Jan 182013
 

A recent article on Techcrunch made the argument that the term “big data” should be abandoned, on the basis that it has fallen into generic usage and, in any event, no longer represented how organisations are thinking about their data.

Organisations aren’t interested in amassing lots of data, the author – Leena Rao – opined. Rather, they want to derive insights from big data.

She has a good point.

There is a real risk that the "big data" movement will soon experience the same backlash that befell the CRM movement in the 90s.

The key problem is that too many people think of "big data" in terms of a technology purchase. The mind set is: "We will choose a big data vendor, install their solution and then – automagically – we will reap significant business benefit and advantage".

I always prefer to describe CRM as a "philosophy". Organisations need to embrace the key tenets of customer relationship management, which in turn requires making changes at multiple levels – technology (of course), employee training, internal policies and procedures, customer communications and, importantly, culture.

That is, to successfully embrace CRM, an organisation must ensure its day-to-day business operations and company culture fully reflect the tenets of CRM.

As such, it is a philosophy – a way of thinking/acting – as much as it is a technology solution.
Today, many organisational stakeholders are falling into the same "buy the technology, secure the prize" trap when it comes to big data.

Big data is actually worse, because it requires multiple kinds of technology purchases: solutions to handle data ingestion, validation, storage, management, aggregation, chunking, abstraction, querying, hypothesis testing, access controls, reporting, visualisation etc.

It also requires significantly wider changes to business practices, policies and procedures – often involving multiple external partners within a supply chain – to achieve even the slightest outcome.

Jan 032013
 

(I wrote the following blog post for my new employer’s blog – see the original at http://www.compassitesinc.com/blogs/breaking-free-of-the-website-product-mindset-using-real-time-data-and-search/)

In dozens of large-scale website development projects, I have witnessed well-intentioned project teams repeat the same mistake in prioritizing their time, focus and investments.

The primary driver of project mistakes is the incorrect assumption that the finished solution is a deftly structured content product defined – and organised – through comprehensive and internally coherent information architecture (IA).

With this assumption in mind, and correctly recognising their target users will have differing content and task needs and preferences, they prepare user personas and the like, and then map distinct user journeys, in order to identify and test key touch points that create opportunities to meet and exceed user expectations.

Almost as an afterthought, they then plan the implementation of a search tool. In many projects, search is seen as a fail-safe, user-driven discovery mechanism should the IA and carefully crafted user journeys be unsuited to a given user’s task or objectives.

As a consequence of this approach, the bulk of project preparation and planning is spent ensuring excellent content quality and coverage to meet user needs, as captured in the personas. The majority of the remaining time is spent refining and testing the IA.

Only as launch nears is some time invested ensuring search is functional and results pages offer an efficient and intuitive discovery context.

New understanding of Cognition

Recent research has confirmed what many have long believed. Individuals have very distinct cognitive styles, which dramatically alters their preferences for digital content presentation and consumption.

Individuals can fall into the following categories (which are by no means exhaustive):

  • Impulsive v. Deliberative – Impulsive individuals prefer to make quick decisions, and don’t wish to be over-burdened with information – they just want access to the information they consider key to their decision. Deliberative individuals, on the other hand, prefer a more measured approach to decision making, and want to explore options in detail before making a decision.
  • Visual v. Verbal – Visual individuals prefer imagery over reams of text, and respond well to strong, emotive images, whereas verbal individuals prefer chunks of text and numbers – unadorned by troublesome images – so they can quickly decide for themselves (using data) how they feel about the company, product or service.
  • Analytical v. Holistic – Analytic individuals prefer to access the technical details in all their glory, even if they do not have a full understanding of their importance, whereas Holistic individuals prefer to see a concise statement of ‘the bottom line’.

It is important to note that an individual’s cognitive style may change, depending on the task or consumption context. In one consumption context, say buying a new car, the preferred style may be analytical, but in a different context, such as planning a holiday, it might be holistic or even visual.

