Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Right Question

We’re filling out a survey from our homeowner’s insurance company. I guess they want to make sure that we’ve got ample coverage in case a party gets out of hand and we need to rebuild Rancho Deluxe. One of the questions reads as follows: 

Percentage of the interior walls that are plaster

Hmm. Would that be the percentage based on the number of walls, the percentage plaster represents of square wall footage, or something else? After all, in a rectangular room, if one long wall is plaster, then the right answer may be 25% or it may be 40%. How accurate does this response need to be?

There’s actually an excellent business point contained in that silliness. It’s not enough to ask the right questions. We also need to ask them in the right way so we get the expected, actionable data. In the example above, while my answer isn’t a huge data set, when aggregated into the other data the company is pulling together, the sampling error will be larger than it needs to be since half the respondents can respond using one way to look at the question and half the other.

Obviously, it’s not just a lack of clarity that can affect the outcome and usefulness of your research.  Asking leading questions which are almost certain to elicit a particular response is bad as well (do you do XYZ every day?).  So can asking open-ended questions since there is no guarantee that anyone will focus on the specific area you’re researching.  Then there are the folks who overlap responses (how old are you – 18-21, 21-30 – how does a 21-year-old respond?).  Or ask loaded questions (how long ago did you stop beating your spouse?).

Asking questions is really important but asking badly structured questions is a waste of time. Clear?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Another Nail

Those of us who were fortunate to work in TV used to have a pretty good business, way back when.  You’d find a peach basket, open the window, and watch the basket fill up with money.  OK, it was a little harder than that, but TV has always been a business that grows exponentially in good times and shrinks only a little in bad times.  Growth was as reliable as the US Dollar.  So when I read the piece I’m about to show you, a quote from “The In-Laws” (one of my all-time favorite movies) jumps to mind: 

What do you think will happen when they run off this dough… and there’s trillions of extra dollars, francs, and marks floating around? You’ve got a collapse of confidence in the currency. People are gonna panic. There’s gonna be gold riots, atonal music… political chaos, mass suicide. Right? It’s Germany before Hitler. You can see that. Jesus, I don’t know what people are gonna do… when a six-pack of Budweisers costs $1,200. That’ll be awful.

In other words, when the basic currency of a business has changed substantially, chaos ensues.  It’s my belief that we’ve reached that point in media, as this report states:

For the first time outside of a recession, linear TV ad spend has stopped growing, according to global ad revenue updates by MAGNA Global and ZenithOptimedia, both released Monday. While national TV ad sales grew .3% to $42 billion in 2015, MAGNA predicted it will decrease by .3% in 2016. ZenithOptimedia’s Advertising Expenditures Forecast also found TV’s share of global ad spend will decrease from 38% in 2015 to 34.8% in 2018.

The basic currency – the TV CPM which is tied to the TV rating point – has lost its stability.  There are trillions (OK, billions, anyway) of extra GRPs available.  Pricing pressure has always been downward, but now there are options available that seem to be making that stick. I think we’re in a brief period where live events will hold pricing stable, but when only about a quarter of viewers are watching TV “live”, how long can that last?

This was the most ominous sentence in the piece: A shift in viewer attention and changing advertiser investments may therefore contribute to a decrease in both supply and demand for linear TV impressions.  The shift has happened.  The pretty good business is rethinking itself.  There will be political money and Olympics revenue in 2016 to serve as a band-aid as it does so.  But by 2017, the times could be, in the words of the Chinese curse, interesting.


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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

Warning Labels

Another Friday, some more Foodie Friday Fun! This week our topic comes from right here in NYC, where the Board Of Health has stirred up the restaurants again. What they did was to pass a new rule requiring major restaurant chains to label foods that are particularly high in sodium. The National Restaurant Association is suing them in response, claiming that the Board “overstepped its authority with an arbitrary and capricious mandate” in a statement to Eater.

Warning label on a cigarette box, which booste...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This got me to thinking about warning labels. Obviously, this example is only one of many products that contain warnings – cigarettes being the most obvious. There are the less obvious warning labels – “past investment results are not an indicator of future returns.” for example.

There are also a number of products which, in my opinion, should also contain warning labels – things high in sugar, for example. But there is a broader point that I’d like us to think about.

Food products list ingredients – they have to. They also list what percentage of one’s daily intake of sugar, carbs, fat, salt – whatever – the product supplies. But there is no context. Nothing says if you consistently exceed the recommended sugar intake you are at risk for diabetes, and obviously there is an epidemic of it in this country. Is the ingredient list a warning label?

Less obvious are products the don’t warrant warnings on the surface but probably ought to have one. “This product is badly made and will fall apart after 5 uses.” “This fabric will shrink 3 sizes after the first wash.” Or how about “this garment was made using slave labor in unsafe working conditions” for an eye opener?

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that maybe we should ask ourselves if our product ought to have a warning label even if it’s the less obvious kind.  If it probably should, are we not doing the customer a disservice by foregoing its use?  I’m not talking about legal liability; I’m talking about doing what’s right.  Moreover, shouldn’t we be thinking about changing the product in such a way to make it “safer” as best we can so the label isn’t required?

Food for thought!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Hurry Up!

