February 28, 2022

DirecTV

In early 1998 my cable television went down ... for a week. So I made the switch. I installed my own DirecTV satellite dish on my deck, ran coax where needed, and began my DirecTV journey.

In the early days, DirecTV was known for customer service. If we needed to call them, they reminded us that we were a loyal customer "since 1998". We (and eventually professional installers) put DirecTV in seven homes.

Eventually DirecTV was purchased by AT&T.

Eventually customers "cut the cord".

Eventually AT&T spread the costs incurred by departing customers on to those who remained ... a classic "dying brand" strategy that penalizes the customers who remain loyal, causing loyal customers to leave, causing the brand to spread even more of the cost across remaining customers, causing even more customers to leave ... you get the picture.

Our bill ... which used to be somewhere around $60 ... ballooned to $190. Inflation suggests the cost should have doubled over twenty-four years.

So on Friday I made the call. The AT&T call center employee made no effort whatsoever to keep me. Didn't offer his DirecTV Stream service. Just did his job in a kind fashion. Within five minutes, a twenty-four year relationship ended. Quietly.

All of us work for companies where this happens.

Product Preference comes in different forms. Is the customer loyal to Guy Fieri, Food Network, or the carrier that delivers Food Network into a home? Part of understanding customer Product Preference is understanding "why" a customer purchases what she purchases.

February 27, 2022

Product Preference

Here's a graph I observed a few weeks ago. Look at what the author of the graph suggests happened to e-commerce post-lockdown.


Maxine Nightingale authored a song called "Right Back Where We Started From" ... the title is appropriate for modern e-commerce. We're back on trend. How a foreign war impacts the trend remains to be seen.

This means that Customer Acquisition is going to be really important ... and in e-commerce you have Facebook performance crumbling (and getting more expensive) after Apple's changes ... and you have Google becoming more expensive as well. In catalog marketing you have the great paper shortage of 2022. As a marketer, your sources for "cheap names at scale" are ending.

Which means you are going to have to focus on what you sell and sell it in a manner that increases merchandise productivity so that you can exceed the pace of increased costs in marketing activities. You need better merchandise productivity so you can attract more customers who pay you back (with interest) in the future.

Every customer has a product preference. We'll talk more about product preferences in upcoming posts.

February 24, 2022

The Snooze

No, not Costanza sleeping under his desk.

Rather, Oracle is talking about pausing email campaigns to customers who don't want them for a period of time (click here).

Some email vendors (not the one referenced above) will tell you that you absolutely cannot allow unsubs to happen, because you "lose all of the revenue" from that customer going forward. That statement "lose all of the revenue" is inaccurate for several reasons.

  1. Email marketing typically represents a minority of customer spend among customers most "engaged" with email marketing. The best companies generate 50% of revenue from email marketing among email subscribers ... most companies are between 5% and 20% among subscribers. So you are not losing all of the revenue, you are losing the amount attributed to email marketing.
  2. We don't attribute sales to email marketing properly. Some companies hold out email campaigns for a month among email subscribers and learn that 30% or more of the volume generated by email marketing still happens when email campaigns are not executed. Email cannibalizes other channels, take email marketing away and sales increase in other channels as a consequence.

Let's review a common situation. Email subscribers spend 20% of their volume via email marketing, and if you take email marketing away, 30% of the 20% still happens in other channels, meaning that 86% of customer spend still happens in total among email subscribers. In other words, if the customer unsubs, you might still expect 86% of customer spend to still happen.

This means that the concept of "snoozing" email subs upon their request is reasonable for keeping the customer on your subscriber list and is reasonable from a "maintaining sales levels" standpoint.

Win / Win!!

February 23, 2022

Best Sellers

I worked with a company where 5% of sales came from one item.

Customers who bought that item stayed loyal ... to that item.

If you want to run an effective Customer Development program, you have to encourage customers to buy multiple items from multiple categories. One item does not maketh a brand.

February 22, 2022

A Lot of Profit

BC (before Covid) I sat in a meeting. The marketing leader talked about how she personalized her website and email campaigns with merchandise that aligned with the interests of the specific customer interacting with her brand.

