Monthly Archives: January 2016

Reliability of finding a taxi vs Uber

It used to be hard to get a taxi.

No, seriously.  I’ve lived in Boston for over 15 years now, and I have memories of calling cabs who never came, waiting on corners for the sight of one to flag down, calling the dispatcher back to ask where they are, and generally hating the whole process.  It always seemed like no matter which taxi number you called, you got the same harried dispatcher who was not thrilled that you were calling to request a cab.

When Uber came along, it was relieving.  I could use my app to request a taxi, I could at least know for sure that one was assigned to me, and see its progress towards me.  It might still take some time to reach me, but I felt like I had more control.

Now with Uber-X I can request someone to arrive at my door within minutes, even on off-hours. (Like today, at 4:30am.)  There are usually plenty of drivers on the road.  My entire routine of getting to the airport has changed, because I can rely on a car arriving when I want it, rather than factoring in time for wrangling a cab.

What’s most interesting to me (and this is where that PhD my mother wanted me to get in math would come in handy) is that in a pretty random system, this can be true.  That is, some number of people got up this morning, decided, “I’ll drive for Uber today” and enough of them ended up in my neighborhood at the right time so that when I needed a car, I could get one quickly.

Mass transit isn’t that efficient.  The taxi system isn’t that efficient.

I know that Uber does some amount of controlling the number of cars on the road with their surge pricing.  But Uber doesn’t assign territories or control whether cars are moving around or sitting still, or where they are.  Plus, there was no surge this morning.

It makes me wonder what other kinds of systems can be efficient in a purely random way.  I’m reading Who Gets What and Why about market design, and it’s got me thinking a lot about this.  But the experience I had this morning is more than just market design, I think.  It’s also about “randomness in a densely populated system”?

Stay tuned.


A lesson in content marketing from the boxed-meal industry

Like most families with two working parents and multiple little kids, dinner is a nightmare at our house.  Before kids, and then again before miniDivo, we did enjoy subscribing to those dinner boxes, like Plated and Blue Apron.  Sometimes it felt like there was a lot of prep/chopping, but the food was pretty good.  And I liked not having half a bulb of ginger left over and nothing to do with it.

The other day I idly checked their websites out to see what was new.  I was hoping that maybe they had a new service where for $8/plate, someone showed up at my house with a hot dinner that was already cooked.  Just kidding.  But I wanted to see what was new, and I thought maybe I’d get a few kits for some weekend cooking.

What I found was a near-perfect lesson in content marketing.

Content marketing is closely related to “inbound” marketing; the idea that you put good content out there to attract an audience that is looking for those things.  Since you provide valuable information to that audience, they respect you as an expert and look to you when they are ready to purchase.

Let’s take a look at what each company tells me about the food.

First up, Plated.

Plated wants me to sign up right away.  I don’t have a lot of choices on their website and it seems like to get any information I need to “join” or at least enter my info.







I can see pictures of the weekly options.

Weekly menu






I can see what ingredients are in the weekly recipes.








I can get nutritional info (although that’s in the help section.)

Nutrition Info







But I can’t get an actual recipe.  Unless I am a subscriber.

Lost recipe card




Blue Apron is the opposite of this.  When I get to the site, I am educated about the system and the food.






I can see the menu for the week.

Weekly Menu




And choose a specific dish to learn more about.






But here’s where their online strategies diverge.  Blue Apron is an open book.  Not only can I see the ingredients,


but I can also get the entire recipe – the instructions, help on my technique, advice on how to execute it, and what tools I need in my kitchen.







In short, Blue Apron is making all their recipe information public – I don’t have to sign up for their service or even give them my information to get access to it.  Not only are they going to give me the recipe, but they’re also going to offer me help in how to cook, show me videos on technique, and let me read other users’ comments about how to make each dish.  In contrast, Plated has a completely opposite strategy – I can’t get much information at all without signing up.  I need to be a paying customer to see their recipes.

It’s hard to say if this difference is based on a difference in marketing strategy or a difference in actual company strategy.  That is, do Plated and Blue Apron each think that they have the best way to acquire customers for a similar product?  Or do they each perceive their unique value proposition as something different: For Plated, do they see it as the recipes, while Blue Apron sees it as (for example) their supply chain.

I’m not sure I can answer that as an outsider.

As a customer, it’s a vastly different experience to browse their websites.  Plated (which I have ordered from in the past) feels less friendly.  And there’s more mystery around their product – the recipe itself and the ingredients are the product.  They’re betting that the images of their food, and how they position it (they have gourmet “chef’s table” choices, for example) will make it appealing enough to purchase.

By contrast, Blue Apron feels more accessible – it feels more like they’re there to let me browse a lot more about their products, even what it would be like to use them.  They’re betting, of course, that I eventually decide the recipes, tips, techniques, and suggestions are good enough that I will want to make them at home.  And that I’ll find their delivery of the ingredients appealing.

