Category: Work

A trip to Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad is the commercial capital and largest city of the westernmost state of India, Gujarat. It is where I did my Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management, at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

I was invited to teach a few sessions in Display Advertising at another eminent institute located in the city – MICA. Though I had been to the city a few times, this was the first time that I was actually flying in to the city. A few photos of the airport below.

The MICA campus is located on the South Western outskirts of the city at a place called Shela. I had to take the Ring Road to get there – a road that did not exist when I was a student in Ahmedabad. It was interesting to observe how large the city had grown spatially. There were also numerous apartment complexes along the road, though many did not seem occupied.

The campus itself had a lot of similarities with IIM. Low brick structures set amidst well maintained lawns and surrounded by lush greenery lent it a serene ambience, conducive to the pursuit of knowledge. The lush greenery also meant that it had a rich bird-life – in fact, after a while, the loud, harsh calls of the numerous peahens within the campus went from ‘nice’ to ‘mildly irritating’.

The classes itself were interesting. It was good to see the interest in the course with well over 130 students participating. Hopefully, they would have learnt a few things from the sessions.

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.

Co-working spaces

My work as a freelance digital marketing consultant takes me to multiple client offices. And the idea for this post came while I was at one such office.

This company, a start-up, decided to base themselves out of a co-working office, rather than rent their own office space. And they are not alone – I know of a few other organisations who have decided that they would rather work out of co-working spaces.

The attraction of such an arrangement is fairly obvious – excellent work spaces with multiple break-out areas where individuals, small teams can work out of, the usual office amenities such as meeting rooms, snack and coffee facilities, lounge areas, etc. Most importantly, the management team is not burdened with the administrative overheads of facilities management. And this itself outweighs the slightly higher costs of such an arrangement.

As a worker in one such space, I find the environment quite stimulating. While you are definitely part of one organisation, you feel yourself part of the larger ecosystem based around the space. The flexibility to work anywhere within the premises (or in another premise of the same co-living space) is so liberating, especially for people of an older generation who have worked in organisations where you are literally tied to a specific desk (along with a land-line phone :-)). In fact, the desks at this particular space do not have a land-line phone, or even provisions for one! Also, no computers and very few monitors on desks give it a very clean, minimalist air. Everyone has laptops (typically sleek Macbooks), smart phones and communication is primarily via services such as Slack (and Google Hangouts for conference calls).

If this is the future of offices, bring it on!