Tagged: Product Management

Time to Test Beacons

This post originally appeared on NetNewsCheck.com

beaconfireLast week, NetNewsCheck published an article encouraging publishers to explore beacons in 2015.  Being app developers ourselves, we pay close attention to anything that presents opportunity in mobile.

If you’re new to the concept, a beacon is a small device that broadcasts a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signal. That signal contains the beacon’s unique identifiers, called a UUID, and a few other data points about it.  Beacons don’t record data, store information or send push alerts. All of that happens through an app.

A real-world example: I’ve previously downloaded the Lord & Taylor app, and decide to shop through their beaconified store for a new Christmas sweater. The L&T app recognizes the beacon signal and “bing!” the app sends me a push alert welcoming me to the store with a 10% discount.

For a smartphone to be able to detect and make use of a beacon, it must meet four criteria. One, the end user must have an app installed that recognizes beacons. Two, the device must be Bluetooth enabled. Three, the user must opt-in to share location with the app. Four, the device must be running iOS 7 or higher or Android 4.3 or higher.

Across our network of apps, here’s how StepLeader’s audience stacks up: 93.6% of iOS users run iOS 7 or higher; 89.7% of Android users run 4.3 or higher; 54.2% enable location and 29.7% enable Bluetooth.

The initial lure and marketing hype around beacons centers on real-time notifications. Within seconds or less of detecting a beacon, the app decodes the signal and delivers a push alert to the device: “Welcome to Sears. Free Socks. Today Only!”

So here are a few “real-time” ideas to bat around the next coffee break.

Perhaps you’re taking the family to Disney’s “Frozen on Ice” tour. The app detects a beacon at the venue, then serves up content relevant to that context. The user opens the app and sees “Best Places To Eat in Downtown” in the news feed.

Alternatively, the app delivers ads for nearby advertisers into your existing mobile ad formats. Back to the “Frozen” example, local merchants near the venue run campaigns in your app to draw visitors to their establishments after the show.

Finally, the app sends push notifications alerting you to content relevant to your current location, or nearby advertisers. This more active approach builds upon the first two examples, but uses a combination of beacon technology and push notifications to prompt action from the user.

There is also merit exploring how beacons add value to mobile publishers over extended periods of time.

As more retailers around the globe deploy beacons, we end up with a network of physical places that each have their own digital bookmark. A beacon gives a location its own real-world “URL,” or a way to identify and connect the physical and digital realms.

Knowing this digital footprint of locations empowers publishers to understand how an opted-in audience navigates through the world. Where do they shop? How often? When do they typically visit? Can we prove that someone saw an auto ad and then visited the dealer a few days later?

The end goal is audience understanding, curated over time, to improve mobile advertising and to build more relevant mobile products. This may take the form of retargeting mobile devices based upon previous location visits. With the “Frozen” example, this could mean creating campaigns to reach consumers who have been to specific events with offers to draw them back to upcoming shows.

Local media can create targeted audience segments built to outperform the ad impression carpet bombing techniques common to share-of-voice and sponsorship campaigns. Think business travelers, technology enthusiasts, mobile mothers, immobile fathers, frequent shoppers… all are rife with possibilities for beacons.

What about truly attributable, results-driven campaigns? Place beacons in your advertiser’s locations, with their permission, and see how many people actually show up as a result of your campaigns. The disruptive potential is profound.

Now that they know enough to be dangerous, publishers should approach beacons with both optimism and skepticism.

The skeptic focuses on how real-time notifications add value to a publisher’s audience. In apps, content is king. With beacon driven notifications, context is king.

Should your news or weather app send real-time push alerts for nearby advertisers? No. Don’t do it. Your audience will revolt. This is wildly out-of-context. Besides, Apple doesn’t allow advertising driven push notifications unless it fits the context of your app. If you’ve got a stand-alone coupon app, blast away.

The skeptic demands you pay attention to audience scale and the rate at which beacons are being deployed. Retailers will install tens of thousands of beacons in the next few years, but should you wait to test until then? High performing audience segments work great as long as they deliver meaningful impression volume, higher CPMs or both.

The skeptic believes that not every company, advertiser or retail establishment needs their own app to deliver beacon-powered push alerts. Despite my own crush on the app economy, mobile websites work best for most businesses. Does the regional auto-dealer really need its own white-label app and location aware push alerts? No; they need an easy-to-use mobile website and people greeting customers when they walk through the door.

Finally, the skeptic realizes that we need more transparency than ever on what data is being collected and why. A simple “sunshine test” makes this easy. If you’re not comfortable sharing and explaining your data practices in public, then don’t do it. If someone wishes to opt out, that needs to be a simple process.

Like my mother father (he corrected me!) always says, no matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides.

