A sure fire-way to make your customers hate you this festive season


♫♫♫On the first day of Christmas my inbox gave to me 3 real estate seasons greeting, 2 hosting christmas offers and 5 e-commerce well wishes. ♫♫♫♫ Though I am unsure whether than rhymed very well to the tune ‘Twelve Days Of Christmas” – what I am sure of, is that all of my merry well wishers promptly got deleted and unsubscribed.  Why? Because without an adequate offer, or compelling reason to take up my time, consumer brands should simply stay away from festive banalities.





One of the best worst examples of my inbox treasures was this EDM from rentafill. Great intentions obviously, yet so poorly executed that it first made me question how I even came to be a subscriber of Rentafill, then it made me angry that I had not already unsubscribed, and then it brought out the email critic in me which inspired this post.

Rentafill EDM


Without me delving into the subtleties of why this email was a failure, I think that email marketers should apply the golden rule before sending an email. Common sense dictates, that if a subscriber is subscribed to an email feed, they have certain expectations from that feed. These expectations may include deals, loyalty discounts, customer service and administrative notifications but very little scope for time wasting. One reason that these truths may not become immediately apparent to internet marketers is that unsubscribe rates during this time of the year are artificially low (as people tend not to check their email as frequently). However, what may end up happening in January, is that bounce rates, unsub rates and deliverability rates may deteriorate. The reason for this is as ISPs begin to use more signals from user interaction, unopened and unclicked emails will start to hurt the company bottom line more and more. Checkout the awesome returnpath blog for more.

Stay tuned for some good examples of Christmas EDMS..


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Serious About Data? You Need OLAP Cubes.

OLAP data cubes are the only way to go for any organisation that takes web analytics seriously. Even though I am a big fan of Google Analytics, retrieving non flattened, customer specific data from it is impossible. And even though, in theory Omniture should do the job for you, in practice (in my experience and that of my colleagues) it fails do deliver data accurately and reliably most of the time. The good news is, that if you can afford to think about omniture, you can afford to get data cubes!

What Are Data Cubes

Olap data cubes

OLAP (online analytical processing) is simply a spreadsheet which is refresh-able like a pivot table (whilst accessing real time data from your reporting server). In the back-end  what is happening is an SQL query looks up and joins dimensions and metrics from your reporting database and sends back the results to your excel spread sheet. A cube has the ability to access two dimensions such as product and city and display them with multiple metrics such as conversion rate, revenue etc. The best part of having the reporting infrastructure that runs an analytics data cube is that you can spin out as many cubes as you want with different dimensions and metrics really easily. This means, that if you have multiple marketing channel owners who need to view information on an ongoing basis that is slightly different to a standard report – you can simply spin out a cube for them. Similarly, cubes can be spun out for share holders of different seniority – for example the marketing director may want to view the performance of all marketing channels over time, whilst the product manager may want to view SKU performance by customer segment. All of these are easily solved for within a proper reporting framework.



How Marketing Data Cubes Can Be Implemented

Every ad, keyword, placement, creative, channel, targeting option and marketing partner can be tagged with a unique URL. This is standard digital marketing practice. That way, you build out a hierarchy of channels, partners and placements and get to view and optimise them based on performance. With this insight, you can stop wasteful spend easily, and, by observing data trends over time generate accurate forecasts into the future.

At a practical level this looks something like:

You have your URL: www.coltrane.com.au

You have a coding convention for tagging the URL:  www.coltrane.com.au?channel:placement:creative – the question mark can be used to signal to your webserver to capture all data after it and store it in relation to the activity of the user on the site.

For example, say you were advertising on hotmail with a creative called ‘monkey’ – your URL may look like www.coltrane.com.au?ninemsn:hotmail:monkey – then all purchases, user behavior such as bounce rates, page debth and interactions on the site can be recorded and attributed back to that marketing creative, placement and channel.

