Why Your Digital Marketing Is Not Getting Responses: A Checklist to Make Yourself Easy to Contact

Are you frustrated with your digital marketing efforts not getting the responses you hoped for? It could be because you are not easy to contact. Being easy to reach is essential in today’s world, whether you’re looking for a job, trying to grow your business, or staying connected with friends and family.

But how do you know if you’re easy to contact? First – a few things to check:

  • Your email address. Is it up-to-date and easy to remember? If it’s not, consider creating a new one that’s easy to share.
  • Your phone number. Is it listed on your website and social media profiles? If not, add it so that people can easily reach you.
  • Your social media profiles. Are they active and up-to-date? If not, start posting interesting content and engaging with your followers.

If you think you have the above already nailed down- read on for a deeper check and prepare to be surprised!

We realized that businesses did not pay attention to whether they were easy to contact some years ago. Here is the backstory:

We were running a Google Ads campaign for a manufacturing client. The client wanted potential customers to call the company phone number. The analytics reported that calls were coming in from the ads. Yet the client was reporting far fewer calls than our analytics. By chance, we called the client company number and found that the whole “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. Click 1 if you know your party’s extension, Click 2 for the names directory, 3 for HR, 4 for Sales, 5 for Service …” took 2.5 minutes or 150 seconds. There was no way that today’s prospect was to wait on a phone call for that long. We had the client CEO call their number at our next meeting, be dismayed, and then fix the problem!

It turns out that in many professional settings, we never check if we are easy to contact. Here is a checklist:

  1. LinkedIn: Our experience is that 80% of LinkedIn users do not have contact details filled out. And unless you are an academic, you do not tend to have at least one email on a public university website or a journal article you might have written. So you are tough to find or reach. This is further complicated as many people do not have the LinkedIn app or LinkedIn messenger on their phones. Thus, we request that our dear readers update your LinkedIn profile with at least one email you check. Here is how to add your contact details to your LinkedIn profile.
  2. Are your emails on your cell phone? Americans checked their phones 96 times a day and unlocked them 150 times a day in 2022, according to Zippa. You might have 5-6 or more email accounts for various purposes like family, work, job search etc. You need to have all of them on your cell phone because you are unlikely to log in to each account daily from another device, like a laptop. And responding to an important email after more than a day is too long.
  3. Do you have voicemail set up on your cell phone? Not having your voicemail set up is a problem for many people of all ages. You don’t want to take a junk call but need to receive a phone call message from a prospective client. Here is a YouTube video on how to set up your voicemail for iPhone and Android devices. Do not set up the phone number automatic voicemail if you have any digital marketing campaign with this as a “Call Now!” option. Just imagine how comforting it is for a prospect to find voice confirmation of the brand after calling a phone number from a digital marketing piece.
  4. Do you have Social Media Apps on your phone? If you use Facebook, Instagram, or other social media, you must have the associated app, e.g., Facebook Messenger, on your cell phone. Why? Because you need to know quickly if there is something you need to respond to.
  5. How to deal with junk or near-junk individual messages? Junk messages are sent in bulk by voice, text, email, or social media. Sometimes they can be very relevant and mean a lot because the other party is interested in doing business. So these relevant ones are worth replying to. And then some individuals reach out and don’t know enough, i.e., haven’t researched enough, about what they are asking. If you have the resources, developing a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page and directing them, there is good.

We hope the above checklist helps our dear readers to be more accessible professionally as well as personally.

About StratoServe.


The “S” Curves of radical and incremental innovation

The “S” curves of radical and incremental innovation-StratoServe

Following a 2014 LinkedIn piece Sharpen the Saw, cut the Tree or look for non-Trees?, here is some more detail on the “S” curves of innovation (first published in 2014 and updated 2020). The “S Curve” innovation thinking is attributed to Richard Foster (1986) and made famous by Clayton Christensen in the book “Innovator’s Dilemma,” where he discusses how each successive computer hard drive industry got wiped out.

[Note: Due to the great interest of our dear readers this post was updated in January 2021]

What are the “S” curves? Each of the above S curves represent a technology platform. Movement up an “S” curve is incremental innovation while stepping down on a lower new “S” curve now, may lead to radical innovation, as the new “S” curve surpasses your existing “S” curve. There is a risk that the lower “S” curve does not get better. We only hear of technologies that won and we don’t remember those that lost. So trying out a new technology when you are doing great in your current technology is scary!

The Cost and Performance Y axis, Time on X Axis: If you look at the Y axis you see performance going up and cost coming down. Just as time goes on. In other words over time a particular S curve and technology platform gets improved. This improvement is through factors such as experience, techniques like 6 Sigma, more adoption by customer. The adoption by customer mean higher sales volumes and costs keep going down. However there is a catch for each S curve.

And that is the limit to improvement on the same technology platform. This has happened in numerous industries where dominant players in one “S” platform refused to jump down to a lower “S” curve. And became extinct.

Why is it so difficult /scary to jump onto a lower “S” curve? No one wants to come down in life by choice. And a lower “S” curve can mean less efficient performance and higher cost. It sometimes means a complete rethink of your revenue model. In the example of the music industry records,cassettes, CD’s were sold in stores and a large number of people found employment just in the sales side of the industry. With streaming music on Spotify and Apple the distribution channel and employees have disappeared.

