Tag Archives: Data mining

What Kind Of Cold Cut Are You?

It’s Foodie Friday, which means that the weekend is upon us. Maybe you’ll use the downtime to catch up on your reading or non-work web activity. I’ll bet you might even fall into the trap of taking one of those online quizzes.

If you go on a site like Buzzfeed, you won’t have to read very far before you’ll encounter a food-related quiz of some sort. “We’ll Guess Your Exact Age If You Take This French Fry Quiz” or “Your Subway Order Will Determine Where You Should Live.” By the way. according to them, I’m a 23-year-old who should be living in Seattle…

Food quizzes and others are all meant to be good fun, or are they? When Facebook asks me what Harry Potter character I am, don’t I really want to know? Actually, no, I don’t. Let’s think about the “innocuous” quizzes cited above. Asking me about my preferences in fry style, favorite fast-food fry outlet or condiment provides a great deal of information both in the aggregate and about me personally when it comes to targeting me with ads. How can they do that when they don’t know who I am since I didn’t log in? Well, I really did sort of log in since both the Facebook pixel and Twitter pixels are active on the site. They can sell the aggregated information to producers of fries and condiments and fast food chains and they can sell my “pixel” to advertisers of the same.

Then there are the quizzes that ask you to give them an email to send you the results. They’re even more dangerous, as are the quizzes that ask you to answer questions that might be used as security questions (Where did you go to middle school or what was your first car?). We need to understand that since we’re living in the age of surveillance capitalism, everything we do is worth something to someone other than ourselves. Since we don’t have any control much of the time over who is collecting – and selling – our data, we need to be especially wary of every action we take. A “like” is a vote, a “share” is an endorsement. If you don’t believe me, go to your Facebook ad settings and check out what they think your interests and other tidbits are.

What kind of cold cut are you? The kind that gets sliced quite thinly and sold by the pound. Forewarned is forearmed!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

You Want Anonymity With That?

It’s Foodie Friday and today we have yet another example of how privacy is dead, this time from the food world. OK, I might be a little paranoid here but I think I can see the future in how McDonald’s sees the future and it scares me. Let me explain and then you can weigh in on my thinking.

What Mickey D has done is buy an Artifical Intelligence company. They intend to use the AI to adjust the menu in the drive-through as you pull up. The thinking is that these adjustments will cause you to buy more. You know – promoting cold drinks on hot days or suggesting items that are faster to prepare if the kitchen is in the weeds to keep food orders flowing. It gets scary when the menu changes as you order, suggesting sides after you order your burger.

Now you may see nothing wrong with this. After all, Amazon does this all the time. So does Netflix, suggesting things to you that you should find of interest based on your past behavior. That’s not scary until McDonald’s installs license plate readers and begins associating your food order with your vehicle. Of course, it’s also possible that they could obtain a listing of every device that was in their drive-through. By the hour. Cross-reference that to available phone directories and automobile registrations and NOW how do you feel?

It’s yet another step down the road to full surveillance capitalism, at least in my paranoid mind. There are benefits, no doubt, to McDonald’s, and I’m sure they will be followed by others (maybe even others buying their systems from McDonald’s AI company). Do you really think there are benefits to us, however? I think trust and privacy are going to become even bigger issues for consumers and regulators over the next 12 months and if you’re not thinking that way, you just might be making a mistake.

What happens when Mickey D sells their frequency of use data to the insurance company who then raises your rates because you eat fast food all the time? Sure, when you roll into The Golden Arches while you’re 250 miles from home, it might be nice that they already know what you’d like, but I’d rather have anonymity. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Snowing Our Ignorance

It’s snowing here in Central North Carolina. Again. Is that unusual? Well, the area usually gets less than 6 inches of snow a year and we’re about to get 4 or so. We also got a few inches several weeks ago. When we got a dusting (and to my Yankee friends I know that 6 inches are pretty much just a dusting) of snow last year – maybe half an inch – the area came to a complete halt and schools were shut for 4 days. You can imagine what 4 inches will do. Fortunately, by the weekend it will be near 70 degrees so the accumulation shouldn’t be around very long.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova

Other than venting about the golf courses being covered in white, why do I bring this up? Because it’s symptomatic of something which has business implications. Increased snowfall, extreme temperature changes, and other weather phenomena are indicative of something going on. It’s pretty clear that something has changed and yet there are those who turn a scientific and factual issue into a political one. Folks, you can call it climate change or you can call it Fred but no matter what you call it, it is real.