What replaces the IA?

As our knowledge of cognitive styles increases, it becomes apparent that static IAs and single-form content are insufficient to achieve a truly user-centred, and user-friendly, navigation experience.

Undoubtedly, it is important to ensure that your content is – and will remain – curated to the highest quality and relevancy. However, it is clear that multiple variants of each content item/asset will be required, to meet the specific presentation preferences of different user types.

Static IAs, however, are poorly suited to presenting large content offerings, much less multiple content display options.

The solution is to architect search technologies into the website design from day one.

Search functionality should permeate each and every page of content, though not just as a search bar or other user interaction. Rather, search should – quite literally – be embedded into each and every hyperlink within the site.

A hyperlink should not contain a static pointer to a URL. Instead, it should contain metadata about the target page (i.e. its core content element), which is used to trigger a search each and every time a user clicks on it.

This search activity creates the opportunity to blend both the individual’s expressed intention (i.e. the content item they wish to view, as denoted in the URL’s metadata) with real-time behavioural data generated during the user’s visit (such as the navigation labels, headlines, images and pages the user selected previously).

A more fluid experience

Under these circumstances, it will be possible to discern not only the reason and context for the user’s visit (such as to compare multiple products or make a purchase), but also their cognitive style (by analysing which styles of content presentation led the user to take specific actions within the site).

As a result, it is possible to dynamically alter – and optimise – the basic structure and content of the website.

Irrelevant navigation options (or even entire areas of the site) can be hidden, while more pertinent links can be highlighted or promoted. Content items can dynamically optimised, either by selecting the appropriate content item variant (if in a fixed format) or, alternatively, applying the template most suited to the user’s cognitive style.

Adopting this fluid, search-driven approach to website design and content and service presentation will result in a more compelling and intuitive customer experience, which in turn will improve business outcomes.

Sep 192012
 

An interesting new study, conducted by Duke University on behalf of the American Marketing Association, has been published, and is well worth reading.

It provides a number of insights into factors influencing market development, growth strategies, fluctuations in marketing budgets and growth in social media marketing expenditure.

But the table below provides a real eye-opener for those unconvinced of the emerging influence of design thinking, and its related discipline, service design.

Key takeaway: Traditional advertising expenditure (that is, offline advertising) is expected to fall by 137.5%. Online spend will also fall by 10.2%.

What will Chief Marketing Officers be directing their marketing budgets to instead?

Designing and implementing better customer experiences (+26.8%) and, more tellingly, designing and developing new services (+52.4%).

Jul 312012
 

This past week I invested considerable time getting my Inbox under control.

A lot of the effort involved unsubscribing from electronic newsletters I no longer found useful, and opting out of marketing/promotions databases I found annoying.

Throughout the process I was amazed at the number of organisations/individuals that were still using manual processes to handle subscriptions (e.g. ‘Send an email to person@organisation to be removed from this list).

Also worrying was the number of reputable organisations that provided a very poor user experience during the unsubscribe process (I’m looking at you, Ziff-Davis).

Issues included forcing me to manually enter my email address (and, in some cases, name) to complete the unsubscription process, as well as poor communication on both pre- and post-unsubscription landing pages.

But one organisation really took the cake – Telstra.

While, admittedly, they did provide a 2-click unsubscription process (click on the ‘Opt Out’ link in their newsletter, then click once again to initiate the opt-out process), what really galled me was the warning:

>>Please note it may take up to 5 working days for your opt-out to be effective.

5 days to delete an email address using what one can only assume is an automated process.

Classic!

Jul 032012
 

McKinsey has issued a report outlining the results of global C-level executive survey on readiness/preparedness for digital business.

Three strategic priorities for business are:

1. Big data/analytics – 25% of companies reported this was in the Top 3 corp priorities. A further 26% said it was in the Top 10.
2. Digital marketing (inc. social media) – 25% of companies reported this was in the Top 3 corp priorities. A further 27% said it was in the Top 10.
3. New delivery platforms (cloud, mobile etc.). – 18% of companies reported this was in the Top 3 corp priorities. A further 23% said it was in the Top 10.