The music industry, as shown in the image above , is a great example to understand “S” Curves:

  • 1970’s Cassette Tapes: You had workers who specialized on manufacturing cassette tapes, there were specialized suppliers and of course the Sony Walkman that made music cassettes so special. Cassettes came in 60 minutes and then 90 minute formats. Avid listeners (the final consumers) tried getting the 90 minute cassette that must have involved a lot of incremental innovation by suppliers and personnel in the plastic music cassette industry. You can visualize six-sigma and total quality programs at cassette factories, that reduced waste and defects in the product.
  • 1980’s Music CDs :The next “S” curve involved CD’s.. Suddenly you had music on CD’s that improved quality a whole lot and “Sony Discman” became popular as the cassette industry started dying, just as vinyl records had died before that. The CD industry had its own players and supply chain. CD’s went on improving and you could buy rewritable CD’s. Cars had CD players and around 2006-7 had both a Cassette player and a CD player.
  • 1990’s MP3 Player: Next off course you have the MP3 player, iPod and literally thousands of songs on your device and then the iTunes store on the cloud. The MP3 players and cloud also require a new set of employee skills and a differently skilled supply base. This is not shown in the picture.
  • 2007…. iPhone, Music Cloud of Spotify and Apple: As Tom Friedman points out in his book, Thank You For Being Late, 2007 was a tectonic shift year starting with the iPhone. If you work in any part of the music supply chain you need to adapt to the new “S” curve of cloud music. Today’s new cars do not have CD players and will allow you to connect the car audio to your phone. Or your Spotify account.

If you think about each industry, it ignored the march of technology and refused to get started on the next technology “S” curve from the current technology “S” curve. This reluctance was because at the early stages, each new “S” curve looked unattractive from the existing “S” curve.

You see that the dominant players in each technology type became extinct just because they thought that the upcoming technology was too much behind- and will never catch up. And there was a lot of resistance to change from within. By the time the new technology ( second and third curves) became really comparable in performance and cost – the incumbents of older “S” curves were too far behind.

The takeaway for all types of organizations is to have the courage to invest time, energy (more than merely money) at successive “S” curves that seem less attractive today but have the potential to vastly surpass what you offer your market today. About StratoServe.

Understand needs early and avoid being let down

Understanding needs and requirements come with the definition of duties of the client-facing system analyst. Understanding requirements early is the secret to avoiding feeling let down. It’s the secret to good school grades and happy customers in every field.

As one hairdresser mentioned, a client seriously wondered if the cut hair could be reversed after the haircut!

This post explains why we should try and spend a lot of mental energy and some time at the front end of any task that will likely take us a few hours, days, weeks, or longer.

Measure Twice but Cut Once

This English proverb puts the idea succinctly. Watch expert Carpenters and Tailors at work, and you realize why they always do this. You cannot grow back cut wood or cut cloth!

Here are some situations where our dear readers might find the idea useful.

Academic Grades

If you have ever felt that you got poor grades despite working hard on anything – there is a great marketing lesson:

You failed to understand the requirements early.

As any teacher will tell you, numerous students do not read the syllabus or misread the question. Without reading the syllabus, it’s hard to focus your efforts appropriately. And we tend to underestimate the effort and time required, so even after understanding requirements- there is execution to be done. And execution is messy and unstructured till you can develop a process. See the planning fallacy.

Yes, sometimes the question is not straightforward, and it’s good to ask the teacher, and teachers are happy to explain. The best teachers enjoy questions to clarify as it helps them remain intellectually agile – one of the perks of teaching!

B2B and high-value B2C

And the same logic applies to keeping customers happy. Great Real Estate Agents do this. They’ll show you many houses to help you understand and clarify your requirements. And so do great car salespeople, life insurance agents, and financial advisors. They spend a lot of time and effort in understanding the problem you are trying to solve for yourself.

Tips to understand requirements early

  1. Before you say yes: You get a request because you have made yourself available, and the customer perceives you can do the job well. Before you say yes to a new project or customer, it is time to figure out if you want to do it. And importantly, if you can do it. You may want to do a project but cannot because you are over-booked. The general rule is to take up work that you can do well. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  2. Preview the work involved:  A first quick approach is to search online to assess the work involved in the new project. Search on Google, and YouTube, as they might have some good tips that give you a sense of the customer, requirements, and typical customer complaints. Software folks look at GitHub; something should be in your specific industry. Reddit is also a good source; specific industry groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc., can help. If you have a trusted expert who is a friend or mentor, ask that person after doing the direct online research. We all are guilty of skipping secondary research despite Google being ready to give us results!
  3. Meeting the customer before signing up: Before you sign up to do the work based on your secondary research, meet your customer. In all situations, the customer must “do “something after you have supplied your piece of the product or service. “Doing” something could mean just using something appropriately. As software system suppliers will tell you, organizations buy expensive software and hardly seem to use it.
  4. Buyers RemorseCooling off period after signing the contract: Give three days cooling off period for large contracts as the FTC suggests. We believe that the rule is helpful to sellers as well, as no seller wants an unhappy buyer even before the supply has started.
  5. You got paid, but the customer does not use is bad news: You might feel good that you got paid and there are few customer support calls. But this could be a very costly strategy if many buyers are non-users. It turns the B2B buying center on its head. If many customers don’t experience the value of your offering, customer satisfaction, referrals, and market share can only go down.

