How A Hackathon Improves A Marketer’s Tech Skills

This image from Instagram (http://ift.tt/1WygAEL) is my team, Team Public Cry, which participated in the 2016 IoTCivicHack at LaunchFishers in Fishers Indiana @attdevelopers

We hear the phrase Mar-tech in webinars and see it in posts everyday. But how does a marketer gain an appreciation for Mar-tech, especially when training budget for any marketer has been exhausted for the year?

One way is through participating in a hackathon. I should know – I participated in one, the AT&T Hackathon in April 2016. Through it I learned how hackathons offer valuable education time that rival the best paid training sessions or bootcamps.

A little background about the AT&T Hackathon: It was a 24 hour affair hosted at Launch Fishers in Fishers, an affluent suburb of Indianapolis. Launch Fishers had been in operation for a few years, and expanded that year to accommodate more entrepreneurs and startups.

The challenge for participants was to address a civic challenge, outlined by civic and business mentors. The goals was to build creative tech solutions that could help lawmakers, law enforcement and emergency services better understand and solve Indiana’s heroin and methamphetamine problems. The State Police Drug Lab and Marion County Emergency Services provided data related to the civic needs and services mentioned in the opening presentations, but participants were free to use data from many sources.

I cover two main benefits in this CMSWire post on the hackathon – you can read my experience there. Many of the lesson apply to developing a coherent customer experience.

So what else makes a hackathon so valuable for marketers?

For one thing, hackathons nourish an environment where you can ask questions and experiment with solutions without fear of being wrong, or even worst, ruining a budget. Developers are used to working with different frame works and experimenting with functionality into a functioning tool is established. Web development and programming can be plagued with a lot of trial and error, just like any other engineered product.

Another benefit of a hackathon is the fact that you can work with teams with a wide array of experiences. For example in my team for the AT&T hackathon I work with students from various Indiana universities. Some were majoring in marketing and business and others in computer science. I also met a student who was completing a software course through one of the new bootcamp programs such as General Assembly.

That diversity bring up another benefit; The value of humility. You recognize in a hackathon that you can not assume that you must have all the answers going in. Sometimes having part of the answer is important. For example I have been working with Meteor.JS, a JavaScript framework which includes client and server-side code that allows for one page apps to built and incorporate data easily. I have worked with a IDE call Cloud 9, but really had not develop a deep proficiency with developer code at the time.

It turned out during the hackathon that this skill gap did not matter. I collaborated with the other developers in the group to help figure out how to get the programming code to work and function correctly within the IDE. At the end of the hackathon we had some missteps, but we still had a relatively functioning app that we could describe and demonstrate.

The collaboration taught me that although preparation is important, such as having a working knowledge of frameworks, the true value from hackathons is determining how to deploy frameworks, especially within a given deadline.

Another aspect to note was that I was also among the older participants overall, let alone in my group. I was 47 at that time. But my age gave me an advantage of offering perspective on decisions that had to be made when the team met periodically in the development time allotted.

Hackathons can also help marketers understand what goes into the development process a lot more clearly than any words could ever express. Learning to work with cross-functional teams. Learning to leverage skill set that you have balanced with a curiosity to learn more can go a long way to make the hackathon experience enjoyable.

One personal revelation was discovering how much experience I could bring to others. After so many years marketers forget how their experience can help others. Twice I was asked by my younger members about what my experiences were in running an analytics company.

There are plenty of hackathons available for users to jump into. A hackathon does not have to be from within a college setting. ChicagoHack offers a weekly hackathon every Tuesday, in which developers from across the city to work with interested persons as well as provide a platform for learning of the latest data sources. Chicago, like many other cities , are leveraging open data to encourage developers to come up with apps that improve the quality of life in their communities.

Participation in hackathons or other groups blended with technical professionals can help marketers understand what’s going on in the real world without a lot of expense or extensive effort.

Tips To Improve Your WebSite (or Web App) Pages

Ok, so you are ready to update your website pages, or these days, a web-based app page. Well planning content is critical for making the most of your site pages. Here are several tips that should be included in refining a site or app page.