Own Your Data

The biggest difference between hosting your own analytics and letting someone else do it for you is that you own it, have private access to it, and can use it how and when you want. This cannot be said wholeheartedly for any 3rd party analytics platform.

5 Reasons Why Omniture Is The Jumanji Of Analytics

Ah Omniture Site Catalyst, an excellent tool in theory, sold spectacularly by the talented sales people at Adobe. And to me, as a marketer who has inherited and actually had to use this bloated analytics swiss army knife, I know that there has got to be a special place in hell for Omniture creators. Let me elaborate on the 5 main reasons why Omniture is the Jumanji of analytics. Lets roll the dice and see what happens!


 1.Real time isn’t always real time

When you are pushing tens of thousands of parameters into any piece of software, it is going to take some time to process and parse it. Fair enough. What I love about Omniture is that they not only promise and don’t deliver on this aspect of their system, they also can’t actually quantify how great the delay in data is. This means, that some data will come through within a few min, other data will come in an hour later, and some other data might arrive 24 hours later. It’s kinda like rolling the dice and having the rhinoceroses burst through the wall.. you just don’t know.

2. Oh you actually wanted to find out how your campaigns worked… that’s a good one!

You know those variables I mentioned in point 1..Well it turns out, if you have too many of them (say if you run a paid search campaign with thousands of keywords being fed through the URL), Omniture will simply ignore them! This means, that when you want to actually see how particular keywords performed, you just can’t. Nice one Omniture! But don’t worry, those handy sales people who sold you the shoddy platform from the outset, will be happy to sell you a special paid search adon that will take care of this problem for you, until you need an adon for that adon. Perfect. This feature of Omniture I liken to that scene in Jumanji where the monkeys steal the board.

3. Dimensions are not easy

Lets say you want to see how particular SKUs are selling across different channels. You can’t. Theoretically you can, but practically it’s spectacularly difficult. To the point, where you will need to invite more Omniture sales people to quote you on creating custom reports that may show this.  This is also a symptom of a wider Omniture problem of not being able to effectively pivot more than 2 dimensions easily (even with the excel adon). “Beware the ground on which you stand, the floor is quicker than the sand”

4. Attribution is wonderfully complex

If you want a laugh, ask an Omniture specialist to explain how a 30 day window is defined in Omniture. If you expected that every 30 days the cookie window would be refreshed, you would be wrong. What you will actually find is that its a 30 day rolling window, whereby the cookie does not expire if your customer keeps returning more frequently than every 30 days. What an unusual and cruel joke. This might mean that a channel will seem to perform amazingly well based on a first touch attribution model, even though it has done nothing for you lately.

Another hidden gem of Omniture is something that is dubbed “renewed sessesions”. This is basically a black hole that represents roughly 15-20% of your data. Omniture can’t explain where it came from adequately, nor can it help you identify it. It just sits there. This is like the scene from Jumanji where the monkeys take over the kitchen.

5. My favourite: beware of the set up phase

I’m going to opt for the Jumanji analogy early. Remember Hunter Van Pelt, the maniac that never gives up hunting Alan. Well, that is what you can expect from Omniture technical staff or agencies that you use to set up Omniture. They will keep coming back. Their work will never be done. Just when you think you have fixed everything, Omniture will do a release and something will break, or (the more likely scenario) you will never actually have a reliable, fully functional Omniture instance, and you will be trapped in the Jumanji jungle trying to survive by avoiding the Pelt.

In all seriousness though, I have never met a (sober) marketer in any organisation that was actually happy with Omniture. It is honestly both expensive and cumbersome enough to draw tears from your eye sockets. Given how important accurate, good data is why not invest in a decent data cube, warehousing solution and scope out your needs with a professional BI company.

Until then, keep rolling those dice!


On First Touch Attribution: The Pat On The Back Dilemma

You run a team of digital marketers, each owning a direct channel, each spending money, and each claiming revenue made from spend. Who do you pat on the back for bringing home the bacon? More importantly, what happens when multiple people lay claim to the single rasher?

