I never intended on becoming a teacher, let alone my first opportunity being at one of the top schools in the country. I always thought education was my wife’s job — she’s a longtime middle school teacher; now an amazing stay-at-home mom. My role as a teacher just sort of happened.
It started earlier this year when an invite to give one lecture at NYU turned into two invites and then into an offer to teach. At first, I was completely honored but didn’t think they were serious. I don’t have a master’s degree — honestly, that was my first thought. Their response, however, was they thought I was a great speaker with great experience and that’s something they value more than the piece of paper. It became an opportunity too good to pass up.
But what was I going to teach? A few different classes were offered. Baby steps, I thought, and selected “E-Commerce Marketing,” a Thursday night class part of their third-semester master’s program.
What I love about this class is how it’s grounded me back in the weeds. I’ve been in senior positions the last few stops in my career, which has pulled me into a more strategic leadership function. This class is allowing me to rediscover an appreciation for much of what I’ve learned over the last 10+ years in digital marketing and product.
Everything I am teaching was once new to me. Most of it was exciting at the time, but some of it wasn’t, yet it was critical to forming a subject matter expertise. I hope my passion for e-commerce marketing facilitates building a similar excitement for the 15 students every week. This isn’t a required class. They chose it. I hope to make them happy they did.
I also hope to learn from the students. I’ve had four classes so far and each one I have left feeling either 1. that I could have done some things better (i.e. explaining a topic), 2. that I did some things right (i.e. showing a video related to a topic we covered that connected). Regardless, I am always reflecting.
This same enthusiasm I have for teaching is why I love writing this blog and speaking at conferences. I’m lucky to have had the career experiences that I have so far and want to continue to give back through knowledge sharing. When I posted about accepting the position (the role is in addition to my work at The New York Times), the response was tremendous. What I loved most, however, were the comments from friends saying they wish they could attend the class.
I haven’t figured out the best way to share what I’m teaching on my website, but am definitely open to suggestions. In the meantime, I’ll do the best I can every couple of weeks to recap what we’re covering, share some of the links I’ve shared with the students and more. I can’t share everything — some of it needs to be a surprise for future classes — but will do my best to summarize. I’m happy to answer any specific questions you have where I’m vague.
Session 1: E-Commerce Marketing
Syllabus day. After introducing the students to myself, I had them fill out a 10-question survey that included questions such as their Top 3 most used apps, favorite brand to shop online, what the process to checkout there is and what do they hope to learn from the course. This was a great way for myself, and the 15 students, to get to know one another. It also gave me an idea of some online businesses to use as examples throughout the semester. Ninety percent used Amazon.com. (We now have a running joke how long I can go in class without mentioning Amazon — one hour in Session 4!)
I didn’t want to be a textbook teacher. In fact, my syllabus has 10 recommended (optional) books that have been highly influential in my career. I would have rather had the students purchase those. But 1. there’s no way they would be able to read 10 books in 14 weeks, with the rest of their full-time student schedules; 2. the textbook wasn’t that bad, at least for providing that base knowledge I mentioned earlier.
This is the book: E-Commerce 2016: Business, Technology, Society (12th Edition)
I also made a decision to show a TED Talk each week. I want the students to be inspired, to think deeper and develop leadership skills. These are qualities that will empower them beyond e-commerce marketing, no matter what industry they choose to enter post-graduation. This week’s TED Talk was Simon Sinek’s “Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
The assignment for the week was to read Chapter 1 in the book, then to write 200-250 words on a single topic, think deeper and go beyond the reading, then relate it to a real-world example. Why only 200-250 words? I want the students to be able to cut through the fluff and focus on choosing only the most important words and thoughts.
I also had them read the following article from The New York Times on President Obama’s nighttime rituals. I felt that this was important to show that the busiest man in the world has created an optimal routine that allows him to maximize his productivity. If President Obama can, we all can — sorry, Yes We Can!
Session 2: What is E-Commerce Marketing?
This session was a high-level primer for what we’d be covering throughout the semester. I broke down the three-step conversion funnel (each step I go into in depth the next three weeks) and related e-commerce business to the way transactions used to take place at brick and mortar stores. While pricing might be lower online, consumers are spending more because of the convenience.
It’s important to stress that the Internet is a network of computers and the web is a service that lives on top of it. Many people use the two terms interchangeably but they’re quite different. The next layer is apps, which are unique software that requires the Internet (at least to download, but not always function). These three make the foundation of the e-commerce ecosystem.
One of the more difficult parts of teaching this class is providing the range of coverage for the different platforms: phone, tablet and desktop. It’s not a matter of knowledge, but the time to give them all the attention they rightfully deserve. In today’s world, 65 percent of digital time spent is on a mobile device, 90 percent of that time in an app. Each semester mobile will take a larger share, yet each of the platforms must be considered when designing an optimal e-commerce experience.
