I recently gave a presentation to the Digital Analytics Association Symposium on the evolution of Machine Learning and how it will transform the work that digital analysts due in the near future. I’m extremely interested in how machine learning and predictive analytics can improve digital marketing performance through personalization while moving us closer to the original digital marketing vision of right message to the right person at the right time.
Philmont Boy Scout Ranch is located in Northwest New Mexico and is the largest of the four major high adventure camps run by the Boy Scouts at over 144,000 acres. Philmont is a working ranch that hosts 23,000 scouts, advisors and staff every summer – that is almost 400 people in and out of Philmont every day through the summer hiking season. In order for Philmont to host and process this many people across 90 different camps on the property, it must run like a machine in order to both give the scouts and advisors the best back country experience possible as well as teach the crews how to Leave No Trace behind in order to preserve the land for future generations.
I traveled with Troop 186 from Seattle to Philmont at the end of July for a 12 day stay at the ranch with my son and 42 other scouts and dads. I left with a deep respect for the operational proficiency and the systematic training of leadership skills for the scouts. The lessons to be shared in this post can be divided into four major categories: Preparation, Process, Training and Communication.
The preparation for a 12 day backpacking trip to Philmont starts a full year in advance with the selection of a pre-trip leader who is responsible for coordinating the troop and setting us up for success upon arrival. Who’s going, recruiting help to take on specific trip tasks, travel arrangements, costs and organizing crews (groups of scouts and adult advisors no larger than 12 people with a max of 4 adults).
Individual & team preparation included:
- Gearing up by acquiring and packing just what was on the provided list of items down to a specific number of shirts, shorts, socks & underwear
- Medical check ups to be within a certain boundary of physical fitness. A particular concern was weight to height ratio and blood pressure restrictions due to altitude and physical stress
- Each crew selecting their crew leader, chaplains aid (morale) and wilderness gia (leave no trace policy enforcer)
From the moment we step onto the grounds of the base camp of Philmont we’re guided through a orchestrated series of activities designed to create group cohesion, ensure we’re ready to spend 11 days in the back country and set up for success.
It all starts with meeting our Ranger at the welcome center who spent the next three days teaching us the Philmont way. He had a large checklist of items for us to start executing against and communicated primarily to scout crew leader to begin the leadership training with the adult advisor in tow. We visited the administration office to pay final amount, the clinic for everyone to turn in medical forms and get a quick check-up, provisioning to get our first ration of back country food, bear bags + line, the commissary, logistics for the hike (where and when to pick up food, sleep, do cool stuff, etc.) and our accommodations (cowboy tents and cots) for the first evening before heading out the following morning.
I am amazed at the number of people the base camp supports, the amount of paperwork we handled quickly, the number of tasks we accomplished on a tight timeline. The process was amazing. Again, very clear steps, well documented time tables, a few key pieces of paper with several supporting documents. Checklists and timetables ruled the day.
Philmont dedicates a Ranger to each crew to teach the Philmont way. The Ranger spends three full days going through a checklist that covers everything from how to tie up your food on bear wires to how to cook your meals + clean out your pots (fun fact: involves drinking the food residue in the pots vs dumping into the bushes) to how to poop/pee in the backcountry (hint: only poop and paper in the backcountry toilets – no pee).
The compelling elements of training that I found included:
- He was very methodical with the instructions. Clearly he had been given a lot of training himself.
- He made it relevant and engaging. Even the bit about how to poop/pee in the woods was funny.
- He taught us once on the first day on the trail and then watched us set up camp without guidance to ensure we had it on the second day.
Communication was a key factor in the success of our trip. The expectation setting from Philmont prior to arriving and the clear guidance once we arrived and got set-up has been covered. The other major dynamic of the trip was having a 14 year old scout lead the entire 12 person crew (including 4 adults). One of the challenges of Philmont is blending together hikers with different physical ability on a 70 mile 11 day hike and different spans of attention – 14 year old boys that need to get tasks done while have fun.
Several key approaches helped with both situations:
- Roles and Responsibilities – the successful crews had a clear guide on who was doing what when such as setting up the fly-tarp, pulling up the bear bags, cooking, cleaning and retrieving water.
