Tuesday, 25 October 2011

How to increase your marketing blog traffic

Want to know the secret formula for writing successful marketing blog posts? Then you've come to the right place.

If nothing else, this graphic might explain Wallpapering Fog's frequently disappointing traffic figures...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Chase success

You see this deceptively simple marketing question rear its head a lot, both in agencies and client side. I'd love to know what answer is taught on marketing courses, or even if a straight-forward answer is taught at all, because marketers seem to jump to the wrong conclusion so frequently.

The basis for my answer comes through in statistical models of marketing response, but also fits with a simple view of what can be achieved by marketing. For me, these are all fundamentally the same question:

"We've got a loyalty card and our card-holders don't often redeem their points for certain of the rewards on offer. Should we feature those rewards more prominently in the brochure to boost their take-up?"

"Most of the shoppers in this store come from the east side of town. Should we run some marketing in the west, to let those people know we're here?"

"Some of the holiday packages that we offer are selling much faster than others, should we 'fix' the under-performing ones by marketing them?"

The question being asked in all three of these is, "should I try to persuade people to do something that they don't seem to want to do, by marketing to them?"

The answer - nine times out of ten - is, "no; absolutely not."

It sounds obvious when the question is phrased like that, but think about how many times you've been asked to market an under-performing product, in order to 'fix' it.

Whether a product is selling or not is the single, best piece of market research that a marketer can lay his hands on. If it's not selling to a group of people, then they don't like it. Telling people about products that you already know they don't like, is just throwing your money away.

The basis for trying to boost an under-performing product comes from an over-estimate of the magic that marketing fairy dust can sprinkle onto a product and also a belief that the product you're selling should fundamentally appeal to a wide audience. Both of those come from being too close to the product that you're selling. People who aren't close to your product, who really don't care about your product but are being asked to buy it, have already told you what they think.

The only exception to this rule is if you can genuinely say that people might not be buying your product because they don't know about it. Before you decide that lack of awareness must be the issue and splash the cash on some marketing though, look at the products you've got that are selling. Do people really know that much more about those?

The reward card example I used above is a real one; the marketing team thought that more people should want to redeem their loyalty points for music CDs and wanted to push that message. Unfortunately, up to that point, music CDs hadn't been starved of marketing coverage compared to the other options available and people still weren't choosing music in large numbers. That's a loud and clear piece of the best market research money can buy. You offered free CDs to millions of people and only a few said "yes, please."

It's the same for the store that appeals to only one side of town. People on the other side either can't get to your store easily, or they don't want to. You can tell them all about where you are and they'll just keep on ignoring you.

For me, when a product is under-performing, you've got two options.

1. Save your money and stop pushing it.

2. Find a way to change the appeal of the product. (That's likely to be a product solution before it's a marketing one)

The reverse of all this gives a key piece of marketing advice. If you haven't completely saturated the market, then always chase success. Support your biggest sellers and make them even larger. People are telling you that they like these products - not just by saying nice things in focus groups, but by spending their own money on them. Your marketing will be much more effective if you listen.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Never let anyone tell you that it's too complicated to explain

Sayeeda Warsi was on BBC Question Time last night, giving the Conservative viewpoint on quantitative easing.

Baroness Warsi has a remarkable ability to get my back up at the best of times, but after an explanation of QE that didn't really make sense - to this economist at least - where she said that it "feeds demand... will keep interest low, mortgages low... and gets this country moving again," she went on to conclude that "it's complicated".

A lot of things are complicated. Dark Matter is complicated, but I saw a perfectly watchable Horizon programme about it last night. Econometrics is complicated too, but I don't try to sell it to clients, by rambling something about statistics and then saying "it's complicated".

Shortly after our ability to understand quantitative easing was dismissed with "it's complicated", @Natt tweeted this little gem.

"It's not complicated. You're just devaluing everyone else's money to keeps banks afloat."

And in one short sentence, swept away a tidal wave of bullshit.

