Service for Its Own Sake

Everyone knows that good customer service is a critical ingredient to business success (excluding your local cable company, whose quasi monopoly enables sadistic abuse of customers with impunity).

But client service is often viewed as a chore—as a sort of unappetizing “health food” that has to be tolerated to achieve some other goal: keeping a key account, upselling a project, fueling word-of-mouth growth, etc.

That assumption is fundamentally misguided and blinds us as professionals from seeing how our day-to-day jobs can satisfy our deeply human needs to help other people and find joy in collective successes.

I’ve thought a lot about client service over the last few years and wanted to share a few of my observations and ideas as I aim to build an organization that truly embodies this authentic commitment to service—starting with my own mindset and behavior.

1. Service is its own reward.
The older mentors and friends I admire most—those with meaningful lives and grateful hearts—all genuinely derive satisfaction and joy from the successes of others and the role they can play in achieving them. That’s who we want to become, and as professionals we have the opportunity to model those wise, compassionate people every day through how we treat clients and the meaning we assign to our work. Business is both an education and a stage—an extraordinary platform for cultivating patience, sacrifice and humility and then demonstrating those values.

2. Service takes practice.
The drive to help other people is innate but still needs to be nurtured. I personally am often guilty of allowing ego or ambition to exert undue influence over my thinking, and it’s something I actively work to improve. When it’s late in the day and a client disagrees with a strategy I’m recommending, I don’t always remember that the point of what I’m doing is to serve others and can become frustrated or impatient.

But every day teaches, and as long as the intent is there and a mechanism for accountability is in place, our capacity for demonstrating service expands. And as that happens—as our definition of success is calibrated to align with a service-driven mindset—we tap into a source of motivation far more powerful, sustainable and rewarding than the pursuit of status or wealth.

3. The goal is to serve, not always to please.
Good doctors don’t write prescriptions for Xanax just because a patient asks for it. Bad doctors that do are guided by their thirst for money or a distorted view of service that conflates helping other people with popularity or winning approval. Good servants are not “yes-men.”

4. Service requires excellence.
It’s impossible to deliver outstanding service if you don’t possess the competency or skill to deliver what your customer was sold. Endless “check in” calls or comped tickets to sporting events don’t mask the fact that if you can’t fulfill the promises made to a client, you are not serving them well. Excellence in a craft and authentic service to others go hand-in-hand.

5. Make sure to take care of your team and yourself. Step one: don’t work with jerks.
This approach requires a stomach for declining business from organizations or individuals that fail to treat others with basic decency or respect—even if they pay well. Perhaps a few saints can sustain an unwavering heart for service even in the face of consistent maltreatment, but few mortals can. If you force your team (or yourself) to work with toxic clients, they’re going to get disillusioned with the whole “service for its own sake” thing—which will spill over into how even the best customers or partners are treated. Be forgiving, understand people have bad days, but show the same compassion and concern for your team and colleagues as you do for anyone else.


As the great Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Talking about a commitment to service is easy. The hard part is consistently living the value through the stresses of the work week and the inevitable challenges that arise in client projects. I firmly believe the only way to sustain a high level of service over the long-term is to authentically, intrinsically derive happiness from the act itself.

Facebook’s Interest-Specific Newsfeeds: An Opportunity

This past October, Facebook rolled out its initial testing of interest-specific newsfeeds. Think of the current newsfeed as a newspaper, only with all the articles jumbled together without sections. This feature would now give users the chance to view different sections, or feeds, specific to interests they select.

According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, this new feature is an attempt to offer its users “the best personalized newspaper.” While that’s an added bonus, the most likely goal is to juice ad inventory and increase time spent browsing Facebook.

However, as a digital advertiser, this presents a much needed opportunity. If this change goes live across all users, it would offer drastically improved targeting abilities and efficiency of ad spend. No longer would Facebook’s algorithms exclusively analyze users to determine interests based on clicks, likes, shares, and friends’ behavior – users would now have the option to categorize their own interests.