You know, of course, that we don’t do politics here on the screed and my point isn’t that we need to acknowledge that the weird weather everywhere is the result of climate change. The point is that any businessperson can give their own interpretation about what they see going on in the market and in their own enterprise. The problem is that sometimes their interpretation conflicts with the empirical evidence – the facts. A single data point isn’t a reason to change your entire strategy, but when you have enough data points to produce a reliable trend, attention must be paid.

There are some very famous studies that were conducted by Stanford in 1975. They showed how people’s opinions are often unmoved by facts. One need not go a heck of a lot further than your own Facebook feed to see one person trying to change another’s mind using some fact-based evidence and failing miserably. The cold weather and snow here remind me that you can deny the facts but that denial won’t keep the snow from falling. Question the sources of information, question the interpretation of information, but once those questions are answered, don’t deny the facts. You still will have to shovel up the aftermath regardless. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

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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Filed under Consulting

You Need Scouts

I don’t think there has been a baseball movie made that didn’t feature some weathered old guy seated in the bleachers somewhere.  He usually utters undecipherable baseball jargon while taking copious notes.  This, dear reader, is the baseball scout, who used to be how talent was discovered.  If you’ve seen or read Moneyball, you know that the scout is an endangered species.  This article from USA Today last week talks about how many pro scouts are still unemployed one month before the start of spring training.  The reason?  Data.

Photo by Justin Lafferty 00:19, 7 December 200...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baseball is in the throes of the Moneyball movement.  Teams have been laying off scouts and turning to sabermetrics, which Wikipedia defines as the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.  Baseball has fallen in love with data.  Maybe your business has too.

Here is the problem, both for you and for baseball.  There are certain things that don’t show up in data.  A player’s leadership qualities in the dugout aren’t quantifiable.  Potential can often be visible but not measurable.  That’s true in your office as well.  The data may show you what it happening but it’s hard for it to show you what could be happening.  That requires humans: scouts.

We all need scouts.  We need people who use the data as a tool but who also have the experience and wisdom to know when the data is missing something.  That doesn’t mean projecting one’s wishes into the numbers nor distorting the story those numbers tell.  It is, however, an acknowledgment that there is often a bigger picture than what’s inside the frame.

Here is a quote from a scout:

I’ve got 23 years in the business,’’ Wren said, “and now clubs don’t want that experience? I look at teams now, and they’re hiring guys who aren’t really scouts. They’re sabermetric guys from the office, and they put them in the field like they’re scouts, just to give them a consensus of opinion.

That’s dangerous for a baseball team.  It could be fatal for you.  You’re up!

 

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, sports business

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?

A Snap Of A Dilemma

Are you on Snapchat? I am, although I don’t pretend to understand it as well as some of my younger friends. What I do understand about it, however, is that they are facing the sort of dilemma that torments a lot of businesses. I don’t have any real answers today but maybe you do. Let’s see. 

Snapchat began as a way for users to send disappearing content – photos, videos – to other users. Of course, as with everything on the internet, the content never really disappears (screengrabs, anyone?), but let’s put that aside. The app became very successful and now has over 100 million daily active users. That’s the sort of scale that becomes incredibly appealing to marketers, and it also makes other revenue options such as commerce and data mining more viable.

Now the dilemma. Snapchat’s business has been built to a great extent on the premise of privacy. If you’ve ever tried to locate someone on the platform, good luck. If you don’t have the email address they’re using or their exact Snapchat name, it’s very hard. That may be great if you’re a user trying to avoid stalkers, but if you’re a brand trying to get users it means you need to do a lot of external marketing of your Snapchat presence.  This quote from a recent Digiday piece says it nicely:

One of Snapchat’s main selling points with users entails its combination of anonymous users and disappearing messages. The company has been strident about not building profiles on users to creepily advertise to them. As the reality sinks in about the need for a viable business, more targeting and data capabilities follow. Technology partners are able to bring their own data to an API — email lists and other customer information — to serve ads against.

Therein lies the dilemma.  Until now, Snapchat has tried to make money by selling “lenses”, overlays that will let you alter your snaps so that, say, you can be vomiting rainbows (and who doesn’t want to do that!).  While $300,000 a month in lens sales is nothing to sneeze at, it’s not nearly the kind of monetization that a platform with this kind of user base can command. They also tried to sell ads embedded in some of the “stories” that are a part of the service (they’re a series of snaps linked together around a theme).  Apparently they don’t have enough user data or metrics about engagement to satisfy big spending.  So what do they do?  What is the business?

The balance between staying true to the reasons customers engaged with you in the first place and making money is tricky.  Better metrics and targeting might mean less privacy.  More ads in content mean less user enjoyment (no one likes being interrupted). Less enjoyment and decreased privacy might mean a decline in the user base.  But it is a business, and investors want to see a return.

So what’s the answer?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud