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The Net Takeaway: Closing the Chapter at Barnes


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Closing the Chapter at Barnes · 03/28/2011 01:05 AM, Personal

Wow, that was a long break, wasn’t it?

I wanted to update folks that I’m no longer with Barnes and Noble. First off, before anyone jumps to any conclusions, I enjoyed my time there and have lots of respect for the great work being done with the nook and the site experience on, as well as the impressive advances in marketing for both the site and the ebook ecosystem. There are some smart folks there working very hard to compete against Amazon, and if you think your job is tough… imagine going up against Amazon’s core business each and every day.

I said it back then, and I’ll say it again: very few other companies have such a large database of media choices by so many customers (I can’t say the real number, but many, many millions) over such a long time (over 10 years!).

So, why leave? Well, I had worked pretty hard on centralizing the data, in the belief that a full view of the customer would help improve marketing, customer experience, and actually using the data to change the business. Metrics are nice, but it takes some effort to move beyond that and actually use the data as part of changing your business.

And we did achieve a lot:

But things change. And as the company changed, they reorganized, and decided that some tactical needs should outweigh the longer-term delivery of my approach. The drive to centralize was changed into a drive to split analytics resources across the different business needs: Marketing wanted to own their analytics resources, the ebooks team had some great questions and wanted dedicated support, and the site teams wanted more dedicated resources of their own. But as we let each group try to optimize their silo, the original vision of evolving into a shared customer record and the tools to leverage it, the focus on enhancing the customer experience and creating a long term, satisfied and profitable customer via the use of this data across channels… well, that fell by the wayside in the drive to get more tactically focused.

Strategically, there is no right answer for centralization vs. decentralization. If 3 legs of the stool are needed to hold it up, then making sure each one gets exactly what it needs is a compelling case. And if you’ve seen the stock recently, it’s hard to argue that some things needed to change in the company. I also can’t complain about the need to fix some of those tactical issues: The way Barnes shows up in SEO and SEM these days is light years ahead of where it was when I started, for example.

So, given those necessary changes, BN and I agreed that where they wanted things to go didn’t quite fit into where I wanted to be, and we agreed to part ways.

That doesn’t mean I still don’t believe they will do great things… on the contrary, analysts like Basia Fabian, Vince Ovlia, and Ana Kravitz will continue to turn raw data into useful insights. And smart cats like Emmy Davis in on-site Search, Kristina Stern in Search Marketing, and Jerram Betts in SEO will continue to change how BN helps you find what you are looking for in media (and beyond).

The “make the data dance” baton, in some ways, has been passed to Marc Parish who runs all retention and database marketing over at BN (including that classic Membership program), and he’s so good, he even taught me a thing or two! (wow, what an ego I have… 8-) ) Make sure to catch Marc’s talks at Strata and other big data conferences around the country. And there are a bunch of other talented folks working together across NYC and Palo Alto.

As for me, what’s next? Well, I’ve filled my dance card with some consulting gigs which has been fun, and I’m on the verge of the next great adventure (more on that in a bit). There are amazing startups doing some really cool stuff, and NYC has been surprising me with the technical and data sophistication of some of the folks I’ve been talking to. It’s not just media out here these days!

So, keep using your nook (esp. once you’ve put a newer version of Android on it), keep visiting your local B&N, and keep checking out

And keep checking out! Expect a backlog of posts to start showing up soon…

* * *


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