At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Great, now advertisers have one more outlet to target me with ads that I don’t want to see.” Well, another more likely outcome is that you see far more relevant advertising based on industries and categories that you’ve specifically chosen! In fact, one could argue that this actually gives you more control than before. Increasingly relevant advertising makes not only for a more efficient spend for marketers, but a better ad experience for users.


So how does Facebook’s ad platform currently handle interest targeting? As an advertiser, you’re given the option to select specific interests that you’d like to target, then Facebook gives you an estimated reach – or number of people you’d be targeting – for that interest. According to Facebook, this feature allows you to target “people who have expressed an interest in or like pages related to your specified interest.”

But this isn’t exactly a foolproof targeting method. By targeting an audience derived from other page’s likes, you’re putting a lot of trust into the authenticity of that page’s followers. It’s an unfortunate truth, but many of these companies/people still purchase fake “likes” for their pages.

For example, let’s say you’re targeting the interest “coffee shops,” which includes any users who have liked Dave’s Coffee Shop. However, Dave recently purchased 10,000 likes from a click farm. These click farms employ teams of low-paid workers in developing countries to create thousands of fake Facebook accounts, then use those accounts to like pages like Dave’s. While this makes his shop appear more popular on the surface, these fake likes severely dilute his page’s overall reach and engagement. As an advertiser depending on the authenticity of his likes, your reach and impressions would be severely overstated.

Here’s the point: While the current interest targeting options can be useful, they leave room for improvement. Facebook’s new interest-specific newsfeeds would provide a much needed upgrade to interest targeting for advertisers, while also enhancing user experiences through increased ad relevancy.

For more information on Facebook advertising and other digital platforms, contact us!

Search Advertising: Still Unglamorous, Still Effective

You’re looking for a new pair of shoes, but you don’t know where to start. For most people, the next step is somewhat natural: Google it. Whether you notice or not, your search query returns two types of results: ads and organic listings.

These ads aren’t glamorous, they weren’t designed in a studio, nor will they win any awards. What they are is succinct, powerful and trackable.

We’re exposed to advertising everywhere – but search ads have a unique advantage over other platforms. Think about the difference in a consumer’s mindset when listening to an ad on Pandora compared entering a search query online. In the best case scenario, a Pandora ad targets a relevant, attentive consumer while he’s already invested in something else – the next song. But by the time that consumer makes it to a store, will he remember what he heard?

On the other hand, a search ad targets the consumer when he’s in a buyer’s mindset. Through keyword and audience targeting, search campaigns are triggered only when certain people are searching for certain products, services, etc. This means advertisers can automatically drop their ads in the right place at the right time.

The key is allowing the consumer to show his cards first. When he enters a search query for “black running shoes,” he’s taking the first step in the buying process: showing purchase intent. As an advertiser selling running shoes, what better time to show him your ad?

In addition to more precise and effective targeting, search advertising allows for in-depth analytics and attribution. With Google AdWords and BingAds, digital marketers can view comprehensive cost, engagement and conversion data of both past and live campaigns. This data-driven strategy adds tremendous value to marketing efforts while increasing credibility in the eyes of their clients.

I relate search advertising to buying a subway pass in New York City. Riding the subway may not be as glamorous as driving a brand new BMW on the city streets, but it avoids traffic and gets you to your destination in a more cost-efficient, predictable and measurable amount of time.


Why A/B Test?

“Every experience consumers have can be made a little bit better,” says Marc Andreessen, founder of Andreessen Horowitz. He’s right, today’s digital atmosphere offers nearly limitless opportunity for the optimization of content and design. Instant analytics from digital experiments allows for more actionable insights and data-driven strategy. Though it can be an arduous task, A/B testing can have a powerful impact on the success of a digital initiative.

