Tag Archives: marketing

Whatever Steve Jobs Thought, Thermonuclear War Is NOT the Best Way to Get & Keep Talent

It’s nothing personal. It’s just business. Except when it’s not. When Google brought out a smartphone OS in 2008 that let some competition into what had been an Apple-only field, the reception was mixed. Just like with any new tech product, a lot of people were sure they’d never feel the need for one. (I thought the same. Now I have a Samsung the size of a door. I wrote some of this post on it.) Some people were overjoyed – it’s just like an iPhone, except I can afford it. Awesome! And then there was Steve Jobs. Boy, was…

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Whatever Steve Jobs Thought, Thermonuclear War Is NOT the Best Way to Get & Keep Talent

What Can You Learn From Tracking 17 Billion Email Opens?

email market share

Wow. Now, this is an infographic. So many infographics under-deliver. They’re forced. They spawned because it ended up on a “Marketing Q1” to-do list. And they end up being useless, enormous, ugly image files that just kills everyone’s bandwidth. An infographic is really a data visualization that presents useful data and makes it easy for viewers to do something actionable with it. That’s what the infographic below does. The number one takeaway from this graphic is: your list is reading your email on their phones. Are your emails optimized for mobile? Are you thinking about how people behave on mobile…

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What Can You Learn From Tracking 17 Billion Email Opens?

The KPIs Every Ecommerce Marketer Must Measure for Growth

graph ecommerce kpis

Good marketers are obsessed with numbers. They look at them every morning and end their day by checking them “one last time.” According to AdAge, 93% of CMOs are under more pressure to deliver a better ROI. The problem is, they can’t do that if they don’t understand performance at all stages of the marketing funnel. In this article, I’m going to outline key KPIs you must measure to help improve your ecommerce marketing. From awareness to retention, you’ll learn the metrics to watch daily and how to improve them. 1. Brand Name Search Brand awareness often gets a bad…

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The KPIs Every Ecommerce Marketer Must Measure for Growth

How To Transform Your eCommerce Business With 11 Simple Tips

transform your ecommerce business

Online store owners swim in a sea of fierce competition dominated by Amazon and Best Buy, among others. You can’t always be number one. But with a strong desire and the right tools, you can become a leader in your niche. One of the best ways to get to the top is with a powerful content marketing strategy that blows the opposition out of the water. So, what are the secrets of creating and implementing an unsurpassed content marketing strategy that delivers the results you’re looking for? That’s what I’m about to reveal. Why Should You Prioritize Content Marketing Above…

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How To Transform Your eCommerce Business With 11 Simple Tips

The Crazy Egg Guide to Reddit Content Marketing

Reddit Content Marketing Guide

Possibly the largest group of self-contained communities on the Internet, it can be seen as a microcosm of the Internet in itself. It has its own lingo, its own inside jokes, its own history. Its special class of geeky, socially inept, smug, arrogant, yet revered users are called “neckbeards”, while everyone else are just called “Redditors”. It’s possibly the Internet’s greatest spawning ground of memes — only the dirtier, more underground imageboard “4chan” has as much influence in the subculture-sphere. It is, in fact, one of the most popular and heavily trafficked (not to mention plain old fun) websites in…

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The Crazy Egg Guide to Reddit Content Marketing

Capturing supermarket magic and providing the ideal customer experience

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The customer-centric focus

Over the past few years, one message has been gaining momentum within the marketing world: customer experience is king.

Customer experience” (CX) refers to your customer’s perception of her relationship with your brand—both conscious and subconscious—based on every interaction she has with your brand during her customer life cycle.

Customer experience is king
How do your customers feel about your brand?

Companies are obsessing over CX, and for good reason(s):

  • It is 6-7x more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer
  • 67% of consumers cite ‘bad experiences’ as reason for churn
  • 66% of consumers who switch brands do so because of poor service

Across sectors, satisfied customers spend more, exhibit deeper loyalty to companies, and create conditions that allow companies to have lower costs and higher levels of employee engagement.

As conversion optimization specialists, we test in pursuit of the perfect customer experience, from that first email subject line, to the post-purchase conversation with a customer service agent.

We test because it is the best way to listen, and create ideal experiences that will motivate consumers to choose us over our competitors in the saturated internet marketplace.

Create the perfect personalized customer experience!

Your customers are unique, and their ideal experiences are unique. Create the perfect customer experience with this 4-step guide to building the most effective personalization strategy.



By entering your email, you’ll receive bi-weekly WiderFunnel Blog updates and other resources to help you become an optimization champion.


Which leads me to the main question of this post: Which companies are currently providing the best customer experiences, and how can you apply their strategies in your business context?

Each year, the Tempkin Group releases a list of the best and worst US companies, by customer experience rating. The list is based on survey responses from 10,000 U.S. consumers, regarding their recent experiences with companies.

And over the past few years, supermarkets have topped that list: old school, brick-and-mortar, this-model-has-been-around-forever establishments.

Customer experience - brick-mortar vs. ecommerce
What are supermarkets doing so right, and how can online retailers replicate it?

In the digital world, we often focus on convenience, usability, efficiency, and accessibility…but are there elements at the core of a great customer experience that we may be missing?

A quick look at the research

First things first: Let’s look at how the Tempkin Group determines their experience ratings.

Tempkin surveys 10,000 U.S. consumers, asking them to rate their recent (past 60 days) interactions with 331 companies across 20 industries. The survey questions cover Tempkin’s three components of experience:

  1. Success: Were you, the consumer, able to accomplish what you wanted to do?
  2. Effort: How easy was it for you to interact with the company?
  3. Emotion: How did you feel about those interactions?

