Monthly Archives: March 2012

The sad case of Twitter’s missing personalization


Way back in the 1990s I had the fortune to work with Don Peppers, who created the concept of “1to1 marketing” strategy. Don wrote a series of best-selling books describing a future world where information would allow nearly every service to be personalized — the idea being such customization, newly empowered by cheap databases, would build unbreakable switching costs. LIke a marriage where your spouse remembers you like chocolate in your coffee on Sunday mornings, you’d never leave a business that remembered so much for you that it became inconvenient to go somewhere else. Don’s 1to1 idea was adopted by software companies, renamed CRM for “customer relationship management,” and ended up a sales bullet point for Salesforce.com. The rise of social networks in which consumers talk to each other also took some steam out of the idea, since the business-to-customer 1to1 dynamic became less the focus of marketing strategy when CMOs were scared that the surrounding customer networks had grown out of control.

Which is sad. Here’s a case in point: Twitter. Go to Twitter.com and click on the “# Discover” link at top and you’ll get hit with stories that are popular right now among everybody — but not tailored to you. Imagine all the data Twitter has on us: Our tweets express all our interests, politics, purchases, hope and fears, and our links match up to homophily friendships that could further define exactly what we want. Twitter could build an unmatched predictive newsfeed for every individual, blowing The New York Times or Fox News out of the water with tales customized to our whims.

Except Twitter doesn’t. One top “Stories” recommendation for me today is a link to a Kentucky-Baylor basketball game. I don’t watch basketball. I have never mentioned basketball in any of my 24,410 tweets. Twitter, the game bores me to death, and a cursory analysis of my stream should show I’d much prefer a link to artificial intelligence advances, science fiction films, or chocolate recipes. (Don’t judge. That’s me.)

Perhaps for Twitter the cost of mining tweet data is too high (really?), or the small Twitter team is still underwater keeping the servers running (probable), or Twitter would rather go after very large advertisers such as Pepsi and AmEx who can spray everyone with the same message (ding! we have a winner!). So your news feed inside Twitter is completely off base.

Maybe Twitter just can’t see beyond the initial investment. Treating everyone the same is the easiest form of marketing, and 1to1 requires an upfront investment hurdle far before services reap the rewards of loyalty or increased use. The only companies really doing personalization are Amazon.com and Netflix, which must offer recommendations right before each sale, and so 1to1 prediction is a competitive requirement. Twitter is still just learning to accept ad payments from mass marketers, so the personalization concept may be too sophisticated at its early monetization stage.

Sad. Because, Twitter, this unpersonalized “# Discover” news stream stinks, and makes me spend yet more time on Google+. Which is exactly the point: If you treat everyone the same, customers don’t feel bad about leaving you.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Originally posted on Google+.

The PowerPoint slide that brought down a Space Shuttle


This is a story about the evils of PowerPoint. It was first told by Edward Tufte, the most brilliant mind alive on information design, whom a friend of mine once described as “the voice of God criticizing mankind.” Tufte wrote the book on graphics theory, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information — and in one of his most intriguing side riffs has lambasted PowerPoint for being a boil on human communication.

Tufte has explained how one horrible PowerPoint slide led to the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion — or more accurately, the horrible bullet structure PowerPoint gives us caused the disaster. The problem is PowerPoint encourages writers to use clipped jargon that is hard to understand — and if the point fails, bad decisions get made. As you likely recall, Columbia did blow up on re-entry, after a large piece of foam broke off during launch and damaged the edge of a wing. Before the Columbia accident, foam had crumbled off of many other shuttles during launches, so an internal report was crucial in determining how much risk the foam presented. Would it be a lot of foam? And could it hit the shuttle elsewhere with a lot of force?

Alas, the internal NASA report was presented in PowerPoint.

The NASA slide below has a series of nested bullet points that start out with a blase headline about “conservatism” — sounds OK, right? — overuses the word “significantly” until it doesn’t mean much, and then at the very bottom buries the main point that foam debris that falls off and could hit the shuttle on launch is, ahem, 640 times larger than previously estimated. If the truncated phrase “Volume of ramp” had been expanded to read “estimated volume of foam debris that hit wing,” and the headline made punchier saying “risk is 640 times greater than predicted in prior safety estimates!”, executives in the room might have sat up and gone, holy shit, this entire shuttle could blow if we don’t fix this.

They didn’t, because the risk was a fourth-level sub-bullet in PowerPoint.

