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Sep 1 / Nathan Levi

Why I joined a start up at 35, after 10 years agency side

Check out my first publication on LinkedIn


Jan 23 / Nathan Levi

Check out my new article in The Make Good

My new article – The Economy of Fun & Digital Start Ups – has just been posted on The Make Good. Check it out.

Nov 8 / Nathan Levi

7 degrees of awfulness – What EE did to ensure I had the worst customer service I have ever experienced

I’ve been a ‘loyal’ Orange customer for almost 10 years. I’m the type who is happy to pay a premium for convenience and is extremely lazy, so I won’t switch providers because that means speaking to a call centre and being put on hold. I can’t be bothered with that which is why I’m such a good customer (well I think so anyway).

I’ve probably been paying a higher premium on my Orange telephone bill for years without bothering to change it. Even though I’d been offered a free phone from my workplace with O2 I was alas still lazy loyal to Orange and wanted my own personal phone. Last month I decided to begin a contract with EE, and upgrade to their 4G network. I called them and without fuss bought an iPhone 5s with all the trimmings (insurance, lots of data, a high tariff). I was told my phone would take about a month to be delivered because it was out of stock and I was happy to wait. I’d been meaning to upgrade my phone for months so an extra month wouldn’t hurt.

1.      Your delivery service is awful

About a month later my phone was delivered twice when I was not at home, between the hours of 12 and 4pm on a weekday. I called their delivery partner, UK Mail, to ask whether my phone could be delivered on a weekend, or before or after working hours. They responded by saying they only deliver between 12 and 4pm on a weekday to a home address. When I explained that I work, he was generally nonchalant and told me to speak to EE.

2.      Your systems are awful

I had grudgingly arranged to work from home when my phone arrived a week later. I excitedly unwrapped my gold iPhone 5s and inserted my new SIM card. I called EE to ask when my new phone would be activated. I was told it could take up to 24 hours. I waited, and waited and waited. It did not update. I called them 24 hours later. They put me on hold. 15 minutes later they told me that a manual activation was necessary on their side and that it would happen within 2 hours.

3.      Your customer service is awful

I waited for 2 hours and nothing happened. I thought I’d leave it until the next day. Surely they would have upgraded me by then. The next day came and nothing happened. I received no phone call from EE telling me they were still working on it. It almost felt like they didn’t care about having my custom. But no, surely they valued a 10 year loyal customer who had always paid his very substantial monthly bill.

I called them again, explaining my issue for a second time. I was put on hold. I waited again to be told I would get a call within two hours. I received no phone call.

4.      Your multi-channel offering is awful

It was now Monday and I was back at work with a new iPhone that didn’t work. I was frustrated and called EE again to ask them what I could do to get this resolved. I spoke to Matthew, he put me on hold.  When he returned he was very apologetic and told me that my new account was ‘in limbo’ and that the only way to unlock it was to go to an EE store. This seemed very odd, but I was getting to the end of my tether. I asked him if I could send my phone back as I had no time to visit EE. He said he would send out a jiffy bag in the post.

It was Tuesday. In a moment of complete frustration I decided to visit an EE store in Victoria station on my lunch break to sort this problem out once and for all. After I’d explained my situation to the man at the desk I was told there was nothing he could do for me and that ‘they shouldn’t keep sending people to the store who have bought phones online’.

5.      Your waiting times are awful

He was however helpful enough to call a customer services person and give me his Blackberry to speak to them. I explained my problem, again, I was put on hold, again. I waited and waited and waited in the EE store in Victoria for 20 minutes listening to the awful chart music they play whilst you’re on hold, before finally giving up and hanging up. I returned the Blackberry and desperately asked him how I could escape EE’s clutches. He told me to get a ‘pac code’. I received a text from Orange on my way back to work saying their computer had crashed and that they would call me back. Did they call me back? What do you think?