Respondents answer questions on a scale of 1 (worst) to 7 (best), and researchers score each company accordingly. For more details on how the research was conducted, you can download the full report, here.

In this post, I am going to focus on one supermarket that has topped the list for the past three years: Publix. Not only does Publix top the Tempkin ratings, it also often tops the supermarket rankings compiled by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Long story short: Publix is winning the customer experience battle.

WiderFunnel Customer Experience Ratings Tempkin 2017
2017 Customer Experience ratings from Tempkin.
WiderFunnel Customer Experience Ratings Tempkin 2016
2016 Customer Experience ratings from Tempkin.

So, what does Publix do right?

Publix growth - WiderFunnel customer experience
Publix growth trends (Source).

If you don’t know it, Publix Super Markets, Inc. is an American supermarket chain headquartered in Florida. Founded in 1930, Publix is a private corporation that is wholly owned by present and past employees; it is considered the largest employee-owned company in the world.

In an industry that has seen recent struggles, Publix has seen steady growth over the past 10 years. So, what is this particular company doing so very right?

1. World-class customer service

Publix takes great care to provide the best possible customer service.

From employee presentation (no piercings, no unnatural hair color, no facial hair), to the emphasis on “engaging the customer”, to the bread baked fresh on-site every day, the company’s goal is to create the most pleasurable shopping experience for each and every customer.

When you ask “Where is the peanut butter?” at another supermarket, an employee might say, “Aisle 4.” But at Publix, you will be led to the peanut butter by a friendly helper.

The store’s slogan: “Make every customer’s day a little bit better because they met you.”

2. The most motivated employees

Publix associates are famously “pleased-as-punch, over-the-moon, [and] ridiculously contented”.

Note the term “associates”: Because Publix is employee-owned, employees are not referred to as employees, but associates. As owners, associates share in the store’s success: If the company does well, so do they.

Our culture is such that we believe if we take care of our associates, they in turn will take care of our customers. Associate ownership is our secret sauce,” said Publix spokeswoman, Maria Brous. “Our associates understand that their success is tied to the success of our company and therefore, we must excel at providing legendary service to our customers.

3. Quality over quantity

While Publix is one of the largest food retailers in the country by revenue, they operate a relatively small number of stores: 1,110 stores across six states in the southeastern U.S. (For context, Wal-Mart operates more than 4,000 stores).

Each of Publix’s store locations must meet a set of standards. From the quality of the icing on a cake in the bakery, to the “Thanks for shopping at Publix. Come back and see us again soon!” customer farewell, customers should have a delightful experience at every Publix store.

4. An emotional shopping experience

In the Tempkin Experience Ratings, emotion was the weakest component for the 331 companies evaluated. But, Publix was among the few organizations to receive an “excellent” emotion rating. (In fact, they are ranked top 3 in this category.)

widerfunnel customer delight
Are you creating delight for the individuals who are your customers?

They are able to literally delight their customers. And, as a smart marketer, I don’t have to tell you how powerful emotion is in the buying process.

Great for Publix. What does this mean for me?

As marketers, we should be changing the mantra from ‘always be closing’ to ‘always be helping’.

– Jonathan Lister, LinkedIn

In the digital marketing world, it is easy to get lost in acronyms: UX, UI, SEO, CRO, PPC…and forget about the actual customer experience. The experience that each individual shopper has with your brand.

Beyond usability, beyond motivation tactics, beyond button colors and push notifications, are you creating delight?

To create delight, you need to understand your customer’s reality. It may be time to think about how much you spend on website traffic, maintenance, analytics, and tools vs. how much you spend to understand your customers…and flip the ratio.

It’s important to understand the complexity of how your users interact with your website. We say, ‘I want to find problems with my website by looking at the site itself, or at my web traffic’. But that doesn’t lead to results. You have to understand your user’s reality.

– André Morys, Founder & CEO, WebArts

Publix is winning with their customer-centric approach because they are fully committed to it. While the tactics may be different with a brick-and-mortar store and an e-commerce website, the goals overlap:

1. Keep your customer at the core of every touch point

From your Facebook ad, to your product landing page, to your product category page, checkout page, confirmation email, and product tracking emails, you have an opportunity to create the best experience for your customers at each step.

customer service and customer experience
Great customer service is one component of a great customer experience.

2. Make your customers feel something.

Humans don’t buy things. We buy feelings. What are you doing to make your shoppers feel? How are you highlighting the intangible benefits of your value proposition?

3. Keep your employees motivated.

Happy, satisfied employees, deliver happy, satisfying customer experiences, whether they’re creating customer-facing content for your website, or speaking to customers on the phone. For more on building a motivated, high performance marketing team, read this post!

Testing to improve your customer experience

Of course, this wouldn’t be a WiderFunnel blog post if I didn’t recommend testing your customer experience improvements.

If you have an idea for how to inject emotion into the shopping experience, test it. If you believe a particular tweak will make the shopping experience easier and your shoppers more successful, test it.

Your customers will show you what an ideal customer experience looks like with their actions, if you give them the opportunity.

Here’s an example.

During our partnership with e-commerce platform provider, Magento, we ran a test on the product page for the company’s Enterprise Edition software, meant to improve the customer experience.

The main call-to-action on this page was “Get a free demo”—a universal SaaS offering. The assumption was that potential customers would want to experience and explore the platform on their own (convenient, right?), before purchasing the platform.

Magento_CTA_Get
The original Magento Enterprise Edition homepage featuring the “Get a free demo”.

