of ad format out there. For example, how to measure an impression, what a click is and what counts as a video view. Really, I’m serious. Go check it out (pdf). Now, the IAB is pretty clear about what a video view is. They say, “a video ad is viewable when at least 50 percent of the ad’s pixels are visible on a screen for at least two consecutive seconds.” That’s pretty clear, right? Now, if you want to exceed the benchmark, more power to you. For example, YouTube counts a video view as being 30 seconds. Yes, 30. That’s 15X above the standard. Facebook and Instagram use a 3 second threshold. That’s 50% more than the IAB’s guidance. Why is this important? Think about your own mobile habits. How many times have you accidentally clicked an ad or started a video? More than you can recall, right? Well, those mistakes, shouldn’t count as a view. With Snapchat, they charge, on a $0.XX per view. When you market $0.03 per view, that sounds cheap, right? But, to get to scale (say 10 million users), where you want each person to see something 3X, that’s a $900,000 investment. Not chump change. But, if you’re a Snapchat user, you know how easily it is to click on something accidentally, you also know how quickly you can skip through snaps. By not even hitting the IAB standard of 2 seconds, you can’t compare apples to apples, let alone apples to oranges. Standards, matter.

I have no idea if any of the above means, Snapchat won’t be successful. But, part of evaluating any new partner, technology (eg Virtual Reality) or tool, is playing the role of the Devil’s Advocate. Taking the time to do that, is what helps ensure you don’t fall victim to Shiny Object Syndrome.

Something that’s really hard to do, especially if you have a passion for innovation, is to balance what might great for the business with makes a platform really cool for the user. The business might want more ads and more targeting, but doing so impacts the user experience. That’s the tight rope any company walks as they look for ways to drive revenue.

The other thing that’s far too easy to do is to point at the faults, without recognizing the upside. The sunk cost in failing can often times be more beneficial than waiting for everyone else to have learned, experimented and optimized from day 1.

That said, if you’re in the driver’s seat, in your organization, you have a responsibility to ask the tough questions, poke holes, understand the risks, generate agreement in why you’re going to do something and then drive accountability.

What Is Happiness?

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

Brilliant writing and perfectly delivered. I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about “happiness.” In particular, is not happiness simply a willingness to accept contentment? we’re happy in a moment, there’s nothing else worth pursuing, because to pursue something more, is to give up the happiness we have.

Google, “how to be happy.” You’ll find no shortage of results. One of the most referenced answers to that question is the book “The 9 Choices of Happy People”, by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. The first choice is, to recognize that “intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy.” Simply put, you must the “decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.” If you will, being happy, is a choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose not to.

I don’t know if I buy that. It feels more akin to the famed “Serenity Now” Seinfeld episode from 1997. In it, George’s dad, is advised to say, “serenity now” ever time his blood pressure starts to boil. It’s a way to control the anger, let it go and in essence, choose to be happy. Of course, it only works temporarily, because you can only suppress a feeling for so long, before it bubbles to the top and one’s true feelings are expressed.

But, I feel that’s a surface level analysis of happiness. What’s had my brain working over time is the notion that perhaps part of the reason for a lack of happiness is we’ve never truly learned or been taught, how to be happy.

What if happiness, were a skill, in the same way that learning to sail, fly a kite or play a guitar, were a skill. What if you could teach people to be happy. If happiness were a teachable skill, we could be measured on our ability to achieve happiness, in the same way we evaluate someone’s proficiency in learning Spanish.

But, if it were a teachable skill, it would also be an optional skill. For example, I have no interest in learning to surf, but you might. I’m no more, nor less an individual for not wanting to learn.

If we take the Don Draper speech at face value, happiness is actually a bad thing. It leads to complacency. It makes us comfortable and in doing so makes us vulnerable to someone else who’s not complacent…not content.

Draper on Happiness

To be clear, there’s a massive difference between things that make us happy and having happiness. A single thing, statement or look can make us happy. But, happiness is the state of being happy. And, that, is a critical distinction. Happiness is about being perpetually happy. Is that possible? Should it be aspirational? I don’t know, but I tend to think no.

The happiest people I know have never achieved happiness. They just aren’t wired that way. They’re constantly chasing the next thing that makes them happy. It’s the journey, not the destination. The destination will never be reached. I tend to find a closer kinship with these people than those who claim be in a state of happiness.

If you find me in your Fantasy Football League, you’ll hate me. I’m never satisfied with my team. I’m constantly tinkering with it…looking to trade something for something else. Each successful trade makes me happy. But, I have no idea what the final team configuration should be, thus happiness is not remotely possible.

I certainly have more questions than I do answers. But, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe:

  1. Happiness shouldn’t be an end goal
  2. Happiness can’t be taught, but you can be wired to simply not sweat the small stuff (aka serenity now)
  3. There’s greater satisfaction in starting from a moment of no happiness and then achieving a temporary state of happiness, than there is in simple being in a constant state of happiness

For such a high interest topic, there’s little to no resources that address if happiness is a skill that can learned and if so, how do you teach it. There’s no shortage of self help books that explain happiness is a choice…as if, you can flip a switch and instantly go from whatever state of mind you’re currently in to a zen like state of happiness. Perhaps, if that were true, we wouldn’t need the books.

My Take On Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report

Christmas is in December, you say? On the 25th? Well, perhaps it is for society at large. But, for nerdy marketers like myself, Christmas is whatever day Mary Meeker releases her Internet Trends Report. It’s generally considered the official, “State of the Internet.” I like it because it takes a macro look at how global trends are shaping micro moments and decisions. With that said, here’s the report:

It’s always a great read. So much to think about. So much to unpack. It usually takes me a good month or so to form opinions that have implications to the work I do and who I do that work for. That said, we live a world of “now”, and to that end, I look for some immediate take-aways that make me go hmmm.