6.      Your salesmanship is awful

It was Thursday. I called EE again to say that I wanted to get out of my contract. Remember the jiffy bag I’d asked for on Monday? – well it hadn’t yet been sent. I was told to send the phone back myself because there was nothing they could do.

I told them I’d been a loyal customer with Orange for almost 10 years and that I’d never had such bad customer service in my life. The only solution they gave me was to get a ‘pac code’ after I sent the phone back and to go through the whole process again. The lady on the phone also said ‘I wish I could order you a new phone right now but I can’t’. Clearly EE has become so big it can afford to lose a few loyal customers here and there. The lady on the phone was apologetic but made no apparent effort to sort my problem out. I was as if she was pleased I was leaving EE.

7.      Your advertising is awful

I write this after sending my treasured gold iPhone 5s back in a ‘ jiffy bag’ at the Post Office. I’m half expecting EE to ‘lose’ my phone and try to tie me to a 2 year contract with a non-existent phone. The way I feel right now I would rather spend a few years in Wormwood Scrubs than suffer one more phone call with EE. Every time I now see one of those horrific Kevin Bacon adverts or walk past one of their garishly jade stores my face twitches uncontrollably.

I used to believe the future was bright, now I just think Everything Everywhere is shite.

7 degrees of awfulness   What EE did to ensure I had the worst customer service I have ever experienced UK Mail Orange Kevin Bacon iPhone EE Customer service
Mar 6 / Nathan Levi

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? It’s Hell.

Travelling with Ryanair isn’t nice. I think we can all agree with that. Aside from all their crafty charges I never feel more like a battery hen than when I’m being herded onto one of their flights, scared witless that my hand luggage won’t pass the dreaded width and height dimensions test. Yes, we’ve all been there, furiously taking out a towel from our cases and trying to wear it as a turban. No? Just me then.

But what about booking at flight with them online? Is it the same awful experience that you feel when you’re boarding one of their planes and wish you’d booked with Easyjet? Let’s take a look at their purchase funnel and see.

1. The Crafty Credit Card Charge

After selecting your flight destination and dates you’ll  be presented with your ‘total’ cost. However, you’d better make sure you can pay by debit card because you’ll need to fork out an additional 2% to pay by credit card. Cheeky I’m sure you’ll agree, but many other online travel retailers do the same (Easyjet charge even more).

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

2. Opt-in Alert

After agreeing to pay the extra because you simply cannot afford to pay for your flight by debit this month, you’re then taken through the very lengthy experience of being up sold an array of extras, the first being travel insurance.

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

What galls me about this is that they force you to opt out rather than asking if you want it in the first place. Looking at their product it’s clear it’s not the most competitive on the market and I found single trip travel insurance for up to 20% cheaper than their quoted price.

3. A cheeky text message charge

You’ll then be asked if you want a text message confirming your flight details for the princely sum of £1.69. Aside from being a complete and utter rip off, the text message is completely unnecessary because you’ll receive an email with the exact same information. Why charge for a text message that most other providers give you for free?

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

4. Not taking no for an answer

After opting out of the travel insurance you’d think that would be the end of it. Think again. You’ll then be presented with an ‘important message’ about why you should buy expensive travel insurance with Ryanair.

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

What I love about this is the completely unnecessary ‘did you know’ ‘facts’, especially the useless piece of information that ‘insurers in the UK deal with 6,500 medical emergencies a week’. What the hell does that tell you? Why also do Ryanair think it appropriate to remind you that you should get travel insurance even after you’ve deliberately opted out of it?

5. Trying to sell you more useless products when you just want to complete your purchase

After being up-sold unnecessary text alerts, guilt tripping you into buying expensive travel insurance, plus the obligatory priority boarding and reserved seating, you’d think your next step would be payment right? Wrong. You’re then taken to a page which first tries to sell you a phone app claiming to be cheaper than O2, Vodafone and Skype. Highly misleading of course because it will depend entirely on what international tariffs you have with your mobile network provider.