To summarize, careful thinking without too much time can lead to more success (fewer letdowns!) and happier customers.

About StratoServe.

Why Living your Value Proposition is a Key to Success in Business Models

Our business model 7 questions post is very popular, and this post is an extension.

Value proposition and Target markets

“Value” like “Beauty” is in the eye of the beholder! And that beholder is the customer in your target market. It’s tough for businesses to stay razor focused on a target market. Why? There are three reasons :

  1. There is a fear of missing out (FOMO). So you go after nearby target market needs.
  2. You discover that your market research missed some aspects of customer needs and buying behavior when you developed your product.
  3. Competitors, or lack thereof, make customer behavior change hard.

How competitors help

We tend to think of competitors as “threats” and tend to ignore the great benefits that competitors provide to the market. In the early stages, competitors help educate the market, so your costs of developing customer “awareness” are significantly reduced. At later stages of market development, you become part of an industry, attend trade shows and conferences, benchmark performance, develop industry playbooks, and become friends as far as the Anti-Trust law allows! (Disclaimer: We do not claim expertise in Anti Trust or Competitor Collusion law).

Market success means you need to do something different than your competitors. To check this out, go to any trade show with thousands of booths from the same industry. Ask one owner how their offering is different from another owner’s. They’ll be so happy to explain!

Yet the Value Proposition is not clear

The value proposition is what the customer sees as “value” in your offering that she is willing to pay for:

  • Your value proposition is different from the competition.
  • Value Proposition is not static and must change with technological changes, customer preferences, and constant innovation.

Delivering your Value Proposition from the organization

Delivering your value proposition is an organization-wide task. It’s a continuous activity. If you think about it, it involves the Board of Directors, the CEO, to the janitor. It also involves suppliers and partners who are critical to producing (e.g., a contract manufacturer), delivering (e.g., distributors), or communicating (e.g., ad agencies) your value proposition.

CEO’s miss getting their colleagues on board with the value proposition. Having the internal organization “buy in” to the value proposition takes far less time and effort that persuading the customer.

If you can get your organization and partners to “live” your value proposition it can do wonders for your customer happiness and business model.

About StratoServe.

Why Google BARD will overtake CHATGpt

We asked CHATGpt to answer

With all the hype around CHATGpt, we asked the question to Chat GPT viz. Why Google BARD will overtake CHATGpt and here is ChatGPT’s response:

As a language model AI, I don’t have any personal opinions but I can analyze based on facts.

Google BARD (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a new language model that was released in 2021 by Google. It’s designed to be highly efficient, scalable and accurate compared to other models in the market. On the other hand, CHATGpt is a highly capable language model released by OpenAI.

Google BARD is designed to outperform other models in terms of accuracy, efficiency and scalability. BARD uses an attention mechanism that allows it to better process the context of the input and produce more accurate outputs. Additionally, Google has a huge dataset that they can use to train BARD, which results in a highly accurate model.

CHATGpt is also a highly capable language model but it’s not as efficient as BARD. CHATGpt is designed to be more versatile than other models, but it is not as efficient as BARD. In terms of accuracy, CHATGpt is still highly capable, but it is not as accurate as BARD.

Therefore, based on the features and capabilities of both models, it is possible that BARD will overtake CHATGpt in the near future. However, this is subject to change as both models are continually being improved and new models are being developed.

CHATGpt regenerated responses to question February 11, 2023. Italics and bolding added.

The CHATGpt answer is pretty good, and we regenerated it 4-5 times to arrive at the above.

It’s hard to guess someone’s intent

For this post, we focus on the ability of Google to find your search intent and try to give the best answer to not only your search question but your search intent. We discussed this in earlier posts on How Does Google Think? and Google results are not organized alphabetically.

Just consider: It’s hard to predict the “intent” of someone even after talking with them. It’s not that people lie, but sometimes they do not know what their intent is. Their intent or intention has not become clear to them. Why? because several unknown angles must be researched, they might need to consider the inputs of other stakeholders before firming up their intent (e.g., ask the spouse if a red car or a blue car). Google does not get annoyed or judge whether you make up your mind. Meanwhile, more and more relevant ads keep showing till, hopefully, you click on them. By this time, you are ready to buy, and commerce continues.

Huge Data Advantage

Dear readers who run digital ads on Google would recall that the Keyword planner gives you whole bunches of suggestions of keywords to use. How does Google do that? As CHATGpt says in the answer above, it’s Google’s colossal dataset. And it turns out that they have been honing their search ranking algorithm and ad services almost since inception.

We guess that the huge expertise in search terms that Google has (see search terms post)will be very useful in enhancing their BARD results.

Either way, this is an exciting time to see how the Microsoft vs. Google wars plays out in natural language search wars.

About StratoServe.

Why Cleaning your direct mail list matters

After the pandemic cleaning your email list matters more than ever. If you do direct postal mail or snail mail, it’s worth cleaning those lists too.

