Imagine you have a mobile app that gets 100 downloads a day and you’re trying to decide if you should invest in marketing.
For every 100 people who download your app, 5 become a paying customer. You’re averaging 5 new customers a day. For the sake of easy to follow numbers, let’s assume that each new customer is worth 10$ to your business — after costs and the App Store’s cut are taken out. You’re making 50$ a day.
Now you may say to yourself, self how can I make this 50$ work for me in the form advertising.
You draw up a series of ten ads. You build an audience of 500,000 people. You give each ad a budget of $5 dollars*. This means that each ad is set to reach an estimated audience of 5,000 people.
Between 2–5% of the people who see an ad, click. We’ll use 2.5% as the average. Of the people who click, 20% of the people download the app.
That means your ads that reached 50,000 people also generated 1,250 app downloads. For every 100 downloads, you generate 5 paying customers. That means your ads generated 12.5 paying customers. (We’ll say 12.)
If each paying customer was worth 10$ to your business, we could say that your 50$ of ads generated 120$ of profit.
You more than doubled your money.
But that still doesn’t answer the question we set out with: the question of how long it would take to reach your goals.
The trouble is, that question is nearly impossible to answer without some insight as to what your particular goal may be.
What do I mean by this?
If you take a second walk through the example you’ll notice my asterisk. It’s placed there because in creating that thought experiment, I made a very very generous assumption about what astute advertisers might have noticed as CPM.
The truth is, there are very few places you can advertise where $1 of ad spend could reach 1,000 people in your target audience.
It’s also unlikely that a new app would be generating a conversion rate of 5% out of the gate — especially at the price point you’d need to walk away with 10$ per sale.
There are a lot of levers to fiddle with.
But when it comes to calculating how long your ads need to serve to reach your goal, the levers you need to be most concerned with are the ones relating to how many people see your ad, what percentage of them take action and what percentage of those complete the action.
If you have that information, you can figure out how many people you need to reach and at what response rate to generate the number people taking action you’re looking for.
From there, you can figure out how long you’ll need that action to occur in order to hit your goal.
If you need to move at a faster pace, you can increase the number of people you reach at the top of the funnel. If you need to stretch your dollar, you can look for ways to increase conversion rate or slow down the rate at which you reach your audience.
While you won’t ever get numbers quite as clean as you could in our little example above, you will find this a very helpful rule of thumb for calculating just how long you’ll need to advertise.
There’s been a lot of hoopla about the scourge of fake news. As someone who works with, and around, people that value settling on the facts before interpreting them, I’m discouraged to see the rise of lying as a legitimate “business” model.
However, I don’t really blame these Macedonian teens, or whomever really, for gaming a rigged and corrupt system. A system that has been allowed to embarrassingly continue and has been defrauding legitimate businesses of advertising dollars for years. I’m talking about the 800 layers of bloated, inefficient, and downright fraudulent ad tech that the digital advertising world is dealing with right now.
I want you to imagine you’re walking into a burger restaurant. You go up to the counter and order a cheeseburger. However, you’re health conscious, so you first ask what the ingredients are. The cashier responds that they can’t tell you what goes into the burger, but they can tell you it’s great! In fact it’s a premium burger. Much better than the other place down the street. Also, after you pay, you only have a 55% chance of actually receiving what you paid for. In addition, if you do manage to get anything, up to half of it won’t be real beef. It’ll be bug meat. Sounds absurd right?
This is the reality of programmatic advertising right now.
So this is really important to understand, because in an effort to secure their inventory and undercut one another, these ad exchanges have extremely opaque inventories. When I go buy on a demand side platform, I often times have no way of seeing what the inventory is until I’ve actually bought it, and even then it’s only through measuring clicks on the back end. So these teens sign up for these exchanges, and then they arbitrage this against Facebook’s traffic. Essentially what they’re doing, is buying clicks on Facebook cheaper than they’re selling them by tapping into hot button high traffic issues. In this case, the US presidential election.