She mentions that email is responsible for about 15% of her sales, that email conversion rates were +20% vs. before personalization endeavors began, and that her website was performing about 15% better (at times up to 50% better).

As she finishes up her presentation, I'm looking at a $100,000,000 business. Email had to be worth 15% of $100,000,000 ... or $15,000,000. If she squeezed an additional 20% out of email marketing, she was responsible for $2,500,000 in sales.

The rest of her website performed 15% better ... or $11,100,000 for in sales, due to personalization efforts.

If her profit factor were 35%, then we know the following:
  • $2,500,000 + $11,100,000 = $13,600,000 in incremental annual sales.
  • $13,600,000 * 0.35 = $4,760,000 in incremental profit.
  • Cost of the program? Likely a few hundred thousand dollars.
As she finished her presentation, the audience ... the Executives leading this company ... they largely yawned. They had no idea what the financial impact was on the business.

They heard percentages.

They didn't hear sales/profit figures.

This young woman likely generated more incremental profit for her company than her entire Executive Team put together. 

But because she spoke in terms of percentages, she got no credit for the amazing job she did fueling sales/profit.

You contribute A LOT OF PROFIT toward your annual p&l. Take credit for it.

February 21, 2022

Optimal Answers Change As The Business Evolves

In our example from yesterday, there were a lot of "optimal" answers ... solutions that were comparable to each other.


Now let's assume that your inventory team does a great job, your finance team manages expenses properly, and your profit factor goes from 30% to 35%. Your "optimal" solutions change ... all of 'em.


You can add contacts ... or you can add pages with a small number of contacts ... and in either case, you can do more from a marketing standpoint and make more profit.

As your business evolves and your finance / marketing / inventory partnership thrives, you generate more profit ... allowing you to market even more, generating even more profit ... it's a feedback loop that benefits both your company and your resume at the same time.








February 20, 2022

The "Optimal" Answer

We read a lot about obtaining the "optimal" solution.

There is no such thing.

Let's review an old-school catalog marketing concept of an "optimal" solution. We have an individual customer worth $100 in the next year, with a 40% organic percentage and a 30% profit factor. The company currently sends 16 catalogs a year at an average of 80 pages each. The paper industry nuked this business, causing them to "re-evaluate everything". Smart people.

So they run scenarios for everything from 0-24 contacts per year and 16-160 pages per contact. Which solution is "optimal"? Take a look.


The green cells are the most profitable cells. Sending 24 catalogs @ 160 pages each is clearly not the optimal strategy.

But there are dozens of answers that all similarly optimal.

  • 24 contacts / 16 pages = $6.20.
  • 11 contacts / 48 pages = $6.00.
  • 8 contacts / 72 pages = $6.14.
  • 6 contacts / 120 pages = $6.51.
  • 5 contacts / 160 pages = $6.82.
Their current best practice is 16 contacts / 80 pages which yields $4.93 profit. Which isn't optimal.

But the choices that are "nearly optimal" are diverse and require significant consideration.
  • Do you contact the customer every ten weeks with large catalogs, 800 pages a year?
  • Do you contact the customer every-other-week with tiny catalogs, 384 pages per year?
If you seek the "optimal" answer, you'll miss out on a lot of options. The two options mentioned above require different thinking, don't they?

There is no "optimal" answer. None. There are good answers, and there are consequences associated with good answers. Seeking an optimal answer means you don't want to think about what the future could hold with slightly different outcomes that lead to very different tactics.

February 17, 2022

Multichannel 2.0?

Here you go:


It's always interesting when this stuff crosses my desk. At some companies, Leadership creates an environment where employees feel comfortable trying things.

At other companies, nobody wants to take a risk ... but employees want to sound smart. These are the companies that gobble up the stuff in the image above. All the buzzwords are used. If asked to implement anything, these employees stall out ... quickly. They have no foundation under the buzzwords.

Build the foundation first ... the rewards come later.

February 16, 2022

More Pickleball

For the longest time, the "best practice" in pickleball was to hit a drop shot on a third shot. This video (click here) shows you the evolution of a point where the third shot is dropped over the net into the "kitchen" or "non-volley zone".