These technologies are increasingly seen as offensive strategic weapons rather than defensive moves – almost 30% of companies indicated they were looking to adopt these technologies to build new business opportunities or tap new sources of revenue/profit.

To back this move, 25% of companies reported they would spend 3% or more of their total cost base on digital business initiatives in 2012.

Despite this level of investment, only about 1/3 of companies report they believe they are spending enough to build out these capabilities.

What key challenges do organisations report in embracing and adopting these technologies?

- Organisational structure not designed to take advantage of priorities – 52% of respondents reported this challenge
- Lack of technology infrastructure and IT systems – 51%
- Lack of quality data – 46%
- Lack of internal leadership – 45%
- Difficulty finding functional talent – 43%
- Business processes were insufficiently reworked to take advantage of opportunities – 42%
- Lack of senior management interest or desire to change current practices – 40%
- Difficulty finding technical talent – 31%

For access to the report, see https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Business_Technology/BT_Strategy/Minding_your_digital_business_McKinsey_Global_Survey_results_2975

Jan 242012
 

Welcome to 2012.

It’s hard for me to believe it, but this blog has lain idle since January 2009. A couple of factors contributed to this *ahem* sojourn.

First, my daughter (Miss Sophie) entered my life and has managed to account for pretty much every spare minute of it since.

Second, there was a trajectory change career-wise. After almost 15 years of running my own management consulting business, I took a position as Head of Strategy at a technology consulting firm, tasked with designing and launching a new-to-market strategic advisory service offering.

What followed was an enjoyably challenging and successful two years, culminating in a lateral move to an even larger – this time global – technology consulting firm (ThoughtWorks, my current employer).

I’ve been with ThoughtWorks for a little over a year now. It is an interesting firm, with an interesting pedigree (more on that in a later post).

As a living, breathing embodiment of the Agile Manifesto and aligned software development philosophy, ThoughtWorks has presented me with my first true professional challenge in a long time: re-casting how I practice the management science and disciplines of strategy formulation and execution.

Few seasoned strategy practitioners would question that the field of strategy (and it’s cousin, strategic planning) has changed. We recognise that markets are more dynamic, competition is more intense, and the fundamental output of organisations has shifted from the predictable production of tangible things (products) to the less predictable delivery of intangibles (knowledge, services and experiences).

There are fewer ‘knowns’ and significantly more ‘unknowns’ (even though some might fall into the category of ‘known unknowns’).

Yet the development of strategy for many organisations remains a linear, heavily-structured, top-down process, often far-removed from the day-to-day realities of business.

My day-to-day focus at ThoughtWorks remains strategy formulation and execution. I help organisations re-imagine what is possible in their industry, and to then re-design their business model and product/service portfolio to meet the needs, wants and preferences of their customers in new ways that create unrivalled value propositions.

However, both directly and indirectly, my primary challenge is working with leaders and senior stakeholders to overcome their fear of letting go – of moving past the structured, controlled but value-destroying process of strategy development (and strategic planning) as it is practiced in most organisations today, and embracing a more adaptive (agile) approach that is less prescriptive, more inclusive of all levels of the organisation, and better able to respond to emerging market opportunities and challenges.

I look forward to sharing what I have learnt – and am learning – as I grapple with these new challenges.

Jan 282009
 

It started with a phone call around 7.30pm on Wednesday night, January 14th. A concerned friend was calling from interstate.

“Mark, where are you?,” he asked.

“I’m at home. Why?” I replied.

“So you’re not in London?”

“No.”

“And you haven’t been robbed at gunpoint and had your wallet stolen?”

“No! What on Earth are you talking about?”.