Unless you plan for this scenario, you could end up short changing some channels and investing in less profitable or sustainable avenues. What is also interesting is that it is easy to leave it up to the platform to figure it out for you. In which case, you will end up with last touch attribution set by default in Google Analytics and whatever chaos ensues in Omniture (not a fan). In the case of Google Analytics, what you will typically find is that retention email is the number one driver of revenue. But is that really a fair judgment? Sure, email may have converted the person into a customer, but it is certainly not responsible for acquiring the customer. And without acquisition, the only person buying from you would be your mum.

The obvious solution that I favor is first touch attribution. Which means that you attribute value more heavily to acquisition focused channels like paid search, display, affiliates etc, and view email as the conversion engine and life time value engine (though you can do some pretty cool stuff with display remarketing these days). The key is to be crystal clear about cookie windows and have consistency in attribution.


Where it gets tricky

I can think of 3 situations where this model becomes challenging.

1. High repeat customer rates

This happens when you have a fairly mature marketing mix and have invested heavily in offline as well as online penetration. It is going to make it hard to funnel all repeat purchases through “free” channels like direct to site and email, because they will naturally see new offers, and be interrupted by your ads. Not the end of the world though, so let’s not throw first touch attribution out with the bath water. This little inconvenience can be catered for by readjusting marketing targets such as allowable repeat %, and going after people who have disengaged or unsubscribed. Also, it would be worthwhile re-examining the way you communicate with existing customers at an email level.

2. Remarketing

Well this throws a spanner in the works BIG time. The whole idea here is that you have a cookie pool of people who have come to your site from other channels! So what do you do here? This is probably the strongest case for a multi touch attribution model, though I would rather sacrifice remarketing attribution for the sake of the simplicity of the first touch model. Besides, with adequate cookie segmentation you can spin off targeted ad creative for non purchasing segments, unsubscribed segments and more.

3. Post View Attribution & Branding

When it comes to a brand like Coca Cola, it is pretty hard to attribute a single banner campaign to any revenue, it’s kind of like a painter laying claim to building a house after completing a single coat on an outer wall. Obviously, the well known nature of the brand will immediately drive up conversion, click through rates and other metrics. Though I am sure creative agencies will froth at the mouth trying to convince you otherwise (there go creative agency referrals). In these instances, I think it is worth while considering a separate modelling convention and attribution practice where macro metrics like sitewide conversion rate and average order value could be looked at, as well as atypical uplift in the performance of conventional channels.

So when you next have to break apart a fight between the paid search person and the retention specialist, think of me, and go with the first touch model.


No, there is not a better CMS that WordPress!

This site is built in homage of John Coltrane – eclectic, brilliant and imaginative jazz genius. It is also an homage to WordPress for popularising mass blogging, and giving shmucks like me the ability to setup coltrane.com.au in under 10 minutes! Yes, and that includes XML site maps, analytics, universal tag integration, custom theme and hosting setup!

I am often upset by people telling me that “WP is just a blogging platform”. To those naysayers I say; check out http://www.boardshorts.com/ and http://techcrunch.com/ and another 100 million diverse websites of different scales and implementation types!

No, WordPress is more than just a blogging platform. You can do anything with it, from ecommerce to news and yes even blogs.

I can go on all day about why WordPress is the best(from SEO benefits to outsourcing potential), but the best part of WordPress, is that it invites you into its techy bosom and nurtures self learning, experimentation and creativity. What more can you ask?

My New Obsession: Gamification

I love the idea of using techniques exploited by game creators to make everyday tasks more appealing and fun! Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could turn up to work each day to play a game (or at least view it that way). To me it seems like the biggest lifehack! I see the applications of gamification extending from running a successful business, to losing weight, to getting people to buy stuff online. And, given that this blog should focus on the latter I want to talk about just a couple of cool gamification techniques that can be tested in ecommerce…

I’ll leave some of the more mundane and obvious techniques such as ‘leader boards’ and ‘levels’ until later. They simply aren’t cool enough to be featured in the maiden gamification post!

