Taking data to the streets…





This is the traffic sign at the Chambers Street Subway Station.

Single functioned. Primitive even. Yet a significant game changer for New Yorkers.

Generations of city residents and commuters, up to 3M people a day, have stood dumbly waiting, sweating and broiling in the summer heat for the next subway train. No possible idea when or even which train is coming.

This display, at one level, is a Jetson-quality, sci-fi like glimpse of the future. A great example of big data trickling down to the mass market. This is the digital data runway fitting to the analog needs of our lives.

Of course this is also somewhat laughable and pathetic.

The signs are only in 25% of the stations. They went live in 2011 after 8 years in development. In 2011! — A decade after Google search put information ubiquity and e-commerce at our fingertips. One hundred and eight years after the trains starting running,

As much as I like knowing that an air-conditioned #2 train is approaching on a sweltering day, the sign is actually a techno tease. A drip of useful information in a desert of analog, real-life experiences cut off from the power of useful data and web connections.

As my fellow New Yorker Fred Wilson and I discussed online recently, the entire idea, as wonderful as it is, is woefully inadequate.

Hiding this info inside the pay turnstiles and not at street level is just bad human UX. Not using this data as a mashed up information hub with bus schedules, Hailo and Uber, Citi Bikes and time-to-walk-to-maps, makes it nothing more than a baby step of a solution. We are grateful for the crumbs of relief but impatient for the real thing

This story is a metaphor for the on/offline dichotomy that we are seeing more and more every day—and a well-lit sign pointing to where the market needs to go.

Online, we experience life like some suburban dream–squeaky clean, sanitized, orderly even within the confusion of the social nets. It’s curated, moderated and personalized. But also wildly intoxicating in its power, whether you are sitting in the office or at a park with free WiFi, pounding out a post or organizing your life for the week.

Each of us is the master of our abstracted and matrixed online world.

Offline it’s a disconnected mess.

Things are always broken, people are late. Connectivity is erratic, data incomplete, and the pace is arbitrary at best. There is an uneasy intersection of the transforming power of data, the web and the human touch.

This is not an app gap; it’s a data aggregation gap.

It’s a new way to think about data, the web and usability at the street level of our everyday lives. About human need where data begins to serve us as we move through life, not just as an abstraction of chores that surround our informational needs.

Businesses like Zipcar, Uber, Hailo and Citi Bikes are uniquely disruptive and personally empowering. Transportation at their core, but a bit more. True life changers for urban life.

They are painful to build, as the currency of value is dependent on the people who use the systems to behave responsibly. Logistics as a design element is no easy task. Tech is easy to get right. Human behavior is simply not programmable. .

I’ve been renting, hailing and riding a bit lately. I’m astounded by the power of these solutions and reminded in each case of these common building blocks.

-Mash ups of public and private data

Data from the subways and buses. Data from independent orgs like limo and cab companies. Data from APIs like Foursquare. These are the ingredients for the next generation system that will make the web belong to us on our own terms, on the streets where we live.

It may take another generation to get subway signs that truly deliver. Entrepreneurs, not the cities, may be the solution, curating value into discrete contextual pieces of urban life. The cities with smart leadership and cultural chutzpah will simply let the data out to be used as raw material.

-Human behavior and street level UX

People are messy. We are late. We don’t do what we should. We are the breaking point for every system that touches us and every system that requires us to feed the data pool so it flows smoothly.

It is what breaks for ZipCar using non-owned garages. What may for Hailo organizing third party cars and Citi Bike managing its neighborhood expansions and its inventory of bikes.

Street level design, the intersection of the data visualization, commerce, logistics and customer service wrapped in the culture of the consumer on the go will be the criteria for success. This is more subtle, more interesting, more empowering and considerably more difficult than fixing abandonment rates on a shopping cart.

The new expert architects for these solutions are not coming from web designers; they are using web design to serve these real-time events, grounded not only in space but in time, in the moment itself.

-Cracking the mobile language code

If your Zipcar is late or has a flat tire, their app, while great for ordering, is pretty useless for trouble shooting. You have to walk out of the garage, get a signal and call and wait.

We need a new mobile language. As easy as texting, yet as digitally powerful as a tag. Right now it’s like moving between two systems with a phone size display. No-one has designed this bridge across systems, data types and language. Yet!

Looking forward

Inspiring stuff. Changing not how we just shop or order stuff but how live better, informed, more efficiently.

A few years ago, we were all blogging about how the line between on and offline was blurring. As connectivity became ubiquitous we thought the wall was down.

We were simply wrong. It’s just getting started.

I touched on this in my Trading Places post a few weeks ago. My bet is it’s going to drag the orderliness of the web and reshuffle it into a just-in-time dynamic map of how we navigate our lives.

And just maybe, these early transportation point services will aggregate into platforms where we can share map-like slices of how we experience our days. Reshaping not only how we move around but how we order and organize our world in the moment it is changing.





    Net native marketing…

    Tumblr’s $1.1B price tag was a fair one.

    It stopped me though, and forced me to rethink and recommit to the truly transformative power of these social nets, and their value, way beyond their present revenues.

    It also reconfirmed my strong belief that native advertising as the monetizing engine for these super social nets has little to do with their value. Discussions on the non-intrusive nature of native ads are a bit silly. Ads are intrusive by nature, and ‘intrusive lite’ is merely a masquerade, sweeping intent under the carpet.

    Net native communities and networks have changed the very culture of our world at its core. They’ve shattered our ideas of time and space. Changed language and commerce. Impacted behavioral norms not just online, but everywhere.

    Back when e-commerce ruled the web, we put cars, art, real estate and most every hard good online, and made pricing transparency the new ethos. We redefined disruption, moving customers to the power seat and companies to the sidelines.

    It was a defining change, but pales in comparison to the remapping of the world and human interactions that native platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook have enabled. What is happening on and between them is nothing less than transformational to how we all live our lives.

    The core difference of course is that e-commerce is measured in importance solely by the dollars it creates from the clicks you capture. Social nets have changed human behavior and culture, not simply how we shop for theatre tickets or ski passes.

    This is not to say that commerce doesn’t happen, or that we as companies won’t market on these platforms. We do today, rather badly as a rule, but advertising, no matter how you define it or morph it into a socially acceptable, non-interruptive formant, is not natural to social interaction.

    The core marketing power of net native communities is that each has its own unit of language and gestures, specific to the context of the platform itself.

    Social media pundits have this all wrong with their commandments on how to talk, market and sell to this social new world. They make the world think that how people act and communicate, share and sell on one net is the same as on every other. That how we sell clothes is the same as how we sell wine, and that we can sell them whenever and wherever people congregate.

    It’s simply not true.

    When behaviors change, language and culture morph. Each of the net native networks have unique behavioral dialects, specific to the networks themselves. We act differently wherever we are. Same person, different language and intent. Once size does not fit all.

    Think of it this way.

    Twitter. Core unit of language: the Tweet. It’s all about shared gestures, one-to-many broadcast in a looking-glass like paradigm. You speak or share, others listen, watch and consume. It’s the perfect currency for immediacy and leadership, with the most popular as the most influential.

    Tumblr. Core unit of language: pictogram as post. Concrete poetry whether in text or graphics. Non-conversational, yet highly communal. One-to-one connections, like tattooed images with emotional impact tumbled across our memories in a collective stream.

    Facebook. Core unit of language: the gesture of liking. Pile the world’s population into a huge funnel and give them a monosyllabic language to click at each other. Raw,primitive and simplistic. Posts as the unit of language are coming on strong though, and a conversational platform is surfacing regardless of the built in technical limitations.

    The core marketing truth that you need to speak to customers in their own language has adapted to this context into how you talk to people and communities is specific to the networks you engage them on.

    And that not every network is suitable as a selling place for every product.

    Seems obvious doesn’t it?

    But the number of companies that are pushing tweets to their Facebook streams and standing on top of their social strategies as one homogeneous activity across different networks is more common than not. Companies pushing discounts when people want to chat about politics or sports

    Our challenge in business is always communications. It’s that simple. We need to discover, engage, transact with, and then support the customer. Context and timing is everything.

    The native social nets are the web’s gift to us as business owners and marketers.

    They are there, omnipresent, open for business with no admittance charge. Our customers and community members are milling around, transparent and open to hearing what matters to them.

    I have an ask for Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.

    Don’t focus on making ads palatable for Tumblr. They simply aren’t by nature in this environment.