The optimist knows that testing and innovating with beacons is absolutely worth pursuing in 2015. She’s competing with Facebook, Twitter, Google and every other major app for audiences and ad dollars, and those guys already know more about their audience than you do.

She knows that bridging the mobile revenue gap is her top priority, and requires new tactics and audience understanding. Beacons offer potential solutions to both.

New, innovative real-time campaigns will immediately attract advertiser interest. Just don’t screw up the execution and freak out your audience.

Data built over time is key to unlocking valuable audience understanding, and then publishers must use that knowledge to improve local, regional and national sales. Better audience data equals better products, happier users, more engagement, more effective campaigns, happier advertisers, higher CPMs and ultimately more revenue opportunity.

We are still very early in the life cycle of beacons. They present technology, privacy and implementation hurdles. Nevertheless, it’s time to start testing.


Malsurement: Measuring The Wrong Thing

measurement-by-seamstressMusic industry pontificator Bob Lefsetz highlights how incredibly easy it is to be lured in to measuring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

The quick summary:  Billboard, the company that lets you know Katy Perry is again at #1 in the charts, recently announced plans to include downloads and streams when calculating the Top 200 tracks.  Sounds great, right?

Here’s where we learn about measuring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Part of Billboard’s new calculation is an attempt to squeeze the new into the old: Ten downloads of a track equal one album purchase.  When was the last time you purchased an album, let alone a physical CD?

Lefsetz captures the essence of this mistake. In an online world, streaming equals listening equals the right thing to measure…

“The only thing that counts is listens. Sales are irrelevant. Especially of albums…”

“But the whole [music] industry is based on albums so they don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater…”

“Do you see Netflix telling us how many views equal one DVD? Come on.”

Yikes.  He’s right.  I work in mobile today, which suffers from malsurement (that’s bad measurement) everyday.  Almost every data point measured in mobile is measured because that’s the way it’s always been done on your desktop website.

Best example: click-through rates.  You see an ad, you click on it.  This breaks down so fast on mobile, it’s just outrageous. Somewhere between 30-50% of all clicks are accidental, because you’ve got fat fingers, or you’re two martinis deep while checking tomorrow’s forecast.

Easy fix. Have everyone in the entire global ecosystem of mobile adopt better metrics.  Dammit.  That ain’t gonna happen, at least this decade.  Billions of dollars, millions of ad campaigns, and thousands of sales pitches all hinge upon click-through rates.

My point, if I have one, is that marketers, product managers, sales people, and the big bosses at companies large and small all struggle to measure the right data for the right reasons.

Measuring the right thing for the right reasons sometimes isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be.

But you should still try.


PMS at Startups & Big Companies

Burgundy-bigdealWhen I started my enterprise sales career in 2005, I had it all figured out.  I closed a couple of deals, made some cash, and pretty much knew how to run a company.  Except, nothing could be further from the truth, despite that being my attitude.

After 8 years of slinging software, I quit my job to run a startup, where I began to dabble in product, and became more deeply involved in marketing. Hmm…these things appear related.

As I approach two years at StepLeader, I am deep in the trenches of the product, marketing, and sales trio, henceforth known as PMS.  One of my biggest lessons learned? These three elements intersect on a daily basis.

  • Without a product worth talking about, your marketing is meaningless.
  • Without marketing that provides value to customers (as opposed to asking for attention), your sales will be 10x harder.
  • Without product and market knowledge, your sales team will be borderline inept.

If you’re a sales person at large company, with little contact with the marketing or product teams, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.  Join their daily standups, ask for advice, ask for time with their leadership, and make it routine. You’ll close more deals.

If you’re a marketer and not participating in product discussions or listening in on sales calls, are you high? Are you making things up?

If you’re a product manager and not speaking with your customers, both inside and outside your office, you’ll build terrible products. You won’t be able to arm your marketing and sales teams with key messaging.

At a startup, it’s easier to have true PMS integration. Small teams make communication easier, in theory.

For everyone else working in a silo, break the silos down, not because you’re on a mission from God, but because you’ll enjoy your work more, and be better at it.

The Comfort Curve

This is what working smarter looks like
This is what “working smarter, not harder” looks like

Over the last few months my company has made a very intentional effort to “work smarter, not harder”.  Hat tip to good ‘ole dad for ingraining that mantra in my head at an early age.  

We build and sell apps, then sell [and help our customers sell] the advertising spaces on those apps.  “Working smarter” means that we have been “increasing the value of our current apps”.  Translated to non-marketing speak, that means we’ve been adding a whole new smorgasbord of advertising options to the apps.  By introducing new and different types of mobile ads, we generate more revenue.

