The Good in Bad Customer Reviews


EveryonesACritic-cover-cropOnline reviews trump advertising, in-store advice and friends when it comes to researching gadgets on, contractors on Angie’s List, getaways on TripAdvisor and finding out why Yelpers think that “hot” new restaurant is a flash in the pan. No matter where you look these days, #EveryonesACritic. New York Times bestselling author and online consumer behavior expert Bill Tancer says feedback on these sites is fertile ground for learning how to keep and win customers.

The Most Influential Form of Social Media

In my post on Storify about his new book Everyone’s a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World (Penguin Random House), Bill explains why reviews and ratings have surged in importance and shares how-tos for disenchanted business owners who ignore them. Continue reading

STEAMing it Forward: Dare 2B Digital Unleashes Girls’ Potential

KomalSharma2600To celebrate the sixth annual Dare 2B Digital Silicon Valley Conference & Innovation Challenge this year, I helped Invent Your Future Foundation, a non-profit that I advise on marketing strategy, introduce blog profiles of young women who “grew up” through their groundbreaking STEAM immersion program. The series launched with a spotlight on Komal Sharma, a San Jose State University student who shared her success story. Continue reading

Top 10 Reasons to Dare 2B Digital

Girls…are you ready to have the most fun ever on a Saturday? Us too! Here are 10 reasons not to miss this adrenaline-pumping, music-filled day exploring, connecting and creating. Join us at the Dare 2B Digital Conference & Innovation Challenge – THE place to be for SF Bay Area girls in grades 7 – 10 on Saturday, February 28, 2015. Why you won’t want to miss it…2015TFBbanner

Continue reading

Boost Your Marketing Intelligence

A new report from and Forrester Research titled “The State of Retailing Online 2013: Marketing and Merchandising” highlights fantastic career opportunities for analytics-savvy marketers in the retail industry:

“Forty percent of the retailers surveyed said they had open positions for marketing analysts, more than any other open marketing position.”

As more companies focus on measuring campaign results and optimizing their marketing spend, I suspect marketing analysts in many industries will have decent job security for years to come.

Marketers’ timing couldn’t be more perfect given the pace of innovation in marketing analytics – the subject of a new, two-part eBook series titled “Marketing Intelligence: 8 Ways to Boost ROI and Profits” (published by PivotLink, a client). Inspired by thought leaders they work with at top retail brands who are transforming the marketing discipline from an art to a science, the books are a great resource for CMOs, marketing analysts, digital agency pros – any measurement fanatic who wants to delight customers and amp-up their marketing IQ. Download your free copy here.


PivotLink_eBook1cover_sBook 1 explores what Marketing Intelligence is and how it helps you give customers what they want (including tips to get them back if you didn’t give it to them the first time).

Book 2 is for anyone with a CMO who’s screaming “Do this, now!” (without reinventing the wheel).

Nice to see PivotLink providing these resources for smart marketers and enthusiasts who want to get ahead of the curve on the emerging Marketing Intelligence space.


Who’s Wooing Your Best Customers?

[Cross-posted from Retail Analytics Now.] For marketers who need more motivation to get inside the heads of omni-channel shoppers, a new infographic in the January 2013 issue of RIS News is chock-full of inspiration.


RIS’ “trendagram” illustrates the gold to be discovered in the customer data hills. Citing Empathica, Aberdeen Group, Forrester Research and others, RIS presents nine reasons why customer analytics is sizzling in 2013.

Several stand out:

  • Social media’s impact on brand awareness: 50% of customers have tried a new brand due to a social media recommendation (point 1)
  • Customers are sharing more data: 55% of retailers use real-time customer data capture at the point of sale. (point 4)
  • Marketers have a serious customer intelligence gap: Less than half say existing data allows for effective customer segmentation, and only 36% describe customer information as “robust.” (point 7)

Marketing’s challenges courting their “besties” is no secret, so this list of nine could have easily rounded up to 10 (or more), including a stat I like from the RSR Research report, “Making the Case for the CMO” (download). Of the top five challenges retail marketers identified in implementing their strategies, four of them underscore the lack of advanced customer analytics tools to measure and drive marketing effectiveness.

RIS sums-up the Customer Analytics infographic by saying:

“Retailers are realizing that knowing more about their shoppers can be the key to building relationships and boosting sales.”

