Framework to manage Churn

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Does ‘billboard’ marketing still work?

In this age of ‘growth hacking’ trying to acquire or engage customers through billboard marketing is inefficient and  sub-optimal. First, it’s way too expensive than digital marketing; and secondly, it’s hard to be targeted.

But in some cases it’s effective. Recently, in a trip to New Mexico while driving in I-40 I came across billboards that were immensely effective. Really impressed with Clines Corners.


What did they do?

Customer acquisition and customer development:

Clines Corner started marketing in the middle of nowhere, at least 30-50 miles ahead of the shop. What was more interesting is that they had boards 10-20 miles ahead of an exit that seemed to had multiple shops, saying that in 30-50 miles customers have an exit that’s worth stopping for.  This was to make sure that customers didn’t stop an exit before and freshen up with a hot cup of coffee and then pass by Clines Corner as a spectator. Once customers went past the shops that were not ‘worth’ stopping for they would see multiple boards with different messages. A billboard with an image of hot and brimming coffee, another one with an image of ice cold water, another one with fresh green sandwiches and yet another one with a knife. Hard to avoid the stop!

Clines Corner

Thinking about the future, ‘repeat customers’

Once, the customer drives back into the freeway, she would see boards that would thank her for stopping by and asking her to come back soon.


Why did it work?

Simply because Clines Corner did a lot of right things. Let’s go through what they did, and see how it’s a lesson in marketing and customer development.

  • ‘Know thy customer’ & talk to the customer with relevant content at the right time: They had multiple billboards with different messages. Definitely, this was to make sure customers don’t miss the billboards. The message in the billboard also was relevant to the customers ‘need’ at the very moment. Let’s think for a moment about the segments of customer they are targeting. Out of all folks driving in I40, it’s folks who are thirsty for chilled water or they are tired and they need coffee or  they are hungry . They knew the needs of the customers, and at the right time, they reminded customers that they were thirsty ( ice cold water), they were tired ( hot, brimming coffee) and they were hungry ( Fresh sandwich). The image also served in amplifying the need of the customer. They had a good understanding of why customers came to their place. Also, they made sure that while customers were in their vicinity , customers do think about their need. But is it enough? Mostly not. We do have competitors who serve similar needs of a customer.
  • Know thy competitors & thy business ecosystem : To make sure that customers didn’t go to competitors, Clines Corner made sure to occupy the mental space of the customer before competitor would have got a chance to wield its sword. They did put billboards  10-20 miles ahead of an exit that had multiple competitors, saying that in 30-50 miles customers have an exit that’s worth stopping for. It was a genius hack. Realizing that they had competitors who had similar services, they made sure that customers did think about them not the competitors. Of course, once the competitor would realize the hack she might come up with offsetting strategy. Eventually, Clines Corner would have to have a counter strategy in the rat race, but they are certainly ahead.
  • The Right message at the right time: Notice the order of the messages. Was it not genius? Once they know the potential customer is out of the reach of their competitor, they worked towards amplifying the need of the customer by showing images with coffee or cold water.
  • Don’t loose the customers that you got: Repeat customers are bread and butter of a successful business, Clines Corner certainly knew it. They had ‘thank you’ note after customers go past the shop. For customers who stopped at the shop, it was reinforcement that might help them win repeat customers. And, for potential customers who didn’t stop, the message would certainly increase the chances of them stopping at Clines Corner next time. It’s ‘social proof’ in action for these customers, they would think that a lot of folks must have stopped by the business, that’s why Clines Corner thought of putting billboards here.


Personalization – Do it, but do it right!

Personalization of user experience is a buzzword lately – and rightly so. As a tool, it gives immense power, but it must be applied judiciously. A thoughtless use of the strategy can backfire in no time, and that’s what we’ll try to cover in this piece. But first, let’s breeze through what is personalization and why do we need it.


As a marketer responsible for driving the growth of your product, you first look to utilize all the available marketing channels. You make sure that you are in front of your target customers as many times and in as many places (touch points) as possible. If it helps you to achieve your target, then you are lucky and can afford to skip reading further. Otherwise, you need to start thinking about optimization and personalization.

Optimization by definition is an activity that helps you get more out of your available resources. You do it, by doing it smartly and efficiently. You play with a multitude of combinations of  ‘real estate’ and ‘messaging ‘. The efficacy of an offer depends hugely on a channel of marketing. No one has ever signed-up a credit card application in a mobile, and no one downloads apps in a desktop. You need to iterate on the ‘permutation’ and combination of channels and messaging. The permutation that gives you the best result is optimized version of your last marketing strategy. Now, when you want to get more out of a placement on a particular channel, you look to work on the messaging. You look to personalize the experiences.

Personalization is a tool at your disposal that can make your product experience or marketing messages more powerful. It’s a steroid that you inject in the nerves of your product to make it more appealing to your customers. Personalization works, because it’s based on sound psychological principles.  Based on Experian research, personalized email has 6X more return in terms of revenue per email. In my own experience, I have seen close to 4X more click through rate (CTR) in our first iteration of personalized campaign. Personalization and personal touch work at all level.  Refresh your memory with Tupperware party  that Cialdini has referenced in his book Influence . In that case study, Ladies end up buying the Tupperware that they don’t need. They buy it because it’s sold not by any stranger, but by women in their circle who knows them well (personalization).