Urgent Optimism


I’ll steal from the best (see video below) Jane McGonigal explores the power of urgent optimism to rally people into action when faced with an obstacle. I don’t know about you, but I see dollar signs light up. Let me elaborate. Most good ecommerce carts have drop off rates in excess of 60% ( and I am being generous). The implication here is (if you trust in the commonly held conversion formula below) that detracting elements (friction and anxiety) exceed the motivation, value proposition and incentive which are already artificially uplifted in this formula (not sure how it was derived even after extensive googling). If there was a way of sparking a sense of urgent optimism (which I believe is different to urgency, as in “Hurry! only 2 hours remaining!”), then a website might stand a chance in not losing the majority of people who wanted to add something to their cart. Let me quickly explore some ways this could pan out:

C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a where

C= Conversion probability
m= Motivation of the user
v= Value proposition clarity
i= Incentive to proceed
f= Friction elements of process
a= Anxiety about proceeding


One Idea..

Display the finish line with positive reinforcement. “Good job, you are almost there, just fill in your credit card details and you’re done!”. Mailchimp do a particularly fine job of gamification with their chimp that walks you through the wizard interfaces. Imagine if you saw this on the checkout page in an online store, wouldn’t that rally you into action? Speaking of chimp, whatever happened to the Microsoft office paperclip? Hmm, maybe be careful with this one.

Another Idea..

Combine urgent optimism with epic meaning, or even regular meaning. I think that outlining the significance of making a purchase, even if it is as meager as “You will be the 12,005,965th customer to buy this pocket watch”, is better than nothing. Though I do not think that epic meaning will work for websites that take themselves seriously like news.com.au, as ‘voice’ may become a concern and a source of confusion for the readership expecting to read about terrorists in Baghdad.

Yet another (free) idea..

Combine urgent optimism with surprise and delight. Say you are browsing along, not sure the battery for your pocket watch is worthwhile, then suddenly you are alerted (perhaps with a popup, perhaps not) with a notification informing you that you can get free shipping on your battery if you can complete the purchase in the next 5 minutes.  I would be all over that battery!

I genuinely think that testing some of these techniques may prove to be more fruitful than boring A/B landing page tests, and given how easy it is to setup Optimizely, I think it is worth a go!



P.S. I have no evidence to suggest that pocket watches are that popular.

P.P.S. If you chose to invest in a pocket watch manufacturing business based purely on the contents of this blog, please consult your financial adviser.

Daily Deals Are Annoying Away Customers

It has been a good 4 months since I left the group buying world, and subsequently unsubscribed from all the “oupons” that were out there. Some (not mentioning any names) actually emailed me more than 4 times a day! If you had a friend that did that, you would quickly tell them that this sort of behavior would not be tolerated, and seriously consider taking out a restraining order! But group buying companies seem to think it is alright to “interrupt” people that many times, and I know why they do it.. ready…

Because they think that sending more emails = more money.

And this, could not be further from the truth. Sure, when you correlate email volume with revenue, you get a strong correlation. But then how do you explain that when you exclude people who have not opened or clicked on emails in a month, you reduce your effective sending volume by about 80%, without substantial revenue downturn? Is this not an indication that people simply don’t want to hear from you as often as you’d like?

Yes, it is hard to put away short term profitability pressures and focus on the long term benefits of not annoying the customer base. But, even with rudimentary projections of the cost of un-subscription of active customers, and diminished deliverability, as well as the rising cost of acquisition as you tap into a wider audience pool, it is as plain as daylight that dumb email marketing cannot, nor should it be tolerated.

So what is the alternative?

Look to the data! Understand lifecycle based actions and behavioural patterns, leverage the information and permission you do have to tailor emails on a personal level.