Cleaning and decluttering make you happier

Frankly, cleaning everything became necessary in 2020 with COVID-19. People were washing grocery bags and sanitizing everything to try and stay ahead of the virus. But as we get out of COVID, maybe it is time to clean our mailing lists! Cleaning and decluttering make you happier. Conversely, a messy workplace or computer desktop adds to anxiety and stress.

Unsubscribes: bad for marketers

From a marketer’s perspective, unsubscribes are bad. For it makes email marketing platforms worried that you are a spammer and are violating the CAN-SPAM act. A range of solutions has emerged that check your email list for deliverability, analyze open and click rates, and can segment your list.

From a customer’s perspective, an entire industry has developed to try and trim your ever-growing inbox. Because as consumers, we sign up for something like “deal alerts” for flat-screen TVs, and then we buy that TV but do not unsubscribe from the five businesses that we signed up for. There is a slew of solutions that encourage you to unsubscribe from lists that you are no longer interested in.

Email Marketing: cost-effective

In a digital marketing world of shiny new options in digital media, we underestimate the power of good old email. 60% of small businesses do not use email marketing primarily because of all the glamorous talk of other forms of digital marketing. Compared to all other forms of digital marketing, email marketing is the most cost-effective. One estimate puts a $42 return on 1$ investment in email marketing.

Intuit ( TurboTax, Quicken) must have thought it through before paying $12 Billion to acquire Mailchimp in 2021. Mailerlite was acquired by Vercom for $90 million in 2022 according to TechCrunch. The marketing industry must be onto something.

Cleaning email lists: some marketing questions

Here are some questions to ask as you clean your mailing list for B2B and B2C campaigns:

  • Who is taking the action you asked for? Whether buying something or signing up for a meeting, a prospect who did what you requested is on their way to becoming a customer. This is the bottom of your sales funnel and should be considered a customer. It’s now time to enter the details into your CRM system. For high-value customers, it is worth your time to have a conversation and find out why they bought. Just that people are pretty involved immediately after they buy, and their decision process is fresh in their minds. Talking to new customers soon after purchase gives valuable clues to content that might resonate with prospects.
  • Who is clicking? Some folks open every email, but only those interested will click on an action “Buy” link. If they bought, you have the data from the point above. Clicking (sometimes multiple times) on action links indicates interest.
  • Who is opening? Opening an email is enormous. Even for the smaller segment of people who open all emails.
  • Who is not opening? Anyone on your list who is not opening can be placed in two buckets (a)The email is not reaching the inbox. It might be going to the spam folder. (b) There is something wrong with the email itself for eg, in B2B, the person has changed.

Cleaning is not glamorous, but cleaning your marketing list will make your marketing more effective, and you’ll be happier!

About StratoServe.

Privacy: Direct Customer relationship data is more important than ever

Your direct customer relationship data are more important than ever
Your direct customer relationships are more important than ever

In a world moving towards digital privacy, it’s even more important to value your direct customer relationships. And direct customer data.

Digital Marketing and Privacy

As discussed in earlier posts ( see third-party cookies, Apple iOS ), the key issue is that a third party should not have access, without permission, to what is going on between a first party and a second party. To recap: the first party is the business and the second party is the customer. The first party could be an online store, and the second party would be a customer who buys something from a store. Thus, if you are on one app on your iPhone – other apps should not track you unless you permit them to track you. In the cookie world, third-party data aggregators could track you across the web. The goal for advertisers is to chase people around the web with ads after they click on a product and demonstrate interest.

In the offline world, law enforcement in democracies is not allowed to look at anyone’s EZPass records, just to fish around, without a court order. Disclaimer: We are no legal experts!

Long-term Customer Relationships as marriages

A great piece of academic research is a 1987 piece on “Developing Buyer-Seller Relationships” by Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh. They build a neat case, based on sociology, of the parallel between human marriages and long-term customer relationships. Written much before the Internet, they decry one-night stands (today’s Tinder) in favor of long-term marriages ( say eHarmony) regarding customer relationships.

Why? because:

  1. Long term-customers help pay the bills and salaries.
  2. Long-term customers are much easier to serve simply because they have learned how your organization works. And you have learned how they work, particularly in complex B2B transactions.
  3. New customer acquisition sounds sexy but is estimated at seven times the cost of keeping current customers happy.
  4. Long-term customers are far easier to study and work with for developing both radical and incremental innovations.
  5. You can observe all their actions on your website and adapt your offering to suit their interests. Thus Amazon and Netflix suggest what you might like, and Google and YouTube have tailored search results based on your search history. And Facebook/Instagram/TikTok offers “feeds” and ads based on what they know about your liking based on clicks, likes, and shares.

Mailing List Providers were the original Third Party cookies

Mailing list providers were the original third-party cookies. They gathered contact details of different demographics, and you could buy lists to mail (junk mail) to them. You could opt-out, and for a $2 fee, you can opt-out at the FTC. Similarly, you can opt-out of junk calls. You cannot opt out of list providers collecting your data, you can only opt out of junk mail and calls.

In direct mail, telemarketing, TV infomercials – a response was the only data point based on which the entire field of direct marketing evolved. Responders joined your customer list.

With the Internet, the mailing list providers were reborn as third-party cookie providers who picked up your behavior on one website and then used your behavior on other sites as “demographics” for advertisers.