    As a marketer, business owner and consultant to numerous companies, I’m happy to pay for creative ways to discover communities of like interest. Don’t build a model based on how you sell display ads today, but for the longest possible tail of your network. For the rest of us.

    Help me do that in Tumblr’s unique way and I’m all in.

    The big aha from all the noise about the Tumblr acquisition was a huge sigh of optimism now that here are dollars to not only keep it going, but to make it better.

    Imagine a world without Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. A sad thought actually.

    Imagine a world of objective clicks, where business communications was again a science and supposition, and the net was reduced to data and analysis, not people and communities. Where transactions were the definition of loyalty, and feedback a survey by unattached third parties.

    No thanks!

    The greatest part of these native communities is that they are there, unique, open, communal, yet distinct from each other.

    The greatest boon to companies today is that we know where our customers are. We also know the language they speak, their motivations and behaviors in each place they frequent.

    It ain’t easy to discover the right customer in the proper context and understand the language to speak with them. Never has been. But the social nets give us two steps towards the door, as we already know where to look.

    All we need to do is to learn to play by the rules and speak the language. Not ours–theirs. They are actually waiting for us.



      Value needs to be sold…

      The web makes starting things easy. It also makes us a bit lazy and smugly entitled.

      We throw up a blog. Set up a store and sell something. Imagine a market or merchant need, and thread connections in a new way with an eye towards relayering peoples wants and needs.

      It’s easy and inexpensive to get started on the web. Technology is our ally here.

      Human nature, however, is not, and the web is littered with lightly programmed skeletal ideas hanging by threads. Not ready for prime time, not sure where to go next and no real idea how to get there.

      Somehow people think that it just happens.

      And somehow businesses think that just being there is marketing itself, as if the web is a favored address with qualified street traffic walking in the door.

      Of course, neither is true.

      There’s a softness that comes from these expectations that is out of whack with reality. There’s a misunderstanding that even though your customer may be in control, they certainly aren’t always right. That opted in discovery is what lead gen should be but you need to push hard before the market starts to pull.

      This customer first perception as right as it is, is wrong when it drives marketing as survey, marketing as asking a customer what they like and what they want. It is about setting a new context and selling the value of the experience. Then you see if it touches a nerve

      Actually, Henry Ford captured this perfectly:

      “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

      At its core, permission-based marketing has nothing to do with asking the customers or the community what they want. They are giving you the permission to sell them, not determining what they want.

      I believe that core value needs to be sold. Sold smartly and sold hard. It’s really that simple, although the craft of selling and the orchestration of setting the proper environment are anything but trivial.

      Neither the market nor people know what they want until you sell it to them. I’m not referring to a transaction, but to shared perceptions of a different tomorrow. Letting something be tried on with anticipation and good will, and seeing something in a new way.

      New doesn’t just happen, it needs to carve it’s own spot in the market. New doesn’t exist to be bought, it needs to be sold within a conversation. Within an experience. Within a new context.

      Some ideas have logical inklings of pent-up market demand (a singular online POS system for all consumers), and some things have merchant demand (customer acquisition tools that work for the SMB) but a generalized need and product that suits it are completely different.

      There are exceptions of course, but there are no overnight successes. The idea of “Build it and they will come” is no idea at all.

      We all dream of that magic moment when you stop pushing the market and it starts to inch toward you and pulls, as if with new found gravity. When your dashboard of metrics on campaigns and activities has no logical relation to the positive growth of traffic, transactions, referrals or market attention.

      Most every successful company and product has that market aha moment.

      It doesn’t happen because you built something and the market just moseyed on over. It happens because you pushed and sold, with passion and persistence. Because you found bridges between circles of adopters that, in total, defined a new community of customers.

      Ideas in product form are the fuel that drives, but that the market defines. In between is where we work, iterate, execute and create our own luck.

      Selling value is tough. Marketing is tough. Building something new is always devoid of oxygen at first. There is never momentum until we create it.

      The cool thing of course, is that it can happen and does, every single day, and changes the market and potentially our fortunes along with it. .

      My last post, “Marketing Matters…” was a primer, and a reminder that marketing, as a mindset, is the other side of the market coin. That marketing is part of what you build and how you sell, and the interpreter between what you so believe to be true and what the market comes to adopt.

      This post is a further nudge to all of us.

