Cue The Future


"I'm living in the future, so the present is my past" -Kayne West

Estee Lauder's impressive commitment

I’m in New York today for the Estee Lauder Digital Media day. As I write this from the show floor in Chelsea, I look out upon 13 market leading digital companies invited to share knowledge with the Estee Lauder team. Companies like Facebook, Google, Bazaarvoice, Yahoo, Microsoft Advertising, and Involver are here working closely with about 400 people from every Estee Lauder brand.

This event is, in their own words, an investment in their team’s digital IQ — and it’s probably a pretty sizable investment based on the venue, speakers, and quantity of gourmet noshes I’m eating while I type. I don’t know of many companies willing to place this large a bet on educating their team, and it is an impressive display of commitment to marketing excellence from Estee Lauder as far as I’m concerned.

Jascha and I are both sincerely impressed, and this event has renewed my commitment to education. No matter how big your organization is, you need to earmark resources to continue learning new lessons. What have you done this month that has helped your team learn something that made their jobs easier?

At Involver, we have a culture of knowledge sharing. Whether it’s our brand team writing emails and blog posts about new opportunities in social, our sales team teaching each other productivity tricks in group demonstrations, or our technical team sharing the latest and greatest in new technology in weekly company demonstrations, we are always teaching ourselves new things so that we can better educate and serve our customers.

What do you do to insure your team stays on top of current knowledge?
How can we help your team learn more about the new digital landscape?

Sending Customer Development Surveys

A friend of mine just asked me for some advice on sending surveys. This is the list I came up with.

Sending surveys is an important part of early customer development; it helps you test a hypothesis and delivers you “perception” data. You can track how a user interacts with your service, it’s harder to track how they perceive it without surveys.

Early on in development of a consumer facing product, I’d recommend sending out simple surveys at short intervals (1-4 weeks) to a subset of your userbase. Below is the advice I gave my friend, if I’m missing anything, please leave it in the comments (Hattip to Hiten Shah, Leonard Speiser, and Sean Ellis who heavily influenced my thinking on this through tweets, posts, and conversations on this topic).


First thing is too check out this: (not shocking that Venture Hacks has the go to resource, is it?)

Then check out the tool that video is about:

But here’s my advice:

– Order your survey intentionally. Use early questions as eventual filters. If your second question is “how bad would you feel if you couldn’t use this product” that helps you sort later questions (i.e. my power users think this is the key feature, everyone else thinks it’s something else).

– When evaluating the data, you don’t want to optimize for the largest segment, you want to optimize for the segment that’s most engaged.

– Don’t ask any questions without understanding how you’d apply the data you’re collecting.

– Ask some open ended questions. The open-ended everything survey recommended in the post is a great way to start. But I like to have less than half my questions require typing — and it’s usually just an “anything else you think we should know?”. You get much higher response rates. But, there’s definitely a time and a place: open-ended questions are really useful for messaging questions and for early “discovery” surveys. Those questions also allow you to learn a lot more about the user (and how committed they are — you can tell a lot from the length and quality of their response).

– Ask for the ability to followup by phone, and do phone followups with every person who says yes. You’ll learn a lot in that conversation — and you’ll develop deep relationships with potential customers.

– On the subejct of developing relationships, provide an option for opting-in to the “elites” club — let them self select into beta testing groups. These elites can often become marketing assets. Yelp did a great job of this. David Barrett at Expensify is also doing this well right now. Survey’s aren’t just data, build a marketing asset.

– Ask for their reactions to the product, optional and freeform (limit text length if you would like to use in materials or on twitter). Ask “can we use this for marketing purposes?”  Another idea: followup and get a small photo, name, link, etc. — use these assets to personalize the testimonials when you put them online.

– Don’t put explanatory text in front of questions. It’s tempting to try and put people in the right “frame” — it hurts you in the long run. Don’t alter the answers they want to give you.

– Short surveys win.  <10 questions. <5 mins to complete.  half that is much better. Don’t write an SAT test.

Godin: a good product, but a bad launch

There’s a pretty big kerfuffle going on about marketing guru Seth Godin’s recent launch of Squidoo brand communities.

Godin launched a service that aggregated the conversation occuring about companies in the social space and provided the brands a sidebar next to the content to address the various statements made.

Someone tweets badly about your brand? Just write next to the entry on squidoo that you’re working on the issue, or that this individual is a looney tune.

Pretty good idea, if you ignore that you are responding in a different medium than the complaint was filed in, on a site that has no third party validity, and that is an excercise in futility. But I will ignore that, primarily because Godin probably could have pulled it off and created a site third parties used to validate information.

Godin launched this program with a business model (companies pay $400 to own the sidebar next to all of this content and be able to respond to issues), and that was his fundamental problem. He realized the validity of his value prop and created the project, but missed the fact that we would view this fully baked idea as exploitation rather than participation in the community.

To see how Squidoo brand communities could have been a massive success, one just has to look at Get Satisfaction. Here’s the model:  1) find a massive need that consumers of companies have, 2) build an amazing application for it and get consumers to use and like the solution, and 3) charge companies for it.

Do all three, in order, and you are a hero of the next web, ushering in the future — skip number 2 and you are a brandjacker, preying on the fears that large companies have of not being able to control the conversation. Sad, but this is the case, even if you know what your business model is likely to be, it still pays to release your MVP early, for free, and get customers used to the service while learning from their interactions.

Godin should have published the brand communities feature with an ad-supported sidebard and then rolled out the solution for companies to buy that sidebar from advertisers. He would have had a much bigger winner on his hands had he done that.

Seth’s backed off, and that’s a bummer, because aggregating comments and sentiment about brands is a valuable service. I wish him the best of luck in continuing to innovate in this space and hope that through direct outreach he’s able to get many brands involved, because this service is only massively interesting if it can serve as the consumer’s one stop shop to get information about all brands it is thinking about doing business with.

About the Author

Tyler Willis is the Vice President of Business Development at Unified, which builds enterprise marketing technology for brands and agencies.

This blog is about how the future will affect technology, marketing, and the things we care about most. Learn more about Tyler.


Tyler is a featured speaker and instructor for The American Marketing Association, and is a popular speaker on topics related to social marketing and how technology is changing our lives.

Recent engagements:
- South by Southwest
- American Marketing Association
- TMP Directional Marketing Client Summit

Email for Speaking Requests.

Lightweight Update

I write infrequent (quarterly at most), semi-formal updates of what I'm doing and thinking.