Personalization gives great power to marketers. But with great power comes greater responsibility, and even a slight indifference can escalate quickly – the case in point is the infamous story of Target knowing a teenage girl was pregnant before her family did.

It’s laughable  to debate the efficacy of a personalized direct mail asking the teen girl to buy infant products, so let’s discuss a couple of use cases where personalization becomes creepy and scary.

  • Data quality. Incorrect data, incomplete data, missing data and old data are obvious challenges of personalization. When you are not sure of the data quality, let’s just don’t do it. It could and would backfire. I’m a loyal customer of Hotwire for last five years, and must have done more than 10 transactions in last one year. Half a decade earlier,  I used a credit card of my friend Adarsh for a booking – may be my first booking with Hotwire, and since then I am ‘Adarsh’ for Hotwire. Funny, but it’s prevalent and I have a similar experience with other companies as well.
  • Name in a subject line of emails: True, to a person, her name is the sweetest sound she can ever hear. It’s not surprising that many organization is doing it. But, for a moment, think of all the personal communication you have received from your friends,  now count on your fingers how many times you had your name in the subject line. Now, it won’t surprise  you to know that MailChimp’s found that ‘first name’ in a subject line is mostly a waste of space. Though, on further research, they found that it depends on Industry segment. So, the bottom line is that don’t use ‘name’ personalization just for the sake of using it.
  • The context of your email: Mail chimp’s work shows that efficacy of ‘name’ personalization depends on industry segment. Similarly, depending on the context of your email and the industry segment you are operating on, an awareness that your organization is aware of customer’s personal data, can creep a hell out of them. The case in point is Target Inc. knowing about teenage girl pregnancy before her family members.
  • Cultural sensitivity of your customer: While being cognizant of the context of your communication helps a lot for developing a personalized experience, in this age where most companies serve global customer base, it’s equally important that you are aware of your customer’s sensitivity to personal data. In the US, it’s rare that people share a credit card for shopping, but it’s quite common in India. Friends and family share credit card details with each other. Moreover, It’s not only geographical location that defines cultural sensitivity. Yes, a woman in Mumbai might have a different opinion on personal data  than a woman in Bay area. But it’s equally likely that a woman in her fifties would be different from a girl in 20s who share the zip code.

So, in short, when it comes to personalization, proceeding carefully and strategically is of paramount importance. Do the personalization to get the ROI you are looking for, but exercise discretion and do it right.



Mobile design vs Web design

To be relevant in the context of users shift towards mobile, companies are adopting a mobile first approach for the last couple of years . After the launch and successful adoption of iPhone in 2007, the shift to mobile was inevitable . We have now 2M apps in apple store ready to be downloaded, and make our life easier. Moreover, users are spending more and more time on mobile, and usage of a desktop is declining.

Mobile App in Apple store


Considering, we are in a mobile world, it’s only prudent for all of us to understand the basics of mobile design. Of course, the fundamental principal of design would remain same. We are still trying to work towards serving the users. Mobile as a platform is different from the web, so applying the word-by-word guiding principle of the web design onto mobile platform won’t do. The way McLuhan proclaimed that the medium is the message, it’s the right time to realize that the platform is the UX – that is we must have platform specific design and strategy.

Responsive design is not the answer, and we need to get into the minutiae of mobile as a platform. But, fortunately, being cognizant to the persona of mobile users and mobile constraints would certainly help think in the right direction. 


Mobile Persona and constraint:

Finite/limited data and battery: A mobile user has finite data and battery. What it means is that apps should not be a battery hog, otherwise chances of getting deleted are high. Pushing ultra HD quality content w/o user asking for it is also a strict no. The user might end up waiting for the content to load.

Divided attention: While we can chuckle on the attention we get from web users, mobile users literally do multiple tasks while using our app. They might be engaged in crossing a busy street or having lunch while using our app.

Handedness: Most of the web users use both hands to interact with our product, but mobile users mostly use one hand. On top of it, some users are right handed and some are left handed. It demands designer to think in terms of where you can put CTA.

Small screen: Designing for small screens is a difficult task, and this gets even more challenging when you are designing for android.  Android phones come in multiple sizes and shape. Size constraint requires us to be ruthlessly bold as we need to take out features and elements that we love.

Sketchy network: Even in this world of 4G network, this remains a challenge and is going to be one for some time.

Knowing mobile persona and constraints don’t make us great designer, but it provides us principle ( first principle (19.5m – 22m) that could be a solid framework for designing a great product.






How to design daily-use products

Baader-Meinhof is a concept that tells that once we get exposed to an idea or a thing, we start finding it in all walks of our life. There’s no turning back.