But there is a dark side…

After all of these new ad units, the audience is confused and upset.  Here’s a sample quote from the reviews in the app stores:

“They shove ads right in the middle of the stories cutting them in half.  When you go to look through pics in a story half of those are ads too…and there are the banners at the bottom.  A good third of all content is ad related.  I will avoid all advertised products and services”

But what gives? Visit just about any news website. You’ll see similar ad units, if not worse.  Watch any TV program and have your viewing experience interrupted for 90 – 180 seconds with commercials.  I say this not argue advertising one way or the other, but to point out a simple observation.  The audience is outside their “comfort curve” in mobile.  This is new territory we’re crossing, people aren’t used to it, and therefore have a visceral reaction to the change.

Ever get pissed that Facebook changed their layout?  What did you do?  Did you quit, or just get used to it?

Over time, you and everybody else, get used to changes in your favorite products, or you quit them entirely if the pain is too high.  For those that stick around, here’s how I visualize this comfort curve.

The Comfort Curve
click to embiggen

Over time, you’ll end up comfortably numb to the changes.  Hell yeah, Pink Floyd reference in a boring business blog post.

While this example is specific to mobile advertising, it can be universally applied to any new change or experience thrust upon a group.  I found myself perturbed when the buttons change on computer screen of the self-checkout lane at the grocery store.  How dare they?!

If there’s a lesson in here somewhere, it’s to expect negative reaction to any change you make with your product. Expect it to even out as the comfort curve approaches comfortably numb.

Lessons Learned from a Customer Council

funny-dog-picture-lesson-learnedHere comes the final installment of the series on holding a Customer Advisory Council.  You can find the first post in the series here.

I helped my company put the event together, which we held in late July 2013.  The lessons learned are a combination of feedback direct from the attendees themselves, which came forth during a retrospective on the event, and my own personal observations.

    • A month before the event, begin working on an account management overview, showing attendees the health of their account.  We are a small company with no formal account management team, thus our need for 30 days.
    • Schedule a meeting two weeks before the event date for internal employees to firm up talking points.  As the coordinator, I owe it my fellow employees to help them help themselves, and to be incredibly prepared in advance with their pitch.
    • If you’re going to walk through a list of possible features for development, email that feature list to customers 7-10 days in advance.  This gives their team plenty of time to dig through it.  We sent ours out 2 business days in advance, which wasn’t enough time.
    • Provide at least three food options.
    • Start with an icebreaker to kick the meeting off, and lower the formality of the day.  Everyone should be relaxed and comfortable with the room, which will encourage more discussion.
    • With attendees arriving at the office at different times, have pre-planned activities to make up for those time gaps.
    • If you’re going to ask for an in-person case study or video testimonial at the event, request this in advance.  Send the messaging, gain approval, and book time on the calendar.  We sprung this on our attendees at the last minute.

Overall, the event went incredibly well.  It was a fantastic learning experience for me.  It resulted in changes to our product roadmap, our company’s approach with our customers, and to my own thinking about product management.

Small Details That Make a Difference

fancycookiesThis is the next-to-last post of this informal series on hosting a Customer Advisory Council.  Incredible reading awaits you in the four previous posts.  Click on the Product Management tag and dive in.

Listed below are a few small details that made a big difference in how the event functioned and how attendees perceived it.

  • Technology by exception.  We asked everyone to only open up laptops or iPads during specific breaks, or for emergency putting-out-fires cases.  Everyone was present, and in the moment.  It worked.
  • Frequently scheduled breaks to get the tech fix.
  • Company swag – nice polo shirts and jackets.
  • Refreshments waiting in their hotel rooms.  Snapple, water, snack bar, Gatorade.
  • Using a travel agency to arrange flight details. Delegating this responsibility was fantastic!
  • Holding a Retrospective each day.  We all jotted down ideas for what was Good, Bad, and Try for next time.  We concluded the meeting armed with great ideas for the next Advisory Council.

The final post will wrap up everything nicely with my lessons learned.




Day 1 vs Day 2 of the Customer Advisory Council

Continuing on here with this unofficial series on holding a Customer Advisory Council.  Today’s topic – setting the agenda for a two-day event, and our approach was pretty simple.

Day 1 – Looking Inward
The purpose – Talk about everything that was going on at the company.  Each department had a specific amount of time to share their current roadmap and vision.  Our CEO kicked the day off, followed by CFO, and on down the corporate ladder.  We concluded the day talking about our product roadmap.

Normally, the smart advice is against talking about yourself first, and then against talking about yourself over and over again.  And perhaps we did a little too much of that on Day 1.  Despite how entertaining we might be as speakers, listening [and not engaging] all day gets tiring.

We opted for this approach in order to tackle our customers’ questions and concerns up-front, leaving room for Q & A throughout that first afternoon.  Knocking this out early allowed us to completely shift focus the next day to bigger picture topics.