  • Layout a wireframe for a site – a wireframe needs to show how a page is laid out, so you can plan what is related to it.
  • Select content and images that tell how you will solve a problem,. not just your “life story” . It is good to know something about how a business is established for credibility, but keep stories to three paragraphs when starting out. And be ready to update your story over time.
  • Have a focal point of a page – an image that conveys what the site is ultimately about
  • Balance the white space – make sure that a pages does not crowd with a lot of text. People read differently online than they do offline.
  • Avoid using grey or any light-colors for fonts.  In many instances, words in dark definitive colors against a background is easier to read at a glance.
  • Remove flash pages – they are not only dated as of 2017 (and earlier), but flash pages also can hinder loading the key material visitors want to see on a page.  With mobile and tablets being the first tool used to view sites, a flash page can hinder mobile access if there is no mobile page….
  • ….Which, by the way, there should be a mobile page for your site. Make it with simple features, such as a simple bullet list of offered products/ services and a large button which users can click to dial to your store or office.
  • For showing important details on your business offers, ask designers how to highlight that information. Sometimes a slight contrast in the background can show importance
  • Despite better text editors and code frameworks, it is important to verify the appearance of webpage and web app pages appearance across browsers. To do so use Browsershots, an online site that checks pages for browser/site compatibility
  • Make sure there is a privacy statement indicating the use of analytics, where applicable, and how data is handled within your organization.
  • Consider examining how navigation usage occurs within a session that last 190 seconds (190 seconds is a typical average for a webpage). Note what is clicked and loaded easily within that time frame.
  • Decide on social media platform and memberships to be displayed – links, badges, and widgets that shows a window of the activity on that platform.  Sometimes these can add to page load time if the images are not optimized.
  • Plan footer content – the latest website designs have a footer that works across each page.  For apps consider what elements appear in the navigation – can any of it be arranged to simplify the loading of the app.
  • For websites, gather recommendations of products and service – show on a page or every page where possible.

Finally, remember to optimize for search engines – i.e. use SEO to rank your site in a search query.  Without this, your website has not guidance for search or even for a paid search marketing plan.

The most critical mistake with websites is to make delays to deliver your content to a developer or designer – more than a few months to code and finalize function can be problematic for your designer to organize and revise code with quality. Those delays can also cost your business sales, because your business’ updating of a site reflects how well it is operating.  Gather essential changes so you can share your concerns upfront, and make any changes in an organized fashion.

Google Analytics Alert

How To Plan Google Analytics Alerts To Improve Your Site or App Traffic

Analysis can be fun, discovering new marketing ideas from the data collected, but in many instances it is counterproductive to check metric changes daily. While advertising campaigns need it to make sure budgets are not exceeded, daily checks can lead to overlooking trends that develop over a long arch. Trends are the main indicators of behavior behind the data, and they can be best viewed through periodic checks and smart comparisons.

The key to making smart comparisons and avoid wasting time on analytics is to examine when certain trend changes occur. Measuring metric lifts or declines is the best way to decide when analytic reports need reviews. With so much data entering a site or app today, it’s better to let analytic alert you when something unusual happens rather than spend time trying to find potential differences.

Alerts are sent as email notifications. Google Analytics calls these alerts intelligence events. In Google Analytics you can set alerts via the admin panel, click on the custom alerts, and then set the dimensions, metric, and segment categories that will trigger the alert.

Three choices for metrics can be used for an alert:

  • changes in volume (increase by 10, decrease by 15 visits)
  • a threshold percentage (%)
  • a threshold amount (less than or more than).

So, once at the alert panel, what settings are worth your attention? Well, here are a few basic settings ideas that you can plan from the start.

Traffic spikes

Google Analytics Alert

This falls under the “duh” category, but basic traffic spikes are what we want to see. The issue is how much of a lift should be monitored. The best starting point is to set a 10% increase as an arbitrary starting point.

Now, low volume (about 600 sessions or below) will probably trigger notices every other day for small spikes. That has happened for Zimana at the beginning. But using a 10% setting will trigger less often as for a site that is developing traffic over time. Consider revising as the overall volume grows to a steady amount per month.

Let your knowledge of the X visitors per day decide if a larger percentage is more reasonable. But before you set a number, just ask about the value expected when a number doubles or even triple.

Traffic drop

When something goes up, something can come down. Every decline may not be worthwhile, but consider a percentage decline the same way you would for the traffic spikes. Again adjust as volume increases. A significant drop will reflect a coding issue with the analytics, site, or app.

Changes within known traffic segments

Google Analytics Alert Sources

Alerts can also work for specific traffic segments. Examples include traffic associated with an AdWords campaign or a custom segment set in Google Analytics. Segmentation by traffic source, media, and referral path are other ways to highlight a given set of traffic.

Spike in goal completions

The idea behind this is similar to the traffic spike, replaced with a focus on goals completed by site visitors or app users during a session. Create an alert for raw number of completions, but also set alerts for intended demographics, such as users that arrive from a specific city, region, or with language. Goals should be triggered but mainly for granularity that would be of interest in a business operation, like the percentage that resulted in a conversions or the number of people who started conversion activity but didn’t complete it.

Drop in goal completions

Just as a goal spike is analogous to a traffic spike, a traffic drop is analogous to goal drops.

But goal alerts do not just have to be for web site or app metrics. There are other metrics available in an analytic solutions that can be monitored. E-commerce is exactly that “other” that typically comes to mind to most analysts.

