Category Archives: Huh?

Flying Blind

I almost called this post “Nobody Knows Anything” but that might have been overkill. I’ll say what I have to say and let you be the judge. Let’s say that you buy a friend’s newborn a gift. You have it shipped to your house. The data says, correctly, that you bought an infant gift. That might also lead to an inferred piece of data that places your household into the “presence of infant” bin, leading to you seeing lots of ads for diapers. If you’re the one placing the ads for those diapers, you’re wasting money.

Lots of the data marketers routinely use is of that sort. It’s inferred. You can see that some thinking at work if you’re a Netflix user: the recommendation engine infers what you might like based on your past viewing. Of course, if your kids or someone else in the house watch something in which you have no interest, the accuracy of those recommendations is diminished (which is part of why there are separate profiles available when you log in). Inaccurate data is, sadly, more the norm than an aberration. Since this data is really what’s behind personalization and targeting, that inaccuracy is a big problem. Any business that buys data from third parties – and an awful lot do so – may be putting garbage into their system. Unfortunately, most don’t know that because there is little transparency in the data business and it’s impossible to verify what’s good and what’s not.

What should you do? Invest in collecting your own, first-person data. You can also demand transparency in any other data you use (good luck with that) with respect to how it was gathered and what it really represents. Is it inferred or does it come directly from consumers (did someone tell you they had a baby in the house or did you guess they did because they bought one infant item?). Who owns the data and was it gathered with the consumer’s permission?

When Facebook tells its customers (marketers) that they have data on 41 million adults aged 18-49 in the US and there are only 31 million of those adults living in the US, you know much of the data is inferred and also that we have a problem. A recent study that found that 70% of marketers believe that the customer data their organizations are using for marketing is low quality or inconsistent. Why bother to market at all when you’re just flying blind?

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Today We Say I Told You So

I was at a startup event last evening and of course, the topic of Facebook‘s data problem came up. I’m sure you’ve heard something about it but what you’ve heard might not be accurate since many of the reports I’ve watched on TV are pretty off the mark. Since I’ve written a lot of not nice things

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about Facebook here on the screed, let me add my two cents here. I also want to taunt you, politely, by reminding you that not of this should be a surprise. I won’t retell the story of what’s been going on but you can read it here if you’re not familiar.

First, the inaccuracies. This wasn’t a data breach nor a data hack. It isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. The whole point of Facebook’s business is to collect a lot of data from and about its users and sell that data along with ads to marketers. They’re not alone in this. If you use Google, they pretty much know what Facebook knows and a lot more. Like Louis in Casablanca, you might profess to be shocked by this but you knew about it all along, didn’t you? After all, you agreed to let it happen when you clicked through the app install or joined the service some other way. You didn’t realize that using a Facebook or Google sign in on other sites meant they could track you? Hmm…

What’s inaccurate is that many reports say Facebook was collecting voice calls and texts from Android phones. First, it’s not the actual calls or texts, it’s the metadata – who you called or texted. Second, that was a feature of some versions of Android that allowed that to happen and Facebook just scarfed up was available and THEN, only because YOU said ok when you installed Messenger. Please don’t be mad at them for doing what they said they were going to do and don’t be shocked the data is in your file.

I downloaded my Facebook data, Other than seeing a few photos I don’t ever recall uploading to the service (which makes me wonder if they’re just grabbing stuff off my camera roll), I wasn’t surprised. No metadata from my phone because I never granted the permission for them to have it. No weird ad stuff because I go through my Facebook settings fairly regularly to clean out things I don’t want them to store. You should too. In fact, you should do that with ALL your digital stuff – check your Google activity, your ad profile, etc. Go through every app on your phone and check the permissions you’ve granted. Why would a game need access to your camera? Why does a barcode scanner need your location? You can probably revoke the permissions individually and if it breaks something in the app, turn it back on. Better safe than sorry. You want Facebook to know less? Delete the app and only use it from a desktop.

Now the “nyah nyah” part. I wrote a post in 2010 about Facebook and their privacy practices (or lack thereof). I wrote another one in 2012 about how Facebook might go the path of AOL or MySpace. I wrote then:

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.

  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

I think what’s happened over the last 10 days has me convinced that I was right then. Facebook are no angels but you shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. Unless and until each of us takes control over our privacy, which means understanding that data is currency and you wouldn’t just throw your currency around, this will happen over and over again. Make sense?

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Who Is Minding The Store?

I’ve been away on a little trip (which is why no posts so far this week) but I’ve managed to make my return in time for Foodie Friday. As it turns out, I was in one of the world’s great cities for food, New Orleans, and as I was departing I had an experience which prompted today’s screed.