“Mark, I am on Facebook right now, talking to you, and you’ve just told me that you’re in London, that you have been robbed, and that you need urgent financial assistance so you can get back to Sydney”.

“Oh crap!”.

Trying to Make Contact with Facebook

I immediately tried to log into my Facebook account. The login screen reported that I had used the wrong password. I guessed (correctly, as it transpired) that the hacker had changed my password to prevent me from accessing the account. I did a quick scan of the Facebook help pages and worked out that I could request that the password be reset, with the new password sent to my email account. I clicked to access the password reset screen, and Facebook asked me for details of the email address linked to my Facebook account. I entered my email address and it was rejected – the hacker had changed the email address linked to the account (presumably to stop the password being reset). Clever.

By this time, my mobile had rung several times and I had received multiple SMS messages from concerned friends, and the stress levels were rising.

I did another scan of the Facebook site looking for a contact phone number for their Help Desk or security team. Nothing listed. I looked for a contact email address. Nada. I did a couple of Google searches looking for any trace of a contact point (nothing, with the exception of the representative of their PR company).

The only option for making contact with Facebook that I could locate was to fill out their online form for reporting password problems, which I did immediately (in fact, I did it twice, one reporting the change of password, and one reporting the on-going phishing/scam activities by the hacker). Somewhat surprisingly, I received auto-confirmations of these reports to my email address, despite the hacker having changed the email address linked to the account.

I continue scanning the Facebook site for a direct contact address, first reviewing their Terms of Service and then their Privacy policy. Bingo – the Privacy Policy page listed the privacy@facebook.com email address. I sent them an email advising of the problem at 7.54pm, asking them to contact them immediately on my mobile.

I then jumped onto Twitter to ask my contacts whether anyone knew any representatives or employees at Facebook. No such luck.

A friend told me that my Twitter stream was still showing up in my Facebook status alert box (thanks to the Twitter app I had installed on my Facebook account), so I started sending a series of Twitter messages indicating my Facebook account had been hacked. Friends also started posting similar messages on my Facebook wall, trying to warn others of the on-going scam effort (although I later learnt the hacker started deleting these as soon as they appeared).

Leveraging social networks

For the next 24 hours, I waited.

I sent off several additional emails to Facebook (to their privacy@facebook.com email account, and to the return email address from which the auto-generated responses were sent, info+nszvnfe@facebook.com). I received no further responses.

The hackers were clearly still active in my Facebook account, as attested by the number of calls and SMSs I continued to receive. Several friends who had twigged to the scam played along with the hacker, and captured transcripts of the conversations, which they sent to me. The hackers were clearly sophisticated – the stories followed very closely to a script, but they were able to adjust according to the responses from my friends. They quoted Western Union account numbers for the transfer, and prodded my friends to “please hurry” as I was still in danger.

My levels of frustration and stress were steadily rising. The source of my stress was the fact that hackers were contacting some unknown number of my friends and trying to scam money from them, and I had no idea who or how many had fallen victim to the scam out of concern for my well-being. The source of my frustration was the fact that I could not raise anyone at Facebook to respond to this on-going criminal activity.

On Thursday night, after another evening and attempts to sleep punctuated by concerned calls and SMSs, I decided I needed to try to engage with local law enforcement agencies.

Around midnight, after answering another call from a concerned friend, I started researching my options. I called the Australian Federal Police (who, helpfully, have a 24/7 telephone service). Unfortunately, while they were familiar with the issue, they were unable to help (they pointed me in the direction of ScamWatch, a service run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a government consumer watchdog, for tracking scams, illicit multi-level marketing schemes and the like. As it was after midnight, I completed an online form describing the problem.

I then found the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. Unfortunately, it seems to be little more than a brochure-ware site that does not list any contact details. It did have an online form however, so I also submitted an alert via their site.

(At the time of writing, I have not received a single response from either the ACCC or the AHTCC.)

I returned to the Australian Federal Police Web site, and located the contact phone number for the New South Wales e-crimes squad. Unfortunately, there was no answer on the telephone number listed, nor a voicemail service.