Which brings me back to this original point. These kids don’t give a shit about the election. They’re pretty transparent that they’re in this game for the money. These Macedonian teens simply took advantage of the system. Very few advertisers wake up the morning, walk over to their computer, and then think to themselves. “Hmm, I should buy some ads on thetruthaboutjohnpodestaandhillary.com, that’s the ticket!” There’s just no meaningful way to discern what you’re buying unless you have the budget to force exchanges to have transparency.
So you want to end fake news? Clean up the digital ad ecosystem. Hell, regulate them to force inventory transparency. It’ll end the financial incentive while also preserving the rights of independent and indie press. In addition, you’ll give small advertisers equal footing to play with the big players. Someone just has to have the guts to take on the advertising industrial complex.
What I Think “Five Years’ Experience” Really Means And Why You Should Ignore It
Before I get too far ahead of myself here, I want to take a moment to say that if you’ve stumbled into this post because you’re encountering one of life’s most mysterious of frustrations you may find better answers on the resume game in Dr. John Sullivan’s delightful “Why You Can’t Get A Job … Recruiting Explained By The Numbers,” it’s one of the best explanations I’ve seen of how applicant tracking systems have changed the way we recruit talent.
But there’s one particular nuance that I’m not sure I’ve seen receive as much attention.
By some accounts, 2004’s introduction of “flyers” was the first iteration of Facebook advertising. I remember when I first started playing with the Facebook Ads platform, but that wouldn’t launch for years after the fact. In 2008 businesses started creating pages, and by 2012 the ad platform had matured enough to include conversion event targeting and user modeling.
Which is why it was so curious to start seeing job descriptions for “Facebook Marketers” as early that year (2008) that asked for 5 years of experience with the advertising platform.
The trouble is, it wouldn’t have been possible to have five years’ experience on the platform at that point.
The platform just hadn’t been around that long.
At the time, I wasn’t really in a position to do anything about it, so I kind of just forgot about it.
This afternoon, however, I was speaking with my sister who is just starting to explore the job market for the first time as an adult. It reminded me how baffling these sorts of requirements can be.
There’s a few different school of thought as to what the phrase actually means.
It’s an attempt to encourage applicants to self-select out.
It’s an attempt to find an applicant with a measure of real world — not just academic experience.
It’s an attempt to find someone familiar enough with a role to be able to hit the ground running.
It’s the product of a hastily thrown together spec by a less-than-clear-headed hiring manager.
This isn’t to say that these categories are the be all and end all. You don’t have to look too far however, to find several discussions where the topic is explored at length.
There’s 40 hours in the normal work week, and roughly 52 weeks a year. But people don’t really work 52 weeks, right?
We could take the time to figure out the exact average number of days one might accrue over those five years, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s just assume that the average US employee gets 29 days off a year. 29/5=5.8 weeks off.
52 weeks in a year – 5.8 weeks off a year = 46.2 work weeks.
At 40 hours a week, that means one year of work is the equivalent of 1,848 hours of labor.
Now, for the sake of the exercise take that 1,848 hours and multiply it by the number of years’ experience (5) required. You’ll come up with 9,240 hours.
And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll wonder about the impact my leniency with vacation days had on the number of hours.
In the time since the 10,000 hours metric was popularized, there’s been a growing bit of dissent.
It’s not as though you can just run out the clock and end up where you want to be. In fact, if you revisit the literature I think there’s one part worth considering.
