Category: Digital

AI, PPC and Smart Bidding

Alphabet blocks spelling out SEM
Search Engine Marketing and Machine Learning

One of the things I have observed in my (still nascent) consulting career is the eagerness of entrepreneurs / (new to digital) marketers to adopt the ‘Smart Bidding’ strategies offered by Google within Adwords (now Google Ads). And this is understandable. Entrepreneurs have a lot of things to take care of, and therefore, why not leverage the AI powered options provided by Google, right?

In my opinion (and limited experience), I have rarely seen this work. Here are a few reasons why I think businesses should not adopt these Smart Bidding strategies too early:

  • Performance: The smart bidding strategies are based on Machine Learning algorithms. And these algorithms need historical data to be trained upon. I genuinely believe that every business is unique. And therefore, even if reasonably relevant data exists from other businesses in the same industry and market, it is no guarantee that an algorithm based off that data might be the best one for your business.
  • Insights: Search Marketing (both Paid and Organic) can provide a wealth of information to businesses. What are the search terms that your users are using to find the information that you provide, how are they interacting with your ads, your website, what are your competitors doing? The use of manual bidding forces you to dig deep into all of this data, analyse and study them to understand what’s working and what’s not and in the process, gather very valuable marketing insights. When you use Smart Bidding, you do not need to analyse all of this closely, thereby losing out on the opportunity to learn.
  • Competition: The beauty of Paid Search Marketing (or PPC – Pay Per Click), is that it is based on an auction process and what you pay (and where you rank) is influenced significantly by what your competitors are up to. So what happens if you and your competitors are both using Smart Bidding techniques?

I can understand why Google (and Facebook) are developing these Machine Learning based techniques. It is in their interest to simplify the process of advertising on their platforms so that businesses no longer feel that they have to invest in PPC experts to do Search Marketing. And I am sure that, over a period of time, their algorithms will keep improving. However, for the reasons listed above, I believe that PPC experts would continue to have a key role to play within any business looking to leverage Paid Search Marketing.

This post was inspired by this article – Frederick Vallaeys on why digital marketers will still have jobs and what they’ll look like in an AI world

The time for Personal Branding is Now

Personal Branding - representative image

If you, like me, spend even some time on LinkedIn, you are bound to have come across articles talking about topic around changing nature of jobs, loss of jobs, ‘gig economy’ etc. While the Future of Work is a complex topic, I believe that one things all of us can, and should, do is to build a Personal Brand.

Gone are the days when one’s professional identity was defined by the organisation she or he worked for. The days when one joined an organisation for life and grew steadily up the corporate ladder are behind us. Yes, there might be still be people who spend a majority of their working lives in a single organisation, but my hunch (without any supporting data) is that these people would be in the tiny minority. The majority of people in the workforce today are likely to find themselves looking for a change from what they are currently doing and where they are currently employed at some time in the not-so-distant future. And these could be due to factors either within their control, or most likely, outside their control. And these are no longer just restricted to so-called ‘blue collar’ jobs.

In case you have missed these articles, here are a few:

How much will automation impact the middle class?

Future of work for tech workers

Fewer jobs from ecommerce to IT (Indian context)

So how can one prepare for this? Again, I do not presume to have a solution. But I do believe that it will be vital for everyone in the workforce to build an identity for themselves that can stand independent of the organisation they work for. By this, I mean creating a story about themselves that tells who they are, how they have reached where they are, and where they might want to go next. This might come easier for people who have spent a few years in the workforce, but it’s also important for people just starting their professional careers to continuously think about. This can help them narrow down their learning objectives, identify and connect with the relevant people both within and outside their organisation.

Prepare for the inevitable rise of the ‘gig economy’. Invest in continuous learning. Identify topics of interest, read about them and start participating in conversations around these. Use the many social channels wisely to start dissemination information about yourself. See if you can pick up some side projects that can give hands-on experience and feel for the areas that you want to invest in. And don’t be afraid to ‘pivot’ if you feel that your present career trajectory is unlike to go much further.

This is just another topic that convinces me that we have just entered an age where our understanding of what it means to ‘work’ and how we live our ‘life’ is going to be fundamentally questioned and possibly altered. I don’t know how ‘work’ and ‘life’ is going to look like when the dust finally settles, but I do believe that it’s up to us to proactively think about this and take appropriate steps to adjust as easily and painlessly as possible to this new era.

 

Who should own Conversion Rate Optimisation?

Conversion Rate Optimisation

The question of who between Marketing and Product should own Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) in a digital transaction oriented business is an interesting one. It would seem that this naturally fits within the Product function. But I believe that this should be the responsibility of the Marketing, especially Digital Marketing team, with the support of the Product team (and other teams as appropriate).

Product, I believe, should own the overall vision and be responsible for feature development and enhancements. User experience should also absolutely sit within the Product team. However, Conversion Rate should not be the primary metric to judge usability of a site. In fact, it is very difficult to pinpoint and identify the right baseline for Conversion Rate, as it is influenced by so many factors beyond just product design – merchandising, inventory, sources of traffic, seasonality, competitive action – are just some of these extrinsic variables that can impact Conversion Rates significantly.

And which is why I believe Marketing is best placed to work on CRO. They are the team that knows more than any other team (or should know!) about all of these extrinsic factors. They are the team responsible for customer acquisition, engagement and retention, all areas where CRO is key. Not to mention that they own the Performance Marketing budget where again Conversion Rate plays a key role.