And then a Mom/Daughter duo changed the game ... applying what is called a "third shot drive" paired with a "shake and bake" where the partner aggressively attacks on a fifth shot. Watch this video for an example.

When you play tournaments here in The Valley, you'll see how the Mom/Daughter duo changed the game.

  • Players 60 years old and older play a style that relies on the third shot drop.
  • Players 59 years and under play a style that generally relies upon the third shot drive paired with a shake-and-bake.

If you are me ... and you've been taught to rely upon a third shot drop ... well ... it is really uncomfortable to be stuck in a tournament playing somebody with the drive / shake-and-bake strategy. It completely takes you out of your comfort zone.

I bring this up because this happens in marketing all the time. Older generations do what historically worked, younger generations create new styles of marketing that flummox older generations.
  • I can't tell you how many meeting rooms I've been in where a fifty-something leader squelches the creativity of the 31 year old marketer.

When the world changes, change with it. Try not to impose the tired line of "that's the way we've always done it." Give a young employee a chance to change what you've always done.

February 15, 2022

The Email Addressed To Me Asked About Influencers

The Marketing Executive said this:

  • "We decided to try an Influencer program. Within a week we had sales and profit, and then nothing. We asked our agency, 'do we have to do this every week?'"

If that's the kind of customer you want to chase ... one who doesn't remember who you are nine minutes after ordering from you because Hailey told her 429,000 Instagram followers to do so ... then yeah, that's what you have to do.

You earn the customer base you deserve.
  • If you pursue influencers, you will have customers who don't care about you.
  • If you partner with Google, you will have customers who have a relationship with Google that results in a purchase, but you don't necessarily "own" the customer (and I know, you're going to send me email messages saying that nobody owns the customer, so fine).
  • If you partner with Facebook, you will have customers who have a relationship with Facebook and Politics, but not necessarily with your brand.
Do what is right for your business. If you don't, you'll still have a customer base, but somebody else will have determined who your customer base is.


February 14, 2022

Inflation

By now many of you raised prices, and you've witnessed the impact higher prices have on your customer base.

You know that for every "x%" increase in prices your annual rebuy rate changes by "y%".

You know that "x%" price increase yields a change in new customers of "z%".

You know how much inflation impacts average order values, orders per year, items per order, correct?

Give me a holler if you don't know the answer to this question and we'll figure it out together! kevinh@minethatdata.com

February 13, 2022

Digital Marketing

Look at this image.




Grade the marketing strategy here ... A = Best, C = Average, F = Worst. Pretend you are the EVP of Brand Marketing for Verizon. Do you feel like this is a quality representation of the brand you are responsible for? Is this the best use of your marketing dollars?

If your answer is "no", why do you let this happen?

P.S.: I realize that somebody is going to respond and say "we tested this and this tactic works best". That may be true ... within the confines of this discipline. I'm asking a different question.

February 10, 2022

Choose One

a) You do the hard work of building your own e-commerce brand.

b) You sell on Amazon and let them do all the work, and they get a lot of your profit as a consequence while you become a vendor for Amazon.

Which solution would you choose? Pick only one. Then discuss.

February 09, 2022

Business Stages

The Start Up:  I typically view e-commerce brands with annual sales between $1 and $10,000,000 as being in startup mode. These businesses frequently lose money, but are surprisingly good at customer acquisition - generating word of mouth that results in low-cost / no-cost new customers. These businesses typically have a small merchandise assortment, with customers being a fan of a small number of items.

$10,000,000 - $30,000,000:  Things change here. The free flow of new customers comes to an end. The company needs to spend money to find new customers, and the return on investment isn't all that bad. The merchandise assortment begins to grow as somebody at the company figures out that average order values increase as the size of the assortment increases. Merchandise productivity increases due to the increase in the assortment.

$30,000,000 - $100,000,000:  Now we have trouble. Customer acquisition becomes ever-more expensive. The brand learns that there is a law of diminishing returns ... spend more, get more, but at an ever-decreasing rate. The easy growth associated with increasing the size of the merchandising assortment comes to an end as well. The company realizes that the Management Team that took the company through two very difficult stages may not be the team that takes this company north of $100,000,000. From a math standpoint, the customer acquisition program is "optimized" according to the numbers folks - and by optimized, I mean that the company cannot spend more money without a significant drain on the profit and loss statement.