Notice they said, “are realizing?” Just how many are discovering this “new news” about targeting their best customers? Quite a few based on a recap of NRF 2013, “Retail’s Big Show,” (#nrf13) by Steven P. Dennis. His post (a great read!) suggests you’re already late to the multi-channel party if you’re just now waking up to something the big guys in retail figured out years ago.

Ok, so let’s talk about those “big guys.” You know, the ones with gobs of money and marketing resources and IT people you wish you had to automate and integrate all your one-off marketing systems? Yeah, those guys.

This came up on a recent call I was on with Joe Dalton, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at PivotLink, and an industry analyst. Joe was describing how analytic applications have been right-sized for marketers at companies that don’t have unlimited resources or time. Instead of spending 10 times more on on-premise applications and playing the waiting-game, he said they can subscribe to analytic applications like those unveiled by PivotLink at NRF that are tailored for marketing users, integrate with leading marketing automation systems, and crank out customer insights quickly.

He also said something that really grabbed my attention – and RIS News’ editors as well – talking at NRF about the marketing’s technology imperative. Alongside quotes from the CEOs of Walmart and Container Store in the article “Epic Stuff Overheard at NRF 2013,” Joe said:

“Retailers are always wondering about what or even if they should be investing in technology. Let me put it this way, as you go through your budget process keep in mind that you are not going to out-invest Amazon.”

Big guys beware. Stories are emerging in segments like specialty apparel e-commerce that show marketers are mobilizing. With sophisticated (and affordable) Cloud solutions drawing actionable insights from big data, they’re about to woo your best customer.

Recharging Customer Insights

The focus on how retailers use customer analytics to increase shopper relevance is a hot topic at this week’s NRF 2013 conference, “Retail’s Big Show.” It’s also mentioned in the January issue of RIS News, in an interview with entrepreneur BruceArmstrong, CEO of marketing analytics provider PivotLink (a company I workwith). In it, Armstrong explains the challenges marketers face in 2013, namely:


“the shift in purchasing power to millennials, evolving marketing channelsand the explosion of customer data, all compounded by the surge in mobileadoption.”


These trends have been amplified on the #nrf13 tweet stream, including this highlight from Deloitte’s session:

RT @DeloitteUS: There’s a new now in #retail being driven by the always-connected consumer. #nrf13 Lobaugh

and this diagram tweeted by @drkbernard (I’ve learned it wassnapped during a session hosted by Alteryx titled “Closing the Gap Betweenthe Customer and the Profitable Customer with Analytics.” See the deck posted on Slideshare):

RT @drkbernard: Consumer Analytics is being disrupted by new data sources #nrf13 >PL: Presents great opps for marketersPivotLink

Given these challenges, Armstrong notes in RIS, “Robust customer analytics is no longer a luxury for retailers,” thanks to the Cloud.

It’s welcome news for marketers who find themselves drowning in customerdata and needing to slice and dice it for better segmentation andactionable decisions that drive conversions, loyalty and revenues. The onlything standing between them and the answers? The complexity of harnessing customer data silos spanning multiple marketing automation and salessystems. Insurmountable? It used to be, especially if you had an IT backlog (or few, if any IT resources).


Gone are the days that only big companies with big IT departments can benefit from sophisticatedanalytics for understanding and delighting customers. With solutions delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS) – tailored for business users – they’re within reach of mid-sizedand even smaller retailers and their suppliers who see marketing improvement inweeks. What this means is their aspirations are achievable for engaging the right shoppers,tailoring communications to their personal interests and lifestyles, anddeveloping long-term conversations.


Specialty retail apparel companies like NY-based Freshpair ( and SF-based Tea Collection ( are great examplesof how marketers are transforming insights to get, keep and grow customers:

<div>Impressed by <a href="" class="">Tea Collection</a>’s vision to delight customers using our new marketing analytics app…and grateful to hear: “PivotLink is central to our strategy to understand the needs of our customers and develop lasting relationships with th…em. We’re excited about using Customer PerformanceMETRIX to define sub-segments of like-minded customers and match them with personalized, relevant offers.” Thank you Jane Logan, head of systems/information! Read how they’ll use PivotLink to boost loyalty and drive new revenue opps, and help marketers improve conversion rates and campaign effectiveness by combining customer insights from transactional systems with metrics from Google Analytics and Responsys. More: <a href="/l.php?" class=""></a>See More</a></div>
Hats-off to these forward-thinking retailers and innovative tech companies who are reinventing marketing in 2013. It will be exciting to see how all of us shoppers benefit from marketers better understanding what makes us tick, whether we’re clicking on an offer in email, browsing their website, sharing our favorite styles on Pinterest, or shopping in a store.

