Monthly Archives: March 2012

Me Or Your Own Eyes?

You’ve probably heard some version of the 18th century joke about a wife who, caught by her husband in bed with a lover, denies the obvious and adds: ‘Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?’ The Marx Brothers used a variant of it in Duck Soup when Chico, dressed up as Groucho, asks “who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Obviously people believed their own eyes since the quote is usually attributed to Groucho.

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx (Image via

I thought of that quote as I was trying to explain a report to someone. They kept telling me the same story about what was going on in their business even though the data was saying something quite different.  Who was I going to believe: them or my own eyes?  Or my own data?

One of the big trends these days is a discussion of “big data.”  In a nutshell, almost everything we do these days in business generates data, and most of the managers I know are drowning in the stuff.  Despite that, most of the companies in which these managers work are not what I’d call a data-driven culture.  In fact, they suffer from the same issue mentioned above.  The will often fit the data to the story instead of letting the data help them solve the questions raided in the telling.  McKinsey stated in one of their reports that:

By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

What’s needed is change management with a goal of developing a data-driven culture. Maybe that’s too strong – how about a culture in which data isn’t subordinated to the role of being used selectively to reinforce or justify bad decision-making?  At some point, people have to learn to trust their own eyes – the data they see – and not the stories they hear.  That’s what I think – you?

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There’s a relatively recent phenomenon called “Showrooming” that’s becoming a concern for retailers.  In a nutshell, this is the practice of some consumers of going into a physical store to do research and then making the purchase elsewhere, generally online.  Given today’s technology, those purchases can even happen in the store via a mobile device.  A piece from eMarketer quoted a couple of studies that found this is not a hypothetical problem for retailers:

Several researchers have surveyed the number of US mobile phone users who have comparison-shopped via phone while in-store. Their research has found a comparison-shopping rate ranging from 59% of US smartphone owners (InsightExpress, 2011) to 25% of US mobile phone owners (Pew Internet and American Life Project, January 2012).

ForeSee Results findings from between 2009 and 2011 are consistent with this trend toward using mobile phones for in-store research; however, in 2011, the shoppers surveyed were more likely to access the website or app of the store they were actually in than a competitor’s website or app. This means that retailers need to not only be concerned about how their pricing stacks up against others’, but also about pricing consistency across their own channels.

This is sort of the same issue faced by music companies who are trying to sell physical media like CD‘s while enabling the purchase of the same product through digital channels.  The retailers need to differentiate themselves in ways that make doing business with them valuable beyond price.  Customer service, ease of returns, unique merchandise or unique offers are all areas that can be differentiators.  Target has reached out to vendors to do just that, and others are as well.

So the question to you today is this:  what are you doing to make sure that your business is different?  We can go back to the old advertising saw of the  Unique Selling Proposition – as we find in this space a lot, everything old really is new again or at least wrapped in new tools.

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The Dylan Test

Yesterday marked an anniversary that I could not let pass without comment.  On March 19, 1962, 50 years ago yesterday, Bob Dylan released his first album, or LP (to signify a long-playing record rather than a single) as they were called at the time.

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This piece from Rolling Stone does a nice job of summing up the album and how it got made.  I’m a long-time fan of the man and his music and while I can’t say I love everything he’s ever done, it’s all really interesting and in many cases his music went beyond popular culture to become transformative (start with “Blowin’ In The Wind“) for an entire generation and country.  I’ve heard so many people dismiss his music and yet when I give them the Dylan Test, they can’t deny his impact.  What, you ask, is the Dylan Test?  Something I think we should apply to way more stuff than Bob’s music – any business could benefit.  Let me explain.

The Dylan test is simple:  I know my grandchildren will hear the music of Bob Dylan.  They may not like it, they might not ever buy it, but they’ll hear it and they’ll know who the guy was that recorded it.  Not because I’m going to ram it down their throats:  I’d make the same statement about my great-grandchildren.  It’s because Dylan’s music is that important, just like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Springsteen and The Beatles.  And that’s the test.  Can you make that same statement about whatever music you believe to be “great?”  That ought to be our business objective.  To pass the Dylan Test.

I wrote in this piece a while back that we ought to be creating things that are built to last.  While the tools are temporary – Dylan’s first disc was pressed in vinyl – the content and the core of the business endures, or we should hope it will.  So ask yourself the Dylan Test question as you’re contemplating investing your time, effort, and money on a project.  While very few things pass, it’s not a bad standard to keep in mind.

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