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

Surely that’s the end of the incessant up selling? The way this is going you might expect them to flog luggage..

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

…which they do. After the briefest of investigations I found the same American Tourister carry luggage sold at Tesco’s for an eye-watering £12.50 cheaper than Ryanair’s rip off  offer.

We then move on to car hire from Hertz:

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce


I have nothing against Hertz but they’re hardly a budget provider. It’s akin to walking into ASDA and being sold caviar (well not quite!). if you’re buying a ticket from Ryanair you’re not going to want overpriced travel insurance, luggage and car hire! Manoeuvring through to the check out is like a Tough Mudder assault course.

6. Asking you if you want to gamble to win your ticket for free

Yes, I’m not kidding. The last page (which thankfully is the payment screen), asks if you’d like to gamble £2.49 to win your ticket!

Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce

‘All this for free’ you’re told, parading the ‘prizes’ like a ‘Price Is Right’ carousel. I don’t know about you but I’d rather win a trip to Guantanamo Bay than take a Ryanair flight. What I really don’t like here is that they’re clearly preying on a vulnerable audience who can’t afford to splash the cash and might be desperate enough to wastefully gamble £2.49 to win a flight, car hire and a cheap bag.

So the verdict is clear. Buying a Ryanair ticket is almost as bad as boarding a Ryanair flight. The only difference here is that you can easily close your browser and decide you’re happy to stay in England, rather than being stranded 40,000 feet in the air being charged for going to the toilet.



I’ve since been pointed to the following site which confirms my thoughts.



Ever Tried Booking A Flight With Ryanair? Its Hell. UX UI ryanair onine user experience ecommerce
Nov 26 / Nathan Levi

Try Buying A Furby On Google – It’s Hell

This is my first ever Christmas where I have the pleasure of hosting my boyfriend’s family, which include his mum, sister, and two of his nieces who are 15 and 9 years old. Coming from a Jewish family I never really celebrated the big J’s special day and as a youngster missed out on the obligatory present giving and festivities. To make up for my lost Christmases I’ve decided that this year should be the perfect Christmas. Great food, great company and most important of all, great presents. For Terry’s 9 year old niece I planned to buy the must-have toy of the year (shhh, don’t tell!), the new Furby!

For anyone that has had to source the ‘must have toy of the year’ for Christmas day, my sympathies go out to you. It’s a stressful process, and can become a bit of a battle. Back when the internet didn’t exist I might have had to queue outside Hamleys waiting for the doors to open and preparing for fisticuffs with anyone that tried to impede my quest for the Furby. These days you can shop from the comfort of your own home, removing all the stress of the high street. Surely the task of buying a Furby online would be child’s play…

I began my search one winter’s day in November on the well known search engine Google, typing the keyword ‘furby’ into the browser, expecting a raft of offers for the furry little toy. As I clicked through the sponsored links, to my dismay, every retailer was out of stock! My first choice was a pink and purple Furby, not one in stock. I then thought yellow might be a good colour, none of them were in stock either. I wondered would white be a good option, it might get dirty but it did look cute. Sadly there were no white Furbies either. No Furbies anywhere!

What I wanted to know was why all these retailers were advertising against the search term ‘furby’ but didn’t have any to sell. These are some of the largest retailers in Britain, including John Lewis, Argos and Tesco. I continued my search for the best part of two weeks, still with no joy. During this period I tried all manner of tactics to get hold of the elusive toy. I even considered getting a blue one, for a girl! I know, crazy! I tried ‘click to collect’ on Argos, which allows you to reserve your goods and collect them at a time that is convenient to you. I’d reserved my Furby to collect from the Victoria branch and as I traipsed there on my lunch break I thought how great it was that I could buy something online and pop down the high street to collect it. To my dismay, when I got to Argos I discovered that it hadn’t been reserved at all, only the 4 AA batteries that I had also set aside. Imagine making a consumer go to a store, telling them the goods have arrived, and then allowing them to walk away empty handed without so much as an apology. Thanks Argos!

