Making Commerce Better – Recapping a talk by Shopify’s Satish Kanwar at AndroidTO

I meant to start writing this post earlier today when I found myself browsing Facebook instead. It happens… But my Facebook feed pointed  me right back to the topic by presenting me with a funny image that made me think of Satish Kanwar’s talk at AndroidTO.

The caption read, “Best Buy: Try it out before buying it on Amazon.” Funny but true, though “Amazon: Read about it before buying it at Best Buy” would be just as true. 

There’s a reason Kanwar didn’t use the terms “e-commerce” or “online shopping” in his title. One of his core points was that it’s all just commerce and shopping. If you research the product in store then purchase online, is that online shopping?

If you research it online then buy in store, is that bricks and mortar or just self-service 1-hour delivery?

Kanwar made the case for moving past the ideas of online and offline commerce to just “commerce”. He showed how online transactions are just a fraction of the pie, and how online shopping  influences offline purchasing.  Buyers don’t align their behaviour to the constructs of “online” vs. “offline”, they mix and match their shopping related activities according to their preferences. And millennials, he pointed out, expect a seamless experience across mediums. Gone are the days when it was accepted that the online and bricks & mortar versions of a store would be very different.

An interesting study he referenced said that if a retailer’s store is closed when customers want to shop there,  36% will buy it online from that retailer’s website and 22% will shop online for the best price. That 22% represents a great opportunity for small businesses.

The opportunity for small retail businesses was another theme of Kanwar’s talk. Opening large or numerous retail stores is a very costly proposition, and in the past, online buying was generally considered risky. So small businesses had a limited market to work with. Now that online shopping is more prevalent, small businesses – especially those with a solid mobile experience – can expand their market without a huge investment.

Kanwar listed 5 ways online businesses are democratizing the value chain, one of which not surprisingly his own company enables:

1. Get an idea (e.g. Google)
2. Build a prototype (e.g. Makerbot)
3. Raise funds (e.g. Kickstarter)
4. Sell orders (e.g. Shopify)
5. Ship products (e.g. Shipwire)

To demonstrate, he talked about an experiment he conducted, quickly creating and promoting (Twitter, Facebook) an online sock business. With the store up and running (via Shopify, of course) they sold $500 of socks in 24 hours. That experiment provides another lesson, too. There are lots of online and offline stores selling socks already but there was still clearly room for another. If your value proposition is unique or the market is big enough, there is opportunity.

His final premise was a bit less convincing, for me. He talked about the death of the department store. His premise was that department stores optimize for distribution and not necessarily for value or experience. With distribution becoming a commodity (home delivery options), he hypothesizes that department stores will die out in favour of online and experiential stores. (Experiences like the Apple store where customers get hands on with experts, or Lulu Lemon where customers might come in for a yoga class.)

He might be right, but I’m not quite convinced department stores will die. There’s a lot to be said for knowing the item you want is likely in stock and you can see and touch it before ordering. Innovative online retailers like Frank & Oak with home try-on and return options for clothing are definitely taking a bite out of traditional retailers but I have a feeling there will always be a place for shopping in store. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile what is clear is that the blending of mobile, online and in store shopping presents an opportunity for small businesses who can deliver value to customers. Kanwar referenced Andy Dunn’s “E-Commerce is a Bear” essay, summarizing four ways a retail business can differentiate:

1) Proprietary pricing (e.g. scarcity, time limited)

2) Proprietary selection (e.g. curated, narrow & deep for an audience)

3) Proprietary experience (e.g. subscription)

4) Proprietary merchandise (unique product)

Enabled by technology, small businesses can differentiate on any of these.

Lots of food for thought for anyone considering a retail business.

So where does Android fit into all of this? Android, Kanwar pointed out, is the fastest growing mobile platform so businesses wanting to take advantage of this new world of commerce need to make sure they have a solid Android experience.  And yes, he assured us, Shopify is on top of that.


“Content Marketing is BS!”

At a recent series of workshops aimed at startups, 5 of the 8 companies represented were directly in the content marketing space. So imagine our surprise with the PR expert began his talk by informing us loudly that, “Content Marketing is bullsh*t!”

