Tag Archives: Data collection

Nobody Knows Anything

I’m going to start the week by running the risk of bumming you out. At least we’ll have the rest of the week to recover, right? I was looking at some analytics data this morning and as I looked at it, I realized that much of it is wrong. So is a lot of the other information this client is using to make decisions. Yours is too, by the way. I’ll explain why but along with the realization came an insight that I think will be helpful to your business.

When I began in digital we used server logs to track traffic. They were pretty accurate although pretty limited as well. Web analytics came along and the quantity and quality of the information we got about who was coming to our web sites, how they got there, and what they were doing improved quite a bit. As business people, we were able to make content and marketing decisions based on the data we were getting.

Things have grown quite a bit more complex over the last 20 years and that complexity has obscured much of the good, useful information. Anyone who knows analytics will tell you that much of the referral data you see (where traffic comes from) is wrong. “Direct” traffic is way overstated. “Referred” traffic is encumbered by referrer spam. A lot of so called direct traffic is really dark social traffic (I send you a link). Transfers from HTTPS to HTTP sites report as direct as well. Keyword data is “not available.”

I’m not trying to make your head hurt nor to get really wonky. The point is that if you’re relying on that data to make decisions, you’re really just guessing. It’s the same with much of your ad data. I’ve written before about the lack of transparency in the programmatic ad markets and that opaqueness obscures the validity of the data as well.

I can add search data, email data, and more to the list of what probably isn’t what you think it is, but all of this fostered a thought: what do we really know that’s truly actionable?

I can answer that. We can know how our products and services are really differentiated and how much better we are at solving peoples’ problems. We can know (yay review sites!) how good our customer service is. We can know how our revenues and costs and changing and we can ask why.

I’m the last guy to say we should ignore that large and growing amount of data every business gets each minute. But maybe the time has come to act on what we KNOW and less on what we really don’t. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

Fighting About Data

I think everyone knows that a lot of data is collected as we conduct our daily digital activities. Google and the other search engines know what we’re looking for, Amazon and other commerce sites know what we’re shopping for, Facebook knows what we like, LinkedIn knows who we know, etc., etc., etc. These data footprints are collected and in many cases sold to marketers and their agents to allow them to serve ads to you. If any of that comes as a shock to you, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last decade or more.

What you might not have thought about, however, is that the ads themselves collect data. How many times has someone seen it? What kind of person (that pesky data that the aforementioned guys have) has responded to an ad, and how well do the ads translate to sales (lovingly called the conversion rate as if someone is changing religions…). As it turns out, there is a bit of a controversy about who actually owns that data: the advertiser or the agency. The marketers believe that they are the rightful owners while the agency folks believe just as strongly that they are. Neither side feels that the publishers who serve the ads and, therefore make data collection possible, have much of a claim to it. Of course, even publishers came out ahead of one other group as the rightful owners in the survey: consumers.

As you can see in the chart, only 10% of advertisers and 15% of agency respondents believed that consumers had a claim to their own information. That’s tragic. Why? Because it represents a mindset that is ultimately self-defeating. It can lead to legal problems at worst and consumers opting out (if they can figure out how) at best. What have the advertiser or the agency done to give the consumer value for the data? Nothing, in my mind. One could argue that the ads they serve make possible the content the consumer enjoys, but those very ads make that enjoyment nearly impossible given the state of ad-serving today, particular in mobile.

Unless and until we on the marketing side see the consumer as at least an equal partner in our business and not as a bunch of rubes or just as “data”, the problems with ad blocking, anti-spam rules, and other protective measures aren’t going to go away. What will go away are the people represented by the very data over which the agencies and marketers are fighting. You agree?

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Some Important News You Might Have Missed And Why You Should Care

There was a bit of news that broke last week which you might have missed since it seems that the election drowns most other news out. The FCC told Internet Service Providers to be much more explicit concerning what information it collects and shares with others, and provide (mostly) clear “opt-in” requirements on some of that data collection. Hopefully, you realize that more than any other entity in the digital age your ISP (and that can be your wireless provider as well) know pretty much everything you do on the internet.