$100,000,000 - $500,000,000: The company becomes a "brand". It has to become a brand to stand for something. Whereas the products sold were the "brand" before the company hit $30,000,000 in sales, now the company becomes a brand in an effort to sell more. When the company cracks the code (think about Duluth Trading Company a decade ago), merchandise productivity skyrockets, causing the p&l to leverage favorably. The company can reinvest money in advertising that works, allowing for more new customers and rapid growth.

After $500,000,000: The "brand lift" eventually quiets down. This is the point where bureaucracy takes over. The gifted, growth-oriented individuals are moved aside as the core business is fully optimized for profit generation. The business will peak, for a fully optimized business really can't grow because it would not longer be optimized, correct? All it takes is a modest drop in merchandise productivity, a drop that is inevitable, for panic to set in. How the brand handles this first major drop in merchandise productivity determines how long the business can remain strong.

Contraction: When I have demographic data at my disposal, it is common to see a brand that has a customer base that ages 0.7 years for every year that passes. In other words, if the customer base was 35 years old in 2012, the customer base will be 42 years old in 2022. Eventually the "brand" disconnects from younger generations ... why would a 24 year old want to buy merchandise that caters to a 54 year old? You'll know that the disconnect is in full force when your merchandise productivity is flat or increasing and you cannot simultaneously acquire enough new customers to meet your sales objectives. It's not uncommon for a mature brand in contraction to create a spinoff that provides a path to the future ... J. Crew's Madewell comes to mind. A business in contraction is well served by birthing predecessors. Too often, Management takes the opposite approach - trying to reinvent the core brand. That approach "can" work, but it is hard work, folks. The alternative (birthing predecessor brands) is equally hard work.

Each business stage requires different approaches ... approaches often derived from new Management teams brought in to push the company over each hurdle. If your "brand" is stalled, it might be time to think about the next business stage.

February 08, 2022

Better Merchandise - More New Customers

I shared this relationship with you a few days ago.


On the x-axis you have Merchandise Productivity. If it were 10% better than it is today, customer acquisition efforts would be executed at a break-even level.

The graph shows that, instead, the company is losing $4.00 profit for every customer the company acquires.

And if Merchandise Productivity slumps another 10%, profit per new customer slumps to about a loss of $7.50 per new customer.

If your company loses $4.00 for every one of 100,000 new customers, you're out $400,000. If Merchandise Productivity improves, you pocket $400,000 additional dollars of profit ... which you can invest in more new customers (or you can pocket it), which then fuels more growth and profit in the future.

When your merchandising team succeeds, marketing succeeds, you have more new customers, and the whole machine runs more efficiently.

February 07, 2022

Customers Like Their Price Bands

Here I segmented customers based on the average price they paid for merchandise in the past.

Then I measured the fraction of next year's sales that were generated by price band.

Tell me what you see when you look at this table.


Yeah, that one is easy to interpret, isn't it?

Customers who bought low-priced items in the past buy low-priced items in the future.

Customers who bought expensive items in the past buy expensive items in the future.

So what do you think is happening to your business as inflation causes your cost of goods to increase, causing you to increase prices?

Well, those who are participating in The MineThatData Elite Program will know the answer after their run is completed at the end of the month! How about you? For just $1,800 you can find out the answer. Contact me (kevinh@minethatdata.com) for details.



February 06, 2022

Why Do I Always Mention It?

I've been talking about Merchandise Productivity for the past decade. Over and over again. Written booklets about it.

A typical question received sounds like this:  "I'm a marketer, merchandise shouldn't matter to me, should it?"

It should.

Let's pretend you spend $1,000 on marketing, and your profit factor is 35%. You generate $3,700 in sales. How much profit do you generate?  $3,700*0.35 - $1,000 = $295.

Now let's pretend that merchandise productivity decreases by 10%. What happens to profit?  $3,700*(1-0.10)*0.35 - $1,000 = $165. Oh oh.

Let's pretend that merchandise productivity decreases by 25%. What happens to profit? $3,700*(1-0.25)*0.35 - $1,000 = ($29).