Looking at click map data, however, our Strategists noticed that visitors to this page were engaging with informational tabs lower on the page. It seemed that potential customers needed more information to successfully accomplish their goals on the page.

Unfortunately, once visitors had finished browsing tabs, they had no option other than trying the demo, whether they were ready or not.

So, our Strategists tested adding a secondary “Talk to a specialist” call-to-action. Potential customers could connect directly with a Magento sales representative, and get answers to all of their questions.

Magento_CTA
Today’s Magento Enterprise Edition homepage features a “Talk to a specialist” CTA.

This call-to-action hadn’t existed prior to this test, so the literal infinite conversion rate lift Magento saw in qualified sales calls was not surprising.

What was surprising was the phone call we received six months later: Turns out the “Talk to a specialist” leads were 8x more valuable than the “Get a free demo” leads.

After several subsequent test rounds, “Talk to a specialist” became the main call-to-action on that product page. Magento’s most valuable prospects had demonstrated that the ideal customer experience included the opportunity to get more information from a specialist.

While Publix’s success reminds us of the core components of a great customer experience, actually creating a great customer experience can be tricky.

You might be wondering:

  • What is most important to my customers: Success, Effort, or Emotion?
  • What improvements should I make first?
  • How will I know these improvements are actually working?

A test-and-learn strategy will help you answer these questions, and begin working toward a truly great customer experience.

Don’t get lost in the guesswork of tweaks, fixes, and best practices. Get obsessed with understanding your customer, instead.

How do you create the ideal customer experience?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Capturing supermarket magic and providing the ideal customer experience

Google AdWords Launches Greater Visibility Into Quality Score Components (And What This Means For You)

A recent update to Google AdWords is changing the way performance marketers understand their landing pages’ Quality Scores. Image via Shutterstock.

While Quality Score is a critical factor in your ad performance, it’s always been a bit of a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Marketers have never been able to natively view changes to Quality Score components in AdWords directly. That is — even though expected click through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience scores are the elements contributing to your Quality Score, you haven’t been able to see these individual scores at scale (or for given timeframes) within your AdWords account, or export them into Excel.

Which is why, up until now, some especially savvy marketers have had to improvise workarounds, using third-party scripts to take daily snapshots of Quality Score to have some semblance of historical record — and a better-informed idea as to changes in performance.

Fortunately, an AdWords reporting improvement has brought new visibility into Quality Score components that could help you diagnose some real wins with your ads and corresponding landing pages.

What’s different now?

As you may have already noticed, there are now seven new columns added to your menu of Quality Score metrics including three optional status columns:

  • Expected CTR
  • Ad Relevance and
  • Landing Page Experience

And four revealing historical keyword quality:

  • Quality Score (hist.)
  • Landing Page Experience (hist.)
  • Ad Relevance (hist.)
  • Expected Click Through Rate (hist.)
what's new
Image courtesy of Google’s Inside AdWords blog

This is not new data per se (it’s been around in a different, less accessible form), but as of this month you can now see everything in one spot and understand when certain changes to Quality Score have occurred.

So how can you take advantage?

There are two main ways you can use this AdWords improvement to your advantage as a performance marketer:

1. Now you can see whether your landing page changes are positively influencing Quality Score

Now, after you make changes to a landing page — you can use AdWords’ newest reporting improvement to see if you have affected the landing page experience portion of your Quality Score over time.

This gives you a chance to prove certain things are true about the performance of your landing pages, whereas before you may have had to use gut instinct about whether a given change to a landing page was affecting overall Quality Score (or whether it was a change to the ad, for example).

As Blaize Bolton, Team Strategist at Performance Marketing Agency Thrive Digital told me:

As agency marketers, we don’t like to assume things based on the nature of our jobs. We can now pinpoint changes to Quality Score to a certain day, which is actual proof of improvement. To show this to a client is a big deal.

Overall, if your CPC drops, now you can better understand whether it may be because of changes made to a landing page.

2. You can identify which keywords can benefit most from an updated landing page

Prior to this AdWords update, ad relevancy, expected click through rate and landing page relevancy data existed, but you had to mouse over each keyword to get this data to pop up on a keyword-by-keyword basis. Because you couldn’t analyze the data at scale, you couldn’t prioritize your biggest opportunities for improvement.

Hovering over individual keywords
Image courtesy of Brad Geddes and Search Engine Land

However, now that you can export this data historically (for dates later than January 22, 2016), you can do a deep dive into your campaigns and identify where a better, more relevant landing page could really help.

You can now pull every keyword in your AdWords account — broken out by campaign — and identify any underperforming landing pages.

An Excel Quality Score Deep Dive
Now, an Excel deep dive into your AdWords campaigns can help you reveal landing page weaknesses.

Specifically, here’s what Thrive Digital’s Managing Director Ross McGowan recommends:

You can break down which of your landing pages are above average, or those that require tweaking. For example, you might index your campaigns by the status AdWords provides, assigning anything “Above Average” as 3, “Average” as 2 and “Below Average” as 1. You can then find a weighted average for each campaign or ad group and make a call on what to focus on from there.

What should you do when you notice a low landing page experience score?

As Google states, landing page experience score is an indication of how useful the search engine believes your landing page is to those who click on your ad. They recommend to, “make sure your landing page is clear and useful… and that it is related to your keyword and what customers are searching for.”

In short, it’s very important that your landing pages are highly relevant to your ad. Sending traffic to generic pages on your website may not cut it. Moreover, once you are noticing low landing page engagement scores, it’s time to try optimizing these pages with some quick wins.