This is what digital privacy advocates object to. Digital privacy advocates want consumers to be able to give or deny permission to be tracked.

But big tech companies require you to login

What people do not realize is that as soon as you log in to any website – you become a second party to the website. Your behavior is observable and monetized by tech companies, and to us, it is fair. You cannot expect a tech business to have any revenue model and provide services for free.

Google, Facebook, or Amazon serve paid/sponsored ads based on your behavior and observed preferences. See a recent article on How Google’s in-house marketers are adapting to a shifting privacy environment.

In other words, as far as we can tell, there is no privacy issue for a business so long you focus on current customers, including web visitors.

Opportunity is in your current customer list

For all businesses, your most valuable data is your current customer list. Smaller businesses like restaurants generally are too busy to stay afloat, and most do not have a list of emails or contact numbers of all customers who visit them.

Other small businesses like gyms have a customer list but do not seem to be doing a lot of marketing around them.

We suggest you look at your current customer list, and web visitors carefully as they give you valuable clues on how to grow your business.

About StratoServe.

Quiet Quitting does not work in the knowledge economy

Quiet Quitting does not work in the knowledge economy

“Quiet quitting” is quite the rage on TikTok and has now appeared in mainstream media, including NYT, WSJ, NBC, Fox, etc. Gen Y Millenials (born 1981 to 1996) and the younger Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) are particularly influenced by this trend of quiet quitting. The most influenced might be Gen Z, about 60% of TikTok users. The trouble is that these are impressionable young people growing up into teenage and young adulthood.

Naturally, managers are quite alarmed because it turns out that we are increasingly moving from the information age to the knowledge age. And to become a knowledgeable expert on anything needs 10,000 hours of work, as Malcolm Gladwell highlighted.

Everyone cannot become an Instagram/TikTok/YouTube star, just like most people are not able to make it to stardom in Hollywood or Broadway. And to sustain stardom in social media is hard and needs a lot of “work” ( yes, 10,000 hours), the very thing that quiet quitting objects to. Becoming a TikTok star involves posting frequently and making a persistent effort to come up with posts, graphics, and videos that inspire, outrage, and generally resonate with your audience.

What is Quiet Quitting?

As far as we can tell, quiet quitting is working your hours without putting your heart and soul into it. If you are a Barista at Starbucks you deliver the coffee with or without a genuine, enthusiastic smile. Is that a problem for Starbucks? Yes, it is because suddenly, the $5-10 fancy latte does not seem that special to the customer. More importantly, if a Barista serves without enthusiasm and spirit the bigger loser is the Barista, as we explain next.

Concept of Karma

Disclaimer: We do not claim expertise in theology or religious studies. Please consult whatever source or religion you prefer.

Organized religion arrived with agriculture. Agriculture is much harder sustained work than hunting and gathering. Authors like James Suzman point out that religion was needed to manage agriculture. People started living as a community in the village and domesticated animals with the goal of agriculture. Working on a farm involves hard deadlines. Feed the animals on time, milk the cows on time, and collect eggs on a timely basis. You cannot delay seeding or harvesting.

One of the fundamental ideas in Hinduism and later Buddhism is the idea of Karma or duty. When you do your duty sincerely as an offering to God without expecting any personal benefit or results, you are blessed and are rewarded in this life or your next birth. It turns out that when you work and derive purpose, meaning, and satisfaction from work – it becomes like play. Results follow incredibly, although Hindu scripture sternly asks you not to look for personal benefit. Since you are not thinking about any personal results or benefits you are completely free of “attachment” to the fruit of your efforts. This is naturally very hard to do, but if you can do it there is no stress while doing the work. And certainly no stress after work hours. The relevant verse from the Bhagwad Gita is Chapter 2, Verse 47.

In Christianity, the Calvinist Protestant work ethic is “work is worship,” and scholars believe this was a big driver of the Industrial revolution. And if you think about the success of America since its founding days by the pilgrims.

From the Industrial age (Henry Ford/ Taylor), we moved to the service age, and we believe that Gen Z and younger Gen Y are confusing the upcoming knowledge economy with the service economy as they justify quiet quitting.

Service Economy vs. Knowledge economy

In the service economy, you had the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) worker who went through work training at, say, McDonald’s. The model of such training is wonderfully explained in the Netflix movie “The Founder.” However, today just observe the kind of specific requests that the customer has, for example, a burger with mayo and no lettuce. It does matter to the customer if they get what they ordered and the order taker and kitchen can get their act in sync. The competitive landscape has changed as you notice the extreme personalization at Subway. Or the special feeling at Chick-Fil-A.

A QSR worker focused on making a customer happy is likely to learn more about customer service than a student taking a marketing class. And that knowledge is tacit because the worker “knows” but can’t necessarily explain the steps that lead to customer happiness. (Oh well, a marketing class will help such an engaged worker far more than an inexperienced or disengaged worker). And that knowledge is valuable in creating more growth opportunities for such a worker in other industries or as an entrepreneur even in unrelated fields.

Our dear readers would know plumbers and electricians who know and care about what they are doing and a majority who do not. Both groups are qualified, have passed exams, and yet have been quietly quitting for years. Services like Angi and HomeAdvisor have high valuations because they try to separate the quiet quitters in the trades.