Let’s say your business is looking to acquire leads through form submissions on a landing page. Your form fields capture all required information, your color scheme matches your logo and you’ve proofed your content a thousand times. While the page is getting plenty of traffic, you’re frustrated that people still aren’t clicking “Submit.” Rest assured, you’re not alone.

Landing page optimization can be overwhelming – how do you know what to change, what to leave alone, what to make bigger, smaller or brighter? While there are best practices and abundant case studies to give you direction, the answer is simple – you probably don’t.

That’s why A/B testing is so useful. Divide your traffic into two groups and serve them different variations of the same page, testing the impact of the changes made. This allows for isolation and optimization of one element at a time, making tests more manageable, predictable and valuable.

By monitoring page analytics, you can determine which version performs better on the metrics you’ve defined. The winner becomes the new control and you repeat the process, testing this page against a new variation. Regardless of the variables you test, the idea is to try new things, develop stronger insights and move forward with more effective marketing.

With A/B testing software like Optimizely and Unbounce, digital marketers now have access to robust on-page editing tools that allow multiple variations of your page to run simultaneously to carefully targeted audiences. By setting goals to track specific elements of user engagement, we have the power to view live analytics that enable real-time adjustment and action.

It’s important to realize A/B tests won’t always result in good news – changing some variables will occasionally harm user engagement. In order to find what works, you have to be okay with finding out what doesn’t.

“Big improvements can come from a whole bunch of incremental gains,” says Andreessen. When it comes to A/B testing, the best thing to do is keep placing one foot in front of the other.

For more information, insights or recommendations, please contact us!

Enterprise Software: A Trillion Dollar Opportunity? co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie published a terrific piece last night outlining the thesis that enterprise software is on the path to being a trillion dollar market.

His argument is basically an extension of what Marc Andreessen laid out years ago in his famous Wall Street Journal op-ed from 2011: software is “eating” the world.

The argument goes something like this: businesses exist to solve problems and create value for customers. Digital technologies present new and better ways to solve these problems than most of the analog approaches of the past because software-based solutions are (1) massively scalable, (2) can be delivered via the internet at virtually zero marginal cost, and (3) leverage data rather than biases or ignorance to form decisions.

As a result, software companies are gobbling up much of the value chain from the plates of incumbents. Blockbuster was killed by Netflix, a software company. Countless travel agencies have folded thanks to the ease of online reservations and comparison shopping through web portals. Google has consumed the print classified ad business.

Thus, when sizing the opportunity for software companies, it’s actually hard to set any sort of ceiling on the potential (other than global GDP I suppose) because history has shown repeatedly that even industries or businesses that never considered themselves “technology” companies could be vulnerable to new digital-based ways of solving customer problems.

David Ogilvy on “Good” Marketing

What makes an advertisement good?

Should it be original and edgy or comfortable and safe? Should it make us laugh? Or should should marketers channel their inner Don Draper to produce advertisements dripping with sentimentality that reduce stodgy businessmen to tears?

I’ve recently re-read David Ogilvy’s classics Confessions of an Ad Man and Ogilvy on Advertising, and his definition of a good ad is the best I’ve seen:

A good ad is an ad that sells.

While branding is unquestionably an important piece of the marketing mix, this results-based rubric for judging advertisements gave Ogilvy a profound respect for direct response marketing. Because direct response marketing aims to inspire immediate (or near-immediate) actions from customers, it can be measured far more precisely than branding campaigns. This results in a level of accountability and data-driven decision making that has not always been commonplace across marketing departments more broadly (though modern tools have helped immensely through enhanced attribution and analytics).

We assess the technology we build, the software we integrate and the campaigns we manage the same way: is this resulting in more sales for our clients? Is it reducing cost and wasted time? Is it making sales teams more productive and ad spend more profitable?

Though many of the tools and specifics of our day-to-day would be completely foreign to Ogilvy, I suspect–and hope–the underlying attitude would ring familiar.