I also tried  ’request stock alert’, which is a way to alert the retailer that you’re interested in buying a specific product and want to be emailed or texted when the product is back in stock. I haven’t received either in two weeks. And before you say anything, they could at least have sent me an email after a week to say that the bloody toy was still not in stock and they would alert me as soon as it arrived*. It’s a little thing called CRM that all major retailers ‘apparently’ employ.

What’s even more galling is Amazon’s paid search ad which claims to have ‘low prices on Furby’; when I clicked through I discovered that I would have to pay upwards of 30% more than the recommended retail price to get one those furry buggers. Ebay was no better, with loads of greedy resellers trying to make me bid more than 40% more than the recommended retail price. Two of the supposedly cheapest online retailers provided an even worse experience than the traditional high street.

Some of the other paid search ads I came across included the rather unhelpful which allows you to check inventory across all major retailers selling the Furby. The title of their ad reads ‘£47.99 – Furby – In Stock’. Guess what? There are no Furbies in stock at £47.99! Another unhelpful ad, an arbitrage website, linked to Ebay and Amazon with incorrect prices all over the place.

You can imagine that by this stage I would have given up. I decided instead to try and get it on the high street. I popped in to Argos a second time, without clicking to collect, and got the last white Furby for the lovely Lily (and now I see that white was the right colour for a girl named after a white flower). Ironically my high street experience turned out to be less painful and much quicker than my online one.

I’m aghast that with the advancements in paid search, and the amount of money these major retailers must be paying their media agencies, that they aren’t using data feeds and automatically pausing keywords for products which are out of stock, and advertising the correct price of the goods in the ad copy. For a start the’re wasting money. But more importantly, they’re leaving the consumer with a very poor experience. I’ve since decided to do the rest of my Christmas shopping offline.


*Since writing this article I have received an update from Tesco telling they still don’t have the toy in stock.

Try Buying A Furby On Google   Its Hell tesco search ppc paid search online shopping online media online marketing John Lewis furby ecommerce Digital media digital marketing christmas shopping Christmas Argos
Jul 26 / Nathan Levi

Nike wins gold.

I don’t like to gloat but I was at the Olympics village yesterday to see a dress rehearsal for a very important event (#savethesurprise). What I was struck by, aside from the enormity of the place, was the amount of advertising everyone is subjected to throughout the park. To my disappointment, The largest McDonalds in the world was closed, I’d been determined to order myself an Olympian burger and pile on some pounds all in the name of sport. Unfortunately I had to queue up for some dried chicken without a fork (there were no forks apparently) and eat it on my knees on some steps. Quite undignified.

Cadburys too is everywhere, and for my McDonalds loss I treated myself to a rather nice Crunchie ice cream, heaven. As I waddled through the park sipping on some diet Sprite (Coca-Cola is a sponsor), eating fried chicken, drinking beer (Heineken are sponsors too) and scoffing ice cream (from Cadburys), it suddenly dawned on me, the Olympics was not only moving me further away from my fitness goals, but I was a sucker for all the crass advertising that’s plastered everywhere. I hardly ever eat ice cream, but it was difficult to move without being attacked by a friendly Olympics volunteer (let’s see how they feel in 2 weeks)  carrying a strangely enticing backpack of goodies. Even BP are in on the act – if they could have had a petrol station in the park they would have.

And then we have Adidas, a tier 1 sponsor of the Olympics, a £100M  deal, a perfect meld of product to brand, a marketer’s dream in fact. Surely they will be receiving the most buzz come Olympics day? Surely they will sprint past the finish line in record time (sorry! couldn’t resist it).