Moving up the knowledge chain, consider orthopedic surgeons. As pointed out in an earlier post Propublica has a public database of surgeons with fewer vs. more complications, as evidenced by repeat visits and insurance claims. Consider this: all surgeons are competent, qualified, tested, and certified. A majority, though, are like the majority of quiet quitting plumbers. They have personal competence, but someone in their team might drop the ball, and they don’t have the dedication to see that all pieces of their process (eg good physiotherapy after surgery) are working well.

To summarize, in every field of work, you already have many folks functioning as quiet quitters.

We just can’t afford the younger Gen Z to start quiet quitting.

To any quiet quitters among our dear readers: We confess to quietly quitting on many fronts but then recall the words of a mentor, “Every morning I wake up to a fresh start and convince myself that I have zero laurels I can rest on”!

And so we soldier on. And urge our dear readers to do the same.

About StratoServe.

Why Apple privacy hurts display ads more than search ads

Display vs. search ads and privacy

Display ads on the Internet are all those banners you see on websites and social media that sometimes chase you around (remarketing) the Internet. Display ads are like the old media ads on TV, Radio, Newspapers, and Magazines that rely on circulation data for audience targeting. Compare the ads you see on US TV evening news to Football games. You will likely see far more medicine ads on the evening news than watching a game. Media planners figure that many evening news watchers are older folks with various ailments, and the medicine ads should resonate.

Search ads are the ads you see after you search for something on Google, Bing, etc.

Here is a great video from the Wall Street Journal that has Apple’s Craig Federighi explaining the privacy changes that Apple has put in place:

iPhones have over half of the US market and tend to have customers who have higher incomes. It turns out that only between 16% -37% of iPhone and iPad users allowed apps to share data.

According to an August 12, 2022 article by Salvador Rodriguez of the Wall Street Journal, Apple wanted their standard 30% of Facebook Ads revenue generated due to the data sharing. Facebook refused. And there was talk of having an ad-free paid Facebook product. Google pays billions to Apple to have the privilege of being the default search engine on Apple products. Other iPhone apps will likely have to charge for all those free apps without ad revenue.

After all, companies that work on these apps need to make money. We will discuss consumer privacy and the free apps issue up in a future post.

This is an existential crisis for all advertisers involved in display advertising. This includes Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and, yes, Google display advertising.

Where does the data for targeting display and search come from?

To understand why display advertising is so hard hit by iPhone users not allowing apps to share data, it’s useful to recognize the nature of first-party, second-party, and third-party data.

First party data is the direct data that a business receives from customers. For websites, free analytics tools like Google Analytics will report things like what search term or ad landed you on a certain page, how long you stayed there, what you saw next and so on. Loyalty cards/logins are a great way to gather first party data. All tech, social media platforms we use insist on logging in so that they can track our behavior on their platform. That behavior is very helpful in serving up relevant ads.

Second party data is data you gather from another business for their first party customers. This is through a business deal where one business shares data of who is doing what on their platform so that you can improve your platform’s ad effectiveness. For example, if you are a seller on Amazon, the commission goes towards Amazon serving up your product and ads to relevant Amazon customers and searches.

The real power in display advertising is from third-party data, ie, those data points about your behavior collected from your browser about what you do on other websites. However, because of third party browser cookie privacy objections that data source is drying up.

Enter big and smaller tech. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and yes Pinterest, TikTok, Yelp. They are the second party who are taking over the third party role. They have their own first party relationships with their users who browse their services (after logging in) for free. All their user behavior data is worth it for advertisers running display ads.

When we live on our phones and don’t talk to even family members, the phone software owners viz. Google for Android and Apple for iOS are very powerful. As far as we can tell Google has a revenue path through ads but Apple needs to get their money from Apps who must in turn charge users for apps or/and have an ad revenue model.

Between apps on your iPhone, the data sharing allowed Facebook to observe what you did on Google search or the Spotify app. What songs you like gives valuable clues about your preferences. An advertising platform like TikTok would not know that you are a Machine Gun Kelly fan. You might reveal something on TikTok about your singer preference, but the full picture is pretty incomplete if you have not allowed tracking on Spotify on your iPhone. Advertising becomes wasteful, costs vs. results for advertisers keep going up, and we are back at the saying by Wanamaker (1838-1920) “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted,” at least for display ads.

Machine learning alone might be able to outweigh behavioral targeting for ad networks, according to a great paper (2021) by Omid Rafieian and Hema Yoganarasimhan. We can be sure that data scientists at Facebook etc., are working hard on this angle.

Google search relies on what you put on the search bar. Your first party party data and all the results you see, including search ads, are relevant to your search terms. Just bidding higher will not get you the top spot in Google search ads unless your ad and landing page experience matches the search intent of the searcher. Google’s search ad business model focuses on making the searcher happy just as the free top results. It takes years of SEO to get on the first page of organic or free results. Paid ads can run on the same day. If the searcher is kept happy with relevant search results- the ad revenue follows.

To summarize, online display ads are cost-effective for the advertiser when backed by third-party or big tech second-party data. Search ads are effective because they rely on first-party data that is the customer’s search term. A caveat is that if you have several competitors with better campaigns and landing page experience, competing at the Google reverse auction keeps increasing your costs per acquisition. You start wondering if the “Half the money I spend on advertising” quote still stands!