“The distinction between work and training (deliberate practice) is generally recognized. Individuals given a new job are often given some period of apprenticeship or supervised activity during which they are supposed to acquire an acceptable level of reliable performance. Thereafter individuals are expected to give their best performance in work activities and hence individuals rely on previously well-entrenched methods rather than exploring alternative methods with unknown reliability. The costs of mistakes or failures to meet deadlines are generally great, which discourages learning and acquisition of new and possibly better methods during the time of work. For example, highly experienced users of computer software applications are found to use a small set of commands, thus avoiding the learning of a larger set of more efficient commands (see Ashworth, 1992, for a review). Although work activities offer some opportunities for learning, they are far from optimal. In contrast, deliberate practice would allow for repeated experiences in which the individual can attend to the critical aspects of the situation and incrementally improve her or his performance in response to knowledge of results, feedback, or both from a teacher. Let us briefly illustrate the differences between work and deliberate practice. During a 3-hr baseball game, a batter may get only 5–15 pitches (perhaps one or two relevant to a particular weakness), whereas during optimal practice of the same duration, a batter working with a dedicated pitcher has several hundred batting opportunities, where this weakness can be systematically explored (T. Williams, 1988).”
I don’t know that it’d be right to suggest that each hiring team put this level of thought into planning out their process, but I think in a way this makes a bit of sense.
For example, I know that I tend to try to have as many people working on production-quality work at one time as I can — but not everyone in my position manages their resources in the same way. What I might expect as standard performance from a Jr. Designer, for example, might better map up to another organization’s Associate Art Director role. If these two jobs have exactly the same title, someone somewhere is going to have to figure out how to unpack the experience and compare the candidates.
True too, is that the constraints of the environment don’t always allow for picking up the context necessary to really understand how any one given aptitude, experience, or talent fits into the bigger picture. Such perspective can really only be acquired with….well, perspective.
There’s something to be said about the value of being humbled by a lack of experience, but thus far I have found struggling to accurately catalog strengths and weaknesses (and then identifying the steps to leverage those strengths to mitigate said weakness) has proven far more rewarding.
One of my more peculiar habits is that once I start paying attention to something like a new album or company or news, I have a really hard time adjusting once that topic is out of the limelight of coverage. As a result, I spend a lot of time staying up to date on things I probably would be better off ignoring.
It was on one such fact-finding mission, that I noticed an old associate recycling one of my old tags in an interview with a journalist. It was a good line, and we had tested it before hand. At the time we were working on building real relationships with customers, and a tested line seemed like the best way to do that.
…which is how you know it was a few ago. After 2016, I’d be surprised to see pre-tested lines too often.
Thinking about that reminded me of something someone had once said to me about quotations. All too often, you’ll hear someone say “I heard this great quote.”
The temptation to dive into the weeds of the history “quote,” is overwhelming. but for the sake of focus, I’ll resist it. Suffice it say that in contemporary vernacular english we’ve taken a few words and molded them into one shorter word we abuse the hell out of.
“Quotation,” isn’t the only bit of speech where this happens, but it’s one of the more interesting ones — because the nature of evoking the language of another is wrought with nuance. As the language we use to describe an action evolves, so to does our understanding of the action we use the language to describe.
Settling into a familiar pattern of describing your business happens to everyone. After you’ve told the founding story once or twice, it all starts to sound the same. It gets easy to slip into the rhythm of the high notes and the low notes of the story.
You start to feel the parts of the story that receive a reaction, you start to explore the pauses and after awhile, the details just all become things you play with.
That’s true of any story you tell enough to have memorized, I think, and the trouble is that when it comes to presenting your business in an authentic light — pretested lines fall flat.
See the trouble with quotations is that they’re one of the few examples of speech that we look to as though it might hold value on its own.
Have you ever told a story to a group of friends about something funny that happened? It probably included a moment that was something along the lines of “so then (so and so) said”
If you’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing a story that doesn’t hinge around that sort of movement, you know just how dry such a story can be.
Have you ever wondered why?
It’s because when you retell a story without that little bit of motion, that little bit of context? You tell a story that sounds like it doesn’t have a point.
“I Think Hail To The Chief Has A Nice Ring To It” the famous Kennedy quotation, just doesn’t pack the same sort of punch if you hear it divorced of its context.
But the with the context, knowing the statement was uttered by a man running for president, the words take on a new meaning. The words are given a power they didn’t have before.
While this may not be true of every repeatable phrase, there’s an important lesson here to be learned by those of us who are engaged in the work of professional communications.