In the words of Thrive’s Ross McGowan:

Figure out what a user wants, and do everything you can to tailor the on-page experience to them. Whether that be [using] Dynamic Text Replacement, A/B testing elements to get the best user experience, or spending less time on technical issues and more on writing great content.

Finally, for more on AdWords’ latest improvements, AdAlysis founder Brad Geddes has written a great article on Search Engine Land. His company had enough data on hand to attempt a reverse-engineer of the formula for Quality Score to get a sense of how changes to one of the QS components would impact overall score. His recommendation is much the same as Ross’, in that, if a landing page’s score is particularly low, your best bet is to focus on increasing user’s interaction with the page.

Want to optimize your landing pages?

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Google AdWords Launches Greater Visibility Into Quality Score Components (And What This Means For You)

How to Use Smarter Content to Build Laser-Focused Lists of Qualified Prospects

Laser Focus Content Marketing

Many companies invest a lot of time and money in content marketing. But very few are ever really successful with it. That’s because a lot of companies approach to content marketing as some sort of hands-off sorcery. They write blog post after blog post and then sit around and wait for something to happen (hint: nothing will happen). Instead, you should think of content as a type of currency – a strategic asset that you can use within a framework to drive business results. This requires a plan and a strategy for how you will use content and then which…

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How to Use Smarter Content to Build Laser-Focused Lists of Qualified Prospects

Mitch Joel on Why Agencies Should Care About Should Care About Finding Their Unique Voice [INTERVIEW]

Move over Don Draper, the modern day agency marketer needs to be more of a Renaissance (wo)man.

Sure, they need to be creative enough to craft a compelling pitch.

But they also need to be data-driven. They need to be well versed in analytics and the latest MarTech trends. And when budgets get tight, agency marketers need to be able to convince their clients to not cut out conversion rate optimization.

Few people know this better than Mitch Joel, president of Mirum, a global digital marketing agency operating in 20 different countries. Mitch is a best-selling business author, international speaker and agency thought leader. But he’s also a full-stack marketer who has been doing display advertising for longer than Google itself.

Mitch Joel, president of global digital agency Mirum and author of Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete.Image source.

Since Mitch entered the digital marketing world, a helluvalot has changed — and not just in agencyland. As technology evolves, so too are consumers and the way they interact with our brands. At the Call to Action Conference in June, Mitch’s keynote, Algorhythm: How Technology Connects Consumers To Brands Like Never Before, will dive into how to future-proof your brand and embrace disruption to become a digital leader.

Ugh, why can’t it be June already?

To tide you over, here’s a fascinating interview with Mitch from the Call to Action Podcast. Unbounce Director of Content Dan Levy sat down with Mitch to discuss:

  • How the agency world has evolved over the past 15 years.
  • Mitch’s experience selling his independent agency to WPP, the largest advertising company in the world.
  • How everything from search results to PPC and even the talent you hire for your agency are all extensions of your brand.

Check out some highlights from the interview below. (This transcript has been edited for length. Listen to the full episode on iTunes.)

Dan Levy: You’re known as a bestselling business author, speaker and agency thought leader, but you got your start in the online marketing trenches doing ad sales and even PPC marketing for a site called Mamma.com. Can you take us back to that time? What did the online marketing landscape look like and what did you learn from that experience?

Mitch Joel: Actually, yes, I did do that. But my start in digital came much earlier when I was publishing music magazines in the late 80s and early 90s. I actually was tangentially at the same time very engaged in digital media: first web browser, BBSs, stuff like that. And I actually put those magazines on the “internet” — like air quote internet — because back then, there wasn’t even really an internet.

I remember one of the cover stories for my alternative, cool, fun publication was called, “The Net.” The innovation at that time was hyperlinks. I literally was posting things on the internet from the magazine that couldn’t have hyperlinks. You couldn’t link from one page to the other. That really kept me on the trajectory where eventually I helped launch the sales channel of what at the time was one of the largest meta search engines on the internet. And again, it’s hard to imagine a world before Google. But this was pre-Google. And so the meta search engine would basically grab search results from engines like Yahoo, AOL, Lycos, and create a meta — or a better — search result that we could actually aggregate faster.

My role back then was selling sponsorships on the homepage, it was selling banner advertising. And it was also very early days of selling — literally the first time of being able to take a search result and having a banner that’s related to the search show up in the search result. And to tell you how early and nascent it was, I had to physically go into the code of the search engine to code the banner in. I don’t recommend that in this day in age. Like I don’t think anyone at Google is going into the master code to embed a search result. But that’s how early the times were back then.

DL: Wow. What did you learn from that experience that you brought forth?

MJ: Well I learned to take chances. I can tell you that when they approached me about the opportunity, my first question was, “What’s online advertising?” I mean, we are talking about a time when that first banner ad on HotWired — which became Wired — had just run.

The first banner ad, ever. Image source: Wired.

I didn’t even know what it looked like, what it felt like, what it could be. I think my pedigree in selling traditional print ads and having a construct of what it means to run a media company is what pushed me there. So it was — to this day, it was a great move. And I’m so grateful, I still have a lot of friends in my life now who came from there. A lot of people who’ve become — who’ve ascended in this industry to run major, major web initiatives are people that I hired. People that I brought into the industry. So I have a lot of pride in that.

And I also learned that — again, when I think about it, I don’t know why I took the job. All logic would dictate that at the time, I should not have taken that job. But I took the job and it wound up being great for me because it brought together what I was doing professionally on one side. And on the other side, it brought together my passion for digital. I often say that I was very early into many things. And when we started Mirum, which back then was Twist Image in 2000 (I joined in 2002). At that point in my career I said, even though I might be a little early in this space, I’m going to ride it out.

