If you like minced words, don't talk to Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist at Google. He's no Cuisinart. For example, his advice to companies trying to set a tweeting schedule: "What time should you tweet? Only when your brain has something to say. Otherwise, shut up!"
Kaushik began his career in customer service at DHL Worldwide Express, then had top analytics roles at SGI, DirectTV, and Intuit before moving to Google, where he gets to tell global companies how they can move from a focus on clicks and conversions to meaningful engagement. If he can get a hug from the CEO whose website he just critiqued, he knows he's doing his job right.
ClickZ sat down with Avinash at SES San Francisco to discuss how chasing the wrong metrics can lead to marketing that sucks.
ClickZ: You talk a lot about incentivizing the right metrics; what does that mean?
Avinash Kaushik: Take social media. If you say your goal is to get more likes than your competitors or more followers or more people in your circle, then people inside your company follow your goals and do that. There are a lot of stupid ways to get lots of likes and more followers. But in the end, you have an audience that is not relevant or will not engage with you. We want to deliver an incredible amount of value in social media and create a deep, meaningful connection with people. So let's not incentivize getting more likes, let's incentivize our people using a metric like conversation rate or the number of comments on each social contribution. Create silly metrics, people chase them. Create great metrics, people chase them. Why not create the great metrics?
CZ: In your presentation and on your blog, you mention a lot of different analytics applications from smaller companies. Are the large analytics platforms falling behind on creating useful metrics for social media?
Kaushik: I don't think the tool itself matters as much as the thinking you apply to it. If you look at Adobe, IBM, and Google, the main providers of analytics solutions, they are doing a great job of collecting ever more interesting information for us and allowing us to do good reporting and analysis. But we want more and faster. My strategy is to just go out and use what is available and not wait for the normal release cycles from these top companies. How can we use something even more agile and nimble?
CZ: Does this require a different skill set for web marketers?
Kaushik: You need more skills. In one of my slides, I shared the three personae of marketers: cute toddler, rocking teen, and analysis ninja. There is a solution in the marketplace for each category, from a simple solution that allows you to go from zero to 30, then more advanced solutions that take you from 30 to 60. But if you want to be a Ferrari, you definitely need more advanced skills. I don't mean to disparage people with those categories, or to make them feel discouraged. Over time, you can scale your understanding and your impact.
CZ: I wonder what you think about retargeting: the shoes I looked at following me around the web.
Kaushik: Stupid retargeting is bad, and smart retargeting is good. A smart marketer would use the recency and frequency capping that is available in every retargeting solution. The other tactic is to understand consumer behavior. One thing I love as a report is days-to-purchase. This helps you understand, on average, from the first time people see our ad to when they buy is, for example, six days. I know there is a journey, and that I have some time. Or smarter targeters will say, "Susan is already a customer, and in the past, she has bought these things. Maybe I can create a special offer." There are many ways to do very smart retargeting. It is a key arrow in every marketer's arsenal.
CZ: Your own career journey has taken you from business analysis to analytics and now to digital marketing evangelist. Did you get bored or frustrated with pure analytics?
Kaushik: Marketing turbocharged with data is what I do. Early in my career, like everyone else, I was endlessly fascinated by the amount of data available. That's why I moved from traditional to digital analytics. I was astounded. Over time, the thing I figured out is, the challenge in terms of our ability to do incredible marketing, or to deliver insanely great experiences on our mobile websites…the challenge is not data. It's how we think about marketing, the ability of our CEOs and CMOs to imagine a different future. Because it was a harder problem to solve, I was more attracted to it. I work with some of the largest companies on the planet. If I can get the C-suite and boardroom to imagine a different future, they are significantly more open to doing crazy things powered by testing.
CZ: You say some fairly outrageous things, and I'm reminded of how often companies worry about straying from the corporate voice in social media.
Kaushik: No matter what the channel - B2B, B2C, mobile, desktop, in-store - there is a human at the other end. My intention to apply two principles. One, life is too short to suck. We gotta figure out how to be great. Two, there's a person at the other end. They're not eyeballs. They're not visitors. They're not clicks. People want to be engaged with and spoken to like people.
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.