Tag Archives: Marketing

Group Buying In Stores – Experiential Shopping Idea

Micro-Blue Hours – This is just a retail footfall driving concept I thought I’d share: If your retail store is having difficulty driving footfall (which drive revenue), it’s worth exploring the K-Marts Blue Light special concept. This marketing gimmick was intended to keep shoppers engaged. Basically, the way the Blue Light special worked is that suddenly of the intercom the store manager would say “attention K-Mart shppers” and a blue light would point to a product that was then massively discounted in the K-Mart store at random times of day; making the shopping experience fun and an activity all its own is novel. Everyone loves a bargain.

I think that group buying in stores is an interesting way to draw customers to your store. The twist I would add is to imagine customers coming to the store at a specified time: 6pm let’s say. Customers are offered a free orange juice and then those customers vote on the items they strongly want discounted today, be it diapers or groceries whatever. The store manager has a iPhone app where customers vote, and then there is a 1 hour window in which all customers in the store or arriving at the store can get a 50% discount on upvoted items. Crazy right?

Step 1: Customer Votes Are Aggregated So That Those With The App Can Get A Discount


Step 2: Voting Has Ended, Count-Down for Most Voted Item Starts





Step 3: Countdown Clock for the Next Hour, Using the App, Customers Scan for A Discount (Making Shopping Unpredictable & Fun)

Possible Draw Backs to This Idea

  • A) What if customers routinely vote up an item but are overruled by other shoppers? This “never getting your way” problem explains exasperated political disenfranchisement…But my answer is, it’s better than the store dictating based on inventory or internal drivers. Let the market democratically determine what items people want discounted.
  • B) if everything in the store is discountable, then the frequency of discounts in high value items will drive the economic value of the given items down over time. The Groupon effect is where the discounts actually lead the company to discount their own efforts relating to delivering the service, and also prevent product discounts that are believe the average variable cost for housing the items because they want the customers without the “marketing spend” which is in effect a discounting spend. The danger is that the price point will reach a new equilibrium where customers consistently co-ordinate for diaper discounts for example.
  • C) Finance and accounting considerations are not central to this marketing campaign but are the most important considerations in terms of profitability. I haven’t run the math for how this group discounting would be operationalized but the most powerful department in any organization nonetheless. These folks would need to be compelled with the “Micro-Black Friday” logic of enhance short-term earnings; a new tool in the earnings management toolkit.
  • D) Customer engagement risk is considerable.  Customers might not dig this concept. If they knew that they and their friends could artificially drive down the price of goods in exchange for their footfall, they may well try to game the system. Coupon and other models like the original Blue Light specials at K-Mart might be easier to operationalize but why not test this idea, if customers go to the store when they want.
  • E) Competition is between retailers and online options, the market is consolidating into giants like Amazon and Wal-Mart. That battle is being waged online, the management of Wal-Mart is unlikely to want to innovate on their home turf.

General Thoughts

My general thought is, first, is this sustainable? Just because they stopped doing it doesn’t mean it didn’t drive additional footfall. Of course, it’s hard to determine causation without A/B testing. It might make sense to have a Blue Light special on low volume days; perhaps Mondays or Tuesdays. Can you imagine your mother going to K-Mart to participate in a specific timed special? Presently,

Where Blue Light sales a bad idea? So, one criticism of business schools is their emphasis on winners. Everyone loves to study brands that succeed. Unfortunately, 20 years ago, many of the companies that were studied just aren’t around anymore. Hilariously, we look at Wal-Mart and love to speculate on their future. K-Mart is disappearing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their failures and successes should be disregarded.


A Treatise on Search Engine Optimization

People generally don’t like negative truths that expose something about themselves so let me caveat everything below with: this is just an opinion, there is no absolute truth on the subject but “this deal keeps get worse all the time!” is echoed by a subset of marketers called search engine optimizers, almost daily and I know why (or at least I imagine because I got out of that career path 18 months ago ).

SEO as a tough career path: Search Engine Optimizing is absolutely a useful skill. You can read and internalize the book “The Art of SEO” and help Google, the internet’s librarian, find relevant content. That work is useful, no doubt. The grey area is when people try to turn it into a career without the necessary madness and passion. Most SEO folk get paid to help content creators AND/OR/ARE content creators. What do they do? Compete for Google’s affections by attempting to reverse engineer how Google’s organic search algorithm works and cater to how it works. It’s a logical leap of faith in a crowded market of optimizers. The goal is to appear in the top position in the organic results of various key word searches since you get more clicks to your site that way. The best content should appear on the first page of the search results but considering the subjective nature of the “best”, search engine optimizers have been able to say their content or their clients’ content should be ranked as the “best” and often charge clients a fee for the promise of performance via technical and content prowess…The problem is that that strategy fails at a high rate, so they then promise they will do their best for their client which ends up being – like – more of a learning experiment for search engine optimizer/practitioner…remarkably similar to management consulting. Basically, you are an outsourced solution for a problem that no one with any brains wants to own because the solution has a low probability of success. In fact, the term SEO has been tarnished for several decades in reality…

