Thinks 582

Ming-Chi Kuo writes on the structural changes coming in the VR/headset industry: “Meta’s slowdown in VR hardware investment is beneficial to other existing VR headset brands. China’s VR industry started slower than overseas markets, but the hardware and content/service markets are growing rapidly. The establishment of the Metaverse Standards Forum favors the industry’s growth. Apple is a game-changer for the headset industry.”

Shane Parish: “You can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, but you can improve your position by sleeping, eating healthy, and working out. You can’t predict what the stock market will do tomorrow, but you can improve your position by ensuring you are never a forced seller. You can’t predict what will happen in your job or life, but you can improve your position by always having a little bit of money on the side. You can’t predict if you will get a promotion, but you can put yourself in a position to get it by acquiring the skills you need before it becomes available. Good positioning lets you control your circumstances. Poor positioning lets your circumstances control you.”

NYTimes on how China is policing its people via an “invisible cage” of technology: “The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored. Now, even their future is under surveillance. The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen.”

Building the Hotline Right (Part 11)

Getting Started

How can a brand get started on the hotline (and bottom line) journey? Here are the first three steps in building hotlines with customers:

  1. AMP: Make every email AMP. Make AMP a mindset and think “Living Email” – how each email can become not just a broadcast or a blast, but interesting and interactive. The good thing about this is that if the mail client does not support AMP, it will simply show the alternative HTML email. So, there is no downside.
  2. Atomic Rewards: Create a time-based rewards program that incentivizes the non-monetary assets customers have: attention, data, network and voice. Gamification must become central to all communications; it is the best way to nudge behaviour and create habits.
  3. Progency: Instead of burdening internal teams with yet another thing to do, work with an external partner who brings in right- and left-brain skills to deliver “Performance Email” which creates a win-win partnership.

Once the Email 2.0 program has delivered on its hotline promise, brands can start expanding the Atomic Rewards to other channels. The Micronbox is an idea which will come – it needs a WhatsApp-like entrepreneur to challenge the status quo of the existing inbox providers.


A few weeks ago, I wrote in my essay on profit-centric marketing: “The path to exponential forever profitable growth comes down to something as basic as solving the problems of attention and data. In a world of digital and direct relationships, these are the two things that matter most. If a brand’s customers are not listening and if a brand does not have adequate data, it becomes hard to build a hotline to customers. Without the hotline, it becomes difficult to bring customers back to the properties for transactions … Email is not what it once was – 1-way broadcast and semi-spam. Email is now ready in its new avatar: Email 2.0. This email can be interactive, informative, gamified, fun and exciting. It is email like customers and marketers have not seen or imagined. Email 2.0 is a way to convert the delete mindset into delight. It can become a powerful channel for getting customers to volunteer data about themselves. For this, Email 2.0 needs to be combined with Loyalty 2.0. Tokens for attention and data with a new spam-free inbox which delivers surprises and rewards can bring brands and customers closer in a win-win relationship.”

If brands can build their hotlines right, especially with their Best customers, they will find that they no longer need to keep spending big bucks on wasteful and cash-guzzling new customer acquisition. That money freed up can power better relationships with existing customers – and help with the bottom line. Profits don’t come from newly acquired customers; they come from existing customers coming back for more and bringing along their friends. In a world where capital is no longer free and investors are demanding clear paths of (growing) profitably, the hotline can become the marketer’s best friend in delivering customer delight – it not only bridges the chasm between acquisition and retention but is also the crux of the profitable growth challenge CEOs and CMOs must solve for.

Thinks 581

Marc Andreessen on the ABC of new tech areas: “Artificial intelligence [AI] is the A. There are all these amazing technologies around deep learning, machine learning, GPT-3 [generative pretrained transformer 3], DALL-E, this new, image-generation thing from open AI, and so forth. Biotech is the B, with genomics and now the mRNA revolution, and the revolution of bringing together the disciplines of biology and engineering. That’s a big hill to climb. And the third, the C, is crypto and Web3, which is a revolution around distributed consensus, building trusted networks on the internet, and all the things that follow from that.”