We waited for the punchline that would indicate he was being ironic but no, that really was the premise of his talk. This was an old-school media relations guy who came to pitch a bunch of content marketers on why he thinks what we do has no value and we should focus solely on getting positive reviews of our products in “reputable” publications instead. But I’m glad I stayed, because the end of his talk was priceless.

He explained that “content marketing is just companies posting things saying how great our products are”, tipping us off that he wasn’t really opposed to content marketing, he just didn’t understand what CM is. A few in the audience tried to explain that CM is more about delivering relevant content that your customers will value than directly promoting your product, but PR Guy would have none of it. He kept going despite the obvious chill in the room, until he stated flatly that CM has no impact on customer behaviour, only “reputable publications” with “unbiased journalists” do because that’s all customers trust. I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. My time at SqueezeCMM had showed me how wrong he is.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I work with a company whose product measures the impact of content marketing on lead generation and conversions. The data clearly show that content marketing done well increases leads and conversions.”

The group held their collective breath waiting to see how this played out. PR Guy sputtered a few more comments, each one countered by someone in the room then finally read the room and saw that he was alone. “I was really just trying to be controversial,” he offered. “Mission Accomplished!” I replied with a smile and a thumbs up, which got a relieved laugh from the room. With the tension diffused, PR Guy launched back into his talk with a less hostile audience – but not an engaged one.

From that point on there were more people answering email on their phones than even pretending to pay attention. PR Guy shifted his focus to why traditional media relations are still necessary but it was too late. He’d lost the audience. The useful content in the rest of his talk was ignored by most because he’d forgotten PR 101 – know your audience.

So little attention was being paid that most missed his unintentionally ironic finish.

As he wrapped up his talk, PR Guy – Mr. Content Marketing is BS – said this:

“I hope you’ll all sign up for my company’s newsletter. It’s full of good tips on PR and dealing with the media. I think you’ll find it useful.”

It was all I could do not to giggle out loud. When he left, my peers said it was obvious from the twinkle in my eye that I found something funny but they didn’t know what, so I told them.

“Did you catch his suggestion that we sign up for his newsletter?”, I asked?

Now they got it. Mr. Content Marketing is BS really had closed his talk by promoting his company’s content!

PR 201 – If you’re going to take a stance against something, it’s probably good to know what it is.

And to think I was just shortening links…

One of my clients is moving out of beta today and boy, have I learned a lot working with them.

Like most people, since Twitter became so important for business communications, I was shortening links to get the most from my 140 characters. But until I started working with the team at @SqueezeCMM, I was missing a big opportunity – I was just shortening my links with whatever tool I happened to think of in the moment –, tinyurl, etc. They did the job, I figured, and what more could I ask for? As it turns out, I could have asked for a LOT more.

My client, SqueezeCMM shortens links but they do a lot more. The founder, Jen Evans, is a content marketing pioneer, which means she was using blogs, whitepapers, infographics, slide decks and more to drive her customers’ businesses since before the term “content marketing” was coined. And to measure how well the content was doing the job, she used many different tools, like web analytics, social media analytics, email analytics… But she noticed a gap. The tools all measured how well a certain platform was performing (like a website or Twitter) but the customer’s content was hosted on many platforms and they were using many tools to promote it, so putting together meaningful data was a nightmare. Showing the value of the content and figuring out how to optimize it was impossible. There was no data for that. And many tools focus on when people SEE your content, not when they ACT on it by clicking links and signing up.

So Jen’s team invented SqueezeCMM. It’s a really powerful tool for marketers, especially those who promote a lot of links to a lot of platforms, but it’s pretty useful for bloggers and casual tweeters, too. For example, my SqueezeCMM reports show me which content resonates most with my audience on Twitter vs. my blog or Facebook and what’s most popular across all those. (Definitely #womenintech!) And it tells me which channels give me the best engagement (still Twitter, but with the detailed data I can figure out what to post to the others to get more action).


SqueezeCMM even tells me what day of the week is best for me to promote to each platform if I want people to click my links – and it’s not the same for my audience as the generic advice you can get online. I can even tell what day is best to promote different blogs based on when people are more likely to click thorough. Here’s a comparison of two blogs I’ve posted to frequently – one gets the most clicks on Mondays, the other on Tuesdays, regardless of when I post.