Not surprisingly, there were immediate outcries from both the broadband providers as well as from the Association of National Advertisers. “The FCC’s new sweeping privacy rules decision is unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful,” the advertisers’ organization said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of Google changing their policy related to how it connects DoubleClick advertising to other data that it has about you, allowing the company to actually link your name and other identifying information to you as you surf the web. The real issue is that Google isn’t being very clear about how this information is going to be used. At leat, however, they do give you the ability to opt-out and to clear your history. Your ISP gives you no such option. Be that as it may, having to opt out is far different from granting permission by having opted in.

Obviously, the ad industry is upset because less useful data means diminished ability to track and target consumers. Having spent a career in the media business I know that this could be bad for content providers as well as marketers. But I can’t understand why explaining clearly and transparently what you’re collecting and why as well as allowing consumers control over how their data is collected and used is a bad idea. Failing to do so leads to ad blocking or worse.

What could be worse? Check out Sudo. As this article explains it, Sudo allows you to create:

nine “virtual identities,” each of which is associated with a phone number, email address, credit card number, and even profile picture. They’re digital nom de guerres, in essence — fictional profiles for services, websites, and apps to which you’d rather not supply your personal information…Sudos live as long as you want. You can delete one after a week, or devote a profile to activities like online shopping, social networking, or calling.

That, in my mind, is worse. Data is collected and associated with a false person who just disappears. So if I decide to label myself as a 35-year-old woman (which is quite different from my much older male self), marketers will waste money promoting products to me I won’t care about. When I get sick of that persona, I’ll disappear her.

Being transparent and honest with your customers isn’t optional anymore. You can fight legislation but fighting consumer desires is much harder. I suspect that the ISP’s will get around these rules by burying the information they’re forced to disclose in some click-wrap agreement. Nobody reads them; they just click “agree” and move on. I think this is a missed opportunity for the ISP’s to change their behavior, their business model, and their relationship with their customers. You?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

How Facts Can Be Fiction

I was discussing some numbers with someone the other day. It was clear from the conversation that she was taking every bit of data as gospel. I tried to explain a few important things to keep in mind when working with data and as I thought about it perhaps my thinking could be helpful to some of you out there in screed-land.

We all want as much certainty in our business lives as we can get. Part of that is wanting all of our numbers to be facts. They’re not. You may be familiar with the term “sampling error.” Basically, it means that the data is off because the sample from which the data is drawn is not representative of whatever it is you’re trying to measure. While you might think that, for example, your analytics measure everyone, they don’t. Most of the data we read uses some sampling. Sometimes it’s a timing issue – financial data, in particular, can be skewed based on where we might be in a business calendar or where those who pay us are in theirs.

The point is that there are error rates involved with many of these “facts” because these facts are really just estimates.  TV ratings, for example, are probably the most widely known estimates and multi-billion dollar businesses involving networks, agencies, and marketers revolve around numbers everyone knows are not particularly accurate. There are error rates.

Here is the advice I give people. Figure out what questions you’re trying to answer and then find as many different sources of data as you can. If possible, see if you can get multiple people to interpret those data sets. In theory, they should all come up with the same answers. It’s critically important that you NOT tell them what position you’re trying to support (can you find me some information that says we should do XYZ). That is a recipe for disaster because it encourages people only to look at data or interpretations of data that supports what you or they already think is true. That is turning “facts”, which are already often on shaky ground, into a larger fiction, and that’s not what we’re after, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Call First

Do your friends just show up at your house around supper time?  Do any of them knock on your door unannounced as the game is starting so they can watch on your big screen TV and drink your beer?  I suspect most of them don’t.  It’s common courtesy to call first, isn’t it?  Even those folks who might have a standing invitation of sorts will generally do so, if for no other reason than to see if you’re home. 

I find it interesting, therefore, that many marketers don’t think about the same common courtesy.  That thought came to mind as I read the latest State Of Content report from the Adobe folks.  You can read the whole thing here (pdf), and there is a lot to digest.