I recommend a book in Great summer reads: Books AI experts recommend by Mukul Pandya. My reco: Better Data Visualizations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers and Wonks” by Jonathan Schwabish. “I bought it during my recent visit (to the U.S) and have been reading it; it’s very good,” he says. “While AI is all about data and learning, representing it visually is equally important for others to understand it and consume it for making decisions. This book does exactly that. It is a great complement for any AI data scientist.”

Read: Rising Tiger by Brad Thor. This one has much of its action taking place in India.

Building the Hotline Right (Part 10)

Brands in My Life

Here is a thought exercise with the brands that I engage with. How could they build hotlines to me and how could I engage with them?

Let’s start with the media brands. Most of them send out email newsletters. The goal is to bring us to their website or app so our attention can be monetised with ads. In recent years, they have also started subscriptions but the ads continue to remain a dominant revenue stream. The newsletters today offer a list of headlines to click on. The only change in the past decade or so is some degree of personalisation based on either what I have been reading or the preferences I set when I created my account. Three changes could make the newsletters come alive: a “top headlines” section which fetches the main stories dynamically when I open the email rather than being constructed when the newsletter was created, a “search” box within the email, and a “comments” box which lets me give feedback right inside the email. In fact, some new and interesting comments could even be surfaced with the story headline when I open the email.

The OTT brands could allow me to do a 1-click add right inside the email, and perhaps even edit my watchlist. In fact, some Indian OTT brands don’t even send emails – preferring push notifications. I think that’s a mistake because many of their subscribers may have switched off notifications in which case the brand has no communication channel.

Some brands like Raymond or ASIC where the purchase cycles are less frequent will need to figure out ways to make the hotline alive during the non-engagement zone. They could send out “Ems” (short informative emails which can be consumed in 15 seconds or so) with tips on their category. Or ask customers to share photographs with their products in return for rewards. The goal is to be top-of-mind when the time for the next purchase comes.

Hypercasual games would be fun to add as part of the hotlines to drive engagement. So, instead of me going to the Wordle page daily, could the Wordle play be done inside of the email? Could I create my own Wordle and share it with friends in groups to see who can guess it first?

Book publishers could also set up a hotline with me after I purchase a book. (They have no idea today – having always relied on intermediaries for sales.) They could send suggestions on new books, online events with the author, latest tweets by the author. I could send back some of my favourite passages from the book – in return for rewards or an opportunity to participate in an exclusive interaction with the author.

eGrocery marketplaces could make ordering trivially simple with the use of the hotline – almost as easy as me calling up the kirana store owner. Some of it is just the use of AMP within an email, but the comfort of having a 2-way relationship where someone is actually listening on the other side can be comforting.

On a personal note, as a WordPress blogger, I could add a comments “AMPlet” inside of the email that goes out to all who have subscribed to my updates. This is much better than having to go to my blog and login to control the spam.

These are just some starting ideas. It is up to each brand to creatively think of the possibilities. Listening to customers and readers is a great way to get feedback, engage and co-create new products. The Email 2.0 and omnichannel hotline is an important leap forward to bring that future to life.

Thinks 580

HBR on meeting unmet needs in a digital age: “Searching for unmet needs involves two main approaches: improving your vision of mainstream users and challenging your vision by looking at unconventional users. Within each you can adopt a narrow focus or take a wider view. You can zoom in on individual mainstream users and their everyday experiences (what we call the microscope strategy) or pull back to discover patterns in their aggregate behavior (the panorama strategy). Likewise, you can take a close-up look at users outside your core (the telescope strategy) or seek a broader view of the patterns they exhibit as a group (the kaleidoscope strategy).”

Dan Shipper: “The basic idea of [the book] Seeing that Frees is that there are different ways of “seeing” yourself and the world, that some of those contribute to pain and some to growth and freedom. Its aim is to show us how we can learn through practice, play, and experimentation to free ourselves of the ways of seeing that create more pain, and learn to use more of the ones that are helpful for growth. If you’re at all interested in learning about what is underneath productivity—how your own mind works and how that ladders up into your experience of, and effectiveness in the world—this is a seminal book…The core thing you probably should know about the book is this: it’s basically a collection of ways to get insight.”

Anticipating the Unintended: “The tyranny of the well-organised minority in a democracy is real…Once you establish this ‘tyranny of minority’, you can override the silent majority. Because the benefits are concentrated with them while the costs are diffused among the majority.”

Building the Hotline Right (Part 9)


The customer endpoint of the hotline is an inbox – the email or SMS clients on the mobile or desktop, or WhatsApp. That’s where the brand messages come. The hotline is about making the messages interactive and incentivised to enable not just content consumption and conversation but commerce. The email and SMS inboxes are the repository for these messages. It has not changed much through the years when it comes to brand messages; the only innovation has been the creation of multiple folders to route messages algorithmically to reduce spam and clutter.

WhatsApp brought about a big change in our lives some years ago. Instead of texting or emailing each other and each new communication spawning a new message, it threaded conversations together based on individuals or groups. It made for a cleaner interface. Network effects took over and we all moved our person-to-person and communications to WhatsApp. The same has not happened with brands, even though some brands are now trying to shift engagement to WhatsApp. A big barrier is the cost of a WhatsApp session – 25-50 times that of an email and 4 times that of an SMS (in India). This doesn’t scale well. Besides, WhatsApp is the arbiter of what constitutes fair communications so there is always a ‘Big Brother’ fear of being blocked.

What is needed is a new kind of inbox for hotline-type engagement and interaction between brands and customers. This is the idea I call “Micronbox.” Here is what I wrote in a previous essay imagining a future where we are all using micronboxes. (Think of microns in the writing below as Email 2.0 messages – emails with support for AMP and Atomic Rewards.)

Each of us has a micronbox. It is built on email so it doesn’t necessarily need a new app or identity. This new inbox collates all the microns from our Gmail inbox and organises them better. No microns from a brand which we have not subscribed to make it through. Only a single email from a brand is present – older, unread mails get layered together into that single email. Thus, the micronbox only has as many emails as brands we subscribe to.

… Microns are interactive. So, instead of just a static one-way communication, microns become dynamic and engaging. One can buy a book right from the micron itself, expand a new story to read more, provide feedback or answer questions – right from the inbox, without having to click through to the website. (The magic which makes this possible with emails is AMP.)

… An element of gamification makes it fun. Customers/subscribers earn points for opening and engaging with microns. The more the continuing engagement, the better the rewards. (This is similar to what credit card companies offer – the more you spend, the more you earn. Basically, loyalty and discipline is being rewarded.) They also earn points by sharing information about themselves with brands so the communication they get is more personalised creating a mutual win-win. They can control what personal info they share with different brands. All this helps in increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the inbox.

… The micronbox is clutter-free. Instead of a ‘delete’ mindset when dealing with emails, there is a ‘delight’ feeling as we scan it. Brands have become friends whose messages are never ignored, read promptly and always acted on. Brands provide us useful info which make daily life better. They offer us what we need rather than what they want. They learn from our actions to make the relationship better daily with every interaction.

Sounds familiar?! While I did not recognise it then, what I was really describing was the idea of a hotline between brands and customers.

The Micronbox completes the picture: a hotline is thus a 2-way connection between brands and customers, built using messages with AMP and Atomic Rewards, expanded to supporting omnichannel engagement. The micronbox becomes a repository of all these messages (microns) and conversations – just like WhatsApp today for our 1:1 and small group chats. Together, they can help drive brands to profitability by eliminating the AdWaste and enabling the 4 Rs of retention, repetition, referrals and reactivation.

Thinks 579

The Generalist writes about Union Square Ventures’ three theses for investing through the years: “Thesis 1.0. Large networks of engaged users, differentiated through user experience, and defensible through network effects. Thesis 2.0. As the market matures, we look for less obvious network effects, infrastructure for the new economy, and enablers of open decentralized data. Thesis 3.0. Enabling trusted brands that broaden access to knowledge, capital, and well-being by leveraging networks, platforms, and protocols.”