So in a situation where your merchandising team does a lousy job, are you accountable for seeing a profit of $295 turn into a loss of $29? Is that on you? Or is that on your merchandising team?

You know the correct answer.

So why do you go to work every day and get barked at by Management for failing to achieve the goals set out for you at the start of the year?

I always mention Merchandise Productivity because you (most of you reading this are in Marketing or Management) should not be held accountable for product challenges. You should be held accountable for generating enough new customers to fuel the success of your brand (after accounting for Merchandise Productivity).

February 03, 2022

Delayed Impact

When a business is stuck, you witness the slow death of the customer file. Here's an example.

No bueno. This business is going nowhere fast!

Let's assume that we have a burst in new customers, from 462,682 in Year 1 to 600,000. What happens to the customer file over time?

Let's look at the top segment ... 12 month existing 3x+ (3+ orders in the past year). This is what the trajectory looked like.
  • Year 0 = 88,437.
  • Year 1 = 86,789.
  • Year 2 = 84,379.
  • Year 3 = 82,679.
  • Year 4 = 81,411.
  • Year 5 = 80,577.
And this is what it looks like with a major bump in new customers.
  • Year 0 = 88,437.
  • Year 1 = 86,789.
  • Year 2 = 91,067.
  • Year 3 = 86,966.
  • Year 4 = 84,960.
  • Year 5 = 83,170.
Here's the difference by year.
  • Year 0 = 0.
  • Year 1 = 0.
  • Year 2 = 6,688.
  • Year 3 = 4,287.
  • Year 4 = 3,549.
  • Year 5 = 2,593.
The payoff comes downstream. You acquire a lot more customers today, and in years two through five you have more outstanding customers who deliver disproportionate profit. There's a delayed impact at the top of the file.

If you want loyal customers tomorrow, acquire more customers today.


February 02, 2022

Customer Development and Profit

Let's introduce a term you've heard me mention numerous times ... "Profit Factor".

The term "Profit Factor" represents the fraction of sales that flow-through to profit, prior to subtracting ad cost and fixed costs.

For instance, assume that your gross margin is 52% of sales, and that 10% of sales are consumed by picking / packing / shipping an item. Your "Profit Factor" is 42%.

When evaluating marketing effectiveness, we do not consider fixed costs. Fixed costs are "fixed" ... they don't change as marketing effectiveness or ad spend changes.

With that knowledge in the bank, let's think about how Customer Development and Profit are linked together.

It begins with Customer Acquisition. Let's say that you purchase 1,000 keywords at $0.65 each. 2% of the clicks convert to a purchase, spending $70 each. Assume your profit factor is 42%. How much profit did you generate? And how much profit was generated per response?

  • Clicks = 1,000.
  • Conversion Rate = 2%. Conversions = 1,000 * 0.02 = 20.
  • AOV = $70. Sales = 20*$70 = $1,400.
  • Profit Factor = 42%. Ad Cost = $0.65*1,000 = $650. 
  • Profit prior to ad costs = $1,400*0.42 - $650 = $588 - $650 = ($62).
  • Profit per Response = ($62) / 20 = ($3.10).
This company lost $3.10 per response (new customer). This company will have to make up the difference downstream and then some in order for the company to be successful.

Let's now assume that merchandise productivity drops by 10%. This kind of thing happens all the time. This manifests itself via conversion rates ... instead of a 2% conversion rate we now have a 1.8% conversion rate. Watch how the math changes.

  • Clicks = 1,000.
  • Conversion Rate = 1.8%. Conversions = 1,000 * 0.018 = 18.
  • AOV = $70. Sales = 18*$70 = $1,260.
  • Profit Factor = 42%. Ad Cost = $0.65*1,000 = $650. 
  • Profit prior to ad costs = $1,260*0.42 - $529.20 = $529.20- $650 = ($120.80).
  • Profit per Response = ($120.80) / 18 = ($6.71).
The marketer hasn't done anything different. The marketing landscape isn't different. But customers like your merchandise 10% less than they did a year ago and this results in a Profit per Response of ($6.71) vs ($3.10) otherwise.

We can simulate the outcome at merchandise productivity of half of prior year, through 1.5 times as good as prior year, as depicted below.