- Communicating from the back of the hike line to the front of the line. Invariably, the navigational leader for the day would hike too fast for some of the slower hikers (adults included) which meant the middle and back of the hike line would need to let the front know to slow it up. The leader of our crew made the decision to have one person set the pace who had the right speed once we found him.
- In the evenings, to difuse frustrations and improve team work we would go around in the circle to share Start, Stop & Continue
- Start – what should we start doing
- Stop – what should we stop doing
- Continue – what should we continue doing
- We also shared daily roses, thorns and buds to connect and remind ourselves of the beauty and challenge of the day.
- Roses – what you loved that day
- Thorns – what you didn’t like
- Buds – what you are looking forward to the next day
The other major lesson I learned is how teams evolve. I would say the flow below is pretty accurate and by the end of the trip we were definitely in the norm stage with hints towards perform.
- Form – teams assemble out of organizational necessity
- Storm – conflict as roles bounce against each other to figure out who does what and why
- Norm – normalization of duties and roles within the team
- Perform – when a team is firing on all cylinders
The Philmont Scout Ranch is an operational and logistic machine. The incredible number of young scouts and semi-out of shape men who successfully complete 65 – 90 mile adventures in the New Mexico high country is a testament to organizational effectiveness and planning. We all learned a ton and grew tremendously on the trail.
If you’re interested in photos from the trip – click here to go to the album in Google Photos.
I just posted this article on the Hacker Agency website here, but wanted to share on my site as well.
HackerAgency and FCB executives from all over the world recently returned from four days of meetings with the biggest digital media technology companies in Silicon Valley: Google/YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and Facebook/Instagram. We were treated to a first-class education which included a deep dive into consumer trends, technology shifts and a preview of the next wave of advertising opportunities across these communication platforms.
I’m going to race through the major things we learned and discussed. I hope to go deeper soon.
First, major consumer trends:
- Every one of the organizations we met with has a major focus on video as THE communication format of the near future. And it’s all about mobile.
- Two-thirds of the world is still not on the Internet. Google and Facebook have programs dedicated to putting the Internet into the hands of those without access.
- In the developing world, technology has skipped computers and has moved straight to mobile. However, most traffic is on a 2G-level network on a feature phone, so text is still king in these markets.
Second, technology shifts:
- Personal assistant plus voice input (in addition to keyboard) is getting better all the time. Siri, Alexa, OK Google and Cortana are listening and responding. We’re at the beginning of interacting with artificial intelligence on a daily basis.
- We’re seeing more focus on better user experiences. All the companies we visited are thinking about how to create more engaging, richer, digital ad experiences for better performance and higher monetization.
- People are talking about the integration of analytics across customer touch points. Everyone realizes that one touch does not drive a behavior change, so a massive amount of work is going into understanding multi-touch marketing attribution across channels.
- We all know mobile pages load too slowly on cellular networks, so tech giants are supporting the open source Accelerated Mobile Pages
Third, new creative opportunities:
- Changes to something as familiar as Google search results are always big news. No ads on the right rail for Google will have a big impact on CPCs, impression share and quality score.
- Deep linking into mobile apps is critical for mobile app promotion and a better user experience.
- Conversational video ads on Twitter rolled out earlier in the year. They include a call to action with customizable hashtags to encourage customer engagement.
- Cinematic pins on Pinterest allow brands to target specific user types (foodies, travelers, etc.) and use motion while the user scrolls but stop when the user stops.
- SnapChat’s ads are an overlay over images. They have released an on-demand platform so you can create your own overlays and target individuals within a specific geography (down to 5,000 square feet) for a specific number of days.
- Facebook Live streams to your network and competes with Periscope.
- Facebook Canvas provides a deeper rich media experience on Facebook. You can use a combination of videos and still images to tell a story—and call-to-action buttons are available, too.
- 360 Degree Video on Facebook lets you showcase your story in an immersive way when the user controls what they look at within the video.
We were very fortunate to get learning sessions with the largest tech advertising players in Silicon Valley, and we look forward to executing many of these new creative ideas with our clients.
Always an interesting look at where the internet has been and where it’s going.
