I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

Email or follow me:


66 posts categorized "e-business"

June 27, 2008


As I wrote earlier, I'm building a "marketing analytics services" business -- once again, here's why.  If you're a prospective client interested in the what of the offering, and the ideas below make sense to you, drop me a note

Based on direct client experience, here are three themes I've worked out so far about how to approach building a firm's "marketing analytics" capability:

  • Analytics  should answer high-priority questions about how to grow the business.  In one client engagement, we've built a simple financial sensitivity model to help us figure out where the biggest leverage from analytic "nuance" would be, and made sure up front that the potential payoff is worth the research effort.
  • Analytics shouldn't be pursued without ready access to, understanding of, and trust in the underlying data.  In another situation, we're untangling several years' worth of Webtrends report cruft.  It's not only unclear what the reports are saying but also what data they are based on.  More than likely, we'll start from scratch, and rebuild a very limited set of reports which we completely understand.  We'll make better, faster decisions as a result.
  • Analytics shouldn't get more than three months ahead of the ability to act on the answers.   Each segmentation or test "cell" you define is pointless unless you can actually execute against it.  Beware diminishing marginal returns and exploding operational complexity of finer and finer slices of the pie, and remember that "modularity" only goes so far before you spend so much time building towers of abstraction that you never actually get to market.

So, if your analytics project isn't clearly tied to answering a question a senior operating executive cares about, or you can't "see the data" in the analysis, or there's nobody around to do something with the insights, you're "overhead", at risk, and rightly so.  A good alternative in these circumstances is to partner with an academic researcher who's willing to do the work and give you an advance peek at the insights in exchange for access to your data set.

I'm not much on slogans or buzzwords (though after listening to this, maybe I should be).   But my head kept turning over the words "pragmatism" and "analytics".  Finally, thunder struck:


June 24, 2008

Marketing Analytics Services

Jamie Schein and I recently re-connected to start Force Five Partners, a marketing consulting firm.  A primary area of focus for us is "marketing analytics services".  I summarized the demand case for this earlier here.  More soon on how we're approaching this with clients and building the firm to support them.

Recently I've been reading Ian Ayres' "Super Crunchers" and Tom Davenport's "Competing On Analytics", both aimed at general audiences.  I'll publish reviews on each book here shortly.  For now, just this observation, based on our experience so far: there's certainly lots of potential for "analytics", but realizing it depends on asking the right questions, and on being able to assemble data and systems to analyze, act on, and track this potential.   The biggest leverage comes from blending these skills.  As a result, we're more confident than ever that we're onto the right problem at the right time.

Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning

June 14, 2008

Re-Imagining Social Networking

Yesterday, Om Malik posted on the apparent plateau we've reached in the growth of social networking as a business.

My read:

  • For social networking to be really valuable, it's got to be really relevant to and really usable by a large number of people.
  • Today, these two conditions are true only for 15-25 year olds and for tech early adopters and evangelists (of all ages).
  • The way forward for relevance lies not in thinking "social-networking-out", but in "high-value-use-case-back".
  • The way forward for usability lies in "opt-out" vs. "opt-in" interface engineering.

Continue reading "Re-Imagining Social Networking" »

June 09, 2008

Zembly: Wild About Widgets

I signed up for Zembly's public beta, and built this widget (with appropriate permission). (Renders best in Firefox -- no scrolling):

Postscript June 2009: With the acquisition of FAO Schwarz by Toys R Us, the "gift finder" application on fao.com, off which my widget is based, has been retired.  I'll look for a suitable app on another site and reimplement a widget as and when time permits. 

Here's the embed code:


Cool service; easy to use, you can build versions of this to run on FB and other social networks. Took me less than an hour, most of that time spent getting the widget reduced to its essential elements.  Figuring out how to use Zembly took 5 minutes, and I didn't even need to RTFM.

(Sadly, I haven't yet been able to figure out how to track traffic to and from the widget with my Google Analytics account (since it's not accepting the Zembly url for the widget I'm offering), advice appreciated; I might try this.)

Broader point:  application widgets like this one (along with mini-games) are the future of the display ad business (in particular a good chunk of the rich media unit segment of that business), which has been criticized for skewed CTRs ("Natural-Born Clickers"), and which is trying to work out appropriate engagement metrics with the advertisers and media companies on either side of it.  Services like Zembly that make it easy to author such units will become this generation's Frontpage.

May 29, 2008

Recapturing Revenue On Major Online Publishers' Traffic Spikes

A friend who is a senior online publishing executive and I recently kicked around the following ideas, and we're interested to see who's already executing down these paths, so please weigh in with good market intel!

Continue reading "Recapturing Revenue On Major Online Publishers' Traffic Spikes" »

April 22, 2008

Upcoming Enterprise 2.0 Panel: "What Blogging Brings To Business"

I'm joining Jessica Lipnack, Bill Ives, Patti Anklam, and Doug Cornelius on the "What Blogging Brings To Business" Panel at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston on June 10.

February 09, 2008

Expanded Awareness At AOL: MIHOO + eBay? And What About Amazon?