Consumers understand the benefit of content recommendations, as long as those recommendations respect privacy. In the US, 73% believe they are meant to enhance the viewing experience. At the same time, 62% believe they don’t respect privacy.  In other words, sure, you’re a friend but you’re also showing up without calling.  Most Americans who use digital media (82%) are comfortable with sharing at least one piece of information about themselves in order to improve the recommendations they see. In other words, CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO SHARE INFORMATION, BUT EXPECT RETURN ON VALUE.

Calling first means making the consumer comfortable about data collection. Those who are uncomfortable with predictive recommendations believe companies can do something about it, and the biggest thing companies could do is to ask permission to collect their data.  That’s why 63% trust content from a friend or family member and only 23% feel the same about content from a company whose products they don’t buy.

So how about it?  Are you calling first, or are you just showing up?

 

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The Pony

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the kid and the pile of horse manure.  There are many variants, but the basic story is that a kid is digging through a huge pile of horse manure.  When he is asked why his response is “with this much manure, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”  It’s a story a use to help clients understand the nature of data.  Any of us who are in business see more and more of it each day.  In fact, we’re probably setting up systems to provide more of it to us as well.  The unfortunate truth is that most of it is…well…manure.

a Shetland Pony. Français : Un poné (Shetland).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re after the pony, or at least we should be.  The pony is the actionable insights that are contained within the data and not the accumulation of data itself,  It does take a lot of digging, and that digging can begin only after we set up systems to gather and to organize the flood of data.  Knowing that website traffic grew as measured by session count tells you very little.  Understanding how it grew or if that growth was because a bunch of referrer spammers hit it gives you actionable information (update the spam filters!). Knowing that your store sales were up 5% without understanding that you’ve lost market share can cause you to think that you’re doing well when in fact you’re losing ground.

Say “so what” to yourself a lot.  If you can’t explain why a piece of data is meaningful, you need to discard it because it’s the manure surrounding the pony inside.  If you can’t put something into a broader context, push to do so. If you can’t determine a course of action based on a particular nugget of information, ignore it and keep digging until you get to the pony.  Make sense?

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Why Your Marketing Job Is Safe

A lot of folks who thought they were in marketing are finding out that they’re really computer scientists. That’s a shame in my book. Surprised I’d say that after all of the rants in this space about the need to measure actionable data? Let me explain what I mean and how I think there will always be a place for real marketers.

English: A business ideally is continually see...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Computers and the data they can generate are really good at many things. I, for one, am very much looking forward to the day when they are driving all of our cars. One thing at which computers suck is creativity. They provide great creative tools like Photoshop, but the ability to create is intrinsically human, in my book. They aren’t great at improvising. They can’t “pretend.” I’ve not heard of them mashing up a couple of concepts into a third. Yet those tasks are the essence of great marketing.

We are complex creatures. There are things within the human mind and character that no computer can understand. They might get the “what” (actions you took) but most of us in marketing are interested in the “why” at least as much. It’s great that, as recent research found, 92.3% of respondents said they maintain databases to host information on customers or prospects, at least to some extent. I wonder if that data dependency is replacing the human side of marketing.

I like this quote from a recent article by someone at Adobe:

Buyers’ behavior isn’t always rational. People make strange decisions that defy neat algorithmic understanding. Often, customers are not simply looking for the highest-quality product for the lowest possible price. Indeed, the burgeoning field of behavioral economics is revealing on an almost daily basis how irrational consumers can be—and how seemingly irrelevant factors can influence purchasing decisions. Savvy marketing adapts to these nuances.

Exactly.  Computers don’t do irrational. We do need to use data as a tool, but we can’t assume that our jobs are done because we’ve got a system that aggregates and reports.  We can’t dive so deeply into data that we drown in it.  Computers can’t do marketing well because they lack the skills that make great marketing: intuition, creativity, innovation, compassion, and imagination.  You might think your marketing job has morphed into that of a computer scientist, and if it has, you have a problem.  Great marketers know how to use those tools within the context of the human to human interactions that make business flow. Do you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?