  1. Voice will overtake typing. I see it happening every day. My daughter loves to ask Siri questions. For her, it’s equal parts more fun and simpler. I struggle with it, right now. But, that’s because my expectations are too high and I want specific and precise answers. The core of voice is still the basic data structure and taxonomy foundation that makes traditional search work. It’s the non-sexy, but significantly important work around SEO, data integrity and APIs that allow voice to be beneficial. Companies who have invested in sound SEO principles, clean data and great content will excel in shifting from typing to voice.
  2. With more people than ever on the web and more options competing for their time, it’s no wonder inflation in digital media is so high. Earlier in the year, I forecasted that 2017 would see a digital media inflation of 12% – 20%. This report seems to substantiate and validate that range.
  3. Apps need to do more than one thing well, to be sticky. Slide 80, does a great job of hitting this point. I’d also add, if you want your app to do just 1 thing well, you might need multiple apps. This is exactly what leaders in mobile, like Facebook, have done. They unbundled the app and are reaping the benefits.
  4. Keep in mind, messaging is still in it’s early days. We’re just now being given the ability to leverage those platforms as a business/brand. But, considering the pace that things move at, just because it’s early days, doesn’t mean you can’t/shouldn’t be experimenting with how to find your place in this channel shift.
  5. Slide 45 is a big time moment for marketers who believe in digital (yes, there are those who still don’t). This is the first time, since the report has been coming out, that advertising spend in digital equaled or surpassed usage. That’s a big tipping point. But, wow, look how underspent mobile is.
  6. Walgreens was founded in the 1900s. Look how many retailers born after us are on life support or defunct. I feel that our longevity is a testament to the innovative spirit and the focus on the customer, that we’ve always had.
  7. Slide 78 is the one area where I’d pick a LARGE bone with Ms. Meeker. The data is very misleading. On the surface it looks like Snapchat outperforms Facebook. But, when you consider that Facebook measures a video view using the IAB standard or equivalent, but Snapchat counts a view, the minute you tap, this chart means is not fairly representative of reality.
  8. There are limited reasons today to outsource your media buying and optimization. In an ad/marketing-tech world, so long as you have the horses in your stable, you’re more efficient going direct, in digital. The toughest part, of course, is getting those horses. It’s difficult to get an unfair share of high talent, out there, today.

Those were my immediate takeaways. Anything you disagree with? What would you add? I look forward to all the dissecting that different people, companies and publishers will do.

Treat Your Organizational Culture And Education Like Products

Of late I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of culture and educational initiatives. If you were to ask most leaders to describe their culture, you’d probably get a document that has a series of bullets, some key words or a few sentences. There’s nothing inherently wrong with documenting something as important as your organization’s culture. Documenting something makes it more “real.” But, simply documenting your culture, can often lead to a set it and forget it mindset. Culture, changes over time. It evolves. You could argue, it’s a living entity that has to be nurtured.

Google, “product development life cycle” – then choose images. You’ll see a number of similar looking graphics that depict how to go from need to launch and then eventually refinement. For illustrative purposes, I’m choosing this one from Concept Design.

Product Development Life Cycle

The most critical part of this workflow, is the dotted line section on the left. There’s a continual focus on refinement. Products are never perfect, out of the gate. There are bugs. There are things you had to compromise on, to hit the launch date. There are elements you couldn’t include, because the technology wasn’t mature enough. There are pieces you eliminated because your audience wasn’t ready for it. The point is, a product, is never done. There’s always an investment in time, people and dollars, to keep improving it and evolving it to reflect the current marketplace. That’s exactly what needs to happen with organizational culture. If not, your culture may reflect who you were, the day you created it, but be at odds with the company you have today.

Pivoting to organizational education initiatives, I think a product development mindset could benefit the effectiveness of these programs, as well. Here’s what happens in a typical organization.

  1. You have a bunch of unstructured lunch and learns
  2. Your external partners come in 1 – 3 times a year to share an outside in perspective
  3. You might a day or 2 dedicated to innovation
  4. You’ll send people to conferences. They’ll share recaps in a smaller meeting or in a mass email.
  5. Which leads to the worst offense, the myriad of internal email newsletters from different people across the company. Why do I call this the worst offense? Often the newsletters contradict each other, which leads to head scratching. I’ve seen this up close. There was a time when I would send out an internal newsletter, called, “Friday Five.” You had to opt in to receive it. It was a way to distill the most important and interesting 5 articles out on the web. The intent was to create focus. But, when you realize, that while you’re attempting to create focus, you’re still up against 10s, if not 100s of other internal newsletters, you realize, you’re more a part of the problem, than the solution.

But, what would happen if you took a product development mindset to education? Well, if you did, at a minimum, 3 things would happen.

  1. You’d have a product manager/owner responsible for understanding internal need, evaluating the marketplace options for education, developing a road map that ties into a strategy and then ultimately delivering against that roadmap.
  2. There would be a budget, objectives and an expected return. By having a budget and an expected return, you’d have a model for determining what educational initiatives fit and which ones don’t. Does it make sense to send 5 people Cannes? Maybe. Maybe, not. Should we leverage our advertising agency to present some outside in perspective on new breakthrough creative formats? Maybe that’s a great use of their time. Maybe, it’s a poor investment. The point is, now you’d have criteria to help you evaluate those situations.
  3. Constant an ongoing refinement would be part of the plan. Your education “plan” would be expected to keep pace with the changing demands of the business and of the employees.

In essence, you’d bring structure, rigor and accountability to something that’s usually scattershot and difficult to measure.

Culture and continual education are more than important; they’re critical for long-term success. Consider applying a product development mindset and I have a feeling you’ll be surprised with the results.