DL: Performance marketing and brand marketing are often seen as being on different sides of the digital marketing spectrum. Do you think that’s true? Do you see those two disciplines as coming closer together in an age where Facebook has gone from a social media network to just another performance marketing channel?

MJ: I think you’re right. The evolution — and by the way, Google structured themselves — for a long while, and they may still — around brand and performance. And that’s common. Where I think the confusion comes from is that within real behavioral performance-based marketing, there are heavy and hefty lifting around brand and experience that we often dismiss because we think that performance is still about getting the right search word, getting them to the right page.

But actually if you step back from that, the meta message is that it has to be a very relevant and cohesive brand experience. And I was somebody who wasn’t just buying generic brand keywords back in the day, to just keep that going. I actually believe that — a saying I’ve used since the early 2000s is that the first page of search results is a brand experience.


You can’t separate PPC & brand marketing. The 1st page of search is part of your brand experience.
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So there’s that. That sort of dismisses the idea that performance is not about branding. And you’re right — fast forwarding to today, a lot of my clients and a lot of people I meet when I do speaking events will say that social media is primarily a paid channel, because of what Facebook has done to throttle the content and have you pay against reach. Which I think by the way is a great model and clearly the market would agree with that idea.

But you can’t have any results — whether you’re paying for it or it’s organic — unless it’s a really good experience.

Whether or not that’s through a search result, an email marketing initiative, a great landing page *hint hint wink wink* to you guys, or a good old piece of content. I really don’t care. I’m actually agnostic to that.

DL: Where do performance channels like PPC and landing page optimization and conversion rate optimization come into the picture with the kinds of big brands that you work with? Are those things part of your offer? Do you factor them into how you pitch and bill clients?

MJ: Well it depends on whether someone’s going full bore with us or not. Like any other agency, we work on specific campaigns, specific projects, longer initiatives and then full-on mandates. And even the full-on mandates have sort of splits and fits and starts.

The way we started our company, we only wanted to work with large national and multinational brands and we’ve stuck to that model for what’s coming up onto 17 years. Because of that, being of startup size back in the early 2000s, most brands already had large media companies at play. And those media companies even back then were feeling very threatened by digital and would make those offerings.

So we would come in and grab pieces and parts of it and really focus on the behavioral side. Let us handle the drive to optimization, landing page, unique spaces, unique experience while the media companies were really checking boxes around “online video,” “search,” affiliate marketing” and stuff like that. So from my pedigree, I stand very firmly and aligned with what performance can do in terms of optimizations and moving things forward. I feel like I’m banging against the wall when everyone says, “Well we do that.” I think people do do that, but they don’t really do it.

I still really believe that a lot of the work we see is what I call “rearview mirror.” You know, we did it, we’re running these keywords to a landing page, and let’s see how it did. Post. I believe, and I know that Mirum as an agency believes it, all of that optimization, all of that data, all of that opportunity is now in the passenger seat. When you do it well and you actually are optimizing and driving and creating unique experiences on landing pages and stuff like that, you’ve moved it from the rearview mirror to the passenger’s seat and you can fix it and go so that there always is a positive result, not a result that says, “Oh, that campaign just didn’t work.” I can’t believe we still use that language in business today!

DL: Right, as if a campaign or an experience is a success or a failure — only if it meets your hypothesis. And the learnings aren’t a factor or don’t have anything to do with it at all.

MJ: Right and it’s frustrating for me because I feel like we often lose business or can’t grab the business because there’s a sentiment that we already have someone doing that work. But when you dig into what that work is, you see that there actually isn’t a lot of that stuff that we’re really talking about. They say they do that, it’s on their decks, and it’s on their site. But — and I don’t know if it’s a failure of the brand or a failure of the agency. I’m not sure where it happens. But there is a vast majority of very powerful brands really not doing enough.

DL: Do you think the problem is that optimization is seen as a discipline or a branch of marketing instead of just a mindset?

MJ: Yeah. One of my close friends is Bryan Eisenberg, who I really believe is one of the forefathers of this optimization space. He’s written books about it, “Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?” and intent and scent and all that.

My relationship with Bryan is going on for close to 20 years at this point. And he would often say things like, “You know, here we are talking about all this stuff. And the first thing a brand will cut on a budget is the optimization. Hands down.

And it’s mind-numbing and it’s mind-blowing to both of us — and years later it still remains the same — because that’s actually where you make money. And I don’t know why brands, agencies don’t get it. I don’t get how they don’t get it.

DL: Can you talk about the role content played in getting Twist on the map? I imagine that your book and your blog and your podcast were all part of ultimately attracting the attention of WPP and making that acquisition happen.

MJ: It’s a yes and no story.

It’s a yes story in the sense that it’s very interesting when they’re doing financial and product assessments to see an agency that has been so consistent for a decade. Creating the blog, the podcast, Six Pixels of Separation, that lead to 50-60 paid speaking events a year. That lead to two best selling books — and I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but represented by a major New York literary agent, onto a major — largest book publisher in the world, onto the global deal. And other things that come from media appearances and stuff like that.

DL: Yeah, I think that from my perspective, Twist Image and Mitch Joel were kind of one and the same.

MJ: Totally. And we built it that way. We always saw from day one, back in 2003ish, when we started the blog, that Twist Image (at the time — now Mirum) would be managing three brands:

  1. that Mirum brand,
  2. Six Pixels of Separation (which we sort of considered the sort of “content engine” — so blog, podcast, articles, speaking, books)
  3. and then Mitch Joel, this media face. This warm, hopefully friendly and personable face to an agency, which again, now seems very obvious.

