Qualities of a Quantity

I just read that Pokémon Go developer Niantic is collaborating with Starbucks to make thousands of their locations Pokémon gyms nationwide. It begs the question, ‘Why?’

The game launched back in the summer and exploded in popularity, but according to this article, the game had already stumbled and lost a vast swath of its player base by October. More recently, the game has had a few updates in an attempt to rebuild excitement, and the developer has also paired up with Sprint stores in the hope that it will lure players there.

Maybe there’s a similarity between apps, drinks, and phones. A steady churn of new phones and drinks keep the Starbucks and Sprint brands relevant and on the minds of consumers. If you haven’t been there for a while, you might find a neat new device, or a novel drink flavor. The same could be said for the app marketplace, where relatively low barriers to entry – seriously, almost anything gets accepted to the Apple and Google Play stores – mean you can always scratch an itch to try something new.

However, there is more to it than that. What else is in it for these businesses to pair up with an app that appears to have already waned in popularity?

It must be the case that even with a smaller player base, the users who remain are a good match for Starbucks. This finding seems to agree! It looks like Pokémon Go players are disproportionately doing just fine this holiday season, with the ‘average’ player being a 25-year-old, white, college-educated woman making $90,000 a year. This matches up well with the lower threshold of Starbucks' key demographic of 25-40 year old repeat customers. These players just may have a little extra to spend on a seasonal drink – and the hope is that they’ll keep coming.

While to most of us, Pokémon Go isn’t that fresh anymore, if these stores can turn even a fraction of the player base into returning customers it will be great for business. We need to consider more than just our own level of engagement with a potential marketing strategy when making a campaign, and try to find the true lay of the land in our research phase rather than just follow our gut. What the data shows is that these users demand close attention, as they will likely have a higher customer lifetime value relative a random member of the public because of their implied discretionary income. When it comes to users, it would be nice to catch ‘em all, but we at minimum need to actively attract ones who support consistent future revenues.



Side Dish A

A few others, their glances, strong sunbeams where the midrise buildings allow passage, trees half denuded, and a line of taxis on this street of a bedroom community at 2 p.m. Chilly air surrounds, and his layers of clothing and mind were yielding to slow refrigeration. He paced toward the recessed doors of a five-story department store where he always parked for free, and could get some exercise rambling up and down the stairs as bookends to his afternoon engagements.

The first floor has its aging food court, adjacent newly renovated retail footage. Assistants abound. ‘This shampoo is really good,’ is what she says, starting to select it for you. Yogurt, windshield washer fluid, and pasta sauce, out the self-checkout, up to the fourth floor, and down into streets.

Light layers in the crisp air. Normal traffic, that’s fair. A few more weeks of the same suds for his hair, the future and the now milling about up there in his mind, more within reach with each moment he knows how to be happy, to get things done and done well, to let things go, and hold on tight.

He’s comforted on this December night that though right now he types alone, there are others home and we are all small on this ball. We will someday winter, but do our best not to fall. And though we may hit walls, we can scale or discover stairs, exercising our ability to always better our past selves, and at times thicken our skin or pour out our heart, never making a truly new start because we have a priceless coat of all the things we’ve ever done, to add to our warmth, and find haven and restoration before the new day to come.



The Money Game

Change in industry is normal, and expected. It’s also sometimes difficult to digest. I read the other day an opinion piece in the New York Times that described the economy, firms, and jobs with the metaphor of a vertical parking structure, wherein the seats in the cars are jobs, and the cars come and leave over time, reflecting the changing nature of most industries. When new technologies are rolled out, as with the printing press and other automation, or perhaps there is an external motivating force, such as Craigslist competing with newspapers for classified ad space, large changes occur.

For example, the digital gaming industry has mostly trended from the difficult, graphically simple arcade games of the 80’s to ones that are more programmatically complex, yet increasingly accessible to casual players, migrated from a physical to cloud-based, downloadable format, a one-time payment model to one of repeated transactions, and a single screen, offline experience to an environment where ads can be targeted to players and their contacts across devices.

Proxy wars aren’t just for governments and corporations. People pay to play in a lot of mobile games, and often need to spend ever more to keep up. Games have changed so much that it’s now possible to infuse a game with money, and let it basically play itself. This is where the model just totally loses me as a customer – but apparently many others feel differently as digital gaming generated US $61 billion in 2015, an increasing percentage of which comes from these sorts of games.

An example is ‘Mobile Strike’ where you pay real money to upgrade fighting units, and destroy those of other players. Winning is directly correlated with how much you spend on the game. In the past, consumers paid for everything up front, and publishers had to fix any bugs that existed pre-release as there was no chance to offer patches, updates, or free downloadable content for physical software cartridges or discs, running on hardware that lacked internet connectivity or was hampered by slow data speeds.