It isn’t good enough to say something that “sounds good,” you’ve got to spend a little more time thinking about the where and the why of what you’re going to say.
I’m not sure I’ve noticed too many places where anyone explores how you decide what marketing experimentation means for your organization. The truth is that at the end of the day, you’ve got to have those goals in place before you can effectively conduct any sort of marketing experimentation.
It may be a cliche, but if you’re letting those goals guide your work, they’re going to guide your research, too. Try and be cognizant of how this may affect what you’re looking at. Sometimes it might mean you need to look at a new technique or tool. In other situations, it may mean that you need to reevaluate your approach.
Next, you’ve got to find the big picture questions you need to have answers to. Perhaps you are testing a new design or experience and are looking to collect feedback. You may need to answer a question about product cyclicality. You might want to know who your customers are.
For example, if I really knew the customers of a client, I would have a list of customer profiles and email addresses. I could talk to each person individually, or I could make a list and buy TV ads and send postcards out until I heard from each one. I could also place ads on websites and in smartphone apps my customers frequented.
Regardless, without a list like that, I don’t have a real 100% answer to “who is your customer,” and that’s why it’s a great example of a big picture question.
Once you’ve got your questions written down, you should figure out how important each one is.
You should already have some idea of how important each question as you made this decision once before (when planning out your company’s purpose, priorities and values.)
This should be enough structure to fight even the most stubborn cases of mind-block. If not, this is a good time to explore the wilds of delightful ideas, hacks and tips that get added to the internet every day.
Pick the strategies and tactics that will lead you towards an answer to your question. If you need to prioritize further you have a few options. Two of the most straightforward: you can sort your list of tactics by resources required (time or money involved are two common methods) or you can try and figure out the most efficient way to finish the full set.
Once you’ve assembled a collection of tactics to help answer your questions sorted by priority, you should take a little time to make sure you finish your work.
This is particularly important as you are likely to discover new questions while you are conducting your research.
You can use this approach to make sure you keep everything moving ahead on schedule.
This won’t always work, and there really are some problems out there that are going to take a lot more to solve than this sort of simple arrangement can allow for. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.
I’ve found that over the last few weeks a similar approach has reduced interdepartmental friction.
One problem I’ve noticed on a lot of teams is that while the folks who work on the marketing may understand what is going on, it’s very difficult to communicate that information to individuals who haven’t had the chance to look at it.
There’s just something that gets better when you’ve put together an experimentation that everyone can understand.
Working from the foundation of shared principles means you don’t have to worry about buy-in. When the whole team knows what the experiment is at the outset, they know what sort of result to expect at the conclusion.
One of the rather enjoyable parts of my job (and I should know, I’ve written about it before) is that I get to spend a lot of time thinking about why people consume the media that they consume. Part of doing that in a way you can actually manage means building up systems that make it easier to sort through massive amounts of information.
One of the first tricks I learned when I started out working with smaller teams was that while every founder wants to run a brand with national reach, the truth is getting to that threshold is expensive. I think because it’s so great to celebrate the successes of others, there’s a lot more attention paid to the wins — makes them seem more common than they are.
It takes time. It takes an investment of resources. It takes persistence.
The truth is, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for a lot of businesses to bother with it.
So, I pulled a window of traffic recently, and I spent the better part of this afternoon updating our lists of media sources out of those offices.
That was a journey and a half.
I think the first thing that stood out was just how much great work gets produced by people who have no discernable internet presence. It’s really a shame, because articles like those are really bad candidates for aggregators. They’re like dead-ends for traffic.
The next big thing that stood out to me was just how cluttered some of these sites have gotten. Taking a walk through the landscape of traditional publishers and smaller regional outfits is like going on a tour of the last 20 years of ad tech.
If you’re really trying to load 20+ tracking widgets, the time has long come to look at tag managers. If I’m having trouble loading a site on a desktop with 16gb of RAM, I can’t help but wonder how bad it’d have been trying to get the news on my phone.