You’ve Got Mail…Way too Much

[Cross-posted from] With Halloween and Election Day behind us, many of us are doing a mad-dash to gather Christmas wish lists and get our shopping done on time. Somewhere between running kids to soccer games and birthday parties and the Thanksgiving count-down, I’m hoping to find an extra hour. That leaves little time to sort through the avalanche of email to find retailers’ best shopping discounts, enewsletter offers and free shopping deals.

As consumers, we feel this pain every day because we’re bombarded with email from companies mingled with pictures from friends, Facebook message alerts and emails from our families.



A new infographic on email overload from the email organizers at ZigMail [a company I work with] shows that despite the growth of social media, email remains the number one way consumers spend their time online…but they’re disengaging because of the constant barrage of messages. View the expanded infographic for more on these trends and get a glimpse into what the startup community is working on to help consumers tackle their cluttered email inboxes.

There are signs of life (and hope) for consumers and marketers thanks to innovation being driven by startup companies. Even “old guard” email providers like AOL, with it’s Alto offering on the horizon, are signaling that they recognize the pain email users are feeling and are jumping on the bandwagon.

Richard Gerstein, former CMO of Sears Holdings and CEO and Co-founder of ZigMail, has an interesting take on the state of email overload. He said, “Email is far from dead, but it’s clearly broken.” He says that while it’s encouraging to see large email providers beginning to recognize the problem with the lack of innovation in the email space, “the answer is not to overhaul legacy email systems which were designed for personal communication.” He and ZigMail’s Chicago-based team are rethinking the entire email experience, to “give social-mobile consumers a new way to manage the commercial side of their lives.”

Marketing in 2020

[Cross-posted from "Retail Analytics Now" Blog]

What will your marketing strategy look like in 2020? A new report from PwC US and Kantar Retail provides a glimpse into the road ahead for analytics-savvy marketers. “Retailing 2020,” an update to the “Retailing 2015″ report published in 2007, discusses the transition to “a ‘post-modern’ consumer-centric era triggered by Continue reading

Are You on Email “High Alert”?

Email isn’t dead, it’s just broken. If you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am, here are some tips I uncovered on my quest to dig out from the avalanche.

“Could this be the end of email overload?” Conan O’Brien may have poked fun at the flood of media coverage around this question, but for most of us, the constant barrage of emails isn’t that funny.
Media Reacts: The End Of E-mail Overload? – CONAN on TBSteamcoco

At work, email overload can be a productivity killer. It may not drive as many headlines outside the office, but that’s where email can be an even bigger burden.

The average American has three email accounts and over 200 unread messages, according to a study by Microsoft. Buried in the fire hose of personal email messages arethings we want and (mostly) need: pictures from family, emailfrom the kids’ school, discounts from our favorite retailers, account alerts, digital receipts, auction notifications from EBay, party invitations, Amazon shipping confirmations, social media notifications, and more.

Email Angst

I began researching email overload when my entrepreneur friend Michael Kennedy told me about a company he was starting to avert email overload. (Disclosure: ZigMail is now a client). As he walked me through his pitch for angel investors, I thought about the angst email causes me every day. I could relate to the pain because I had tried everything, even diverting personal email to multiple accounts. (Great idea. One headache became four of them.) This got me wondering, how is this problem 20-plus yearsin the making? If technology has enhanced our lives in countless other ways, why isemail completely out of whack? Can a new generation of innovators fix it?

When I set out on my research, I quickly learned there’s no shortage of personal productivity consultants andemail trainers with tips to tackle the onslaught. From time management to productivity, I found countless books and resources on regaining inbox control – primarily at work. One expert I started to follow is Monica Seeley (@EmailDoctor)at Mesmo Consultancy. Her Twitter tips are good email therapy.

Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

Keeping up with this deluge is annoying, but did you know it could be bad for your health? A study by University of California at Irvineand the U.S. Army equates email access at work to being in “a steady ‘high alert’state, with more constant heart rates”:

UC Irvine Release: Jettisoning work email reduces stress :: UC …May 3, 2012 … People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “ high alert” state, with more constant heart …

Not Dead

It may increase your blood pressure, but email isn’t going away any time soon, according to a Pew Research Center study: 


There are some steps you can take. I stumbled on the “Email Charter: 10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral.” This guide for reducing email overload was inspiredby a 2011 post from TED’s Chris Anderson and JaneWulf. Take a look. I like Rule #3 about clarity and using a subject line that categorizes your main action or point. A lot of folks seem to relate. Last I checked, their charter had been tweeted over 1,000 times and garnered more than 16,000Facebook likes. Jonathan Liu was recently lamenting on his Wired “GeekDad” column about applying the rules to cure his email woes.

5 Tips

As I did my research, I bookmarked tips along the way that apply to personal email just as well as work email. I also flagged some real head-scratchers. If it’s any consolation toConan’s writers, there are enough zany suggestions for curing email overload to fuel aseason’s-worth of sketches. These five stand out:

Tip # 5. Just say less.

The 140 character count works for Twitter, so some peoplesuggest limiting the character count for email, too. Startups like Shortmail have nifty ideas to cap email length.Short is good, and I’d rather have an email get to the point in one sentence, but word count alonewon’t cure my personal email overload. Whether it’s 5,000 or 500characters, a useless message is still useless. I’ve received plenty of yawner emailswith an image and few words.

Instead of counting characters, maybe we need toauthenticate sender IQs and audit how well they follow best practices. Maybe we need an email screening program modeled after the TSA’s PreCheck. Or a GongShow-style clearinghouse where daily emails are submitted firstto be validated (or vetoed). Want to cc me on a reply-all that has no relevance? Gong. Sending me an offer for weight loss hot pants? Vetoed. Have a 50%off code for sandals to match the dress I ordered on your website? Winner. It’s easy: make the cut and your email gets cleared for delivery.

Kidding aside, when it comes to your personal email, don’t lose hope. Marketers are running smarter campaigns thanks to sophisticated analytics that make it easier to segmentcustomers and present products, services and offers you’re more likely to take action on. Startups are delivering apps that provide a helping hand, and growingmobile email adoption means smaller screens and shorter messages from companies and individuals. The right messages are starting to reach the right recipients more often, and they’re more concise. That’s progress.

Tip # 4. Go cold turkey.

In his VentureBeat article, Matt Marshall (@mmarshall) said, “Email is a ball and chain.” If it’s weighing us down, whydo it at all? That’s what French IT services company Atos asked. From ABC News to BBC,Atos made headlines with their company-wide internal email ban in 2011.

Tech Firm Implements Employee &#39;Zero Email&#39; Policy – ABC NewsNov 29, 2011 … You&#39;ve got mail–not. Employees of tech company Atos will be banned from sending emails under the company&#39;s new…
Feeling an urge to adopt a “zero email” policy for yourpersonal email? You might want to stop and think about how that might play out:

“What messages? Mom, I’vebanned email in our house so I don’t know anything about the family reunion.”

“No, I didn’t get that paymentreminder from American Express. We’ve put a moratorium on personal email.”

“Why would I have Macy’ssend me email offers? I like buying shoes at full price.”

Going cold turkey doesn’t makesense for my personal email problem – especially if I’d miss a sale on shoes!


Our personal email “IDs” have become calling cardsfor the companies we do business with, but many of us cringe when we’re asked for our email address. Retail TouchPoints says “77% of U.S. consumers said they have become more guarded about givingout their email addresses over the past year.” 

Why Do Users Become Disengaged With Your Email [Infographic]May 22, 2012 … For retailers, their brand reputation and engagement with customers are top priorities. With many communication vehicl…
We may behesitating before givingout our personal email address, but many of us are farfrom giving it up.

Babies and Burritos

During a recent visit to a Babies R Us store, I scoured my email inbox from myphone for their one-day discount code (a tip from another shopper in the store) and checked reviews while I was online. After I left (with my discounted purchase), I stood in line at a new Chipotle location realizing there’s no reason a huge fan like me hasn’t joined their list for email deals. It dawned on me that I am theconnected, social, mobile consumer I read about. Email isn’t my only link to these companies, but it’s an integral part of my relationship. I just need email technology otherthan a Swiss Army knife so it fits the way my life works.