I recently published this article on MarketingProfs.com here. Enjoy!
I’m officially sick of the term “Big Data”. Marketers have access to lots of data, got it. Big Data in and of itself doesn’t sell more products/services or make high value prospects aware of your brand. Big Data is merely the pool in which we swim to target and generate results. Smart data is the spear gun – this is where we need to focus.
As direct response marketers, we think of data in terms of insight to make better decisions that drives to an action. Smart data breaks into the following categories:
1) Creative Optimization – Every one of our creative concepts comes from an insight from customer research and/or campaign data. Based on some form of insight around what a particular target audience is doing, thinking, feeling, responding to, NOT responding to or is concerned about – we build a creative approach to elicit a response.
We start many of our creative exercises with the search for a “wow, I can’t believe that” type number. For example, one brand we worked with targeted to children, an inspiration came when we learned that 97% of kids play videogames regularly, but only 33% of kids get regular exercise. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, but a body in motion tends to stay in motion. That meant they needed to inspire kids to turn off the games, get up and get going.
The stats that inspired this brand’s communication have nothing to do with Big Data – just smart data.
2) Campaign Optimization – This is where the market dollars meet the proverbial road. Using specific data to plan a campaign, target a specific audience, optimize media against what is working/not-working and testing variants like message/offer/call-to-action/creative theme/etc. is extremely data centric and requires a smart approach.
For example, it’s possible to optimize a DRTV campaign on the fly. During an 8-week flight, we’ll see which markets convert at a higher rate during the initial weeks and focus our media spend there. We can also use response data in our digital buys to leverage the ad serving technology to optimize campaigns in real time. Pre-planning the use of data and optimization is critical in campaign optimization.
3) Conversion Optimization – Conversion optimization is a unique data set in and of itself. Sources of traffic are an input but the data focus here is getting the customer to take the next logical step using micro actions, calls to action, call center optimization, website optimization. There is a heavy reliance on split testing and multi-variant testing that requires smart test planning and execution.
In a mobile marketing campaign, for example, does a click-to-call convert at a higher rate than a get-more-info button? Should the button be red or orange? Which headline is converting better on a desktop vs tablet vs mobile device?
4) Campaign Reporting – Success (or not) of campaigns and programs can be shown in reports that are as detailed as needed for analysis or rolled-up into top level metrics for a helpful overview. Smart reporting of data helps tell the story of progress, what the ROI of the campaigns are and what the marketing dollars of the organization are contributing to key performance indicators (e.g., sales!) and whether these numbers are improving or sinking.
Having a history of results can help you avoid mistakes like reading the data too soon. If a campaign hasn’t had a chance to mature, you may pull the plug too early.
5) Attribution Analysis – Attribution analysis is a difficult thing to do well when you start layering in multiple campaign sources, offline and online, multiple sales channels and different length of buy cycle. We separate out campaign analysis from attribution analysis because they serve two different purposes:
- Campaign analysis and optimization is more tactical. It answers the question: How can I get better results out of the marketing dollars I’m spending on this campaign/channel?
- Attribution is more of a budgeting and allocation process. It helps to answer the question – based on best available data – where should I be allocating MORE or LESS marketing dollars over the next cycle?
6) Executive Reporting – Selecting the right metrics to surface to Directors, VPs and C level types is a skill unto itself. How this data is presented, how often it gets updated, what charts/graphs/visualizations are used and, especially, what story the data is telling is extremely important for communicating progress of your programs as well as outlining opportunities for what’s next.
This kind of reporting is not something you set and forget. It needs to be carefully crafted to avoid any kind of miscommunication. In fact, I recommend you set a regular appointment and present the data in person, so you can tell the story that you want to tell and personally address questions, concerns or issues that come up.
7) Privacy and Compliance – as an ISO27001-certified company, we rely on systems we put in place to process and handle data to comply with the strict requirements for remaining certified. This includes how we separate client data, keep healthcare Information, Personally Identifiable Information and digital behavior information separate from each other.
I’ll take quality data over quantity of data any day of the week. Understanding where the data is coming from, how it’s stored, what it tells you will help tremendously in how you use it to narrow down to the bits that allows smarter business decisions based on the data.