Why? Short-term actors have simply tried (sometimes successfully) to game Google’s algorithm with paid links for example. Sustained success however is fraught with difficulty: there is only one webpage that can rank 1st for a given keyword, even if there are millions of keywords it ain’t easy to rank for one (non-branded ie “Pepsi” or “Disney”) keyword, second, there is no way to A/B test organic performance to see if what you are doing as an SEO is actually the cause of an improvement or drop in performance*, so if your client suddenly ranks in first position there is no way to know if your efforts were the cause…so you take credit for the good and disavow the bad like a standard politician. Fortunately, even well educated people love to draw a cause and effect between two things, have poor memories and are nice people. So you can craft a narrative to persuade them you are awesome. Complex problems don’t have silver bullet solutions. All good stories, however, have a cause and effect pattern, and everyone likes a good cause (seo techniques) effect (better search ranking). 

Needless to say, the relationship with Google has been antagonistic since SEOs are paid to rank their client’s content over Google’s more objective measures. But the valued relationship is between content producers and Google. How’s that work? Google crawls and indexes websites, uses your servers’ bandwidth and scrapes informational content IN EXCHANGE those content creators will receive Google search traffic by appearing on the search engine results page (SERPs)…..

Google is Decoupling The Deal With Content Creators (No Click Searches Are The New Norm)…the problem is Google increasingly wants to provide the best answer without sending users to the sites that provide those answers. Instead of encouraging users to click on a link to a website like webopedia.com, Google is building a personal assistant solution working off the backs of content creators without giving those creators the benefit of that traffic. How? By answering those user questions directly on the search engine result page, placing organic results way down the page, below paid advertising. 

Google’s changes over the years have moved further and further away from content creators, to exclusively manage the interests of users. Principally on the smartphone where clicking to a new webpage is a pain, Google has squeezed organic content creation down below their pre-set answers. The consequences are that more content creators will allocate budget towards paid search results and treat search optimizations as a nice to have long-term project of serendipity but not a short-run conversion source….”We won’t have a next year, if we don’t drive traffic through paid!” might be something you’ll hear more and more. Creating organic content has increasingly diminishing returns but it seems like we will need to evolve even further away from the “SEO-gets-paid-to-rank-principle.” Technical website improving has its place but it too is dubious as Google uses hundreds of factors to circumvent poor performing websites in order to get users what they want….

Google search has +90% market share, hence they have a competitive advance, in the UK, for example. Content producers have limited re-course for example, only if every website blocked Google’s crawler, could content producers influence Google’s policies? A virtual protest against Google might work if you got the BBC to block Google’s crawler…But then other websites would take advantage in order to rank appropriately for those terms. Game theory is a pain. And SEOs are either trying to game the search engine or support it. In either case, Google doesn’t and hasn’t ever really wanted or needed the help of careerist SEOs. Google wants great content to please customers. And makes pay per click (PPC) or paid advertising in the search engine result page a far more crass and transparent means of allocating a marketing budget as it pertains to Google.

The % of organic and paid clicks changed with Instant Answers were rolled out in 2018. Now that this is rolled out, entire SEO agency workflows are undermined in various ways. Meanwhile doing what is best for searchers is what Google has used to justify all kinds of unhelpful changes that undermine marketers.

  • On Video: Google is basically recommending lists of films….no foreign films….above actually movie sites.

  • On Weather: Google owns this search and is taking away traffic from the Weather Network…London, UK was the same, I can confirm from my pre-2016 days.

  • On Flights: Google puts its own results on flights above the airline’s own pages unless there is a PPC ad spend that these airlines are willing to shell out to Google.

  • On Sports: Google sports information on the search. It brings no traffics to the franchises

  • On Hotels: Google eats Trivago for breakfast, that’s why Trivago advertises on TV (to drive traffic to their brand name since Google also supplies options)…

  • On Best of Anything: Google wants to control the options AND they want to link to US sites for users in Canada, eating Canadian dog food companies for breakfast.

Facebook has killed organic reach for postings by only scaling out posts that go “viral”: I’m not getting the stories from my own extended family as a result. Twitter and Linkedin have been trying to show content that contains no links so that users stay on their sites. Reddit has tried to keep people on Reddit as well. YouTube has cut out the descriptions linking. Amazon is extremely stingy about links.

UPDATE October 2018…..