All told, I’m finding that it takes me about an hour to collect a state’s relevant sources. I’m averaging some things out. Smaller states and states with very consolidated media markets are much faster, intricate markets much slower, but the truth is that’s not unsustainable. That’s a good clip.
While I might like to think that everyone could take a day a month, I had one real advantage doing this I hadn’t thought about for today.
I spend most of my time maneuvering around media. I know where to look to find who wrote something and where to look to find out why. I know how to browse without a layer of adtech and how to zero in my search on what I’m looking for — but if I were just looking up a random thing, like say, what I needed to know about which infrastructure initiatives were getting prioritized or changes to a school board election process…I might not think to bring that context with me.
Nor would I think to go back and cite those events were I to conduct the search in reverse when I say, wanted to know why a certain candidate won and another lost…(to pick on that school board example.)
You can still spot places where someone is working hard (like say, C Jones Voiklis) and just hasn’t quite captured the attention it’s bound to. (I say ‘it,’ because I know exactly what % of each class at each grade school I went to across the country read “A Wrinkle In Time” and it’s a lot higher than this follower count would suggest.) But being truly “undiscovered,” really isn’t the problem for as many people as you’d think it might be.
If you’re producing great, local, relevant content you’ve got to think a little more broadly about how you put it out there. I picked a little on that school board race, but the truth is if you find yourself saying “no one cares about this,” you’re probably right about where you want to be and instead need to take a step back and look at how you’re distributing content.
I can find scores of readers online fired up about the race, and they’re just as frustrated that “no one is covering” the stories they care about.
It’s a shame really.
This really made me think a lot about something that happens with clients that ask for “SEO.” Many times, they’ve hacked together a collection of articles about a whole slew of keywords that they heard were important or related to their topic. Over time, the searches for those keywords have slowed down and traffic has suffered.
The trouble is, this happens with ‘real,’ words, too.
If you’ve ever called an “attorney” a ‘lawyer,’ or a “physician” a “doctor” (or even more tasteless or “ambulance chaser” or “sawbones”) just to watch the cringe you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The words people use in everyday speech are just different from the words they use in other contexts.
When you need information to cross those contexts, I think that means that somewhere, there’s a little bit of extra work for someone to figure out where a bit of information like an article might be most relevant.
We don’t always talk about the things that don’t go well. I think that’s because things that don’t go well can fall into a few broad categories. At some level, it’s easy to obsess about the things that haven’t gotten better yet.
When you do that, it’s entirely too easy to ignore the things that are going right. When you do that, you can’t be sure that you’re spending your time on the right activities. You can’t prioritize properly with an obsession like that nagging at you.
That’s why, in hindsight, I’ve always remembered the times where “good,” couldn’t be the standard, fondly.
I’m really not sure how we had ended up in a situation where I actively had my hands on that many projects. I try really hard to limit the number of things I do at any one point in time, but earlier on, I had a habit of making decisions based on the exact number of hours a task would take.
If we agreed to run an ad that would reach 10,000 people, I would figure out how long it would take to reach that number of people given the constraints of the account.
Some clients we work with are looking for help launching a product. That means devoting a lot of resources upfront and then doing work to keep the campaign operational for some period of time. It’s hard to do anything else when you’re working on a project like that.
Some clients we work with are looking for a little bit of help over a long period of time. They might need help with a weekly blog or someone to monitor traffic over time.
My system worked great for working with these two types of teams. I figured out how to balance both perfectly. I’d spend some time each hour checking up on accounts that needed slow managing. I’d schedule blocks of time to work out coordinated pushes.
You know what happened?
Something I wasn’t expecting.
At the time, my thinking went something like this.
Because we had figured out how to work with about 6–7 teams at once, I figured that we could work at a slightly more aggressive pace while we started experimenting with backfilling additional capacity.
It wasn’t a horrible plan, but one of the things that changes when you start to grow your customer base is that the types of clients you work with changes. That can mean that you quickly need to learn new ways to solve old problems.
I didn’t expect to be managing 11 accounts that spring so long ago, but I was, and I needed to figure out how to do it quickly.