We also dove into what is commerce (an exchange of currency), e-commerce (digitally enabled transaction through the Internet and web) and m-commerce (ditto + phones, tablets & watches). The class had some great questions about online-to-offline transactions, which is one of the most complicated to measure successfully. We looked at an example like Ikea, which is opening dedicated click-and-collect stores — did you know only 6% of Ikea’s business is done online!? Car manufacturers are also another example of companies focused on getting digital consumers to visit their physical location.
Finally, I felt like it was important to break down two topics:
1. Advertising (Promotion) vs. Marketing (Bring together buyers and sellers) vs. Sales (Facilitate agreement between buyers and sellers)
2. Digital Marketing (Promote products and services through digital channels) vs. E-Commerce Marketing (Optimization of the conversion funnel and transaction process)
Ted Talk: Tony Robbins’ “Why We Do What We Do”
Assignment: Chapter 6 – E-Commerce Marketing & Advertising + An Open Letter to Marketers + Write 200-250 words, similar to last week
Session 3: Top of the Funnel: Marketing
There was so much to cover this week — one lesson I took away after the class is that I’m not going to be able to cover everything so I have to pick the highest priorities. The top of the funnel is the market communication a business produces. In the old days, it was build a store in a high traffic area and market around that location. Now, it’s build a site with the potential reach in the billions and market to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Let’s run with that…
First, we had to discuss some key terms related to online marketing and advertising, including impression, click-through-rate, conversion rate, cost-per-acquisition, etc. Here’s the key e-commerce term term document I update regularly and share with the students. These are important in understanding the value of any marketing.
Next, we dove into inbound vs. outbound marketing — this video from HubSpot sums it up perfectly. Then, walked through objectives: brand (top-of-mind identity) vs. acquisition (driving an action). Throughout the lecture, I’m mixing in case studies (note to current students: the more the better, right?) and examples. For instance, we discussed how Coke and McDonalds are primarily doing brand campaigns, while companies like Uber and The New York Times are more acquisition focused.
I tried to go into audience targeting and re-targeting, ad exchanges and real-time bidding, but think these topics are too complex to cover in a couple minutes. I’ll need to figure out how to give these better attention next semester. I also need to role in attribution models into this session as opposed to waiting until a later one.
Finally, I spent a couple minutes going into the specific types of digital marketing campaigns companies can run. We looked at tradition (TV, radio, print) and moved into banner ads, dynamic creative, social, video and everything else. A couple examples I shared: Dynamic (http://nytcrossword.tresensa.com/), Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUG9qYTJMsI) and Native (http://paidpost.nytimes.com/netflix/women-inmates-separate-but-not-equal.html).
Ted Talk: David Gallo’s “Underwater Surprises”
Reading: Chapter 7 – Social, Mobile & Local Marketing + Write 200-250 words exploring a brand’s display advertising using Moat.com
Session 4: Middle of the Funnel: The Hook
After preparing for this class, I’ll likely split it into two next semester. I focused heavily on pricing psychology and less time on engagement, but I feel like the latter is just as important for creating a sticky product.
I find painting a picture of traditional (i.e. physical stores) vs. digital to be helpful to the students. It’s also interesting to see how many of the same practices have migrated. In this case, I presented how stores use their layouts, scents and music to influence consumer purchase behavior. I also told them a fascinating story from the book “Hooked” that told how loyalty cards drive return behavior: the study presented a card with eight holes vs. 10 holes with two punched. The fact that two were punched made participants feel like they were closer to the end goal, thus resulted in more completions.
We then dove deep into pricing psychology, including contrast principal (price can be made to seem different depending on the nature of the vent that precedes it), how the brain perceives price and unique pricing models. These models, which essentially are putting a value on goods, are determined by quality, quantity and demand. Pricing can be adjusted in real-time based on algorithms (e.g. AirBNB or Uber) or stay consistent based on market value/conditions (i.e. Dropbox or Evernote).
Lastly, we explored various pricing pages, which I explained hold a goal of not to win design awards (sorry, my design friends), but to get someone to take the final leap to pay you. That leap can be influenced with competitive pricing (e.g. Progressive Auto Insurance), decoy pricing (e.g. The Economist) and list/sale pricing (basically every site on the planet). The list/sale pricing we spent more time on because of the number of legal cases brought against retailers, including Amazon, Overstock and Kohls, for the way consumers feel they’re being tricked. The New York Times has written about it a number of times, including this article which I shared with the students.
Ted Talk: Apollo Robbins’ “Art of Misdirection”
Reading: Chapter 5 – E-Commerce Security & Payments + Write 200-250 words dissecting a brand’s purchase option page
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