Here’s where it got really cool, though. When I guest blogged for a conference, I squeezed the links within my blog that they uploaded to their own site. I included links to their information page, some YouTube videos, and the conference presenter’s bio. As soon as they posted my blog to their site, SqueezeCMM started reporting to me when people were clicking on those links. I have no access to that website, so even if they have Google Analytics or Omniture, I wouldn’t get those reports, but I could still see that my post was generating user engagement and demonstrate that to the people who asked me to write for them. I also built “paths” on Squeeze so I could see how many people who clicked from their site to my site continued on to click through my calls to action. It’s easy to see how valuable this would be to someone spending a lot of money on generating and promoting content.

The marketers we’re supporting use a lot of channels – dozens, even hundreds of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn… Then there are paid ads, sponsored posts, 3rd party directories, even printed brochures. And they can all link to the same content assets on several different sites with links in the asset to other sites and assets. Their needs are much more complex than mine, so what SqueezeCMM does for them is even cooler.

Over the past few months, I’ve talked to a lot of users and incorporated their feedback into the new features we’re launching when we move out of beta today. So now it’s time to sit back, applaud the SqueezeCMM team on a job well done, and wait to see if the users love the new features as much as they love the core product. It’s been a wild ride, and there’s nothing quite like a launch. Happy Launch Day, Squeezers!

(You can try SqueezeCMM for free by signing up for Casual Squeezer plan at Let me know what you think.)


Technology-enabled marketing talk at Girl Geeks Toronto

This is a cross-post of  a guest blog I wrote for Girl Geeks Toronto. You can find the original here. Girl Geeks Toronto runs monthly tech talks in a friendly social environment. Their talks are accessible to both techs and non-techs, and men are welcome.

Recap: Technology and Marketing: From Mind to Map

This month’s event brought together two topics that showed how technology is enabling marketers to be more relevant to our audiences.  Asif Khan from the Location Based Marketing Association talked about how marketers are using Location Based Marketing (LBM) and Diana Lucaci and Katerina Juskey from True Impact Marketing introduced us to neuromarketing, which measures brain responses to really understand how users are truly responding to marketing messages. Through these two lenses we can begin to see the depth and breadth of marketing tools technology has enabled.

Location Based Marketing – Asif Khan

One of Asif’s core messages was that “location” doesn’t mean “mobile” and LBM isn’t just about checking in on Foursquare. Asif described it as “the intersection of people, places and media.” Wherever we are, and whatever device or app we choose, that’s a location.

Asif showed us a lot of intriguing examples. Some showed marketers offering services where the customer is, such as digital walls in airports where travellers returning home can order the groceries they’ll need to restock their fridges, and pizza ordering stations in transit shelters so riders could order dinner while they wait for the bus and have it arrive soon after they get home.

Others showed we can push offers to individuals based on where they are,  like a coupon to a customer when they are standing in front of the display deciding between brands. Starhub in Singapore chose fitting room music based on what clothes customers were trying on and pushed targeted download offers to their phones on the spot. (See how they did it here.)

Asif Khan speaking at a Girl Geeks Toronto event

Asif also shared examples of marketers increasing relevance based on real-time LBM data, like digital signage on a NYC bus allowing ads to be selected for each intersection based who has checked in to services like Foursquare instead of a static ad based on the bus route’s demographics.

Some examples used onsite-only offers to draw customers to the advertiser’s location. For instance, few users pay for advanced Angry Birds levels, but many choose to shop or eat at advertiser locations (e.g. McDonalds in China) where they can unlock new levels for free.

Asif’s many examples all result in making the content hyper-relevant to the user.  He reminded us that if we’re going to use LBM we need to first understand who we are targeting so we can choose tools that will reach them, and I think his overall message could be summed up with one of his comments:

Content is king but context is the advisor

Neuromarketing – Diana Lucaci and Katerina Juskey

If LBM is about getting the right message to the right people at the right time and place, neuromarketing (NM) is about determining what the right message IS.

