Dennis Yu

Dennis Yu | Digital Marketer, Speaker, Agency Builder

The hidden career of the online marketer

Lyft and Uber disrupted the taxi business by allowing anyone with an iPhone to be a cab driver whenever they had a little extra time.


Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry by making spare bedrooms for rent.


FancyHands, odesk, taskrabbit and other personal assistant services let you be a secretary, caterer, or errand runner in your spare time.


Could this work in more complex scenarios such as online marketing?


You bet. Apps handle the complexity of scheduling, billing, and operations. They do the marketing for you, so you don’t have to build a website or run ads. The worker needs only deliver the core service, whatever that is.


Strip away the ugly, tedious parts of running a business and you create a breed of entrepreneurs on both sides: those who create software that enables workers to do this, plus workers who use the software to engage in their specialty.


This won’t work in highly regulated industries, which is why there’s no airbnb for restaurants, the military, or heath care. But online marketing is far from regulated. So far, in fact, that there aren’t even widely accepted degree programs.


Yes– anyone can be an online marketer. Try practicing as a cosmetic surgeon with no license and watch how quickly you get sued.
I believe that tools to empower ordinary, non-technical people to perform online marketing are imminent. You have the Marketos and HubSpots at the enterprise end. Then Infusionsoft doing the all-in-one package for small businesses. It’s a matter of time before we have access to the student over summer break or the stay at home dad.


And when this does happen, watch out!
  •  Mass usage of these tools creates a certification and rating system– points and level like eBay. Then we have trusted practitioners in a measurable ecosystem.
  •  Bogus social-only metrics cede to business outcomes– leads and revenue matter more than fans and followers.
  •  Schools struggle to incorporate this into their curriculum– this is already the case. But it’s even harder to get practitioners as traditional educators. Expect vendors to increasingly take over this role.


Readers, are you ready?


Why loyalty programs are failing and how to fix yours

An article in MediaPost today highlights why few companies are delivering upon their loyalty programs. In a nutshell, consumers want personalized rewards, whether it be through their grocery store cards, airline frequent flyer program, or other points-based system.  But marketing departments are not able to personalize because they are unable to collect the data needed to personalize offers and internal organizational hurdles prevent companies from unifying their data across multiple silos.

I was fortunate to spend a few years at American Airlines to perform analysis on the AAdvantage program– to learn firsthand how the granddaddy of loyalty programs operated. Some challenges and how we overcame them:

Incomplete customer data
The website, reservations deck and gate agents all had separate customer databases. If you were a smart customer, you could complain at all three locations and earn triple the points. So if a bag supposedly fell on your head from opening the overhead bin, you could get miles for the inconvenience and the agents at the airport, on the phone, and from the website wouldn’t know that you were already compensated. 

The solution– create a unified customer database. This is quite expensive, has political issues to solve, but is well worth the effort.  When you can create a single view of the customer’s activity, you can measure their overall profitability and create programs to incent the right kind of behavior.

Mass blasting (spamming) customers

Email marketing is so easy and inexpensive that SVPs of Marketing are tempted to spam customers.  After all, if sales increased from changing the newsletter frequency from monthly to twice a month, why not weekly? We’ve seen this approach taken at a number of large brands.  Not only is this a customer turn-off, but goes against the whole point of offering personalized offers that are most appealing to where a customer is in your lifecycle and their stated preferences.   Part of status is being remembered for your particular likes (mints on your pillow and extra towels, if you’re a hotel customer), not to get the same message delivered to everybody.

The data crypt

What used to be called a data warehouse, then later called a datamart, then called business intelligence, then enterprise analytics is really just the same thing with a new name each time. Even if you can embark on a $20 million project to consolidate customer data into one spot, the bigger issue is actually getting it out.  Most marketing managers believe they have to speak a special prayer to the high priests of IT to be granted access to the database. The inability to easily access the data– no matter what expensive analytics tool you might have bought– prevents marketing manager from being able to do the analysis necessary to create a tailored menu of rules. Without a menu of actions and corresponding points, and then being able to adjust payouts based on what’s working, a loyalty program bleeds.  And the more data you have in your scoring model, the complex it is to calculate status, as you’re dealing with an increasing number of empty fields for variables and bad data.  So perhaps you were able to get a data append from a third party– let’s say Acxiom– and now you have gender, income, and the type of car they drive.  How is that affecting the ways to earn and burn points in your loyalty program?

IT doing Marketing and Marketing doing IT

Managing a loyalty program is really an exercise in user psychology, but which requires some technical execution.  You’re really looking at video game design and trying to influence their behavior.  An average IT administrator is not going to understand this, nor is a traditional brand marketer that has done media buys for 20 years. If you have a loyalty program in-house, ask yourself who is running it?  

The answer is finding folks who are well-versed in data analysis (crunching SQL statements in the database) and also understand user psychology.  Writing SQL is for engineers, you say?  Look at Amazon, where they require marketing managers to know how to query a database.  It’s not that hard.  How are you going to structure and adjust rules for earning and burning points by customer segments if you’re not able to go in there and hands-on be able to run reports? 

Summary– the weakest link

Well there you have it– all it takes is one break in the chain and your loyalty program has a problem.  If you aren’t able to collect user data– transactions and preferences, you can’t create personalized offers. If your marketing people can’t properly access the data, that expensive database just sits there. If you have the wrong people trying to solve the problem, it’s a guy with a hammer who thinks everything looks like a nail.

I’d say that brands would be well-served to hire folks from Nintendo, Blizzard, and other companies in the gaming industry to help revamp their loyalty programs. This is nothing more than a video game.