English: Photographic portrait of Leah Chase t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the city’s oldest and finest restaurants is Dooky Chase. The proprietor is Leah Chase and she is the Queen of Creole Cuisine. She has fed presidents and celebrities by the bucketful and she has been honored in every way possible by the food world, rightfully so. The award of which I’m particularly impressed is the “Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans.” It didn’t look as if I’d have time to sample some this trip until I got to the airport with 90 minutes to my flight. As it turns out, there is a Dooky Chase at the airport – fried chicken, here I come!

The place wasn’t particularly crowded and I got seated right away. 5 minutes went by. Then 10. Then 15. No server appeared until about 20 minutes in, when I was asked for a drink order. I was also told they had no bartender so a mixed drink was out. Wine? After a few minutes, the server reappeared and informed me that no one knew where there was a corkscrew so I’d have to drink whatever was open. Whatever was open cost $18 a glass, by the way, something I wasn’t told until I got the bill (with no time to discuss it!).

I placed my order. Now I know that great food is cooked to order so I wasn’t expecting my plate to come out immediately. It’s not KFC, after all. However, as another half an hour went by I was starting to worry about making my flight. The hot, extremely tasty chicken arrived although I ate it so quickly I really couldn’t savor it very much. As it turns out my experience is far from unique. The reviews on Yelp and elsewhere universally praise the food and curse the lousy service. That leads us to today’s business point.

The restaurant is run by Delaware North, a company that runs restaurants at over 300 airports. They also have a division that services arenas. They know an awful lot about hospitality. Mrs. Chase knows an awful lot about food. Somehow, however, 1+1 equals zero here.

I suspect this was done as a licensing deal. The Chases provided the recipes and kitchen expertise and the Delaware Noth folks provided the rest. The real question is who is minding the store? I used to license out marks and content and always was careful to make sure that how “my stuff” was used put us in the best light. I used to buy actual products in stores and not rely on samples to assess quality. I’d view how our material was presented in context when we licensed out footage and/or marks as well. In this case, I wonder if anyone from the Chase organization has not just sampled the food but sat in the restaurant anonymously? There clearly wasn’t enough staff, and the staff that was there was seriously undertrained.

If you rely on others to present your product to the world, remember that it’s your name and your reputation on the door. I wasn’t aware that Delaware North was involved at all until the credit card receipt showed up with Delaware North, not Dooky Chase, on the top. Hopefully, most customers understand the distinction. You might not be so lucky.

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The Road To Hell

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s end the week with a Foodie Friday screed about the embodiment of the old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” To do so, I’m going to turn to one of our frequent subjects, McDonald’s.

While there are several ways the maxim can be interpreted, I’m focused on the meaning that even good intentions can bring about unintended consequences. That’s what happened when the fast-food king tried to improve things for their customers and, in so doing, made things a lot worse for their employees. As Bloomberg reported, the company is implementing new technology and pushing workers for faster delivery. While the intention is to help customers get in and out of the store quickly, the result is that it is breeding chaos in the stores as well as precipitating higher worker turnover. The unfamiliarity the staff has with the new systems, as well as the higher turnover, means that the food is actually taking longer to get served and drive-through times are increasing.

Another food example. Back in the 1970’s, catfish farmers introduced the Asian Carp into their breeding ponds. The idea was to keep the ponds clear of algae and plankton which would improve the health and quality of the catfish they were breeding. The carp, however, are aggressive and eat voraciously, eating up to 20% of their body weight in a day. They managed to escape the limited areas of the breeding ponds and have found their way to the Great Lakes via the Mississipi and Ohio Rivers where they are decimating native species of fish.

We have to consider even the most remote negative consequences as we put our well-intentioned plans in place. A zero-tolerance policy forbidding teachers from touching students? Great idea until a fight breaks out and teachers can’t step in. Putting a bounty on snakes to eliminate a health hazard? Wonderful, until people begin breeding snakes for the bounty (the Cobra Effect). In McDonald’s case, they had the best of intentions in reducing a friction point for their customers. They didn’t, however, fully consider the other possible consequences and that created a bit of a fail ultimately. Take the time to consider as many outcomes as you can and you’ll increase your chances of staying on the road to places other than hell.

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Gurus And Ninjas

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know it’s supposed to be a day for love but I want to focus on something I don’t love: gurus. OK, it’s not just gurus. It’s ninjas, wizards, mavens, and other self-proclaimed experts. I’m sick of them and, more importantly, I’m wary of the damage they cause. Let me explain and maybe I can bring you over to the dark side.

First, let me be clear about whom I speak. Generally, these are people who seem to spend a hell of a lot more time explaining how great they are at something rather than actually doing anything worth noting. Their professional profiles use words like ninja. I did a quick search and came up with over 60,000 results for that word on LinkedIn. Do any of them know what a ninja actually is? According to Wikipedia, it’s a

mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionagesabotageinfiltrationassassination and guerrilla warfare.[1] Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.