If Netflix is getting into display ads could Apple get into search ads?

The shocking news that Netflix is getting into advertising in partnership with Microsoft begs the question whether Apple will get into search advertising.

Netflix has troves of data on our behavior on the platform, and that’s great for display advertising. Users are wondering if they might be able to fast-forward the ads when they come.

As for Apple, Scott Galloway writes that Apple would get into search and search advertising. The iPhone currently uses Google as the default search engine.

We disagree with Galloway. We believe that the carefully cultivated Apple upscale image that allows those ridiculous product prices would be too much at risk if Apple got into the ad business. Ad business for Apple would be seen as too hypocritical given its holier-than-though privacy stance. The outcry on Twitter and social media would be just too damaging.

But never say never when everyone is looking for revenue streams.

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Doctors with Fake reviews? Why big data can solve the problem

Some Doctors and Dentists seem to be putting out fake 5-star reviews. This goes beyond fake reviews on Amazon and Google. Because now you are talking health.

Healthcare involves trusting the provider. Much more than you need to trust a seller on Amazon!

This post explains why businesses and customers look for 5-star reviews, how “fake it till you make it” works for companies and individuals, Why in the digital big data world, fake reviews will be found, and finally some tips to protect yourself; in the meanwhile, from fake reviews.

Why businesses and customers look for 5-Star Reviews

Businesses look for five-star reviews because that helps increase their rankings in any listing on Amazon, Google, Yelp, etc. And customers seem to look for reviews before even putting the product on a shortlist or brand consideration set. If you have a 3-star rating, you could be on the 5th page and are almost guaranteed not to be seen. So the incentive for businesses to find 5-Star reviews is enormous. Best of all, the company is exempt from declaring Caveat Emptor or “Buyer Beware.” They never put out a paid ad with their name on it. So what can a poor business do if customers say five stars? Seems to be the stance. Besides, fake reviews are much cheaper than advertising, as freelance marketplaces like Fiverr show.

Specialized services like ZocDoc for doctors verify reviews for doctors diligently. Not so for your typical directory type local lists on Google, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, etc.

Two-sided marketplaces like Uber put the passenger on the dock as the driver can rate the passenger. Since both sides rate each other, the customer is better behaved than in airlines.

Customers “believe” in five-star reviews because it makes the choice problem easier. Somehow we feel we are entirely “off the hook” from the “Buyer Beware” principle. After all, we reason, so many 5-stars and glowing words can’t be wrong.

If our dear readers were to ask themselves, they would hardly be able to list two or three products, brands, or services they consider 5-star from all their experiences. So the logic of why we accept five-star ratings is inexplicable.

To summarize, puffery in paid advertising is accepted and discounted by businesses and customers alike, but 5-star reviews seem more accepted by both. Academic research (see a great article in Marketing Science by Sherry He, Brett Hollenbeck, and Davide Proserpio) finds that low-quality new products on Amazon get an uptick from fake reviews, but that does not last. After all, you can’t fool all the people all the time! More seriously, any business that seeks to endure needs to provide value as assumed by the customers.

Fake it till you make it?

Going by the analysis of Amazon products in the above article, the businesses probably never intended to try and match performance to the five-star reviews. Customers, after buying, were unhappy and gave out multiple one-star reviews.

At the individual level, “fake it till you till you make it” seems good advice for anyone trying to build up your confidence for any challenging situation. It’s like giving yourself “fake 5-star reviews”. A guru of this view is Harvard Professor and TED talk speaker Amy Cuddy. An implied assumption is that you are working hard to match up to the “fake reviews” you are giving yourself.

If only fake review businesses felt as responsible as individuals who give themselves 5-star pep talks and 5-star reviews!

Big Data can find fake reviews.

Recently Amazon sued 10,000 Facebook group admins who ran marketplaces offering fake reviews. Amazon has 12,000 employees delving into the data for fraud and abuse and has been complaining to Facebook since 2020. Some of the Facebook groups are large, with 40,000 members. And these groups are spread out globally. The Amazon blog from June 2021 maintains that their systems (based on data) can stop 99% of fake reviews from being posted in the first place.

Based on trust, Amazon has a clear business incentive to keep its retail engine running. Fake reviews erode trust, and no matter how easy the Amazon Prime return process is, the customer feels let down and harassed after being conned by highly rated products. It’s not clear whether the rest of the big names (Facebook, Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor) providing reviews have a direct business incentive to check fake reviews.

The FTC has become more active in curbing fake reviews. This year there are some FTC guidelines about soliciting and paying for reviews. If you think about it, FTC guidance applies to larger businesses, and very few of the 1.7 million small companies on the Amazon marketplace might know about the government’s steps.

Most small businesses are honest and want to develop repeat customers and genuine referrals. The honest businesses become the biggest casualty when a section in their industry indulges in generating fake reviews. They lose new business, and dissatisfied customers spread bad news about their industry. The Better Business Bureau tries to do the right thing, but its results are too low on Google to have any significant impact. Small businesses generate 50% of the GDP, and fake reviews continue to hurt the entire economy.