Ecommerce Trends

Google_Analytics_E-Commerce
Using E-commerce alerts can help your team understand what products are being viewed frequently, leading to what might be selling quickly online.

For an e-commerce site you can set alerts for a number of financial metrics related to a purchase – unique purchases, product, revenue, shipping charges, and tax charges. Monitoring these can help understand how a site or app contribute to cost. These can also lead to understanding how frequently these costs are occurring.

Alerts in AdWords and Bing Ad campaigns

Google_Adwords_Manager_Alerts
There are also AdWords Alerts in the AdWords Manager as well, but these alerts are meant more for campaign changes rather than website related behavior.

Alerts can be helpful in deterring upswings in digital ad performance, from increase clicks to increase conversion. Campaign managers such as those for Bing and Adwords do have stop campaign alerts, to let users know when a campaign has been suspended because a preset limit has occurred.

Using alerts can make monitoring your data less time consuming and allows you to focus on other aspects of your marketing or within your business.

IoT Primer: Beacon Basics For Retail Analytics

Maybe the joyous reaction of marketers to beacons, low-cost sensors that can communicate with tablets and smartphones, comes from the fact that the word’s spelling is close to bacon – seems to be a lot of memes suggesting that bacon is a favorite food.  But let’s stick to a more straightforward reason:  Marketers are as excited about beacons as a child is excited about Christmas day.

So what is the beacon excitement about? Here’s the run down:

  • The idea of using sensors in commerce started with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. These tags were used in retail and operations mainly for inventory management and shipping identification.
  • Beacons represent the next “evolution” of sensor usage because they can communicate with apps on smart devices.  The apps are activated by shoppers, allowing the device to be picked up by the proximity beacon.  This establishes proximity broadcasting, which means objects can continuously “communicate” information. The devices and sensors communicate in a data broadcasting environment that pairs mobile devices with beacon sensors on a physical item – a display, a store shelf, or in a store location.
  • A network of beacons are popular because mobile-savvy customers have opted-in through using an app provided by a retailer which has beacons placed in a retail space. Smartphones, tablets and laptops already use Bluetooth, so there is a natural usage already primed for beacons acceptance.
  • The latest generation of Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 4.0, expands the breadth of beacon sensor capability. It includes metadata association to the objects, allowing objects to essentially broadcast their identity, location, and additional information.  The data shared in this environment gives users valuable information, from on-the-spot announcement of a sales offer to simple assistance in finding the right product selection.
  • All of this plays into the Internet of Things (IoT) environment, in which machines are now communicating signals to each other in a coordinated effort.

Where are beacons being used in retail?

Luxury brands are becoming the first movers in experimenting with beacons as part of an augmented reality strategy. Sephora, a make up provider, announced beta testing beacons in its San Francisco store.  And Burberry uses augmented reality technology in its flagship store in the UK.

So what does beacons mean for analytics?

Beacon-generated data can then be pulled up into a corporate cloud application for tracking and analysis, influencing the business intelligence and the analytics associated with it. Real time analytics that include beacon-sourced referral traffic must consider digital activity over time.  Additional analytic tools highlighting foot traffic patterns can aid where message are being triggered, and facilitate inventory planning.   Integrating the associated metrics mean increased tagging complexity, so marketers must consider what capabilities lie within their tools.

Adoption is still early – eMarketer reports that 29% of retailers have incorporated beacons into their stores.

But as the IoT environment emerges from the budding stages, retailers will learn how to use beacons to determine how well their business model aligns with the customer experience needs.  Customers are demanding sophisticated experiences. Beacons provide the the building block for understanding those experiences.

Good Starter Questions for Organizing an A/B Test

A/B testing and optimization does not always sound like a sexy subject to talk with someone (if that someone is not an analytics practitioner). Neither is going to the dentist for some people.
But just as people do make an appointment with a dentist, managers need to make an appointment with their analytics teams to understand what content and app features are working to attract customers.  Thus managers need to have discussions about testing and optimization plans.
In starting discussions about testing and optimization,  a few simple questions are worth asking.
  • What testing is needed in the overall digital strategy? What website elements, qualities or user actions are repeatable to warrant testing and optimization?  These questions highlight what the test is meant to accomplish – essential asking “What is the test for?” The questions also highlight what element in a website or app is being questioned.
  • Which internal organization owns the Testing / Optimization process? In short, who is running the test and responsible for the reporting?
  • How can this testing support the analytical needs of the marketing campaign?  In other words, how does this support a goal for the organization?
  • What obstacles hinder testing?  What resources are needed?
Consider the following as those thought-starter questions that can lead to a healthy discussion and decisions on how to best approach a digital presence for an organization.