I’m not sure any businessperson wants to hire a dishonorable assassin but I could be wrong. Yes, I get that the meaning of words changes over time but if you mean to say you’re an expert, say it. Maybe they can’t because they’re not really experts at anything other than self-promotion.

Speaking of misused, overused job titles, let’s move on to “maven.” A maven is an expert, actually a “trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” The key words here are “trust” and “expert.” I’ve checked out a few “mavens” and when well over 75% of their social followers are fake and they’ve been in their field of practice for under 5 years, I think they’re neither trustworthy nor experts.

We all have personal brands. Some of us work very diligently at getting that brand out there and others of us do great work and hope that work speaks for itself. I’ll admit that I probably should have done more self-promotion over the years although in my defense there weren’t the opportunities to do it on one’s own as there are now. I still rely on clients to bring me other clients and on readers of the screed to do the same. I try to connect with people I know and respect, focusing on quality.

Does any of this make me a guru? A maven? A freakin’ ninja? Nope. I’m just a guy who’s been at this for longer than most of the self-promoters have been alive and who has already made most of the mistakes they’re going to make, probably using someone else’s business to do so. Is it self-promotion to say I’ve already learned from the mistakes they’re going to make so they won’t happen in the first place?

If you’re a guru, act like one. Be the one who dispels the darkness and takes towards the light. Be a counselor and an inspiration. A ninja? Not so much.

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A Not So Super Formula

Super Bowl Sunday is not only a celebration of the NFL championship. It’s also a day celebrating commercialism is in its glory. While some forms of it are heinous (think of the price-gouging going on in and around the stadium), I think most of us enjoy checking out the commercials each year. Some are funny, some are just dumb, but all of them are selling us something.

Photo by Andrae Ricketts

The commercials got me thinking about another form of selling that made news this weekend. You’ve probably heard about the memo released by a member of Congress concerning the investigation into how Russia interfered in our election. Putting aside the politics (we don’t do them here), it provides a very instructive thought about marketing.

Much like the release of a new movie or any other product, the memo was preceded by a campaign to raise awareness of it. There was a hashtag used to build that awareness along with demand and various friendly outlets promoted the fact that the memo was something all Americans should see. That’s where things go off the rails a bit since the reason given why we should all see this document was that it contained new, critical information. The promise was that once we all saw this information, our perception of how the investigation was being run or even its entire existence would be called into question. That, dear readers, is the lesson.

The memo was released and while to some it was a big deal, the general response to it was that it’s a big dud that contained nothing new and was somewhat misleading. In fact, some of the folks who were hyping its release are now backing away. What it shows us is the problem with overselling.

Overselling in its simplest form is selling more than you have to offer. If you’re an airline or hotel, you sell more seats or rooms than you have because there are usually cancellations or no-shows. It another form, overselling is going well beyond the substance of what you have, teeing up the consumer for disappointment when they find you’ve underdelivered. It’s an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Isn’t hyperbole part of selling? I don’t think so. In fact, I think great selling is about helping a prospect gain clarity about their situation while hyperbole is about obstructing reality to a certain extent. Overpromising and underdelivering, whether in releasing a report or running an ad in the Super Bowl, is a formula for failure in my book. Yours?

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Getting The Message

You may have read about a missile alert issued in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. A worker mistakenly believed that there was an incoming missile attack and issued an alarm. The initial report was that he had hit the wrong button on a drop-down menu. As it turns out, he had missed the part of the incoming alert message that said it was an exercise. The message itself also included the words “this is not a drill” (it shouldn’t have) which proved to be confusing at best and terrifying at worst.

As I read about this, I thought about how many times employees don’t hear the messages we send them. This particular employee had a track record, according to reports, of confusing real-world events and drills several times over the last decade. While I’m not sure this is the individual I would want in a critical role, that fact that he was should have reminded his management to be absolutely clear when giving him instructions.

You don’t think this kind of miscommunication could happen in your business? Well, maybe not, but let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you ever tell your staff that it’s OK to fail and yet punish people who do so at review time?
  • Do you ever tell people to innovate and yet get mad when they don’t follow protocols you’ve established?
  • Do you ever tell anyone to work carefully and yet push them to make an unrealistic deadline?
  • Do you ever refuse to prioritize their work with them and instead tell them that “everything is a big priority”?

Those are the same type of confusing, conflicting messages as the guy heard in Hawaii, and just as in that situation the chances are good that the recipient will mishear and push the wrong button (or, as in this case, the right button at the wrong time). Putting aside the fact that the Hawaiians did themselves no favors by allowing one individual to issue an alert (they’ve remedied that – it now takes two to do so), or that the individual in question had made similar mistakes in the past,  the fault lies just as much with the supervisor who issued conflicting instructions (This is an exercise/this is not a drill). It’s a mistake no supervisor can afford to make unless they enjoy creating terror in their businesses. Now, who wants that?

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