Indeed, once we get used to looking at products as means to delight users by making their life simpler, there’s no turning back. We start looking at the design of everyday things and wonder why designer are not doing a good job. We start questioning the design and the designer rather than the people who struggle to operate. But still, for some products, we don’t know that it’s a bad design unless we see something delightful.

First, two tomato Ketchup bottle that got lots of likes and retweets in social media. It was shared to show the difference between UI and UX.  Notice, how effective a small change in design could be. The second bottle makes you wonder why the first one was ever designed.


Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of products in Home App. It has cool products that’ll make you think why did you make yourselves suffer from old design for so long. Among all the innovative designs, the spatula is my favorite – putting down a spatula safely while cooking has been a long struggle for me.

What phising can teach you about product experience

The Internet is expanding it’s knowledge base day by day.  The entire world is available to us at our fingertip. Unfortunately, the world of internet has its own underworld, and it’s difficult to walk a block without encountering imposters and thugs (phishing emails and pop-ups) and virus.

Internet fraud is a big danger for everyone online. Nevertheless, it would not be improper to stop and look at, objectively, the quality of product these thugs create.

Couple of days back, I got a pop-up saying I would get at least $70 if I filled up a 3 min survey for Comcast – a phishing survey. I had a sense that it was fishy, but went ahead with it. Please have a look at the pages they have developed, keeping in mind the deep understanding of customer psychology that they have. It’s straight out of the book of Cialdini.

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The weapons of influence:

  1. Scarcity: First, they say that the offer is valid only for today. They want to bring a sense of urgency and don’t want to allow the reader to take enough time to decide judiciously.  We all know about our ability to take decisions under a time constraint. We rely more on intuition than the objective analysis of the situation. Working of intuition is what  compliance professional have a deep understanding of, and they take advantage of.
  2. The power of free:   An offer of more than $70 for 3 min of work is a great deal that only a few would like to miss. The word free works like the pied piper for a consumer.
  3. Authority: They use company name like Comcast, DSL extreme. The context is convincing as well. Consumers know that big companies are ready to pay for consumer data. We expect that big companies would pay us for customer data (survey).
  4. Scarcity, urgency and social proof: Again bringing urgency into the mix, when they say that offer is valid only for 60 minutes.
  5. When they are saying only a couple of items are remaining, they are invoking ‘scarcity’. weapons of influence: Scarcity (the rule of the few). It invokes social proof as well. Pressure on inventory implies that demand is high.
  6. Feedback from shoppers. Weapons of influence: Social proof. We know that social proof is most effective when we see someone similar to us doing the task. Please notice, the ‘personas’ of four feedback.

It’s really interesting to see the kind of thought that got into creating a phishing experience.

In the end , we have to admit and say,”Good Job”.


Goof up that helps

Winning customer loyalty is the holy grail for all companies who want to grow – and continue growing. Acquisition is hard, but driving engagement is even harder. Of course, the challenges of acquisition and engagement are factors of the product category you are operating on.

Product owners play with thousands of ideas to drive engagement, and then align budget and  resources to try out tens of them for consumer feedback. Some work, but most don’t. Sometimes the most underrated, commonplace idea wins. Smirk. But at times the goof up wins. Relieved Smile.

Here’s a goof up from Google Express that I believe might help them.

The Goof up:

Google started Google Express service in spring 2013. It helps user shop online and gets items delivered on the same day. I signed up for the service couple of months back. Yesterday,  I received an email saying that my 3 months of the free trial period is over, and I was charged the membership fee. I didn’t remember how many months before I had signed up for Google express. Immediately I cancelled the account as I was not convinced that I needed the service.

A day later, I received another email. Saying, the previous email was sent in error and my card is not charged. It said mix-up might have prompted me to cancel the membership. It offered me 3 more months of free service again. I made a second purchase immediately.


Will it work? If yes, then why?

Based on first look, it’s a bad experience. They made a mistake and customers ended up cancelling the service. But, on closer look, it might not be. Why? The trick is the follow-up email.

Even though it was a ‘mistake’, it could still turn out to be one of the successful engagement campaigns for Google express.  Let’s try to understand why:

  • They accepted their mistake. Mistakes are bad, but accepting them and fixing them make us ‘better’. Customers have a perception that companies think of them as numbers. This broken experience creates a perception that the company is perceptive to customer’s pain points.
  • They offered a personalized gift. While giving an initial 3 month of free service for sign-up is good, and it would get customers use the product, it was an incentive for everyone. The additional 3 months of benefit is a customised gift. A gift that has higher chances of invoking the ‘reciprocity’ principle of influence, and thereby it increases the probability of repeat purchase. A personalised gift (reward/incentive) is always going to bring a better response from users than generic one. While it’s hard, companies must work on creating a reward program that is perceived as personalized.
  •  It made customers think about a product that she was not thinking about at all. It was a great trigger that made me take notice of the product. Rarely, an engagement campaign would get audience mind space like it did.

Lastly,it makes me think, a strategy of intentionally making a small, harmless mistake, and correcting it immediately, could be a good hack for startups to boost engagement. Of course, overdoing it, would not be smart. But it’s a great external trigger to get customers think about you.