Tufte’s point is that PowerPoint mimics the hierarchical structure of big business organizations, which is a bad way to communicate. Information is sliced into logical bits and truncated to the point of unclarity; as the information is passed up through an org structure, slides are deleted until only a brief summary remains. Context is lost; key points disappear; the narrative is destroyed. Or in this case, the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia died.

What does Tufte recommend? Give people in meetings a short written report, that they digest as the meeting begins. Then talk, talk, about the real issues.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Originally posted on Google+.

AmEx encourages consumers to tweet for cash


Or coupons, anyway. American Express has launched a promotion encouraging its cardholders to “sync” their card with Twitter. Then, if you want to load coupon-type discounts onto your AmEx card from merchants, you simply have to tweet a #hashtagpromotionoftheday to your Twitter followers, and AmEx will automatically reward you with a discount on your card.

At first glance this may seem cool, until you consider the user experience. Say you and I are friends via Twitter and #heysave$10onMobilgas! we’re having a conversation online and #dontmiss10%offpantiesatVS our conversation seems somewhat #$1friesatMcDs! different perhaps. Better yet, as you scan the broader stream from all the people you follow on Twitter #paperonsaleatStaples! the overall ecosystem seems somehow #morefreefriesatBurgerKing changed.

From a marketing standpoint, this is brilliant, because it costs merchants almost nothing (discounts are a form of price framing in which prices can be jacked up and down for a perceptual benefit only) and could spur demand for both incremental sales and AmEx usage. French-fry sellers and American Express both get upticks.

But for social media users, an intrusion of paid, unexpected marketing messages could diminish their experience. MySpace went south after becoming too crassly commercial. Facebook grew to immense popularity by being careful not to overload users with advertising (Zuckerberg famously rejected banner advertising in his initial launch years, and eventually created a more subtle ad format off to the side). Now, Twitter is trying to catch up in advertising revenue with in-stream intrusions. The question is whether the blurring of the traditional hard line between paid advertising and unpaid human/editorial content, by asking participants themselves to spray marketing messages, is damaging to a network in a way that will eventually reduce usage, audience, and viability.

We could be wrong. Maybe tweeting #thisoffermeansmoretomethanyou will make us all more popular.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Are we afraid of where technology is leading us?


If you peel back the judgmental layers of the recent SXSW Homeless Hotspots controversy — that it was meant to help the homeless, no it was a PR stunt, no it was a PR stunt that backfired, no it was a meta-PR stunt designed to backfire to create massive conversations that built even more PR — the deepest layer is why everyone got upset: We all fear technology. No one gave a damn when homeless people in Austin made a little money selling newspapers, but when BBH Labs had them hand out wireless connectivity, suddenly it was “degrading,” “dehumanizing,” “exploitation.” Really? If the transfer of product, value and information was the same, but only the conduit changed from ink to ether, then why is information transmitted on crushed wood pulp a better use of human value than data sent via airwaves? The user next to the homeless man or woman could receive the same story from the service, first on paper, second on a tablet. So who cares?

The answer to me is simple: Deep inside we are afraid of where technology is leading us, how it is disengaging humans from the real world, and this Hotspot effort which at superficial glance apparently merged poor people into technological antennae was thus a Frankenstein creation, an eerie look into the uncanny valley of morphed human gears, and that is distasteful.

People freaked out unfairly because human-technology singularity is damn freaky, and BBH unwittingly woke us up to that merger.

This reaction was completely illogical. But in my view, this was the greatest lesson from BBH Labs’ brave and noble experiment. We didn’t learn how to help the homeless, but we sure saw how scared we get when technology becomes part of our human souls.

From my comment at What Would The Internet Do? More information on Homeless Hotspots is here.


Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Tim Caynes

The metaconversation wins for BBH Labs in Austin


Everyone wants to go viral, yet so few have the balls to do so.

BBH Labs just showed how it’s done by hacking SXSW Interactive, an Austin tech conference with so many product launches that breaking out there is nearly impossible. (If Twitter showed up this year, everyone would yawn.) So BBH came up with a plan to draw attention to the plight of the homeless by turning homeless volunteers into “mobile hotspots” — armed with MiFi connections that could get a nearby user online, provided he or she spoke with the homeless person and got the passcode. BBH gave simple instructions on its blog: “Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access.”

Alas, the idea of turning poor homeless people into roving antennae drew controversy. The radio business program Marketplace got snide interviewing BBH Lab’s Saneel Radia, and the UK’s Daily Mail derided the “marketing stunt” that drew “an outcry.”