I know you all want to hear another rant on ad blocking about as much as you’d like to hear an endless loop of Tiny Tim singing Tiptoe Thru The Tulips.  I’ll keep it brief, therefore.  A company called Soasta did some research with the Harris folks about what website users were looking for as they surf around.  Not surprisingly, they found the following (as reported by eMarketer):Most Important Attributes of Website Performance According to US Internet Users, Sep 2015 (% of respondents)

When it comes to website performance, internet users say personalized content is less important than a website’s ease of navigation and speed, according to a September 2015 survey. More than three-quarters of US internet users said that a leading attribute of website performance was that it was easy to navigate. Another top attribute was speed; 73% of respondents indicated so.

Here is a truism (at least one I’ve found) about digital interactions: people hate impediments.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a landing page from an ad that doesn’t go directly to the reason someone clicked on the ad or if it’s just a plain old web page.  People are pressed for time.  Any impediment we put in their way has a high likelihood of derailing the interaction.  Web pages that are slow to load because of external calls get closed.  For you non-technical people, that means when the page calls out for an ad (especially if it needs to fill the ad via a programmatic auction), or some behavioral tracker, or anything else like analytics.  Popups are an impediment as well – it’s something in between the user and what they are trying to do. The research bears this out.  Personalization, on the other hand, can help speed up the interaction since it’s based on the user’s likes and preferences.

Ad blockers generally speed up page loads.  That is one of the main reasons people use them besides avoiding tracking.  If we help people hurry up, maybe they will, in return, be more responsive to the marketing information we present instead of doing all they can to avoid it.

Make sense?  What are your thoughts?


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Filed under Consulting, digital media

The Checklist

Do you make lists?  I do, and as a manager I used to insist that there be protocols – checklists – for most of the departmental activities.  I always found them to be an excellent was to assure a repeatable, high-quality product.  They also make it relatively easy to work new hires into a routine with minimal disruption.  Checklists have a big problem, however, and that’s our topic today.

The problem is tunnel vision.  Think of a pilot landing a plane.  Every pilot, no matter how many hundreds of hours of flying they have, uses checklists as they go through landing.  It prevents little problems like forgetting to put the landing gear down.  The thing that they do as well, which is not on the checklist, is to look out the window as they near the ground.

Now think of the marketing team that is going through its protocol.  Part of it may be to work on the brand’s social media. In many cases, the brand continues to schedule a post every 3 hours on one platform, and every 2 hours on another.  They’ll drop posts into a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, feeling good that they’ve checked something off the list.  The problem is that they don’t look out the window.  They’re not paying attention to what is actually happening on their social presence.  Comments go unanswered.  Spam comments aren’t deleted.  There is no engagement.  Social media?  It doesn’t sound so social to me.

More importantly, I’m always surprised that the nature of many brands’ posts continues to be “Me! Me! Me!”.  That sort of antisocial, broadcast thinking has been dead for some time now and yet, zombie-like, it walks the social media earth.  What we need to be doing is measuring how often our social fans are engaging via likes, comments, and amplification (how often they share), and we need to ascertain the nature of those interactions (spam comments don’t count).

The checklist is a valuable thing.  A checklist that is enhanced by looking at the world beyond the things on the list is more valuable.  A staff trained to use the checklist as a guide of the minimum requirements, and that is encouraged (strongly) to enhance those minimums with their best work is invaluable.  Which do you have?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Unlimited Thinking

I’m not a fan of limited thinking. I much prefer the intellectual exercise of accepting the challenge of a difficult supposition and then figuring out a way to expand the set of answers. I often think of President Kennedy‘s challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years when manned spaceflight had not really happened yet. Had everyone just said “no way” rather than “ok, so IF we were going to do that, how would we?”, we’d never have made it (nor had great films like Apollo 13!).

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought of that this morning when I read the quote below. It’s from a piece about the need for advertising to support content and a rant on how ad blockers are killing off content:

And so it really is a simple math problem. If there isn’t any money to pay the people who create content or buy and maintain the servers that host that content, there will not be any content. No one’s really coming at the story from that angle. And those who have lived almost their entire lives consuming content for free might need a good slap upside the head. In fact, everyone could use that slap. Because there are only two choices: ad-supported content or subscription-based content. And we all know most will take free if they can get it.

So there is our difficult challenge.  I disagree that there are only two choices, however.  I’ve also come to realize that it’s really only a problem for a select group of content providers.  First, the “two choice” thinking.  What about a freemium model?  Some very large publishers have successfully adopted it, and if the quality of what you produce is there, people will want more and pay.  What about a donation model?  PBS has used it successfully for years.  So does Wikipedia.  I know of several digital entities – podcasts and otherwise – that use Patreon to fund their content production.  It’s possible to use the appeal of great content to support an affiliate sales model too – buying products from links on a review site, for example.  Frankly, it’s not hard to argue that the ad-supported model is one of the worst options. Besides requiring a large audience to make it work, I think it encourages publishers to grab and abuse consumer data or to inflate page counts (and ad counts) with endless slide shows, etc.  Limited thinking means limited choices.

The realization is this.  Most “publishers” link to a limited set of high-quality content producers.  How many stories that you read, even on big sites, link back to the original work done in the NY Times or Wall St. Journal?  It might be a fun exercise to see how many of the people complaining about no money to support content creation are actually creating content or adding value to someone else’s content. Maybe another business model is a little pass-through of payments to the real content creators from those who are using that work to generate revenue?  There was such thinking back in the early days of the web.  What happened?

As I said upfront, I don’t like limited thinking.  Hopefully today you understand why that is.  Was I clear?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud