Monthly Archives: March 2014

That Does Not Compute

One of the challenges any of us have in business is to predict the future.

English: Knuth's version of Euclid's algorithm...

. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hardest part of my job – and maybe yours – is seeing over the horizon to help my clients get prepared for what is to come.  That might be a change in a market or it might be a change in technology.  No matter what it is, any of us who look ahead do so by gathering data.  In many cases that data is some measure of past behavior – how people bought from your website for example.  In many cases, those data points are put into some sort of algorithm which predicts what is to come.  Increasingly, many marketers and others use these models to drive their own business behaviors as the amount of data available grows exponentially.  While I’m not a believer that “big data means big problems,” a blind reliance on these algorithmic predictions can mean just that.

Let’s take one simple form of algorithm.  You probably see it every day.  it’s known as collaborative filtering and if you’re on Amazon or Netflix or any other site with a recommendation engine you’ve used it.  You may also have seen things offered to you as content on YouTube.  The algorithms use measures of your past behavior as well as of others like you (“people who bought XYZ also bought…”).  But what if you were buying a gift and the purchasing is not reflective or your tastes or interests at all?  What if someone else used your browser to search and purchase?  Cookies are browser-based – they have no way to tell if the activity is from one person or six.

Another problem.  Algorithms are built by people and those people are..well…human.  They might have confirmational bias operating as they refine the formula to eliminate noise – data that’s not germane to the prediction at hand.  The problem is that you don’t really know if it’s noise until it proves to be not significant.  Maybe it’s a new trend that your model misses altogether.

The thing to keep in mind is that modeling can only go so far.  It’s not very good  at predicting the unexpected.  It tends to ignore outliers.  As with all things, you need to ask questions, search for facts, and draw your own conclusions.  Yes, it’s impossible to make sense of all this data without algorithmically based analysis.  Just remember that while machines don’t make computational errors it was a human that gathered the data (or installed the code that does) and wrote the formula.  People often don’t compute.  Make sense?

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Nowhere To Run

I had a hard time about this week’s TunesDay selection.

Nowhere to Run (Martha and the Vandellas song)

Nowhere to Run (Martha and the Vandellas song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, the song itself wasn’t too difficult. Rolling Stone named it in its 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time and it’s from a songwriting team – Holland-Dozier-Holland – that cranked out many of the radio hits of my youth.  You might know the artists – Martha and the Vandellas – from Heat Wave and Dancing In The Streets.  This song is the third part of their top hit trinity – give it a listen:

Hard not bop along to the Motown house band (The Funk Brothers!) although I’m not sure running through the auto plant’s paint department without a respirator is great for one’s voice.  In any event, why did this choice give me trouble?  Maybe because it inspired so many business thoughts.  Let me share a couple.

These lyrics:

It’s not love
I’m running from
It’s the heartaches
That I know will come

‘Cause I know
You’re no good for me
But you’ve become
A part of me

made me think  of technology.  Every day there is a new story about someone invading consumers’ privacy.  None of us seem to have enough time in the day to focus on anything because we’re all too focused on everything.  In the tech world (and elsewhere) we’ve gone from taking the time to make sure what we produce is great to trying to crank out something – anything – that’s good enough.  After all, the product will be obsolete in a few months anyway.  Yet there is nowhere to hide – we depend on these devices and it’s hard to stay private when you’re using publicly accessible tools.

I also had a thought about customers becoming addicted to products.  Putting aside the obvious issues with a physical addiction to drugs or alcohol, I think some brands like the notion of having customers feel “you’ve become a part of me.”  True enough – fostering a conversation is where marketing needs to be but despite the upbeat music, this song is quite dark. Do we want our customers feeling there’s no place to hide, whether it’s from our ads or our prying eyes?  I think not – what do you think?

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What Oreo Has Wrought

Let’s begin the week with another entry in the book of social media marketing stupidity.

English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please chec...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One trend of which you might be aware is real-time content marketing – brands responding to events as they happen. It’s rapid response content creation and the best-known example is Oreo tweeting out a clever marketing message in response to the blackout at last year’s Super Bowl.  This wasn’t the result of a smart intern winging it.  There were ad agency and brand people at Oreo’s social media command center during the game.

The success Oreo had inspired many copy cats.  In fact, a study done around that time found that over half the brand folks surveyed thought they’d be making greater use of real-time data in their marketing.  Fair enough.  Now let’s see what Oreo has wrought.

Yesterday during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, CBS showed a shot of a young Kansas fan who was crying as his team lost.  Some marketing genius at KFC thought it would be clever to tweet out a screengrab of the teary child along with a marketing message to the 500,000 people following their Twitter account.  After all, what better way to sell fried chicken then on the back of an upset kid! It was such a good idea that KFC pulled the tweet down shortly thereafter as someone woke up and realized that finding a sales message in a crying kid’s unhappiness is way over the offensive line.  Credit them for moving fast to pull it down (although it would have been nice if they’d have issued an apology as well).

Contrast this with something I saw this morning in an online golf publication I read.  The former head of the USGA passed away yesterday – the announcement came late in the day.  Less than 12 hours later, the USGA has a tasteful ad in the publication saluting the man.  Real-time?  Not exactly but certainly quickly after the event.  Different from social media?  Yes, although they certainly could have used this in all of their social channels and they did, in fact, do other things in those channels.

Real time doesn’t mean “speak before you think.”  It means coming across as authentic and relevant (and really funny never hurts either).  That’s not as easy as giving a kid the keys to your social account and a TV to watch what’s going on.  It may not take a lot of planning to be good in real-time – that would kind of negate the purpose.  It does take managing, however, which is clearly what someone did after the KFC tweet went out.  Do you see the difference?

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