Unfortunately for Adidas, it’s not their sponsorship advertising that everyone’s talking about, another competitive brand has come into sight and appears to be coming right up behind Adidas threatening to prevent them from the clutches of glory (ok, I really will stop now). Nike it seems has torpedoed the efforts of the official sponsor with a touch of advertising genius. Take a look

It’s a rare day when a campaign not only ambushes so brilliantly, what may become the greatest sporting event of all time (it’s in London baby!), but also captures the Zeitgeist – of the underdog, the man on the street, the try hard, the boy who faces his fear and jumps off a 10 metre diving board for the first time – appealing to everyone who isn’t at the Olympics, who isn’t competing, but who is just as important. The stroke of genius was to find different places across the world called London and royally p*ss of the Olympic sponsors and bypass any restrictions they may have had all at the same time.

I would love to have been in that boardroom when Nike asked their respective creative agency, “what shall we do for the Olympics?” They certainly came up with an answer. Before I continue to rant and rave in rapturous applause for one of the cleverest campaigns I’ve ever seen, I’d like to share an interesting statistic with you. If you visit YouTube and search for the Adidas Olympics advert and Nike’s find your greatness campaign you will be able to see how they compare in terms of views and likes. The Adidas ad has significantly more views than Nike (it’s been running a lot longer). What I’m interested in is the ratio of views to likes. So far Adidas have a 0.16% ‘like rate’, Nike’s is 0.78%, that’s almost 5 times as much as the Olympic sponsors. Nike haven’t even broadcast the ad on television yet, watch this statistic shoot up even further after that happens. Nike it seems, like the Usain Bolt of Beijing, has trimphed before the race is over (or even started).

To round off the rather crass and annoying analogy that I can’t give up, Nike, like many an Olympian, has been brave, bold, and dared to do what many other brands would not have.

I hope you enjoy the Olympics opening ceremony as much as I did last night (and I don’t just mean the fatty food and fizzy drink!)



Nike wins gold. youtube sponsorship Olympic Nike McDonald London Coca Cola Cadbury brand avertising Advertising Adidas 2012 olympics
Jul 17 / Nathan Levi

Is your Facebook newsfeed being overrun by advertising? Mine is, and I’m not happy.

Is your Facebook newsfeed being overrun by advertising? Mine is, and Im not happy. social media Marmite Facebook features facebook

Marmite (Photo credit: celestehodges)

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to avoid Facebook. What was once a place you could snoop on find out what your friends were up to has become a playground for brands you ‘like’ to show you silly pictures and ask even sillier questions all in the name of ‘social media’. As an advertiser I can totally understand why you would want to speak to your ‘fans’ on their newsfeed,. If you can’t do that what’s the point in having them. The problem I’m having is that I’m a ‘fan’ of quite a lot of brands and I’m being bombarded with so much irrelevant ‘noise’ I hardly ever get to see what my friends are doing.

I was talking to my boyfriend about this very topic last night (I’m geeky like that). I went on a major whinge about my news feed, in particular constant updates from Marmite, of all brands. Much as I love Marmite (yes I’m one of those people), I don’t think I want to see images of Marmite jars in various states of undress, asking me if I like butter or marge with my favourite spread. Frankly I don’t give a toss. I’m now starting to dislike Marmite, unlike my boyfriend who has applauded their efforts for keeping him up to date with different recipes involving the brown stuff (clearly someone has too much time on his hands).

The unfortunate fact is that whilst we may ‘like’ certain brands we don’t want to see them everyday, a bit like some ‘friends’ actually (oh come on, nobody wants to see all of their friends every day). Now I know you’re all heckling that I can hide stories from brands really easily and stop them from appearing in my newsfeed altogether, but what if Marmite had something really important to tell me and I missed out. What if they were launching a new low fat crisp (hint, hint) or even a new flavour (what the hell would that taste like), I’d probably want to know about that. What I don’t want to see are images of strawberries being dipped in Marmite because Wimbledon’s on, and some ‘social media manager’ has decided that Marmite needs to do something for the tennis (dear lord!). I’m not averse to brands appearing in my newsfeed, far from it, I just wish they would only appear when they had something important to say. Unlike friends, you don’t have the option to hide some stories from brands, it’s all or nothing. Brands shouldn’t feel the need to tell us when they’re going to the toilet or having a bad day, we may like you but we don’t care about you, and we certainly don’t want to have any sort of relationship with you.