Never, ever let anybody tell you that something is too complicated to explain. They're either avoiding telling you the truth, or as Einstein famously said,

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Do you ever see a TV ad...

... and suspect that a creative had an idea that they've been just dying to dying to use somewhere? Anywhere? Pitched all over the place before finally, a brand agrees that a cartoon lady adrift on the ocean, who finds her cartoon twin on a desert island just screams "you really want to buy our tea."

It is a nice cartoon. Maybe I'm just too cynical.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Dashboard software - why we chose what we chose

Some time ago, I wrote a post that laid out what I want from a piece of dashboarding and data visualisation software. We had just finished going through the process of selecting a software platform and I'd intended to lay out over a series of posts the different options that I looked at and explain how we made our final choice.

Apart from a review of Excel Services (summary: it's sort of ok, but you can do much better for the money), the series didn't get very far. Due to the overwhelming volume of emails Despite a complete lack of emails accusing me of being a lazy so and so who doesn't finish what he starts, I'm going to quickly wrap up the conclusions here.

First, the contenders. Some of these I looked at for longer than others and I can guarantee a few first round knockouts.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the blue corner etc.



Qlik View

Excel Services


Microsoft Analysis Services



We'll start with where I started the process - looking for a cheap but capable solution, that would work for a medium sized business. I'm not looking at six figure software budgets here, or at running the back end for the Tesco Clubcard.

With that in mind, I went looking for an open source solution and found Pentaho. There are other 'free' platforms, including customized Google Docs, but all require programming and we need a drag-and-drop front end that analysts can use to build dashboards. For that requirement, Pentaho seems to be what's available.

First impression is that it's not bad at all. A little rough around the edges as you might expect from an open source project, but I had some simple dashboards up and running on a demo server pretty quickly.

These demos were enough to show a few senior managers and to explain why we should be buying a dashboard platform rather than building our own, but then things started to go wrong. If you're going to do anything more than a few simple charts, then you're going to end up doing some programming, which means as an analyst that you need IT's help. IT's help brings change requests and (long) development time-lines and all the joys of not being able to put data labels on a bar chart by yourself. Scheduled refreshing also looked like it was going to be trickier than it needed to be.

Once you're building and customising with your own IT department, you're incurring extra costs, so it was off to the commercial software world to see if off-the-shelf was a better idea. It was.

When you head for a commercial piece of dashboard software, you find out that there are at least tens available and probably hundreds. Most are rubbish. You also get into some very frustrating conversations with salesmen about licencing costs, but more on that later.

Let's eliminate a few contenders quickly here, pretty much as quickly as I dropped them during the assessment process.

I've already reviewed Excel Services in detail so won't go through that again. For the price, it isn't good enough and it's awkward to use.

Analysis Services is much more capable, but it's got that Microsoft feel. You know what I mean; it makes things hard that should be easy. Options are hidden, it's all tied into SharePoint (which I hate) and you end up writing loads of custom SQL - which will be a nightmare to maintain - in order to work around things that Microsoft either doesn't want you to do or hasn't included as standard. The final dashboards also feel like a tool for analysts rather than a tool for marketing managers and if you're not at least a little geeky, they can be quite intimidating. Rejected.

LogiXML and Microstrategy were very much the also-rans in this race. LogiXML, because it's bloody awful and Microstrategy because it's just not good enough to be up with the front runners.

Here's a LogiXML demo dashboard. Apparently they're proud of it and if you can't see why that's a problem then go ahead and buy a copy! I'm being deliberately harsh because they keep sending me junk email. Petty revenge is sweet.

Microstrategy sounds pretty exciting when you read the blurb on their website. The demos aren't front and centre on the site though and you have to dig a bit to find them. That's a warning sign for me. If a software company knows that it has a good product, you'll find links to the product itself featured prominently. Microstrategy has a lot of claims about what it can do on the homepage and then a few clicks and some searching around takes you here...

I'm sure it works ok, but the looks are five out of ten at best. I did download the demo but it took ages to install and the dashboards are slow to load on a browser too. All in all it just didn't feel like a smooth, slick piece of software and I couldn't see the visuals impressing a marketer. Another one bites the dust.