By now, it was 1.30am, and I was at my wit’s end. I decided it was time to leverage some of my “social network” to address this issue.

I am a subscriber to Professor Dave Farber’s Interesting People mailing list. I knew this list had numerous computer security researchers as subscribers. So I penned a quick email, asking for help:

Dave,

I am writing partly to vent my frustration but mainly in the vain hope someone on the IP list can help me out.

My Facebook account was hacked approximately 40hrs ago. I discovered this when I was called by a concerned friend who wanted to confirm that I was being held at gunpoint in London and desperately needed him to wire me cash (via Western Union) so I could escape the country and return to Australia. Of course, I was not in London, and it was not me he was chatting to on Facebook.

I immediately attempted to log into Facebook, but the password had been changed. So I tried to reset the password, but the email address linked to my Facebook account had also been changed. I could not access my account.

I spent an hour scanning the Facebook site looking for a contact phone number. No such luck. I completed 2 different incident reporting forms, and received auto-confirmations. I then scanned their T+Cs and Privacy notices and discovered the privacy@facebook.com email address and sent an email to that address.

40 hours later, I have had no response from Facebook, and I have been alerted by friends that the perpetrators are still active on my account, initiating chats with people begging for help and a money transfer. I just alerted several authorities in Australia (though it is now 1.30am in Sydney, so had to use online forms). Unfortunately, the Australian Federal Police (who do have a 24hr hotline) couldn’t help me (they referred me to a Scam Watch service!).

So I am asking whether anyone on the IP list has a direct contact with an appropriate stakeholder at Facebook, or some specific advice on who I might contact in the US to get the account suspended and the perpetrators locked out (or, better, traced and apprehended).

Any feedback appreciated.

Regards,

Mark

It was clearly the right step to take. Within minutes of the email being distributed to mailing list subscribers, I received numerous offers of help. Within an hour, I received an email from Chris Kelly, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, indicating that my email had been passed onto him, and that his team was on the case. Within an hour of Chris’s email, I received an email from Facebook Support, indicating that the account had been suspended. The hackers, it seemed, had been locked out.

Unanswered questions

I sent an email to both Chris Kelly and the support team thanking them for their assistance. However, I could not let the matter rest, as there were too many unanswered questions.

1. How did the hacker get into my account in the first place? Did they ‘brute force’ my password, or did they appear to already know it? (I have my theory that they exploited a known security weakness in the Twitter API).

2. Which of my friends did they make contact with? (so I could contact them personally and ensure no-one fell victim to the scam).

3. Why did it take Facebook over 48 hours to respond, and only then after my public plea for help which was passed by an external contact into the hands of the Chief Privacy Officer.

(Incidentally, only yesterday – 12 days after I submitted my original incident report via the Facebook online form – did someone from the Abuse department follow-up that report, and only then it was to note that it appeared it had already been dealt with).

4. Why doesn’t Facebook publish a contact phone number or the email address of a real person (such as the Chief Privacy Officer) as an escalation point?

I have received no answers to questions 1, 3, or 4, despite following up with Chris via email.

With respect to ascertaining which friends the hackers had contact with, I received this advice from Facebook:

Unfortunately, we cannot release the information you requested unless we receive a valid subpoena or court order. You should contact a lawyer or your local law enforcement agency and discuss this issue with them. If you decide to pursue legal action, have the lawyer or officer contact us at privacy@facebook.com, and we’ll provide more information about the process.

I was also advised (rather unhelpfully) that I could also check whether there were any messages in my Facebook Inbox or Wall that might reveal who the hackers spoke to. Clearly Facebook were not going to lift a finger to help me determine whether any my my friends (that is, other Facebook users) fell victim to this criminal activity perpetrated via their service.

Not Over Yet

Unfortunately, the saga wasn’t over yet.