But if you go back 10+ years, nobody was really doing that. They didn’t really have that. So the fact that we were sharing content, having conversations with people who just didn’t have a voice before — you know, we were having hour-long conversations with business or marketing thought leaders. That you didn’t get an hour with. You’d be lucky if you had one famous enough to get 10 minutes on Charlie Rose. Suddenly, someone is spending an hour with them, having a conversation like they would over a coffee, and publishing it to the world.

There were these assets there that were built over time, and again, I do know that when it came to the opportunity for us to be acquired, one of the metrics was the fact that there is revenue generation that comes out of the content engine. That doesn’t just create media attention and a level of fame, whatever that might be. But that there actually was revenue behind this thing. And that was very surprising and shocking to them.

DL: Meaning what? It gets clients in the door?

MJ: I mean, yeah, think about it. You pitch for business development, you spend weeks, months pitching. And business development is a cost center. It costs every agency a lot of money to business develop. You don’t win every pitch. It’s a very small percentage. And you hope that the ones you win make up for all the money you spent. When you’re offsetting that cost with speaking gigs, book deals, article writing and stuff like that, it’s really interesting that you’re creating this voice and building a platform and it actually is driving business, it’s driving revenue — both in terms of client and raw revenue. We get dollars to speak and write books. It’s not vanity.

It was always about creating equity in the brand, that would have one of two roles. That one day, we would be acquired. Or if we’re never acquired, we’re running this business in a way where all of the top players would want to acquire it. And there would be extreme value in the brand.

I like building businesses that build equity as they grow. And this channel of speaking, writing, etc — it wasn’t a core component of what we were acquired for, but it was definitely on the list.

DL: It reminds me of the Rolling Stones model, where you’re the front man, but ultimately, you share those profits evenly. I know they’ve credited that for their longevity as a band. It sounds like the same thing for the longevity of Twist, and now Mirum.

MJ: Yeah, and I try to not have it be ego-driven. I look at it like — my job, as a media entity, is to be extremely personable. And to know that I’m managing Mirum, Six Pixels and Mitch Joel. And I conduct myself accordingly. If you look me up on Facebook, there isn’t a ton of personal stuff. There’s a ton of personable stuff.

DL: If you had to give agencies who are looking to set themselves apart from the crowd and spur growth for both their clients and their own business one piece of advice, what would it be?

MJ: I really think it is much like a great book. A great book works not because the topic is unique. I feel like more often than not you’re reading a topic that somebody else covered in one shape or form.

It’s the voice. I don’t see that much in terms of agencies having that unique voice. Do I think we achieved it? Partially. And I think it’s because it’s a journey — you’re constantly changing it, moving it along. But if I were to go across — and we did this exercise when we were trying to figure out the branding for Mirum, Twist Image — I would jokingly tell people, “You could take the website of all our biggest competitors, take off the logos, throw them in the air, and whatever website they fall on, you’d still be pretty much right.” The services, types of case studies, type of work we do. And still to this day, I think that story rings true.

The ones that stand out, though, are the ones that have a unique voice. It could be a unique individual — I’m thinking of people like Bob Greenberg at R/GA. It could just be a unique story to tell. So if you look at an agency like WK, the fact that they’ve been large and independent, the type of work that they’ve done it’s like the voice of the agency is the work that they do. That type of thing is the only component of your business that you can have that is the defendable against a competitor. It’s how you express yourself, tell your stories, the type of team members you bring in, the type of work that you do, the stories you tell in the marketplace, where you network, what you attend. That’s the big one.

The secondary one is get involved in your industry. What  drove this business at Mirum was the fact that we got involved in places like Shop.org, the National Retail Federation, Canadian Marketing Association, Interactive Advertising — I could go on and on. And we didn’t just join and become members. We got involved. In fact, we just had a conversation at lunch about an association that I’m super interested in. And the answer we all came to was: “Not unless we can get deeply involved.” So, what you find out is that by giving (because you love this industry and you want it to be better), you do wind up in some way receiving. We don’t get involved to get results. By getting involved and being active, it just happens.

DL: Well Mitch, it’s always a real treat to talk shop with you. Thank you so much for taking the time.

MJ: My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

This transcript has been edited for length. Listen to more interviews with digital marketing experts on iTunes.

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Mitch Joel on Why Agencies Should Care About Should Care About Finding Their Unique Voice [INTERVIEW]

Marketing Machines: Is Machine Learning Helping Marketers or Making Us Obsolete?

Hollywood paints a grim picture of a future populated by intelligent machines. Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix and countless other films show us that machines are angry, they’re evil and — if given the opportunity — they will not hesitate to overthrow the human race.

Films like these serve as cautionary tales about what could happen if machines gain consciousness (or some semblance of). But in order for that to happen humans need to teach machines to think for themselves. This may sound like science fiction but it’s an actual discipline known as machine learning.

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The machines are coming. But fear not — they could help you become a better marketer. Image via Shutterstock.

Still in its infancy, machine learning systems are being applied to everything from filtering spam emails, to suggesting the next series to binge-watch and even matching up folks looking for love.

For digital marketers, machine learning may be especially helpful in getting products or services in front of the right prospects, rather than blanket-marketing to everyone and adding to the constant noise that is modern advertising. Machine learning will also be key to predicting customer churn and attribution: two thorns in many digital marketers’ sides.