Now we're onto the serious contenders: Spotfire, Tableau and Qlikview.

Spotfire first, because it didn't make it quite as far as the other two. Spotfire is undoubtedly a tremendously capable piece of software but at Brilliant Media, we're building dashboards for marketers and they need to present data, more than they need to make it available for investigation by an analyst.

With that purpose in mind, Spotfire suffers from some of the same issues as Microsoft Analysis services. It's less awkward than Analysis Services, but in use it feels like it was built for an analyst. It's the sort of software that would be great to sit on top of a loyalty card database for an analytical team to use as their tool for day-to-day interrogation. It's not what we need to present relatively top-line data to marketers.

Take a look at the demos and you'll see what I mean. It's good software, but not for us.

Spotfire has another major problem and that's Qlikview. If I wanted what Spotfire does, then I probably wouldn't buy Spotfire, I'd buy Qlikview. It's an amazing piece of software.

I've been playing with Qlikview demos on and off for a few years and it has a few stand-out characteristics. It runs like lightning and the data engine is fabulous - importing your data quickly and making intelligent guesses about how it's structured. You need ten minutes guidance to get used to how the dashboard front ends work, but once you've got it, then Qlikview is very simple to use.

Admittedly there are a lot of options for customising views and you get to them via large, complex options windows, rather than by a quick right click on the thing that you want to change, but fairly quickly you get used to where to find what you want. The positive side of all of these options is that you can create virtually any view that you might need.

Qlikview was a runner up though, based on cost. Actually it might have been dead last based on cost, because I never managed to find out how much it is. One of my criteria for software was transparent pricing and Qlikview's reps are a nightmare to talk to (I've had a few friends in IT back up that opinion too.) They want meetings; they want to know all about your business; they promise free copies of the software. What they absolutely will not do is give you a figure for how much it's going to cost to deploy the software onto x analysts' desktops and allow them to publish to a server.

It's a shame, but Qlikview was rejected on those grounds, even though I loved the demo.

Edit (22-1-13): Qlikview has moved to transparent pricing since this post was written (pointed out in comments below.) That's great to hear. Prices here.

Initial impression? The product mix looks a little over-complicated and pricier than Tableau. I'm not sure if Qlikview is targeting larger, more complex deployments than we've built, but I wouldn't change the conclusions below, based on anything I've seen over the past year or so.

Which brings me onto our winner. Tableau. Of course it's Tableau.

Tableau seems to be a well kept secret for now among analysts who've done their homework, but I can't see  it staying that way for long. It's a joy to use - simple, fast and powerful.

The software's actually quite restrictive in the way that it will allow you to present data, but that's a very good thing. It's like a best-practice data visualisation engine. No you can't draw 3D pie charts. Dashboard creation is simple drag and drop and the best way I can describe it is as if somebody took Excel Pivot Tables, made them nice to use, made them look good and then gave you the ability to publish them to the web.

Pricing is transparent (and very reasonable.) The desktop dashboard builder software has a simple cost per user. Not an ongoing licence fee, but a one-off cost, although you can pay for ongoing support if you want to. The server also has a one-off cost per user and that's it. No OEM nonsense and easy to work out pricing for scale, buy it once and do what you want with it. Perfect.

Other dashboard vendors really need to take a leaf out of Tableau's book on pricing. It's so much easier to pitch the idea to management of investing in software when you've got a clear idea yourself of exactly what it will cost over the next three years. If the dashboards you build are a runaway success then how much is an extra five desktop licences and twenty server logins going to be?

If you haven't tried Tableau yet, then give it a go. There's a free version for bloggers that's great for trying out some data vis and publishing it to the web. I feel like I'm giving away a trade secret here, but what the hell, you're going to hear about it from somewhere soon anyway. Tableau has very quickly become an essential analysis tool for me alongside Excel and if you try it, I'm willing to bet that it will be for you too.