In the era of fast data, repeating transactions, and permissions which allow software companies to collect myriad data on players’ behavior, it has enabled targeted, programmatic ad services to get in on the game. While this could be good news for bottom lines, I think that it could be problematic for the game industry as a whole, or at the very least for my and many others interest in the future of the medium.

One company I’ll point to is Valve, in Bellevue, Washington. They have created several revered titles including the Half-Life, Portal, Counter-Strike, and DOTA series of games. However, they haven’t had a new AAA release in a few years, as they haven’t needed to. Micro-transactions for games they have already released, and the 30% cut they take of game sales on their popular Steam service have generated more than enough revenue for them.

While I don’t begrudge them that, I and many others worry that the pursuit of money already has, and will continue to erode the incentives companies have to make immersive, ambitious experiences in the first place. If the winds change and consumers no longer find as much value from multi-transactional gaming, it could make for a worse perception of the gaming industry as a whole and less choice and variety for players.

Virtual reality is a new exciting frontier in gaming in this day and age. With it comes a lot of new opportunity to advertise – Facebook owns Oculus, for instance. What if they couple Facebook ad data with what you see in the headset in a way that disturbs your immersion? It’s up to the industry to show some restraint here, and I hope they don’t go so far as to introduce more low energy, lame advertising than already exists to gaming. Otherwise, the best of user experiences could be overshadowed by unrelenting, tonedeaf messaging.

Industries are obligated to change, but we shouldn’t rush to grow and lose sight of good health in the process. I hope that riches for developers can go hand-in-hand with richness of user experience.



Fanning the Right Flames

Fire walks are touted as a demonstration of mind over matter. Cool confidence in a hot situation. They don’t violate any natural laws either. Like feet, wood is actually a rather poor conductor of heat. However, some people’s conduct during a Tony Robbins seminar led to some of them getting burned. As you can see by clicking here, if you take selfies during a walk over the coals, it can backfire.

How did we become insulated from taking a hard look at our habitat? Technology allows us to do wonderful things, but can also distract us from reality. The Balkanization of media and channels not only provides a challenge – and opportunity – for marketers, but can also detach us ever-more from common sense and common purpose.

Degrees of separation from our surroundings promote partisanship. We fight over the slices of pie when we could instead try to build a bigger, better pie together. Community is always there, you just have to look for it and become part of the solution.  For companies, beyond just providing employment, giving back in programs that invest in their area acknowledge the long-term relationships that successful businesses need to maintain to secure longevity.

Future technology has always excited me, but I hope to always keep one foot firmly planted in my environment and community. That way, we can never forget what makes us great, how much we have in common with each other, or that the fire within us can elevate each other personally and professionally. 



Digital Dialogues

Some people wish they were born in a different era, but I never have. Connecting with information and other people has never been more convenient.

Yesterday at 10 p.m., I was surfing Amazon’s site. I’m sure you know this, but their review system is amazing. My post-U.S. relocation wish list for a couple months from now is steadily growing. It is just so easy to find products for which there is a lot of enthusiasm.

The system has great algorithms which not only match popular items with your search from different categories of goods, but also present cross-sell opportunities for frequently bought together items. They also have killer logistics; a lot of sunk cost in warehouses that makes them difficult to compete with, etc. A full 20% of the U.S. population even has the premium Amazon Prime membership.

Maybe the most critical thing though driving trust in Amazon is the human connection. The reviews are, or feel like they are written by other consumers sitting at home just like you. According to Nielson, people trust recommendations from friends and family more than anything else. While someone in Biloxi, Des Moines, or San Jose might not be your friend, it can and does feel closer to it than B2C marketing. Amazon backs this up post-purchase as well with great customer service.

Companies need to be personable and available if they want to create a feeling of loyalty and build relationships. Your customer service must at least be good, though ideally it would be great, and you should be able to respond to consumer needs not only by phone but over the internet as well.

Though it’s probably not the best place to air out a major issue, it’s important to have social media presence as well to allow customers to connect with you, your people, and your brand. These relationships can drive revenue over the long-term, which is healthier and ultimately far more cost-effective than repeatedly finding new customers.

Relationships have never been easier to maintain with users, and if we aren’t already we have to take advantage of all the available channels for the betterment of business and consumer.



Resource Allocation

Skymall magazine disappeared from the kneespace of commercial flights everywhere about two years ago. It was a mildly interesting diversion, but by shedding it American Airlines may have saved up to $350,000 a year on fuel.

So too I have shed a lot of things from my own mind. I have clothes that more or less mix and match. I have a number of quick meals that I go back to rather than making something new every time I cook. I believe that with each year of life, I’m more successful at not over-dwelling on things that are low priority. If we tried to grapple with everything it would use a lot of bandwidth.