Now I know this is not true for everyone, some people love interacting with their favourite brands (Facebook would do well to introduce a ‘love’ button for these loons fans), but I think I speak for the majority when I say that most people don’t really want to be advertised to in their newsfeed, and if they must, can it please happen very occasionally or when you have a new low fat crisp to sell me.

Rant over.



Is your Facebook newsfeed being overrun by advertising? Mine is, and Im not happy. social media Marmite Facebook features facebook
Jun 29 / Nathan Levi

Outing the voucher monsters. Why daily deals suck.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself at home with some friends having a few sips of red wine enjoying the long weekend. Later on that evening, when everyone had left. I somehow managed to trip and spill quite a lot of Shiraz all over my cream carpet. I tried in vain to clean it up but on the morrow there was a dark (red) cloud hovering back at me. A couple of days later, when my hangover had cleared, I lamented my spillage and decided that to fix the problem I should invest in a professional clean. That’s where all my problems began.

Taking a detour for a moment, I’ve recently signed up to LivingSocial, Groupon etc. who have been flooding my inbox like a monsoon for the last six months. I have been tempted by some of the deals, fish pedicures, microdermabrasion and the like, but have never actually used the vouchers, satisfying the suppliers by being one the many customers who do not redeem. Some might call this a waste of money, it is, and I’ve stopped doing it.

What has all this got to do with my carpet stain? Well lo and behold I’d found a deal on LivingSocial for a professional carpet clean that for once I decided to redeem. (Actually my boyfriend nagged me to do it, I’ve never been one for vouchers and paperwork, it’s always so tedious). I called the aforementioned cleaning company to book a slot, only to be greeted on the phone by a grumpy man on his mobile who sounded as pleased to hear me asking to redeem my voucher as Gordon Brown was after hearing the results of the last general election. He told me there were no more slots in May and that I should call back in June.

“When in June?” I asked

“Any time in June he casually replied”.

“Well how do you take bookings for the first few days in June?” I asked angrily.

“Yes any time in June” He responded, pretending not hear my last question.

“But why can’t I book an appointment now” I pursued.

“We can’t take bookings more than 2 weeks in advance” He responded.

“Why?” I asked.

“We just can’t” he rudely replied.

“Well that’s crap” I retorted, fuming at the other end of the phone.

It’s quite clear that this carpet cleaning company had been inundated with bookings, which they were making no money from, and their staff were being forced to work every goddam day and night to satisfy. Not my problem however. I immediately called up LivingSocial to complain, who couldn’t do anything about it except offer me a refund, which I took.

So what did my one and only voucher deal experience teach me? (Who said ‘don’t get drunk and spill red wine on a cream carpet like a muppet?’). It taught me the following (which are things I already knew of course but were reaffirmed after vouchergate).

The first is that group deals only work for those persistent thick skinned folk who really don’t mind the fact that the company they are buying from don’t want them to redeem their vouchers. My house mate is one of those people who will persistently call to make a booking for his facial and chase them up if they don’t get back to him. I personally can’t be bothered. I’d rather pay a bit more and have someone lovely at the other end of the phone suck up to me and tell me how wonderful I look when I enter the salon to get a bigger tip. The problem with voucher sites is that whilst the deals are cheap, the element of customer service often flies out the window because the company that provides the deal has only done it to manage cash flow, and the voucher site can’t accept responsibility for any poor service.

The other thing I don’t get about these deal websites is that they don’t seem to target very well. I was being sent deals for laser lipo (excuse me?), thread vein removal (hello!) and all sorts of other weird and not wonderful treatments that an overweight older person might enjoy. No one wants to be sent a million deals everyday that aren’t really relevant to you. Haven’t these guys heard of CRM?