Scott Galloway: “When you start a business in a recession, it’s cheaper — everything from real estate to employees to technology is less expensive. It sounds kind of counterintuitive, but building a business during a recession stress-tests the quality of the business early. It’s like when you want soldiers who have been through combat — a business that starts in a recession, if it survives a recession, it kind of battle-tests that it’s a viable business. Then you have the winds of recovery at your back. And coming out of a recession, companies and consumers re-evaluate their purchases and are much more open to new ideas and new vendors.”

Maria Bustillos: “Blockchain, the technology that makes cryptocurrency possible, has the potential to be just as transformative as the internet innovations on which we depend every day, and industries like supply chain management, finance and pharma have already begun to find uses for it. It’s possible to imagine a future where you might look up the fate of every tax dollar you’ve paid, and government corruption becomes all but impossible; where beautiful and important stories and music, games and art would never disappear from the internet; where, instead of being forced to rely on a big power company, you might buy and sell surplus solar energy from or to your own neighbors, and never face another blackout. Wherever tamper-proof, independent record-keeping is needed, blockchain could keep all the receipts, available and safe, for anyone to see.”

Building the Hotline Right (Part 8)


Gone are the days when there was a single channel that brands used to engage with customers. The digital customer of today is omnichannel. While each of us may have our preferred channels, interaction goes across channels. Brand properties now encompass not just websites and apps, but also the social media channels. From Facebook to WhatsApp to Twitter to Instagram to YouTube, all are creating ways to enable commerce. Communications are leading to conversations which in turn shows the way to commerce. The primary push channels are also becoming 2-way: email to Email 2.0 and SMS to RCS. WhatsApp is opening up rapidly for business enablement. Push notifications are being enriched with media. Across all these channels, brands need to create a unified view of each customer by feeding data into a CDP (customer data platform) and then building AI-powered journeys and next best actions for segments (of one).

Martech automation platforms have been seen as the key to making omnichannel engagement work. But they only start their work once customers open the app or land up at the website. What gets them there? It is the hotline. That is why hotlines must be seen as upstream of journeys. Because the customer is omnichannel, so must the hotlines.

We have discussed how AMP and Atomic Rewards can transform email into Email 2.0 hotlines. The same idea of Atomic Rewards can also help with the other push channels. Micro-incentives for actions can help continue the hotline across the other channels. The objective is to create habit loops – where messages sent by a brand are not ignored, and the feedback provided by customers helps make the messages more relevant.

I wrote in an essay introducing the Atomic Rewards idea a few months ago: “Purchase moments need to be preceded by persuasion moments. An atomic rewards program is the perfect driver for branding, delighting, positioning and decision-making. This space is a blue ocean as of now – with no competition. In a non-digital world, brands had little direct control on the customer relationship. But now, right from early interest, brands can track and identify individual customers, each of whom has a set of unique attributes (email address, mobile number) that can identify them across sessions and conversations. This enables action earlier in the funnel, which in turn creates the opportunity for atomic rewards. Atomic rewards can be offered to existing customers for their attention and engagement in push messages (emails, SMSes, push notifications), and on a brand’s owned properties (website, app). There is also an opportunity to offer rewards much earlier in the purchase cycle for future customers – in ads that are run, or via the physical product itself … Atomic Rewards…is the answer to the problem of attention recession that confronts every marketer. Attention and engagement need as much focus as marketers are doing with customer journeys, onsite and in-app experiences, and transactions.”

Omnichannel, powered by Atomic Rewards, thus becomes the third pillar for building the hotline. The final pillar is the Micronbox.

Thinks 578

Q&A with geostrategist and Pentagon guru Edward Luttwak. On Putin, Ukraine, China and the US.

HBR: “A data product delivers a high-quality, ready-to-use set of data that people across an organization can easily access and apply to different business challenges. It might, for example, provide 360-degree views of customers, including all the details that a company’s business units and systems collect about them: online and in-store purchasing behavior, demographic information, payment methods, their interactions with customer service, and more. Or it might provide 360-degree views of employees or a channel, like a bank’s branches. Another product might enable “digital twins,” using data to virtually replicate the operation of real-world assets or processes, such as critical pieces of machinery or an entire factory production line.”