      That value is there to be sold, not simply discovered. That just putting it out there is a non-starter.

      That you need to create a common ground where selling what you believe on your customer’s terms is key, and that listening to their response, not asking for their approval, is how you create a new market reality with yourself firmly entrenched as part of it.



        Marketing matters…

        I’m a believer that the market is always right.

        This doesn’t mean that the market knows what it wants, nor that you don’t have to sell smart and hard, and often take huge, gut-directed leaps of faith to nudge it in your direction.

        But it is the only proof that matters. It’s the playground where it all happens.

        I’m a believer that marketers, at their best, are the practitioners of market dynamics. Their job is to understand that consumer behavior is the atomic element of any market, and the key behind every transaction. This is expertise and gut talent you need on your team.

        Marketing, as a point of view and a mastery of skills, is often misunderstood and invariably butchered by definition.

        What marketing does is simple to phrase–working the world from the market side in—but just plain difficult to do, and beyond challenging if you don’t have the DNA for it.

        –>Marketers work the space between what customers feel they are buying and what the company thinks they are selling.

        –>Marketing’s goal is connecting the right customer to your product in the most effective way at the most opportune time.

        –>Marketing’s secret sauce is aggregating customers into groups, groups into communities, and communities into that ineffable broader market that really matters.

        –>Marketers are obsessed with why customers should care enough about your product, your brand and your company, to share that connection.

        –>Marketing knows that buying is an act of approval. Margins are a calculation, pricing as part of consumer value is market intuition.

        There are scads of metrics that are used by marketing practitioners, many invaluable, though none of them matter at all if you don’t sell product and establish a brand with true customer value.

        It’s a long journey to a black and white judgment as to whether marketing made it all come together. Most successful marketers are heroes or bums many times over in their careers for just this reason. The old Hollywood saying that every ‘movie executive will one day come to work and be fired’ could well apply to the marketing leader as well.

        Marketing exists at the intersection of customer behavior, strategic intent, partnership with sales and product, and maniacal mastery of executional details.

        If you limit marketing to execution alone, it will never be effective. It you remove it from tactics, it’s all just talk. If you are driven by anything other than getting customer behaviors in line with market intent, you are simply playing the odds. And if you don’t work hand in hand with sales and product, you will always fail.

        It’s crazy stuff.

        The intersection of soft sweeping strategies, deep value understanding, an infantry of special team skills and science, and hard visible tactics. But at the end–stuff either works or it doesn’t. Traffic pays off over time or it doesn’t. People come in the door with intent to buy or they don’t. Clever is stupid to many and funny is flat to more. And brilliant strategy at 20,000 feet doesn’t fill the sales funnel.

        We judge marketing by countless data points daily–customer acquisition costs, buzz, lead counts, how the logo looks, brand value that drives a premium price—and the pride and joy that comes from a market that tips its hat to your product and brand behavior because you are a cut above.

        It’s all about the obvious and what’s behind it.

        Not simply about drawing customers to you (which of course you do), nor simply about pushing intent down the chute to the transaction (which we certainly do as well). Perfection can be mechanical, but it’s not what counts first. You can scale an undeniable core customer value by beating on a drum if that is all you have. But you can’t make people love you if they don’t.

        It’s that’s simple.

        The social web has invariably changed everything in our world including the gestalt of our markets and how we impact them. More profoundly than even the internet and basic ecommerce itself.

        It’s evolved a new language for business communications. Handed the power baton to the customer and established socialization as the vernacular to how we market our products and manage our communities.

        It’s a massive customer sandbox for product development and communications. And a place to play nicely with the market when you don’t really have all of your pieces in place. It’s made the unimaginable, possible.

        It has also made us lazy and mistake activity as work at times.

        The web, the social nets are not the market though they are critical ramps to it. Nor is social media the new marketing. Not in any way!

        The web, although it has accelerated everything– including consumer evolution– is not the end game. The customer is, and they straddle the off and online markets naturally. So does marketing when it is cognizant of itself and its purpose.

        There are people who are really skilled community managers, gifted mavens of the social channels, wordsmiths that wow us with how good we sound, scientists who dream SEO ratios and savant email strategists who are magicians at touching just the right person at the right time with a message that will get opened just when it should.