I also think that a lot of the deals are nothing more than gimmicks. I’ve since found professional carpet cleaning services a lot cheaper and a lot freindlier on sites not affiliated with Groupon or Wowcher (what a rubbish name by the way).

I have never and will never recommend group deals to any client. Discounting is not a very clever marketing tactic. You devalue your product by doing it and erode your margins. Group deals will not grow your customer base. The type of people that look for these deals are hardly likely to become loyal customers after you try and up-sell them a load of crap that they don’t need. It’s no wonder Groupon’s IPO ended in disaster; why Google wanted to buy them I’ll never know.

I’ve duly deposited every voucher deal email in my junk folder, where they will remain, along with my red wine carpet stain.

Outing the voucher monsters. Why daily deals suck. wowcher voucher sites Voucher LivingSocial Groupon group buying daily deals
May 17 / Nathan Levi

Big Data. Big Deal?

Whilst surveying my book recommendations on Amazon I chanced upon a recent industry publication entitled ‘How Brands Grow’ by Byron Sharp. The premise of the book is to disprove many the marketing principles many of us live and die by today. The main points can be summarised as follows:

  • Competitive brands generally have a similar customer base
  • Paying premiums for low reach media is a waste of money
  • Price promotions do not grow your customer base
  • The largest percentage of a brand’s customer base will only make a purchase once or twice a year…
  • …For this reason over investing in already highly loyal customers or retention schemes and neglecting to reach new buyers or casual buyers is a folly.

Byron Sharp goes on to make many other interesting observations, all heavily reliant on data but I wanted to concentrate on the ones above, mainly for their pertinence to the digital space. Before I go on, ‘How Brands Grow’ is a landmark publication and well worth a read for anyone in marketing.

For many years us digital folk have lauded the channel’s ability to target a brand’s potential customers more accurately than any other channel. Recently there has been an overwhelming amount of noise about ‘big data’. Part of the lure of big data is the ability to target acute groups of people like 54 year old women in Mill Hill who read gossip magazines. Byron Sharp might see this strategy as pointless, especially seeing as he thinks ‘it’s wrong to assume that a brand appeals to a particular type of buyer’. This must mean that ‘paying premiums’ to the likes of Bluekai and Exelate is a bit of a waste of money. I myself have witnessed highly targeted campaigns under performing against high reach low cost media buys. This is partly because the cost of the data outweighed the media spend (ridiculous I know) and the other reason being that cookies don’t scale. There aren’t many 54year old women in Mill Hill reading gossip magazines, and so once you’ve exhausted this particular audience segment you have no where else to go.

Sharp’s next point about price promotions is particularly relevant to digital media. Price promotions are often a mainstay of any direct response campaign, and prerequisite for any affiliate marketing efforts. Byron Sharp makes the point that price promotions don’t have a lasting effect on sales. No big surprises here. Having overseen many price lead campaigns the big sales spike is always followed by a sharp decline once the campaign has run its course. Brands are often forced to compete on price online because it’s all too easy for customers to switch websites at the click of a button, but the longer term effects of price-cutting are more often than not destructive. Online marketers often use incentives as a tactic to improve sales volumes as a quick fix solution, not really thinking about longer term implications.

Investing in customer loyalty by re-targeting prospects or existing customers is another mainstay online media tactic that we all employ to improve conversion rates. Sharp would argue against re-targeting existing prospects, and to focus attention on growing the prospect cookie pool by finding new customers on an ongoing basis. Reaching a new audience requires a certain amount of data to implement, but not the smorgasbord of customer data that is available to us.