Kay Dean, Online Fraud Review Investigator from Fake Review Watch, has been doing great work in highlighting online fake review scams. Check out her YouTube channel :

It’s timely for big players like Google, Yelp, and Facebook to recognize their responsibility and huge data power. Going by the Amazon suing Facebook Group Admins story, probably different companies have already developed data models. Identifying fake reviews is conceptually straightforward, as the next section explains.

Meanwhile, how do you protect yourself from Fake Reviews?

Till reviews become more honest, here are some things to watch for:

  • Ask yourself how many reviews, as a customer, did you post in the last six months?
  • How many were five stars?
  • Now, look at the product reviews – all 5 star is dubious.
  • Look whether the five stars are concentrated over a certain period. If yes, those are probably paid for fake reviews.
  • Look at the 1-star or 2-star reviews. If there are none- it’s too good to be true.
  • Look at the photos of the reviewers – if they are all good-looking – they are stock photos, as Fake Review Watch explains.
  • Read the text comments around 4-5 stars and 1-3 stars, generic comments don’t mean much as many fake reviewers have never really used the product.
  • Buyer Beware: pay by credit card and check the return policy.

About StratoServe.

Why Authentic Value Proposition ?

Authentic Value Proposition

The lingering pandemic, the Ukraine war, supply chain problems, and inflation has all types of organizations reviewing their “value” proposition. The idea of an explicit contract in B2B and an implicit contract in B2C used to involve fewer parties. If there were a bitter dispute, arbitration, courts, or government regulators would step in and try to sort things out. No longer valid in the world of instant social media. Think of Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase situation.

For everyday business, it’s simply keeping your promises to your customers. Our experience is that Elon Musk is pretty good with Tesla in keeping customer promises. No matter how the Twitter acquisition plays out.

Since marketing is about customer value, it’s essential to clarify the idea of value proposition in these challenging times.

Value Proposition in Marketing

The value proposition has been about what you “tell” the customer about the value you provide. For example, here are 7 Best Value Proposition examples from WordStream. And a comprehensive academic article integrates scholarly work in the field by Payne, Frow, and Eggert 2017. Their working definition is:

A customer value proposition (CVP) is a strategic tool facilitating communication of an organization’s ability to share resources and offer a superior value package to targeted customers.

Page 472, Payne,Frow and Eggert, (2017)

The word “proposition” is misleading.

It promotes the USP ( Unique Selling Proposition) idea. USP suggests that you say how you are unique and different from the competitor. Your focus seems to be on merely communicating your value to the customer. Not living it. The value proposition does not make it mandatory for the back-end value partners to buy into the value proposition. The value chain partners include the distribution channel like retailers and distributors, the organization and all its employees, suppliers, and the supply chain. In other words, at your factory, the factory manager, the janitor, and the intern would know the value proposition from day one. Not only would they “know” the value proposition, but they should actively buy into that value mission of the company.

In other words, the value proposition as part of the mission statement should be in every pore of the company and its stakeholders. That would be authenticity.

Why is authenticity more important today than ever before ?

Before the Internet and Social Media, you needed a team dedicated to dealing with public relations. Others in the organization or value chain were not supposed to talk to the press about the brand. If consumers spoke with a journalist- those comments could become widely available. But this was very rare. Often journalists would put out expanded stories based on PR releases. Or the company itself would offer paid advertising on traditional media like TV, print, and radio. Yes, in times of a product recall and health concerns, the media would be on top of the story following the “if it bleeds, then it leads” journalism principle.

The above scenario has changed radically with social media. Traditional media considers highly popular (or viral social media posts) essential sources of building a TV or newspaper story. As a result, PR departments may become extinct, as an announcement by Tesla indicates. Similarly, advertising is becoming more in tune with society’s current priorities. Why? Because it’s straightforward to find what’s on everyone’s mind from social media. Once brands have a sense of what their target market is thinking- they fall in line with their messaging for the brand.

So how do you make your value proposition more authentic?

  1. Why stay with the truth for the value proposition for everyone? As pointed out, the value proposition is historically a “pre-sales” thing. The pre-sales team handles the value proposition in many organizations, from consulting machinery to complex software projects. And then there is a different team that implements. Truth is simple, but mixed messages to various stakeholders are complicated. Everyone has access to social media. If there are contrary messages to pre-sales and implementation teams, it implies that if there is any mismatch between what the company says and does- you can expect to hear about it. More vocally for negative experiences. So it makes sense to stay with the truth of what you are promising your customer. It keeps things simple, and if you communicate internally and intensely, your employees, suppliers, distributors, and other stakeholders will hear you. They will support it if they understand and it does not involve more work.
  2. Should our value proposition change? Yes. Constant changes in the environment, social mores, technology, competitors, and customer expectations call for alert ears on the ground. Constantly ask: Is the customer experiencing value as we say we deliver? In enduring brands, you will find that the core value proposition does not change. See Coca-Cola, for example. Refresh the world endures- make a difference seems more recent.
  3. What is the biggest challenge in delivering an Authentic Value Proposition? The biggest challenge is not necessarily in the good intentions of company leaders. It’s in the implementation where things get lost. Mere communication is not enough. Review Company policies and processes in every function for consistency and support of delivering the value proposition.

In summary, an authentic value proposition is one where the brand keeps its promise. It involves the challenge of everyone believing that the company is honestly trying to deliver the value promised.

About StratoServe.

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