Which is exactly the point. Now millions of people are hearing about the plight of homeless people in Texas, and how an agency used technology to get them fleeting jobs. You’re probably thinking, wow, those poor homeless people. Maybe tomorrow you’ll notice one on a street instead of walking by in oblivion. With a few mobile handsets and cheap printed T-shirts, BBH Labs has accomplished what $1 million in advertising could not have done.

The only conversation that counts is the one that makes you think. Saneel and BBH Labs, all we can say is, well done.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Apple patent would let your pants talk to coffee shops


One of my favorite geek activities is to skim through Apple’s patents, which are updated nearly every day. Apple files for many cool ideas, such as holographic TV sets or haptic-sensory gloves, and the patents hint at real products to come.

Now, Apple wants to watch your body. In a recent filing, Apple described the need to move body-movement sensors beyond its current Nike+ sneaker systems, frankly admitting that the current Nike+ is limited in what it can do (basically log and share running miles, although Nike+ has started progressing into wristbands and watches):

The use of devices to obtain exercise performance information is known. For example, simple mechanical pedometers have been used to obtain information relating to walking or running… unfortunately, however, it is becoming more commonly practiced to place the sensor at locations on a garment (shoes, for example) that are not specifically designed to physically accommodate the sensor and/or calibrated to accurately reflect data…


The problem is twofold: athletes can move in many ways without shifting their feet, and there is a vast market beyond athletes if Apple found new ways to monetize other body-movement data. So Apple continues with this new concept — sensors in all clothing:

An embodiment of this invention pertains to linking an authenticated sensor with one or more authorized garments (such as running shoes, shirts, slacks, etc.) that can provide in addition to current physiologic data of the user, garment performance statistics (i.e., rate of wear of a running shoe), location of the garment and any related information (location of near-by eating establishments, for example) and any other garment related data.


The expansions of Nike+ would improve human tracking in a way that moves more Apple entertainment content. Clothing that tracks nuances in movement would allow Nike+ to work on bicycles, indoor trainers, or weight training; all of this data could expand the social functionality, and also tailor music playlists and content sales, a nice source of profit. The next way could be using physiologic data and LBS tracking to align Apple mobile devices with retail network partners (coffee shops, clothing outlets), telling you when and where you can find offers to refuel from workouts, another source of revenue for Apple. And Apple could even get into the payments game: if Apple integrated NFC into its mobile devices, it could capture a slice of each transaction as you use your iPod instead of a wallet.

Your physical condition, movement, content preferences, and buying mechanisms could all revolve around Apple. You’d get better feedback and personalized content (“Nice workout! And your favorite coffee shop is just ahead!”), and Apple would make a lot more money.

All you have to do is wear the right clothes.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Patrick Caire
Originally posted on Google+.

How marketing destroyed fog lights


Buy a European car such as Jaguar, Mercedes, Saab or Volvo and you’ll find something different on the dash — a switch to turn on rear fog lights. In Europe, cars are required to include special lights on the back that can be clicked on in foggy weather — as a bright warning to cars coming up fast behind you not to hit you. It’s a rather simple, brilliant idea.

Of course, in the U.S., most cars have fog lights as an optional accessory on the front of the vehicle, low-down on the bumper, where they do little good. Really. Drive in the fog here, turn on those low beacons, and you get a little extra wattage illuminating the ground 10 feet in front of your tires. Most U.S. fog lights are not yellow either (a color that can cut through haze better than white light).

Why does the U.S. have fog lamps that are just cosmetic, jazzing up the front of the car or SUV, while Europe has truly functional lights on the back that might save your life? Marketing. Fog lamps are an extremely noticeable add-on to a vehicle, and when you’re considering whether to drop $29,000 or $36,000 for exactly the same car, little accessories such as front fog-lamps, fatter tires, and leather seats add thousands of dollars to automaker profits. You would never spend $7,000 for a leather couch and new lamp — such a price would be a rip-off! — but you’ll gladly consider spending $7,000 more for exactly the same car with a “package” of fog lights and leather seats.

Marketers know that a car without fancy lights on the front looks less inviting than the vehicle with a touch of glamour, and we’ll irrationally pay far more for that. In marketing psychology, they are using a bland car bumper as a reference point to upsell you to a non-bland car bumper, at a higher price point that really makes little sense. The package bundle includes parts that are not as great as the perceived whole; the price obscurity sucks us in, and marketers win fatter margins.

So if you get rear-ended in the fog next week, don’t blame the driver behind you. Blame yourself for spending money on front-facing lights that make your car look cooler.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: kardboard604
Originally posted on Google+