Once my Facebook account had been suspended, the Support team sent me an email asking me to verify my identity (i.e. that I was the original owner of the account). They did this by asking me to answer a security question that was posed during the original account creation process. Having confirmed my identity, they issued me with an email containing instructions on how to reactivate my account.

I did not want to reactivate the account until I had received some answers. Unfortunately, the hacker had other ideas.

That evening, I received still more calls. The hackers were active on my account. After it had been suspended. Before I had reactivated it.

I immediately fired off an email to Chris Kelly asking what was going on. The account was promptly suspended again. But how did the hackers get back in?

The Support team suggested my PC might be infected by a Trojan program or some similar malware, which allowed the hackers to see my email. Multiple scans via several different tools and online security services indicated my PC was clean.

They also suggested that somehow the hackers also knew my email account password (I used a GMail account as the contact point for Facebook). Possible, I suppose, but very improbable.

Facebook are yet to provide me with an explanation of how the account found itself reactivated, and who reactivated it. Presumably they have IP address logging capabilities and could easily determine where the reactivation request came from.

Media Attention

My email to Prof Farber’s Interesting People discussion list took on a life of its own. It was republished in Risks Digest as well as on the Wired magazine blog, under the amusing title of Kidnapped on Facebook.

As a result, I was contacted by a number of journalists and media outlets in Australia and overseas, who ran stories on the hacking event. Within hours of each article appearing, I would receive emails from other victims of similar incidents who were also unable to get any response from Facebook. I pointed all of these people in the direction of Chris Kelly, and most replied indicating that soon after making contact with him, Facebook was quick to respond.

(If any one reading this is having similar difficulties with Facebook, please contact me and I will put you in touch with Chris)

Does Facebook Owe a Duty?

One of the people who contacted me for assistance made the observation that he doesn’t “blame” Facebook for the lack of support, given they provide a “free” service.

Complete claptrap.

Facebook’s service isn’t “free”. Users pay for it by giving Facebook access to their personal data (which they data mine for commercial purposes), and by giving attention to the (targeted) advertisements that Facebook generates as a result. We “pay” by paying attention.

In this day and age it is simply unacceptable for Facebook to have such a pitiful incident response infrastructure. If it’s “virtual” members were citizens, Facebook would be a sizeable country. It is the custodian of private data for tens of millions of people, and that data is all too frequently being misused by criminals.

I would argue that Facebook owes a fiduciary obligation to its members to take a more proactive stance than they have to date. It certainly should immediately upgrade the infrastructure and processes that it has in place for dealing with criminal activities and identity theft.

I am still awaiting a detailed response from Facebook to my questions. I don’t hold high hope of receiving any.

Jan 132009
 

I had one of those ‘gotcha’ moments today.

I’m in the process of moving and, despite my best efforts, find myself in a broadband ‘dead zone’. Not in the sense that I moved to the boondocks, but due to the time it is taking my provider (iiNet) to commission an ADSL2+ service at my new place.

So this week I find myself sitting in my office surrounded by packing boxes and limping along on my standby 1Gb 3G wireless service (via Three, connected @ 7.2Mbps). Normally I only use this when I find myself travelling and staying at hotels with outrageous broadband charges. Now I am trying to run a business and maintain a connection with the outside world.

And you know what…it is ridiculously difficult to get by on a 1Gb plan over a painfully slow wireless connection.

But that’s not the point of this post. My point is that for all the frustration this situation is causing me, I still have *greater* connectivity that most Australians.

That’s right…the majority of Australian households use Telstra’s cheapest broadband plans, with 200Mb per month quotas and barely-better-than-dialup speeds.

Which brings me to that ‘gotcha’ moment I experienced earlier today: how does this ‘connectivity lag’ impact your business and technology plans, and how will it impact your growth in the local market? If the average Australian household has ‘fraudband’, and your product/service assumes high connectivity, how does this shape your ability to serve the local market? How could you reshape your offering to target a broader section of the local market (at least until the connectivity lag reduces)?