        Every one of these activities will fail unless integrated into a coherent point of view. This can be discordance at a deafening din or perfection without self-awareness or soul.

        Every one of these doesn’t matter unless they are strung together somehow under leadership that can orchestrate the nits and the message with the right cadence and crescendo.

        Markets matter. In fact, as an aggregate of a possible consumer population, they are all that matters!

        Marketing is the other side of the market coin. Inextricably intertwined.

        It is the fabric of communications and connections that with lots of luck, creativity and deep craft, can take an idea and turn it into a household brand,  can make the elusive, the almost ineffable, tangible and a new market reality.


          Going short on free, long on transactions

          Nothing is cleaner and more behaviorally pure online than a transaction.

          I’ve been zeroing in on the where and why of transactions as key to figuring out models, market opportunities and customer acquisition channels.

          Perhaps it’s part of my recent quest for the measureable and actionable, letting the purity of transactional models just suck me in like comfort food. Perhaps the antidote to too much social backslapping and an overdose of vanity metrics.

          Possibly it’s also a reaction against free as a model.

          Not that Freemium doesn’t work, just that, by definition, it is a ‘go big or go home’ model. It takes so so much free to create anything of monetary value that it’s perhaps more aspirational than it is feasible in today’s market.

          Creating value from connecting behaviors and aggregating people at a Facebook, Twitter or even Linked In level is, perhaps, yesterday’s dream. But these monoliths have an Achilles Heel–they are commerceless. Devoid of transactions. It may not hurt them with media as their financial model but it opens a huge doorway for the rest of us.

          That’s where the opportunity lies.

          As community and commerce designers, as consumers ourselves, transactions are the bright shiny thing in the grass. People on the web don’t only want free and it’s not true that we’ve spoiled them away from reaching for their wallets. People pay for value, though very rarely for the promise of it.

          Transactions are a reality sandwich for marketers.

          Grasping onto data as truth in the form of market dynamics, traffic patterns, unique visitors and influence matrices gets level set quickly when you focus on where in the value chain the transaction happens. Where is the customer’s role in sharing it, and the company’s role in brokering and owning it.

          That is why I love the community marketplace model.

          Marketplaces live between search and SEO on one side, social on the other. They leverage the ubiquity of Google and Facebook to supercharge their models. Marketplaces thrive where products need to be sold (think Etsy and Kickstarter) rather than bought as commodities, like at Amazon. They connect buyers and sellers using the entire web as their personal social network.

          A perfect model actually.

          My bias for commerce design at the earliest stage is making the transaction a value add to the process, not just a gateway that let’s you slide down a chute towards a ka-ching at the end. Even with the understanding that everything may indeed change.

          Transactional-based models are anything but simple, but they are clearer.

          They are clearer because you have tangible metric for success. Clearer because shopping and deciding to ‘buy it’ is a pure and basic human behavior. And clearer because shopping is not an abstract ecommerce activity, but a core social behavior.

          You may need volume in your business to be solvent, but you don’t need volume in order to have something to sell.

          Transactional models are as varied and many as the types of people who use them– with every possible permutation. There’s no one formula, just customer behaviors and exceptions to the rules.

          In abstract, the farther you are from the transaction itself, the less sticky the model, the less substantial the play in the long term. And owning the transaction itself feels naturally correct.

          I don’t think this holds true in every circumstance though. Reality is more random.

          Some businesses broker connections and work well, even though referrals are a tenuous commodity to platform. Businesses that broker sales leads I think are in serious trouble even though some are tied into the transaction.

          Coupons, abstract and old school as they are, are a great business despite being simply a lead gen tool that becomes valueable only at the time of transaction. And the dream of retail brands of embedding transactions in catalog items sent everywhere over the web as both social and financial objects that breaks down completely the idea of ‘where’ the transaction happens at all.

          I work with client’s models that need millions of users before value has an outline. Where the transactional exchange is clear from day one, but where there is no value till the customers are acquired. And models where platforms let other businesses touch their own customers in a new way, and the transaction is an embedded subscription itself.

          Take a at the model of your business and rethink it with the transaction as not the end of the chute toward dollars, but at the center that you can build to.

           This post is a nudge towards rethinking value as tied to payment, both within and without communities on the web. To see whether the transactions are a natural part of the experience that bubble up and feel good to ask for, or an afterthought that just never quite fits.