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.

Analytics Tips: Basic Data Security for Small Businesses

Clicking A Laptop Computer Keyboard
Keeping data secure starts with managing its sources – although these days an Amazon Alexa is just as likely a data source as a keyboard.

With increased amounts of available data collection comes a variety of new ideas to use data to benefit customers and businesses. An often overlooked consideration is the need to be responsible with the gathered data.

The advancement of technology has increased the inadvertent likelihood of releasing Personal Identifiable Information (PII). PII, as defined in Wikipedia, is metadata that can identify, contact, or locate a single person, or identify an individual in context. Examples beyond a person’s name include email address, date of birth, passport number, vehicle registration plate, and driver’s license.

One kind of PII, an IP address, is not PII by itself, but can be considered as critical PII if it is linked to another piece of data. This impact from blending data means businesses must know not just the meta data collected, but how metadata is combined when used. Without care personal identifiable information can become the property of identity thieves, damaging a company’s reputation as well as lives.

Adding to the concern is public scrutiny of technology while its usage and capabilities are evolving agnostic of consequences. Technology can provide good or bad consequences, depending on its application. For example, pop up offers use Javascript code tailored to the cookie session, but links in a pop up offer can also lead to a nefarious site.

So what should a small business do in this challenging environment?

If you run a small business, a few tips about data can some basics a small business can take heed to some basic informations and be aware of how to act.

Audit Data Usage

Auditing data usage within the business reveals how information flows to critical activity — which systems or employees are used regularly, and if so, what analysis is conducted. Employees and processes should be mapped against opportunities that can potentially lead to unintended exposure, such as unintended data access for employees leave the company and removal of outdated data. Ensure that people who no longer should have access to analytic reports are removed. Another useful effort is to audit data relationships where possible. Neo4j, an open source tools, is good example. You can read more about it in the DMN Tech post.

You can also audit how site elements are called each time your website is loaded. A web proxy or “Packet sniffers” such as Charles and Fiddler allow users to view how each site or app elements are loaded into the browser. These tools can also imply where hack attempts have potentially impact site or app performance, slowing down elements.

One bonus tip: Keep an analytic report filtered to the IP addresses of store locations and branch offices. Doing so can help highlight traffic from potential fraud sources.

Establish Data Guidelines and Removal Policy

Establishing guidelines for managing the storage and retrieval of information can encourage employees to level set to agreed procedures minimize shadow copies of information, which can lead to loss data, theft, and miscalculations.

For example, verifying active accounts on email lists can not only eliminate dead email addresses but also detect email addresses which should not receive data and reports. If you are incorporating web analytics tags with monthly email, coordinate a verification of opt-outs when analytic data is regularly reported. The timing of this verification serves as a reminder.

Share Data Policy with Clients and Partners

Your technology and processes keep data secure, but its your policy that establishes how data is used. Let your customers and clients know a policy is in place so that they understand what your business does to protect their information.

When information is requested, make sure there is an opt out procedure for site visitors. They typically seek statements that they are not locked into one vendor. You can also remind them of opt outs for online racking as a convenience. A low percentage of online users exercise the option, but do want the option. Firefox, Chrome, and IE browsers contain a tracking opt-out for users.

Monitor Tech Media Sources for Privacy Regulation News and Assess Its Impact to Your Guidelines

Finally small businesses can follow news from associations wrangling with the downstream impact of legislation as it is considered. Doing so keeps business leaders informed on what impact legislation can have on their operations. For example, the Digital Analytics Association a “Code of Ethics” for analytic practitioners to pledge. The Code of Ethics is a seven point outline of data stewardship meant to establish a working guideline for an organization’s data usage. The pledge was created in 2011 as a response to controversial legislation that contained a wide interpretation of acceptable tracking solutions and could significantly impact digital agencies and corporate marketing departments alike. The most active associations center around media, while the FTC has gradually raised its scrutiny of online activity.

Data security is not only important to data integrity but to business integrity as well. Developing the right processes that match your operation will not only see how to best improve your business but also show your customers your capability in being responsible with their information. Take heed to these tips, and you will save yourself operational headaches, costs, and your company integrity.

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.

How Vanity Metrics Fail An Internet of Things Strategy (and what you should do about it)

You see old friend I brought more soldiers than you did
— King Leonidas, as played by Gerrard Butler, in the movie “300”

In the movie 300, the warrior-leader of Sparta, King Leonidas, responded confidently when he was asked why he had so few soldiers to potentially fight against the Persians. His character knew that motivations, not physical numbers, is at the heart of making a difference.

The same can be said about quoting vanity metrics – numbers of on site visits or consumptions rather than noting engagement – conversions or describing the audience that responding to the metrics.