Despite machine learning’s positive impact on the digital marketing field, there are questions about job security and ethics that cannot be swept under the rug. Will marketing become so automated that professional marketers become obsolete? Is there potential for machine learning systems to do harm, whether by targeting vulnerable prospects or manipulating people’s emotions?

These aren’t just rhetorical questions. They get to the heart of what the future of marketing will look like — and what role marketers will play in it.

What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a complicated subject, involving advanced math, code and overwhelming amounts of data. Luckily, Tommy Levi, Director of Data Science at Unbounce, has a PhD in Theoretical Physics. He distills machine learning down to its simplest definition:

You can think of machine learning as using a computer or mathematics to make predictions or see patterns in data. At the end of the day, you’re really just trying to either predict something or see patterns, and then you’re just using the fact that a computer is really fast at calculating.

You may not know it, but you likely interact with machine learning systems on a daily basis. Have you ever been sucked into a Netflix wormhole prompted by recommended titles? Or used Facebook’s facial recognition tool when uploading and tagging an image? These are both examples of machine learning in action. They use the data you input (by rating shows, tagging friends, etc.) to produce better and more accurate suggestions over time.

Other examples of machine learning include spell check, spam filtering… even internet dating — yes, machine learning has made its way into the love lives of many, matching up singles using complicated algorithms that take into consideration personality traits and interests.


Machine learning may be helpful in getting products or services in front of the right prospects.
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How Machine Learning Works

While it may seem like witchcraft to the layperson, running in the background of every machine learning system we encounter is a human-built machine that would have gone through countless iterations to develop.

Facebook’s facial recognition tool, which can recognize your face with 98% accuracy, took several years of research and development to produce what is regarded as cutting-edge machine learning.

So how exactly does machine learning work? Spoiler alert: it’s complicated. So without going into too much detail, here’s an introduction to machine learning, starting with the two basic techniques.

Supervised learning

Supervised learning systems rely upon humans to label the incoming data — at least to begin with — in order for the systems to better predict how to classify future input data.

Gmail’s spam filter is a great example of this. When you label incoming mail as either spam or not spam, you’re not only cleaning up your inbox, you’re also training Gmail’s filter (a machine learning system) to identify what you consider to be spam (or not spam) in the future.

Unsupervised learning

Unsupervised learning systems use unlabeled incoming data, which is then organized into clusters based on similarities and differences in the data. Whereas supervised learning relies upon environmental feedback, unsupervised learning has no environmental feedback. Instead, data scientists will often use a reward/punishment system to indicate success or failure.

According to Tommy, this type of machine learning can be likened to the relationship between a parent and a young child. When a child does something positive they’re rewarded. Likewise, when “[a machine] gets it right — like it makes a good prediction — you kind of give it a little pat on the back and you say good job.”

Like any child (or person for that matter), the system ends up trying to maximize the positive reinforcement, thus getting better and better at predicting.

The Power of Machine Learning

A lot of what machine learning can do is yet to be explored, but the main benefit is its ability to wade through and sort data far more quickly and efficiently than any human could, no matter how clever.

Tommy is currently experimenting with an unsupervised learning system that clusters landing pages with similar features. Whereas one person could go through a few hundred pages in a day, this model can run through 300,000 pages in 20 minutes.

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The advantage is not just speed, it’s also retention and pattern recognition. Tommy explains:

To go through that many pages and see those patterns and hold it all in memory and be able to balance that — that’s where the power is.

For some marketers, this raises a troubling question: If machine learning systems solve problems by finding patterns that we can’t see, does this mean that marketers should be worried about job security?

The answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.

Machine Learning and the Digital Marketer

As data becomes the foundation for more and more marketing decisions, digital marketers have been tasked with sorting through an unprecedented amount of data.

This process usually involves hours of digging through analytics, collecting data points from marketing campaigns that span several months. And while focusing on data analysis and post-mortems is incredibly valuable, doing so takes a significant amount of time and resources away from future marketing initiatives.

As advancements in technology scale exponentially, the divide between teams that do and those that don’t will become more apparent. Those that don’t evolve will stumble and those that embrace data will grow — this is where machine learning can help.


Marketers that don’t embrace data will fumble. Those that do will grow — ML can help.
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That being said, machine learning isn’t something digital marketers can implement themselves after reading a quick tutorial. It’s more comparable to having a Ferrari in your driveway when you don’t know how to drive standard… or maybe you can’t even drive at all.

Until the day when implementing a machine learning system is just a YouTube video away, digital marketers could benefit from keeping a close eye on the companies that are incorporating machine learning into their products, and assessing whether they can help with their department’s pain points.

So how are marketers currently implementing machine learning to make decisions based on data rather than gut instinct? There are many niches in marketing that are becoming more automated. Here are a few that stand out.

Lead scoring and machine learning

Lead scoring is a system that allows marketers to gauge whether a prospect is a qualified lead and thus worth pursuing. Once marketing and sales teams agree on the definition of a “qualified lead,” they can begin assigning values to different qualified lead indicators, such as job title, company size and even interaction with specific content.

These indicators paint a more holistic picture of a lead’s level of interest, beyond just a form submission typically associated with lead generation content like ebooks. And automating lead scoring takes the pressure off marketers having to qualify prospects via long forms, freeing them up to work on other marketing initiatives.

Once the leads have reached the “qualified” threshold, sales associates can then focus their efforts on those prospects — ultimately spending their time and money where it matters most.

Content marketing and copywriting

Machine learning models can analyze data points beyond just numbers — including words on your website, landing page or PPC ads. Machine learning systems can find patterns in language and detect words that elicit the most clicks or engagement.