Diana Lucaci from True Impact brings science into the boardroom, using tools that measure brain response to show marketers how users respond to their content. She was quick to remind us that neuromarketing is not about manipulating the subject’s brain, just reading its response, and introduced us to three NM technologies:

  1. EEG – Electroencephalography records electrical impulses produced by the brain’s activity to see whether a subject is engaged or not, or has positive or negative emotional engagement
  2. fMRI – Functional MRI machines measure the blood-flow to areas of the brain that are responsible for decision making and gives even more insight into how the subject is reacting to content
  3. Eye Tracking – helps correlate the emotional, attention or memory activity with the visual focus on the advertisement

Diana Lucaci presents on Neuromarketing

One of the big ideas behind these tools is that what people say they think and feel doesn’t always match what they really do, so focus groups and surveys can’t always give an accurate insight. Diana also pointed out that what questions we ask, how we ask them, and who else is in the room can affect subjects’ responses in traditional market research but by measuring the brain’s response neuromarketing can cut through some of that and tell us what people are really responding to. Used in conjunction with traditional research, NM can fine tune our understanding of the results.

Diana also showed us how we make decisions, with the part of our brains that handles emotions causing us to respond – mentally and even physically – before we even begin to think about a decision, and urged us to keep that in mind when we’re making decisions. Even when we don’t think we’re being affected, we are, and the fMRI can measure that.

One of Diana’s intriguing use cases involved three stop-smoking ads being shown to a focus group, which chose ad “B” as the most effective, while fMRI scans showed people really preferred ad “C” and in the real world, ad “C” drove 3 times as many calls as the others. Ads “A” and “B” were both based on rational arguments against smoking, the reasons we all want to believe we make decisions, while ad “C” tugged the heartstrings, addressing how hard it is to quit and how smoking affects our families. The fMRI was able to show that despite what the focus group respondents told marketers (and themselves!) the emotional appeal is the one that really worked.

Katerina Juskey presents at Girl Geeks

While the fMRI gives the deepest insights, EEG is a very effective tool because it provides immediate readings and it’s more portable and easy to use. Katerina told us about EEG’s and how they can show negative and positive responses and whether the subject is really engaged or tuned out. They also showed us a great example of how eye tracking can help us improve campaigns. Eye tracking on an ad showed most time spent looking at the headline, a little at the model, and almost none at the product. By changing the ad so that the model was looking at the bottle, viewers’ behaviour was changed and they spent more time looking at the product. Eye tracking identified what was happening, cueing marketers to make changes, and then measured the result to show that the change worked.

Diana acknowledged that neuromarketing is quite new and there is controversy around its effectiveness, but she likened selling it to selling some of the earliest websites. Many of us can remember when businesses were skeptical about whether a website would really drive business, but now there’s no question about it. Similarly, Diana expects neuromarketing to become more mainstream as marketers gain more experience using it.

Relevance, relevance, relevance!

So we covered a lot of territory in a single session, but it all comes back to one of our core challenges as marketers – how to be as relevant as possible to our audience. Location Based Marketing and neuromarketing are two great examples of how technology gives use new and exciting ways to make our content relevant.

Did you attend the Technology and Marketing: From Mind to Map event? What was your biggest takeaway?


Guest Blogging @ Girl Geeks Toronto

girlgeeksto-logoI’m jazzed to be guest blogging this Monday’s Girl Geeks Toronto event!

The team has lined up three really interesting speakers to discuss Technology and Marketing: From the Mind to the Map.

Here is the summary from their site:

Imagine you could read your customer’s thoughts on an emotional level or reach them with just the right deal, in just the right location to get them to buy. Technology, and the science behind it, has brought a new level of sophistication to many industries, and marketing is no exception.

Join other girl geeks (and boys!) for an evening of exploration around topics in marketing that leverage new technologies to reach and understand consumers on a more personal level than ever before.

Diana Lucaci, founder and CEO of True Impact Marketing, will be providing an introduction to Neuromarketing. She will explain why one would use brain measurements for insights, what can be accurately measured, and how to get started.

Katerina Juskey, a Neurofeedback Specialist from True Impact Marketing, will be joining Diana to provide insights on the technology behind neuromarketing.

Asif Khan, consultant and founder of the Location Based Marketing Association, will provide a perspective on the state of location based marketing – the techniques and technology, and how they are being applied.

By the end of the night you’ll have a deeper understanding on how technology is helping companies better understand and attract you as a consumer.

I hope to see you there, but if you can’t attend watch for my blog next week.