Perhaps one of the most important elements of the day was the entire company being open and honest about our progress and struggles.  From our customer’s perspective, if you had devoted two days away from your family, would you want to hear fluffy, positive spin from your vendor, or the honest truth?

boberryDay 2 – Looking Outward
After a healthy breakfast of fresh fruit, juice, and BoBerry Biscuits [actually not that healthy], we spent the entire morning of the second day hypothesizing, theorizing, and pontificating on where the mobile industry is headed.  Our customers delivered incredible feedback and advice, and truly opened our eyes.  The end result was a shift in focus on product development.

Muy bien.

The Agile Agenda & The Time Timer

Late this summer we held a Customer Advisory Council.  To get caught up on the backstory, start here. After everyone gathered together, you are still faced with the prospect of being stuck in a room all day.  This can test the patience of any person, no matter how enthralling the speakers or topics.
With the help of Todd Olson, who was consulting our company at the time, we adopted two facilitation techniques.  This kept the pacing of the day fresh and forward.

The Agile Agenda
Instead of locking ourselves into a rigid agenda, we placed all of the 2-day topics on stickies, and stuck ’em on the wall.  There was method-to-the-madness, meaning they were laid out according to the desired flow.  However, we kicked the day off by sharing the topics and the process: We would move them to “In-Progress” and “Done” as the topics were covered, and topics could be re-ordered based upon direction of the group.  This put control of the day back to the attendees. It got us one step closer to ensuring they got value from showing up.

timetimerThe Time Timer
Simple product. Excellent results.  Every topic, exercise, or conversation was time-bound with this little guy.  We never strayed too far down any tangent.  If the convo was juicy, we extended a few minutes, or re-shuffled the agenda entirely to allow the meaty topics more time.


Both of these served our group very well.  I’d recommend both for any meeting that’s going to take longer than an hour.

Booking a Customer Advisory Council

Greetings people.  This is part of a small series on how our company held a Customer Advisory Council.  “Council” sounds way cooler than “Board”, so that’s what we rolled with.

If you missed the reason WHY we  convened the council, you can read the first post here.

After deciding to hold the event, we had to bring it all together.  The first step – planting the seed.  During product roadmap calls in February, 6 months before the event even took place, we proposed the idea to our customers.  Actually, we shifted our language from proposing it, to “we’re doing this…you want in?”.  That worked better.


Once we had confirmed a great group representing 5 customers, choosing the date was a simple matter of proposing 4-5 times and getting the responses back.  I used email the first time, and have used Doodle for follow up meetings to simplify the process.

We then worked with a local travel agency to coordinate the flight details.  That made our lives easier, and made it simple for us to cover the airfare for our customers.

As we approached the event, 2 weeks out we sent a reminder with a proposed agenda.  To create that agenda, I kept a running list of questions we wanted to ask our customers during that 6 month lead time.  Have an idea? Write it down, save it for later.  With a list of 30-40 questions ready, we were able to bucket them, eliminate topics, and add to it.  That helped.

We followed that up 1 week later with a revised agenda.  Two days before the event we shared the polished agenda, a feature list to review, and a request to have their teams review and provide feedback on it.  Next time – we’ll get that polished list out a least a week early.  Their teams wanted more time to marinate on it.  Providing guidance on the topics and features in advance created more thoughtful discussion during the council, instead of requiring spur-of-the-moment thinking.

In the next post I’ll drill into the how we structured the logistics of the meeting days, which made HUGE difference in the meetings efficiency and the feedback we received.



Holding A Customer Advisory Council – Part I is Why

In late July, my company brought together executives from a handful of our largest customers.  This was our first attempt at convening a Customer Advisory Council. We sat outside on a massive stone patio with many other long-haired, long-bearded men. Besides that, the event went well, and I’ll break down our process over the next few posts and what I learned.Council_of_Elrond_-_FOTR

This initial post covers WHY we decided this was worth investing time, money, and a shitton of effort.  The “why” is pretty dern simple: There are no facts inside the building, only assumptions.  Until you ask your customers what’s really going on, you are guessing.  Credit goes to author and entrepreneur Steve Blank for that quote.

Truth-be-told, there are a lot of data points to consider when building a company strategy, marketing plan, and product roadmap: product data, industry data and trends, customer input, end user input, revenue impact, and your best wild-ass guesses.  We had been lacking on detailed, in-depth customer input, so there you have it.  That was our WHY.

We finally arrived on three stated goals:

  1. Make our company more transparent
  2. Product feature prioritization
  3. Knowledge share to improve mobile strategy [sounds so important, doesn’t it?]

In the next post I’ll detail how we pulled all of the pieces together to make it happen. We’ll then jump in to such fun topics as the Time Timer and agile agendas. You will lose your freakin’ mind.