To prevent this, I try to think of the most important things I should be doing, finish them, and then do something pleasant. Having clarity of mind allows one to immediately meet new, unexpected challenges and focus on getting through them.

Stress is unhealthy, and we ought to try and maintain a mixture of zeal and repose in our lives. Controlled breathing or other practices, eating a good mix of micro and macronutrients, getting adequate sleep (the hardest one?), learning things in multiple sessions rather than all at once, and jettisoning unimportant trivia in the search of meaningful truth are some of the things I incorporate in my own life.

In short, the things we pay attention to end up dictating how we allocate resources throughout the day. I would encourage everyone to identify the most relevant work they should be doing and start now. Just don’t forget to seek balance as well.



Why Not to Spare Some Change

Our pale blue dot, as described in Cosmos with Carl Sagan (and have you seen the new one – great stuff!) will probably go on existing far into the future regardless of what global warming does to ourselves and other species.

Maintenance of the Earth is biologically important. Some organisms will be able to adapt, but others won’t. Likewise, in business, there are processes and a vision that you may have adhered to for a long time and wish to continue. However, what if the climate changes?

How does one create momentum behind a new directive or conversely, in a change-obsessed culture, secure resources to maintain an existing one? It’s not enough to have good ideas, we also need the ability to energize others. If your company doesn’t value ideas, maybe another one would!

Since Disney has started making and marketing Star Wars, the series has come back to relevancy in a big way. Something that excites me currently is that Donald Glover is the new young Lando Calrisian. We never got a 2nd season of Firefly, but at least this is something I can take solace in. The company of old Lucasfilm prior to the acquisition by Disney would have done things differently or maybe not at all. There is a lot of energy and undeniable talent at Disney for creating something buzz-worthy and bringing it to consumers in a multi-channel strategy. They have rejuvenated a series I’ve loved from youth. Everyone wins when the right people get behind smart changes for a product.

There is a lot of negativity out there that we can subscribe to, but we can choose to look for and try to more fully appreciate good things. We ought to forge a path that builds a foundation for the future we want, rather than settle. Our dot may be small, but with true direction we can make a mark.



Targeting for Good

Like most people, I love reading articles and opinions on the internet. It’s a great way to do some fun sentiment analysis, and gives me something to turn over in my mind while I’m driving up to two hours a day to different workplaces.

My enlightening daily click-and-scroll time has a fair number of out of place ads, due partially to my present Korean IP address misleading ad servers. Imagine the Wizard of Oz, but if there were hundreds of specters sharing irrelevant messages.

Some messaging being a little wide of the mark is likely inevitable. Agencies and their clients rarely have all the data they’d like to have to answer marketing questions. However, there is a lot of room for improvement, and as messages are better targeted everyone will be better off.

A thought ‘driving’ me is that there are so many consumers who would benefit from products they don’t know about. In my own kitchen I’m enamored with my Garlic Card, for instance - a simple, Swedish, and to my eyes perfectly designed product which makes pureeing garlic a snap. Yet, I’ve never seen it for sale in Korea even though garlic is a main staple in cooking here.

Or, maybe there are health services providers who could provide the same care or medications people need now for less out-of-pocket. For example, Costco and similar wholesalers have prescription services, and their supply chains make it possible to offer many generics at much cheaper rates than other providers. Also, there is a site and app called GoodRx which can match people with reduced prices on drugs at locations that accept their coupons. How many people know about these? I suspect that many more of us could benefit.

However, sometimes something that initially sounds good shouldn’t be taken at face value. A recent thing in the news concerns a drug company, Pfizer, which has made an offer to donate 1,000,000 doses of a vaccine to treat pneumonia to Doctors Without Borders. They refused. This is because the non-profit believes that Pfizer’s pricing is generally far too high, and accepting this donation would have a negative long-term effect by sort of offsetting and justifying this practice. You can read more here.

If marketing could introduce people to things that really improve their lives, I think that would be a noble endeavor and the chance to do that in some capacity is one of the primary reasons I have an interest in the field. Good targeting is an essential ingredient in an effective marketing mix, and coupled with a wholesome product it may even make people's lives a little bit better.




On Finding the Right Material

Recently, 99% Invisible (one of my favorite podcasts!) talked about how Dubai imports vast amounts of sand from Australia, as the native material of the deserts is too fine to be used in construction.

Likewise, incorporating data from sources outside that which we own currently could be better-suited to our marketing strategies. Testing ideas and analyzing data from experiments we develop can help us to construct a plan that draws attention to our clients’ products and services.

Dependent variables that we agree are important either will or won’t be affected by various independent variables. When we find promising ones and explore possibilities, it will start to make the foundation of a plan.

Luckily, it’s a lot cheaper to import data from a new experiment than to transport actual sand. Once we identify a specific hypothesis, we need to go out and start digging!

Click here to listen to the 99% Invisible episode!