Kevin Kelly: “A good futurist focuses on the 3 time phases: past, present, future…The best futurists I know are really keen historians and study the past to see the future. They look carefully at the past because most of what will happen tomorrow is already happening today. In addition, most of the things in the future will be things that don’t change, so they are already here. For example, most of things surrounding you right now are old technologies — wood tables, concrete blocks, water pipes, flooring, electrical wires, wool carpets, etc. They were invented centuries ago, but today they fill 90% of our lives. Maybe only 10% is new stuff. The past is the bulk of our lives, and it will be the bulk in the future. It is highly likely that in 100 years or even 500 years, the bulk of the stuff surrounding someone will be old stuff, stuff that is being invented today. All this stuff, plus our human behaviors, which are very old, will continue in the future. We will be shaped by our long past as animals, as humanoids, as people walking out of Africa. That momentum will continue. Studying the past and its behavior gives us great insight into our future.”

Building the Hotline Right (Part 7)

Performance Email

So far, as part of the process of building the hotline, we have discussed how to use email as the channel – enhanced with AMP and Atomic Rewards. For a marketing department juggling multiple activities, how can the hotline buildout not add to the list of activities with its own set of complexities? In fact, the hotline as envisioned here needs not just creative skills but also software and analytical talent. As part of the Email 2.0 construct, I have suggested the need for a Progency (product-led agency). This is what I wrote in Part 10 of my Email 2.0 essay: “Progency is a new type of agency built on top of a product (in this case, a martech platform). It is thus a product-led agency. It combines product, people (professionals), process, and pay-for-performance. It brings to the world of martech and customer retention, growth and cross-sell the ease of outcome-driven marketing that adtech agencies have done for new customer acquisition. Progency extends the brand’s internal marketing team to deliver on specific KPIs. This lets the brand team focus on business as usual. Progency – like IT consulting teams focused on specific tech platforms – brings in the necessary expertise to solve specific problems like reactivation, increasing Hooked Score, driving referrals and collecting zero-party data. Each of these initiatives can be measured, improved and rewarded.”

The Progency can be the brand’s partner for building the hotline, and in doing so, the compensation can be based on outcomes. This is where the idea of Performance Email comes in. It is drawn from the world of adtech – how Performance Marketing accelerated spending by compensating the customer acquisition supply chain on outcomes.

As Spiralytics explains: “Performance marketing is a type of digital marketing where brands only pay marketing service providers once their business goals are met or when specific actions are completed, such as a click, sale, or lead. As the name suggests, it’s marketing based on performance. So, what makes performance marketing special? It gives power to the advertiser, since they only pay after the desired goal is achieved. Because of this, they can be confident that their marketing budget is spent only on successful campaigns. More importantly, the success rate of performance marketing campaigns is generally higher since all campaigns are highly targeted, and marketers make data-backed decisions and optimize their campaigns based on the results. This serves as a win-win for both merchants and affiliates.” BigCommerce adds: “[The] win-win marketing opportunity for a retailer (or “merchant”) and affiliate (or “publisher”) allows both parties to target campaigns in a strategic, high ROI way, all based on performance. By paying the affiliate when a specific action is completed, a merchant can feel confident that their money is being well spent.”

Something similar can be done with the hotline value chain. A progency can be paid based on the actions that are done over the hotline instead of just paying for emails based on the number sent. Performance Email can reward in-mail actions – because there are now many more actions that can be done than just an open or a click. ESPs can become partners in this process where they are compensated not for emails sent but for the outcomes. (As we discussed earlier, in the perfect endgame, a brand will only need to send a handful of emails ever to any single customer.)

Performance Email which powers the hotline is an idea whose time has come. It is the breakthrough that can drive increased spending on existing customers because the outcomes (in terms of revenues and profits) can be measured – and therefore rewarded.

Once the Email 2.0 hotline has been established, brands can then take the same principles and extend them to other engagement channels – because the customer is omnichannel.