So what does this imply for an organisation and their Marketing function? In my opinion, strong marketing teams should have a good mix of the following core capabilities:

  • Analytical skills to understand data and draw actionable insights from the data.
  • Basic technical skills to understand how sites, apps and pages are designed and function, along with understand of analytics tracking systems to work closely with product and tech teams.
  • Customer empathy to understand customer behaviours, motivations and user journeys.
  • Communication skills to listen, communicate and engage with users across all channels.

Having these skills (either in-house or via external agencies or consultants) within the Marketing team will greatly help organisations in their journey towards improving Conversion Rates.

However, merely having these skills within the Marketing team is not enough. Organisations should ensure that they have the right processes in place to empower and enable the marketing team to act on improving Conversion Rates with the full support of relevant internal stakeholders, primary of which would be the Product team.

Contact me if you would like to discuss how to improve Conversion Rates for your business.

Working at eBay.in

There was a news article recently that the current owners of the eBay.in website in India are planning to shut it down soon. I was fortunate to be part of the founding team of this pioneering venture and to date consider it as the best days of my professional life. Here are my thoughts on why this was so:

People: The bedrock of any organisation. A big Thank You to the founding members of Baazee.com for consistently hiring great people. Not only were the team one of the smartest and talented that I ever had the fortune of working with, but also great individuals and team members. Humility, respect, trust and willingness to go the extra mile, while also knowing how to have a good time characterised the team.

Processes: While Baazee.com was a start-up, it was very interesting to observe that they already had a lot of processes in place that one expects in more mature organisations. This, to me, shows the foresight of the senior leadership team as it helped bring a strong sense of focus to the team. Everyone knew not only their individual role within the company, but also what others in the team did. As it to be expected, this was taken to another level with eBay. And I, personally, consider this as one of my biggest learnings from working there.

Plans: Another area where learned a lot. Both Baazee and eBay were very clear about their plans across the short, medium and long (2-3 years) terms. The process of making the plans was very inclusive, which meant that there was very strong clarity across the team on roles and objectives. This, combined with the processes mentioned above, meant that there was also a high level of transparency about the goals across the organisation.

Culture: All of the above meant that Baazee / eBay had a wonderful work culture. There was hardly any politics, second guessing, hierarchies, etc. Discussions were open and held in a respectful fashion and there was a true open door philosophy at the senior leadership level. I believe this enabled everyone to give their best.

Learning: There was ample opportunity to learn, especially at Baazee. Part of this stemmed from the fact that it was truly a pioneering organisation, so many of the things we were doing had not really been done before in the country. But another important contributor was also the trust managers had that their teams would do the right thing. There was little micro-management and mistakes, made with the best intentions, were tolerated.

I am sure there are other points, but I truly believe that Baazee / eBay was one of those rare organisations where everything just came together. People who were lucky enough to have worked there have formed strong bonds. When there was a get-together of alumni recently, nearly 60 from across the country and abroad made it a point to come together and have a good time. Cheers to eBay.in!

The hybrid Indian online model

There is no denying that the increasing popularity of ‘online’ in India. Since moving back to India a couple of years ago, I have been regularly using a plethora of online services – ride hailing, food delivery, house rentals, packers and movers, shopping – and by and large, the experience has been pleasant. It has certainly made life easier and more fun, though I still have reservations about the long term viability of some of these companies (but that’s a topic for another post!).

One aspect, though, that has intrigued me, and in some cases, irritated me, is the amount of human interactions that some of these services entail. A couple of examples:

I had registered on a property website while casually looking at some properties. And a few days later, I received a call from the company saying that they would be happy to help me shortlist a property, asking for my details, talking about a few properties and then the catch – they will share my contact details with the property developers who would then call me to schedule a visit, etc. Please note that this was completely outbound as I had not expressed any interest in these properties on their website or even asked anybody to call me.

One of the reasons I prefer to use online services is the relative degree of anonymity – I do not have to talk to a customer service agent, provide details, then have further people calling me, etc. I would rather do all the activities myself and only have an option to talk to someone at the company if I need any help.

This got me thinking. Is it that our digital economy is not mature enough that companies still have to hire a team of agents to call its users and be enablers? Or is it that companies are not happy at the volume of business they are getting from pure self service users and feel the need to hire people to push things along? I appreciate that this provides employment opportunities and, in our country, that is very important. But is there a case then, for companies to provide an option to users who prefer to be completely self service?

Case #2:

I went on to the website of a very popular DTH provider with whom I have an existing relationship. I had to make a service request. It was easy to find the service request section on their website and within a few seconds, I had made my request which was time bound. And then the wait started. It’s been a couple of months now, so the details are a bit vague but I do not believe I received even an acknowledgment that my request has been received. So, two days later, what did I have to do? You guessed it right, I had to call their Customer Support and within minutes, I received a follow up call and things were sorted.

It begs the question, doesn’t it? Why have a Service Request option on your website when clearly, it is not being monitored? In western markets, companies love it when users self serve, saves them significant costs of hiring and training call centre agents and the operational costs involved (office space, telecommunications, etc.). I wonder, if in India, the cost structure is so skewed that it is still cheaper for companies to have a team of people on call than build a technological solution? I am not sure that it is, but would love to hear from experts.