Tip # 3. Delete likecrazy.

A Wall Street Journal article says retailers sent an average of 177 emails per recipient in 2011, up 87% since 2007. No wonder my inbox count is skyrocketing.

My research uncovered the “zero inbox” approach, where triage is performed by deleting everything you can. In her post on HBR Blog Network’s “Best Practices” column, Amy Gallo (@amyegallo)describes the concept:

“Glance over your inboxand delete any messages you don’t need to read or keep: calendar invites,advertisements, etc.”

Harvard Business School lecturer Bob Pozen, author of “ExtremeProductivity,” points out:

“You ought to be able todiscard 80% of them just by looking at the title.”

I admire anyone who can achieve that level of email tidiness, but taking the time to delete like crazy is simply going to make me crazy. And why? Email storage is cheap (I’m a pack rat) and my personaltime is scarce (like everyone else). It’s counter-intuitive for me to spend time each day deleting messages.

These are the kinds of hurdles that driveentrepreneurs to do what they do. I see a problem like this and search for an app to solveit. Thankfully, there are a variety of new apps (some free) that can keep your messages organized.

Tip # 2. Coach yoursenders.

Then there’s etiquette. Some gurus suggest fixing your email overload problem by coachingsenders to curb their bad email behavior. Common violations from individuals include “replyall” and excessive CCs, and tips range from canned replies to constructive advice. Cue the Conan skit.

If you have the time and energy to set email offendersstraight, great. I don’t. I’ll leave the coaching in the very capable hands of the email consultants.

When it comes to commercial messages, this is another area where technology might work wonders that Miss Manners can’t. Imagine a“thumbs-down” or “dislike” button for lame emails. It’s not the same as “return to sender,” but I’ve been testing Michael’s Zigit tool for sharingbest-of and worst-of emails and it’s an interesting approach (it links the entire email so it can be accessed via Facebook and Twitter). +1 on their “Really?” button. 

Megaphones like this are a great way to engage consumers instead of talking at them. With technology breaking down the barriers betweensocial media, e-commerce and email, consumers are gaining some control and getting actively involved in the process. Everyone wins.

Tip # 1. Take an email hiatus.

I’ve seen a slew of suggestions for reducing ourdependence on email – from setting aside windowsto check email to taking an email vacation. The notion of completely unplugging tops my list.

Peter Bregman, author of “18Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done,” offers some practical, middle-ground ideasin his Harvard Business Review article. He describes processing email inbulk when he’s at the office. By doing so, he says, “Email is no longer anoverwhelming burden to me.”

Peter’s concept supports the idea Michael’s team is taking to consolidate deals, accountalerts and catalogs into a categorized daily summary. Istarted testing their free once-a-day digest app and now use it to “DVR my email” for a quick look each morning.

The other extreme is declaring emailbankruptcy, something I learned about in this post from contributor Lee Woodruff(@LeeMWoodruff), who said:

“I’m filing for emailbankruptcy. This is not a novel idea. I remember reading an article about ityears ago — that was before my emails climbed to unprecedented heights. Ithought the author was a whiner. He was inefficient; clearly he didn’t have abalance in his life or his priorities straight. Now I think he was brilliant –a prophet before his time.”

Her experiment was bold and lasted a few days. While it is tempting, I have highexpectations that technology can improve our email experience, bring sanity to the chaos and create harmony withour personal and work lives, instead of forcing us to pull the plug.

While I was writing this post I stumbledacross a great articleon The Mail Room hosted by @RiparianData titled “Cease@Fire: The Top 5 Email Rants.”Author @clairedwillett shared anentertaining breakdown of suggestions to combat email overload. I’m doublingdown on the reply from @Lynda_Radosevich who talked about the opportunity this problem presents to entrepreneurs. How could they not beinspired by her idea of a “personal Postini”?

Personal Email Concierge

Email has a long way to go, but it’s good to see technologists attacking the problem in fresh ways and redefining personal email. From Siri reading emails out loud to AwayFind alerts on important email messages and ZigMail mashing inboxes into a color-coded daily digest, online services are transforming personal email from the butt of the joke to a practical, useful and enjoyable service that enhances our busy lives.

Whether you’re a soccer mom, a retail therapist or an entrepreneur, everyone deserves a personal email concierge. Life’s too short to waste time digging, scanning and deleting messages, much less jockeying email rules and filters.