I knew that breaking the task up into smaller parts helped with the pieces that were well understood.
This is always one of my first steps.
When I made it, I started to notice the tremendous amount of time we were spending on “ideas.”
The hours I’ve spent with user numbers on a whiteboard, the long nights I’ve spent pouring over maps of neighborhoods and purchasing data, those have been some of my favorite experiences. But what I noticed was that if I sat a limit for the amount of time I allocated to such activities, it almost always got hit — as long as it was realistic. You wouldn’t take 5 hours to plan a new email, and you certainly shouldn’t take 100 to plan a logo.
I try to avoid time based measurements with our team because I think they make it too easy to abandon “finishing” work.
I had an editor years and years ago who told me a really smart thing. Said, “karl, the average reader can read 124 words per minute. type real well, and you can type ’em just about as fast.”
I don’t think that holds true in every case, but the spirit behind the ethos is something I’ve always held with me.
See when I was working through eleven accounts, I had to learn how to identify the difference between something we were doing and something we might like to do. I had to make sure that we spent more time doing than we did thinking about doing.
It’s easy to fall into a routine. A stable campaign needs W number of hours a week. A blog needs X number of articles. We need Y new images for Z new posts.
The trouble with that is, when you fall into that routine you forget what you’re doing in the first place. So you start to ask yourself if there’s a better way.
You start looking for a short cut to get around what you’re doing. You start looking for a better process. It’s only normal.
After a while though, if you stop to look you’ll find you’ve spent more time thinking about work than you’ve spent actually working.
It’s true for writing, and it’s true for ad ops. When you’re serious about doing work, you’ve got to take time seriously, but the only way you get there is to think about what you’re really doing and let yourself get right down to the task at hand.
I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks trying to feel “caught up.” In part, it’s the consequent of a holiday weekend that ended with a cold. In part, it’s the result of a shifting workload. In part, well hey, it is winter.
With that being said, I’ve had a few minutes to think about the way some tasks seem to quickly balloon to take up much more time than they ought to, and the way others seem to fly by.
I thought about this in particular when I was working earlier this week to build out an email template for a project we’re working on.
There was nothing particularly challenging about the project.
All of the assets that were going to get used in the finished product had already been made. Handful of article links, handful of pictures — very standard stuff.
At this point, I have a pretty robust collection of templates. It means that projects like this really can be plug and play. On occasion I might have to fire up a code editor and make a few superficial tweaks, but when it comes to our email flow, that’s pretty rare.
All things considered, I was looking at a two hour project.
A far cry from the six it ultimately took.
I was really surprised by that. It gave me a minute to think about some of the different reasons things fall off schedule.
The truth is, many of those reasons are perfectly legitimate. Getting distracted by something you don’t want to be doing doesn’t seem like one of those reasons — and really, when I stop to think about it, that really is what I was doing.
I’d break up the task into smaller more manageable chunks. Each time I’d finish a chunk I’d take a few minutes to regroup. I was disciplined about the balance, but the chunks kept getting smaller and smaller.
It’s just too easy to fall into the trap of wasting time when you’re working.
A few years ago, I had stumbled into a situation where I really had to push myself to do something I didn’t want to do. It wasn’t easy, but after what felt like weeks of banging my head against the wall, I found a shortcut.
It was a similar situation. I was behind and I needed to catch up. It felt like one of those situations where the only way out was through.
I found that if I could find one thing I liked about the task at hand, everything got a little easier.
Some of the work that goes into maintaining your team’s media presence is mind numbing. Lots of well meaning people will try and tell you to avoid it, but you just can’t. Comments need to be read by someone. Somebody’s got to decide what’s worth including in a read-out report. You’ve got to find a way to make the time for moving pixels around until they fit. The consequences of not doing that stuff is readily apparent.
But to get through it? You’ve got to take a step back and remind yourself of why you started in the first place. If you can capture that enthusiasm, it’s a lot easier to avoid wasting time like I did with those email templates.