Is big data the panacea we suppose it to be or have we over egged the omelette? This all depends on what role we think digital media plays in the advertising mix. A lot of the digital channels and tactics we employ today are a suitable condiment to a much wider marketing strategy but many of them do not grow brands. This includes re-messaging, price promoting and behavioural targeting. Before anyone shoots me down I’m not in any way underplaying the potential of these tactics to play an important role in a person’s decision making process. In the industry there is a lot of emphasis on targeting and data and less perhaps on finding new customers (or prospecting).  The challenge with prospecting is often one of measurement. To plan measure and evaluate this correctly you would would need to apply metrics  that are more meaningful than reach and frequency but less empirical than sales and revenue. A final few words on big data. Today’s market is cluttered with data providers who have oversold the powers of targeted media, this will change in time. Data is only powerful when you can do something with it, and we are often in danger of focusing on the small stuff over the big stuff. As more media channels become digitized, growing brands in an online environment will not just be a ‘nice to have’, but  a requirement. On that note I shall return to Amazon to see what other literary treasures I might find. Thanks for reading.




Big Data. Big Deal?
Apr 25 / Nathan Levi

Hooray for the viewable impression!

What with the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee soon upon us, you might think there couldn’t be much more to celebrate about. You’d be wrong. The viewable impression metric has arrived! (cue the erection of bunting and the arrival of a deviled egg platter). For those of you who are not digital media geeks some explanation might be required before you burst into rapturous applause and scoff down your coronation chicken.

The metric that we use to trade display media is the impression. An impression happens when an online advert is served to a website and is ‘seen’ or viewed by the user. Or so you might think. The advert doesn’t have to appear on the website (it may load after the user has vacated to another website) and it doesn’t need to appear ‘in view’ (meaning that it might load on the page but the user has scrolled down or up and has missed it). Both these scenarios are pretty common. So common in fact that according to some reports up to 68% of display adverts are never seen by the user. In effect most of the impressions that advertisers buy are never even seen, let alone clicked on. This is hardly a surprise considering the volume of ads that are served and the ease of which it is to ignore them.

So what I hear you cry! A huge number of TV ads are never seen too. Think of how many people leave their living rooms to go to the loo or put the kettle on during Corry (not me, I’m more of a Glee man). Whilst this might be true, advertisers are paying because the ad is available to be viewed. This doesn’t translate online as many ads are not available to be viewed, and are often served so far down a web page that they are hard to find, let alone see. This is the main reason that brand advertisers are not investing more money in display. Not only does no one click on the damned things (except in error), but most ads aren’t seen either.

Publishers like Facebook are desperate for brand dollars. After all 63% of all media is spent on branding. The drive to justify the brand impact of display media is critical to the future growth of all content providers online, especially Facebook (who have managed to dwindle us with an entirely unmeasurable metric called ‘engagement’ for too long). We are all chasing this quest to find out if online display really packs a punch, we are searching for the truth and won’t rest until we know.

The viewable impression, which seeks to measure impressions that have actually been viewed is regarded as one answer to solving this issue. If we know that our ads have actually been seen then surely we will be one step closer to understanding the broadcast impact (or limitations as the case may be) of online media. Some detractors of the viewable impression have argued that this will simply force publishers to raise their rates. Well I say so what! Surely advertisers will be happy to pay for ads that are actually seen. Furthermore, with all this talk of attribution, surely the most important missing piece is to understand the impact of ads that are actually viewed and their potential role in the purchase funnel. All attribution models right now account for impressions whether they have been seen or not which is a complete waste of time. Giving credit to a view which has not really been ‘viewed’ is like awarding Barack Obama the Nobel peace prize (yes, that happened too).

There are of course many technical challenges to measuring whether an ad is in view as most ads are served through iframes. This is set to change however, and I think we’ll see more publishers allowing their ads to be tracked as in-view. We may then be closer to that ever unknown truth about display media and it’s real impact as a branding vehicle and a broadcast medium. We may even find out the unimaginable, and that might not be a bad thing in this opaque world we call advertising.




Hooray for the viewable impression! Viewable Impression (CPMV) viewable impression online media digital marketing Brand Awareness Advertising