Rand Fishkin’s solution to these challenges is to continue to believe in something that is (career-wise) completely impractical and unwise that “If you can nail it [create the perfect, high ranking page, under budget], you will get tons of traffic to your site….” But it’s pretty much impossible to “nail it” with any consistency. The idea that because something is harder, it makes the best even more sought after completely denies the fact that there are massive externalities that determine search performance (i.e. luck, trends)….Oh and no one posts comments saying their campaigns fail 95% of the time because they are still trying to work in this industry. Fishkin is in a jam because he can’t say that what he has been evangelizing is a low reward career (for the vast majority) because he’s made the skill approachable, fun and his excitement does not match the competitive realities, which is a huge let down. Fishkin has left Moz in what seems like a pivot away from SEO entirely. That should tell you something right there…


The Bad News (all SEOs should know):

  • If you go to BrightSEO where false prophets grant you an away day, then you’ll hear a lot of complaining about the demolished value creation in the face of automated technologies that reward dwell-time on a page and other metrics you can only influence immeasurably which make sense for content but not for search engine optimizers.
  • There are little boosts of performance that string your self-worth along. Serendipity is what you’re experiencing often because Google doesn’t disclose what is working or not working independent of all the myriad marketers also trying to rank for a given keyword.
  • SEO is really a stone soup (you think you are doing SEO ie. placing a stone in an empty pot….when you are really creating unique content or providing technical search-ability….ie convincing the towns people to add vegetables, spices, chicken broth, meat thus creating a delicious soup), As such, SEO allows you to develop other skills: excel/presentations/persuasion/coding skills.
  • The performance of SEO requires that you pretend to have a secret solution that is attained through agency scaled R&D, however very often, knowledge share of techniques between colleagues is hampered by deadlines and a lack of codification/training.
  • *As I said above, A/B testing to control for what change has a causal impact on a website is notoriously difficult. This problem is massive in many industries so it’s not entirely fair to call out SEO. Here’s an example from the political realm: a politicians says that if their opponent was in power, then X bad outcome would happen….the problem is there is no way to access the parallel universe what that opponent IS in power, to control for time series, the same population the same everything else, so that you can PROVE that the if the opponent was in power, then X bad outcome would be a reality. With SEO, splitting out a website and directing Google to crawl two versions in order to reverse engineer how Google ranks your site is not allowed…because if it was then people would be doing a lot. Agencies are the closest to creating a control group for a given website in real-time against another website (similar website). But this is complex and requires rigorous tracking.
  • It’s often advantageous for companies to bring SEO in house rather then depend on an agency and then squeeze that employee into a Social Media and general marketing function…..

The Good News:

  1. You don’t have to work in this field! If you can pivot out of it, then do so!
  2. You might find the work really fun and have tons of passion for the work and so I say carry on!
  3. Long-tail queries are still ripe for search engine optimization of content! (slow clap)
  4. You can build interactive content! (with your giant budget)
  5. You can build great content! (if so then get paid for that directly as a journalist or creative)
  6. You can basically create content in the formats that the monopoly want! (as competitive as that is)
  7. You can make a website perfectly in-tune with best practices (but no marketer and no web-development team wants to be wholly in the service of a search engine).
  8. You can ignore this post because it doesn’t really rank for any keyword because I’m too busy to bother trying to get this page to rank, maybe you’ve found it through serendipity. Congrats and good luck. Chill and take this post with a grain of salt. 

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Part I

Seth Godin repeats the same core points over, and over again with variations on the quality of examples over a 225page book. His argument is not very rigorous because most entrepreneurs recognize them as a valid way of thinking:

(I)   The Race To The Bottom In Prices Is Inevitable;

(II) Education = Dispensability;

(III)Workers Are Increasingly Interchangeable;

(IV) The Zero Sum Game Within The Economy Is A Lie;

(V) The Linchpin Is A Person Who Is More Emotional, Gift-Giving, Visionary, and Mature.

(I) The Race To The Bottom

For over 200 years, Western economies have been standardizing, and automating their work force for increased productivity. In the process of the industrial revolution, a great deal of organization has been built within society to ensure a foundational education, and functionality within the work force. There were managers and labourers in oppositional struggle within factories, and corporations.

The death of the factory in Western economies is certain, according to Godin, as a result of the collapse of these product producing business models. Seth Godin contends therefore that being a functionary is no longer possible. Wages are racing to the lowest levels possible, Amazon is automating its delivery workforce through robotics, McDonald’s has drive thru employees taking orders in a call centre in North Dakota rather than in the localized McDonald’s itself. Technology has driven the cost of employees down, while unions are losing the battle against outsourcing to India, South Korea, China et cetera….In order to avoid being a functionary, you must become your organisation’s Linchpin.

This is a series of posts on Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?