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But can a machine write persuasive copy? Maybe, actually.

A New York-based startup called Persado offers a “cognitive content platform” that uses math, data, natural language processing, emotional language data and machine learning systems to serve the best copy and images to spur prospects into action. It does this by analyzing all the language data each client has ever interacted with and serving future prospects with the best possible words or phrases. An A/B test could never achieve this at the same scale.

Think this is a joke? With over $65 million in venture capital and a reported average conversion rate uplift of 49.5% across 4,000 campaigns, Persado’s business model is no laughing matter.

Still, there is no replacement for a supremely personalized piece of content delivered straight to your client’s inbox — an honest call to action from one human to another.

Recently Unbounce’s Director of Campaign Strategy, Corey Dilley, sent an email to our customers. It had no sales pitch, no call to action button. It was just Corey reaching out and saying, “Hey.”

corey-dilley-marketing-email-1

Corey’s email had an open rate of 41.42%, and he received around 80 personal responses. Not bad for an email written by a human!

Sometimes it’s actions — like clicks and conversions — you want to elicit from customers. Other times the goal is to build rapport. In some cases we should let the machines do the work, but it’s up to the humans to keep the content, well, human.


There is no replacement for personalized content and an honest ask from one human to another.
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Machine learning for churn prediction

In the SaaS industry, churn is a measure of the percentage of customers who cancel their recurring revenue subscriptions. According to Tommy, churn tells a story about “how your customers behave and feel. It’s giving a voice to the customers that we don’t have time or the ability to talk to.”

Self-reporting methods such as polls and surveys are another good way to give a voice to these customers. But they’re not always scalable — large data sets can be hard for humans to analyze and derive meaning from.

Self-reporting methods can also skew your results. Tommy explains:

The problem with things like surveys and popups is that they’re only going to tell you what you’ve asked about, and the type of people that answer surveys are already a biased set.

Machine learning systems, on the other hand, can digest a larger number of data points, and with far less bias. Ideally the data is going to reveal what marketing efforts are working, thus leading to reduced churn and helping to move customers down the funnel.

This is highly relevant for SaaS companies, whose customers often sign up for trials before purchasing the product. Once someone starts a trial, the marketing department will start sending them content in order to nurture them into adopting the service and become engaged.

Churn models can help a marketing team determine which pieces of content lead to negative or positive encounters — information that can inform and guide the optimization process.

Ethical Implications of Machine Learning in Marketing

We hinted at the ethical implications of machine learning in marketing, but it deserves its own discussion (heck, it deserves its own book). The truth is, machine learning systems have the potential to cause legitimate harm.

According to Carl Schmidt, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Unbounce:

Where we are really going to run into ethical issues is with extreme personalization. We’re going to teach machines how to be the ultimate salespeople, and they’re not going to care about whether you have a compulsive personality… They’re just going to care about success.

This could mean targeting someone in rehab with alcohol ads, or someone with a gambling problem with a trip to Las Vegas. The machine learning system will make the correlation, based on the person’s internet activity, and it’s going to exploit that.

Another dilemma we run into is with marketing aimed at affecting people’s emotions. Sure copywriters often tap into emotions in order to get a desired response, but there’s a fine line between making people feel things and emotional manipulation, as Facebook discovered in an infamous experiment.

If you aren’t familiar with the experiment, here’s the abridged version: Facebook researchers adapted word count software to manipulate the News Feeds of 689,003 users to determine whether their emotional state could be altered if they saw fewer positive posts or fewer negative posts in their feeds.

Posts were deemed either positive or negative if they contained at least one positive or negative word. Because researchers never saw the status updates (the machine learning system did the filtering) technically it fell within Facebook’s Data Use Policy.

However, public reaction to the Facebook experiment was generally pretty scathing. While some came to the defense of Facebook, many criticized the company for breaching ethical guidelines for informed consent.

In the end, Facebook admitted they could have done better. And one good thing did come out of the experiment: It now serves as a benchmark for when machine learning goes too far, and as a reminder for marketers to continually gut-check themselves.

For Carl, it comes down to intent:

If I’m Facebook, I might be worried that if we don’t do anything about the pacing and style of content, and we’re inadvertently presenting content that could be reacted to negatively, especially to vulnerable people, then we would want to actively understand that mechanism and do something about it.

While we may not yet have a concrete code of conduct around machine learning, moving forward with good intentions and a commitment to do no harm is a good place to start.

The Human Side of Machine Learning

Ethical issues aside, the rise of machines often implies the fall of humans. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

“You want machines to do the mundane stuff and the humans to do the creative stuff,” Carl says. He continues:

Computers are still not creative. They can’t think on their own, and they generally can’t delight you very much. We are going to get to a point where you could probably generate highly personal onboarding content by a machine. But it [will have] no soul.

That’s where the human aspect comes in. With creativity and wordsmithing. With live customer support. Heck, it takes some pretty creative data people to come up with an algorithm that recognizes faces with 98% accuracy.

Imagine a world where rather than getting 15 spam emails a day, you get just one with exactly the content you would otherwise be searching for — content written by a human, but served to you by a machine learning system.

While pop culture may say otherwise, the future of marketing isn’t about humans (or rather, marketers) versus machines. It’s about marketers using machines to get amazing results — for their customers and their company.

Machine learning systems may have an edge when it comes to data sorting, but they’re missing many of the things that make exceptional marketing experiences: empathy, compassion and a true understanding of the human experience.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Split, a digital magazine by Unbounce.

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Marketing Machines: Is Machine Learning Helping Marketers or Making Us Obsolete?