It’s an interesting twist not just on content marketing, but also on a freemium model.  You could look at it as the recipes being free, but you pay if you want the actual food delivered.

Either way, it’s an great look at content marketing – and the power it can have in customer acquisition.



Experimenting with my “to-do” list

I’m still a fan of the handwritten to-do list.

I know people really like many of the electronic alternatives, like using Google Tasks, or Trello, but I really like handwriting my to-do list.  Somewhat it’s habit, and somewhat it’s because years ago mrDiva took a Franklin Covey class and part of the system is to re-write, by hand, your to-do list each morning.  I don’t do that but I appreciate why it’s advised, so I stick with the handwritten list.

Also, as I go through the week and attend meetings, I take handwritten notes, and then put a circle in the margin next to anything that is a “to-do” for later.  Then when I have downtime, I either do those things, or transfer them to a central task list.

Starting this week, I’m trying two new things.

The first is something that I’ve been thinking is a good idea for a long time, but recently got re-affirmed when I attended Carson Tate’s session at the Mass Conference for Women.  Everything I put on my to-do list is going to start with verb.

No more “2016 budget.”  Now it will be “Draft 2016 budget.”  No more “Blogger strategy,” now it will be “Analyze blogger strategy.”

The reason for this is two fold. One – it’s more obvious how big a task it is if I write it as a verb. Analyzing a strategy is different from creating a strategy which is different from executing a strategy. They take different amounts of effort.  Two – another piece of advice from Tate is to group similar types of tasks together; as such, it is hard to do that if you don’t know what the task actually is.

The other new thing I’m trying with my task list is to keep a yellow post-it on my computer with the tasks that absolutely must get done that day.  I know a lot of people think that it’s a bad idea to keep different to-do lists, but I have had too many time-sensitive things fall through the cracks lately.  I’m hoping this is a good solution to that. Kind of like HSM for tasks.

I’ll let you know how everything goes.

I thought I was a marketer, but I’m a data scientist

Big data has been abstract to me for a long time.  Sure, I understand it in the context of things data science 101010like “genomic research” and applications in Oil and Gas.  But how my own field of Marketing as a discipline is changing because of Big Data – that was not so clear to me until about a week ago.

Using (little-d) data in marketing is nothing new.  Through tools like Hubspot and Salesforce, it’s easy to track things like “ratio of qualified leads to leads for different marketing tactics” and answer questions like “what is the point of diminishing returns for the number of times we call someone?”

At Infinio, we are very data-driven.  We make nearly all our marketing budget decisions based on data.  I’m not sure how you’d do it otherwise. A few of my vendors have recently commented that we have a lot more data and track things a lot more carefully than most of their other customers.  But again, I’m not sure how else you’d do it.

But that’s “little-d” data, now onto Big Data.

In budgeting for 2016, I decided to look at 10 new vendors that are doing innovative things in marketing.  I’m pretty new to demand generation and online marketing (my background is in product marketing) so I thought it would be a good exercise to look at vendors with leading-edge technologies around things like demos, landing pages, retargeting, social advertising, and improving abandon and bounce rate.  I unscientifically picked a handful that looked interesting and started investigating what they do.

Nearly each and every one of them was trying to differentiate their value based on using data to drive decisions and actions.

  • “We use data about the people on your website and where else they go on the web to find other people who go to similar sites and might be interested in your company.”
  • “We track what people are doing on your website and show them content that other visitors who completed similar actions were interested in.”
  • “We look at all the conversion rates for landing pages across all our customers’ sites to dynamically adjust your page design to increase conversion.”

Marketing is not about the “next big thing” right now.  There’s no new way to market, or new medium.  It’s about harnessing the power of data to get better results.  And I sound like an ad for something right there “harnessing the power of data” but it’s true.

It’s been suggested in several places that the CMO is the next CIO, and I think there’s something to that.  That article quotes a recent Gartner report predicting that in 5 years, Marketing will be spending more on technology than IT will.

Our company isn’t an “online” company, we don’t complete transactions online, for example. But the success of our company in the next 5 years is likely going to be attributable somewhat to our ability to leverage data about our customers and prospects and their online activities.

It’s creepy.  Knowing more about what these companies do, every time I hover over my mouse or choose a particular menu item on a website I think about how someone is tracking me. Even incognito browsing isn’t untrackable.  If you haven’t read The Filter Bubble, go read it, then think about these tools in that context – your activities (and various vendors’ budgets) determine what you see on the web.

What it boils down to is that this is the next generation of what marketers are doing. When I started in marketing, “Inbound marketing” (making good content available, becoming thought leaders, and attracting buyers to interact with you) was all the rage. This is what’s next.  It’s still about putting out the right messaging, but it’s doing it using technology and tools to automate finding the right people.