To be as wise as King Leonidas in your digital strategy, you should look for audience-related metrics – metrics that can help describe or start a deeper discussion of activity that happens because of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are involved in a campaign.

First a quick definition of vanity metrics and audience metrics:

  • Vanity metrics: Numbers or stats that describe a volume but not describing the quality of that response. Usually this is applied to visitor metrics
  • Audience metrics: Stats that describe the quality of traffic sources as it relates to a visitors. Audience metrics have value when connected to specific and repeatable tasks associated to business goals.

Vanity metrics were acceptable at the beginning, where companies were first trying to build audiences for their websites. Today the internet is being expanding the

Customer experience is starting to drive digital marketers away from an overreliance on “vanity metrics”, such as likes and views, and instead measure the effect of planned campaigns on business results.

Vanity metrics were, and always are, a tempting place to start with analytics. After all, if one is launching an app or website, the question of app installs or website visits is sure to come up.

In many ways vanity metrics plays into the psyche behind the often quoted phrase “business growth”. When one hears that phrase, they are thinking increases in volume as good, as an objective.

But the number of your visitors, subscribers, and followers are often meaningless when compared to IoT devices. IoT devices require some context of usage to help marketers understand if the metrics associated with the devices are useful to a given objective.

Ian Thomas, Principal Group Program Manager, Customer Data & Analytics at Microsoft stated at the Customer Analytics Summit that Computing has become “more personal – it’s not sufficient to think of things as device centric; we have to focus on the user.”

So how do you know you are tracking the right metrics – and what should you do to gain deeper insights?

To figure out which metrics you should be tracking,consider the “So what?” technique, first advocated by analytics luminary Avinash Kaushik.  Avinash Kaushik had a great decision loop that he would apply, called “3 levels of so what?” Asking “so what?” with each examination of a metric demonstrates if a reported metric is relevant to a decision.  It was meant to form answers that would highlight how well metrics fit in a scenario.

To use this process, use the following

  • State a description of a change in a metric – “The number of visits to the site from visitors increased to 150,000.”
  • Next ask “So What?”
  • Respond to that “so what” by asking why it is relevant “The visits are  from the UK (or whatever region of interest), an area from which we want to increase sales.”

In this instance you are asking the so what question to get to the key essential of why a metric change (increase in visits) is important to you (interested in sales from a region). If you can specify to your objective, then stop you’ve done your job. If not, ask another so what.  The repetition should reveal how unrelated the metric is to your objective.  Your action should be to reconsider if that metric is truly influential.

Avinash Kaushik speaks about attribution at SES New York 2012
Avinash Kaushik speaks about attribution at SES New York 2012

Another great version of questioning rules comes from business intelligence and analytics professional Meta Brown. She highlights three questions that can also reveal how important or irrelevant a metric is. You can read about it more at her post for Smart Data Collective.

Remember, metrics alone can reveal what data has occurred, but cannot fully explain what happened – you need a context that relates what occurred to your purpose for the site or app. Seeking that context will avoid the metrics from being only vanity metrics and connect your business to the audience.

How To Keep Site Performance Tip Top – From 301s and 302s to Page Loads

301 and 302 redirects
301 and 302 redirects can create new challenges in making content appear in search queries

Building a customer experience that includes a website means more than being visible online. It also means managing the negative aspects of a digital presence – removing duplicate pages and staying alert for usage of a business name.

To do this, consider the following tips to keep a digital presence as pristine as possible.

  • Examine 302 redirects – make sure that the temporary redirects are managed correctly. That means examining how the pages appear in a search query, because a older page that is deprecated against the newer, temporary page can be viewed as obsolete and thus ignored by the search engine, though there are signs that 302s won’t impact pagerank (Google just explained this, according to Search Engine Land)
  • Be leery of 301 chains – numerous permanent redirects in a series can seem spammy to search engines, leading to delisting on search engines. It also impacts the latency for a site by creating unnecessary page calls to a server.
  • Make sure the site map is up to date to reflect the site pages and associated sites.
  • Examine how the site is loading with page speed reports. Pingdom and Yottaa can examine how a site loads relative to a server. These can indicate fishy server calls that slow down a site experience.
  • Audit the site for duplicate pages. Siteliner offers a free and premium tool for identifying duplicate content as well as broken links.
  • Be aware of online copies of your site text. Use a plagiarism checker like Copyscape to discover other sites that may be mimicking your site. The results can yield potential phishing sites and well as sites that scrape content.
  • Keep Google Alerts for usage of your company name, products, and other brand as needed. Alerts can help you discover new allies for your business, as well as nefarious sites that have scraped and copied the site.
  • Use the Page Load Speed report within Google Analytics to note spikes in page loads. Increasing the page load can encourage site visitors to leave a site rather than view other pages or material.