Dave Morgan is a shrewd operator.  In adding buyat to advertising.com, he expands what AOL knows about how surfing ties to buying.  As I wrote here, this expanded awareness of consumer behavior makes it possible to develop better targeting algorithms, raising the CPMs he can charge advertisers or helping him be more competitive at existing rates.

So if a smaller affiliate network like buyat makes sense for AOL, what about two well-known larger networks? 

For example, when does Microsoft add eBay to Yahoo!? Like Yahoo!, eBay's stock is down 30% from last fall.  The premium over the market price that Microsoft is paying for Yahoo! represents only about 5% of Microsoft's market capitalization, arguably leaving plenty of room for another deal of similar scale without stockholders getting nervous about excessive dilution -- and eBay's market cap today is only about a third bigger than Yahoo!'s was pre-MIHOO.  Amazon, with a market cap of $30 billion, is in essentially the same position. (And maybe since it's a neighbor of Microsoft's, it might make more sense?)

This idea isn't that radical.  Yahoo! and eBay already had a partnership.  Google gets the value too, though it hasn't made much progress with its own services, Froogle and Base.

Some will say another deal soon is practically impossible, because integrating Yahoo! will consume Microsoft.  I believe that's a red herring.  The value in the MSFT/ YHOO deal will be created by a better advertising capability: better reach, better data, better targeting.  It won't come from integrating media properties.  If you believe this, it suggests that this is where the integration focus should be.  This  simplifies the integration challenge, and allows Microsoft to turn its attention to the next move.  Also, the current economic circumstances favor further consolidation, especially in a market (digital marketing) with longer-term fundamentals (growth, returns to scale) that remain strong.

February 05, 2008

Memo to MIHOO: A Modest Proposal for The Next Step

There are three ways an ad network can compete:  better reach, better data, better analytics.  Know more people, know more about them, know what to do with that information.  Jeffrey Rayport noted yesterday in MarketWatch that recent consolidations in the ad network business have made it a game that "only the mighty can play."  Meanwhile, Danny Sullivan wonders in Ad Age whether the Microsoft-Yahoo combination will be enough to catch Google, even if they can pull the integration off.

So here's an idea, borrowing from a time-honored software business strategy most recently exploited by Facebook when it opened up an API to its "social graph" (also inspired by recent fiddling I've done with the IBM Many Eyes project).  MIHOO should provide a way for "third-party algorithm developers" to query its combined data hoard of users and their clickstreams.  That way, they can "unleash the power of open-source algorithm development" by letting the unwashed mathematicians of the world back-test their ideas for getting consumer X to respond to offer Y in context Z.  Of course, this would come with a price: when you go to run your algorithm on the MIHOO network to "monetize" it, MIHOO takes the gross cut to the network and pays you, the algorithm developer a royalty.

Symbiotic way for MIHOO and the little guy to take on big GOOG.  Lots of problems with this to be sure, starting with privacy (even though it already "is", can data be further anonymized to make it tough to infer my personal clickstream?).  And, as a practical matter, can MIHOO expose a data warehouse that could take mass pounding from the world without slowing to a useless crawl?  Further, would it be worth it?  There is a diminishing return to finer and finer targeting ideas, after all.  As for the competitive risk -- that people will get insights on MIHOO's data set that they can deploy on some other network (Google's or otherwise) perhaps there is a way to abstract the data being queried until a promising algorithm can be "optioned" by MIHOO.

Granted, it's a bit out there... but work with me people, or help me find the fatal flaw.

November 07, 2007

Not Dead Yet

Went to the Web Innovators Group meeting last night in Cambridge.  The ballroom at the Royal Sonesta was full, with a healthy mix of entrepreneurs, engineers, students, VC's, corporate types, etc.   Rumors of Boston's demise as a tech hub are overstated.

Memorable snatches of conversations/presentations:

  • "I hear there are assets in Germany available..."
  • "We started with a subscription model, and morphed it from there..."

and my favorite:

  • "We're a real-time mixer service, halfway between Meetup and Dodgeball.  It's 3 o'clock, you want to meet people, you sign in, and at 4 we've got you in a bar with five people you don't know... but you have something in common with!

I caught up with Paige Arnof-Fenn.  We speculated on Whether It's A Bubble.  "No, there's twenty times the money (advertising anyway) there was in 2001, and maybe 75% of the VC money invested back then," was our consensus.  What about a recession? Money flows to the most measurable media, which these days is online, so maybe this time a recession might kill off the old (golf-and-a-rate-card analog formats) instead of the new.

October 16, 2007

Branded Readers

Reading news and blogs through an RSS reader has been great for me.  I can get through a lot of stuff in very little time:  I'm guessing I'm 4x as productive going this route.  (I've tried a few different readers -- FeedDemon, Thunderbird, Newsgator, and I'm currently using Google Reader, with mixed results.)  Despite the clear benefits of these tools, few people outside my friends in tech use them.  I've been wondering why, and what opportunities the answers might mean.

Continue reading "Branded Readers" »