Currently, this company is losing money via the keywords they are buying. But if merchandise productivity improves by 10%, the company approaches break-even. If merchandise productivity improves by 20%, the company is making $2.32 per response.

Look at what happens as merchandise productivity erodes.

Profit per Response gets progressively worse, and the rate that it gets worse accelerates.

It's common for companies to think that it is too expensive to acquire new customers ... this is happening a lot post-lockdown. But what has also happened post-lockdown is that merchandise productivity is down, and that drives down profit per response.

Honestly, some companies don't have a customer acquisition problem. They have a merchandise productivity problem that is measured via lousy customer acquisition metrics.

Customer Development and Profit are directly linked to each other. Both are influenced by Merchandise Productivity. When customers love your merchandise, you generate more profit and it is easier to develop existing customers (or find new customers). When customers aren't fond of your merchandise, merchandise productivity suffers, you are less profitable, and your customer acquisition metrics look bad ... and it becomes harder to develop customers.

Always measure Profit per Response.

Always adjust Profit per Response for Merchandise Productivity. If, after adjusting for Merchandise Productivity you find that Profit per Response is similar, then your customer acquisition activities are stable.


February 01, 2022

How One Marketing Director Fought Back

The worst matchup in the marketing / finance battle is a marketing director who is bad at math fighting against a CFO who is good at math. This matchup happens all the time, it is a one-sided matchup, and it is one of the reasons that marketing leadership is sent packing every-other-year.

The best matchup in the marketing / finance battle is a former accountant who now runs marketing, fighting against a CFO who is good at math.

Every time the CFO went after this individual, the individual came armed and ready for a battle. And oh my goodness were those battles exciting. I was there for them, in person. The Marketing Director went after everybody who didn't possess the title of "CFO".

  • "Why are we featuring an item on the home page that has a 44% return rate? We're losing money on every one of these widgets. Stop it!!"
  • "Your gross margin on this widget is 19%. Why would we do that? Are we stupid? This widget is responsible for 2% of your sales and we can barely mark the item up because of pricing pressure? Why would we even sell the item?"
  • "This item sells at half the rate it sold at two years ago. Is anybody in merchandising even paying attention anymore?"
  • "Why did the inventory team buy 50% more widgets when we have no proven track record of selling more widgets? Are they stupid? Now we have to sell all this garbage at 50% off, and I'm being told to reduce marketing spend as a consequence. Why can't the inventory team wake up and behave in a rational manner?"
  • "Why is creative constantly rolling out Haley as a model? When Haley wears our stuff the productivity of the items drops by 30%. We all know this. So why do we keep doing it? Can somebody explain it to me in language a seven year old would understand?"
This marketing director would go into meetings with much higher paid Executives and just drop facts all over the room. The marketing director would go on the offensive, go after "low hanging fruit".

The marketing director figured out that the key to success was manipulating the "Profit Factor". If she could increase the profit factor by 2.5 points, earnings before taxes would dramatically increase. So she'd do all the research. She knew which items impacted the profit factor most. She knew that return rates were critical. She knew that gross margins were critical. She knew that creative strategy impacted merchandise productivity.

She wasn't dumb.

She wasn't exactly kind, either.

But she got things done.

And she deflected all of the horrible comments away from the Marketing team, a team that didn't deserve the static they received.

I was there, I watched it happen.

It was amazing!

On Twitter, I asked readers what percentage of marketers know which items were among the top 100 sellers at their company. The respondent could choose between 0%, 15%, 45%, and 85%. Almost all answers were 0% or 15%. In other words, readers knew that marketers do not understand what sells. And if the marketer has no idea what sells, how can the marketer even market to the customer in the first place?

Borrow the strategy used by the Marketing Director mentioned above. You don't have to be nasty about pointing out flaws, be kind instead. But by all means, realize that if your CFO is demanding that you become more profitable, focus attention on all of the little pieces of the puzzle that yield more profit ... and shift accountability toward those who evade accountability.

Post-COVID New Item Failure

Last week I reintroduced the concept of Winners/Contenders/Others. One sign of a brilliant merchandising team is their ability to find new p...