Food for thought.

Nov 052008
 

Given how late in the day it is, I suspect everyone is almost over the 2008 US election.

But I wanted to add a note about my experience in trying to monitor the election online today.

I watched the CNN TV coverage live, but wanted to compare/contrast their stats with that of other major US media outlets. So I monitored the Web sites of CNN, Fox News, BBC News, New York Times and MSNBC.

Each had a very similar approach to covering the vote counting – a map of the USA, with each state coloured according to their current status (i.e. leaning towards the Democrats or Republicans). Most also allowed you to mouse over individual states to get more specific information on the progress and projections for that state.

Now here is what bothered me: the data on all of the US media web sites trailed what was being announced on-air, often by a matter of minutes. The CNN site was particularly annoying, as they had both a ticker and a map on their homepage, and while the ticker kept in close synch with their TV ticker, the map was often 10 minutes behind the ‘live’ data. Same site. Same page. Presumably same data source. Different update speeds.

(The BBC was a potential exception, as their web site was often minutes ahead of the other sites, but I did not have access to their broadcast, so I could not see whether the two channels were in synch.)

How did this happen?

Even the mainstream media has commented quite frequently about the importance and role of the Internet in the 2008 US Presidential election, in terms of both generating donations and motivating volunteers to join campaign activities, and in dramatically increasing voter registrations.

Much was made of the incredible viewing figures that political satire and comedy segments (especially the Palin impersonations on Comedy Central) were pulling online – often far exceeding their broadcast viewer numbers. Social networks like Facebook, and microblog services like Twitter have generated unprecedented traffic around political groups, conversations, debates and commentary.

Just as TV ‘made’ John F Kennedy – his superior telegenic appearance giving him the edge over Richard Nixon in the 1960 debates, the first to be televised – Obama’s campaign was given an immense boost due to the manner in which it was able to engage voters via the Internet (embracing and extending the lessons from Howard Dean’s campaign).

The abovementioned media outlets had plenty of warning that there would be significant demand for online information and analysis during the election and vote counting, but they clearly dropped the ball.

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Oct 292008
 

A recent survey by McKinsey highlights the growing challenge faced by marketers in deciding how to allocate their media spending:

The rapid growth of online advertising hides a serious challenge: the digital world has developed faster than the tools needed to measure it…A June 2008 McKinsey digital-advertising survey of 340 senior marketing executives around the world shows the breadth of the gap between what’s needed and what’s available. Hobbled by nascent technologies, inconsistent metrics, and a reliance on outdated media models, marketers are failing to tap the digital world’s full power. Unless this problem is addressed, the inability to make accurate measurements of digital advertising’s effectiveness across channels and consumer touch points will continue to promote the misallocation of media budgets and to impede the industry’s growth.

There are three problem areas:

1. Media Planning – New tools are needed to help media planners compare the impact of on- and offline efforts.

2. Conversion measurement – Greater insight is required into how online messaging converts target consumers into making online and offline purchases.

3. Social optimisation – Targeting methodologies have not yet adapted to the changing context in which individuals are consuming online content; in particular, changed context(s) within social environments and how word-of-mouth and recommendations fit within this category.

The survey found that over 50% of respondents were not happy with the current processes for media allocation and measurement. Surprisingly, only 50% of respondents indicated that they used click-through rates to determine the effectiveness of their direct-response advertising – which suggests the rest are preferring qualitative over quantitative measures. Only 30% of respondents indicated that they considered the offline impact of online advertising.

Few in the online industry would claim that the ‘measurement challenge’ has been solved, but it doesn’t seem fair to suggest that poor metrics alone is holding the industry back. Despite having access to over a decade of data on how to use the online medium effectively (either as a stand-alone channel or in conjunction with other channels), it seems that a sizeable number of marketers have failed to adapt their toolkits and processes, or invested in the requisite skills to optimise the ROI of their online spend.