Big Data Caution…from GK Chesterton

“The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.”
…GK Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

It was with great interest I ran across this comment the other day. And it got me thinking about the world of big data today.

The red flag for data abuse comes when people cede their human initiative and let data take over. Listen to how people discuss “big data” and you’ll start getting a sense their vision is to have data run the world. I suppose in a corporate bureaucracy this provides perfect cover for a mistake. (“The data said to do it” or perhaps “The Data Scientists said it would work!”).
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The Absurdity of Brand Disconnected from Product

Last week I ran into research that presents a strange example of disconnected brand thinking. I found it in a study claiming to tell us what brand attributes are most important to the fabled Millennials. (Link here.)

Problem is the research draws broad brand preference conclusions that are entirely disconnected from product – there’s no product anywhere to be found. And that means the reported findings are entirely meaningless since consumers can’t tell us about brand in the abstract.
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A Peek Inside Retail at JoAnn’s

My wife passed me a blog post from The Bitchy Stitcher summarizing an in-depth discussion The Stitcher had with a JoAnn’s store manager. (Link here.) What a great blog nickname…”The Bitchy Stitcher”…

I strongly recommend reading this (lengthy) post. The post, along with the excellent comment stream at the bottom, gives us an unusually interesting and varied peek inside daily operations at a mass market retail store.
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Consumers Buy Products, Not Brands: How This Should Change Your Advertising

“Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising.”
– David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

We live in a grand age of “brand advertising” – where most ad agencies believe that their role is to directly build brand with advertising. Except they’re wrong.

There are far more advertising options for building a brand than so-called “brand advertising”. Quite often, these options end up building stronger brand, faster and at less cost. Sadly, most agencies never tell their clients about these other options – perhaps because they’ve never thought that deeply about them. (It’s a bit ironic, since one fundamental of creative is that a linear approach to subtle things is often the least effective. So creative teams shouldn’t be surprised that the fastest way to build brand isn’t to directly try to build that brand.) Read more of this post

Is “Evil Empire” in the Whole Foods Brand Brief?

Whole Foods is just a business – driven by the demands of profits and shareholders. Still, they seem to regularly do things that contradict their brand (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C).

What’s surprising to me is that Whole Foods’ marketing team must realize their brand includes an inherent expectation that a healthy food market will be run with healthy ethics. Smart brand people would understand that their brand runs the risk of higher than normal damage if Whole Foods becomes perceived as an evil empire. And brand people would be savvy to the reality that perception on these issues will outweigh reality so they need to be quite savvy.

Yet Whole Foods just can’t seem to control themselves. The latest example comes as they start a major expansion into the Portland market which included this billboard.

Whole Food Hardball Billboard
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“Practicing on the Bandstand”. Some Thoughts about Miles Davis, Improvisation & Business.

Business has a tremendously complicated relationship with improvisation – often preferring a mythological quest for risk-free management and ignoring the value of leaving room for improvisation.

I think it’s a fear of losing absolute corporate control (absolute control being another myth) and fear of mistakes. In fact, some companies spend so much money avoiding mistakes that the mere cost of doing business skyrockets to where its impossible to do new things. And by rewarding detailed planning over end results (usually implicitly rewarded through corporate politics), too many companies ensure that no one will take the risks necessary to drive new innovation.

20130114-191437.jpgSo I was struck by a story about Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles and his band were on a road trip in the 1960s when one night the sax player trotted out a set of new solo licks and used them during the performance – flawlessly and perfectly. The report is that Miles was furious and chewed the guy out saying “I pay you to practice on the bandstand.”

Yes. Miles meant practicing in front of an audience. He meant making mistakes in public. And all this can be a very uncomfortable idea – especially if we don’t grasp it in context.
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Succeeding Despite Bad Choices. Thoughts on “The Myth of the Media Shootout”

Quite often businesses succeed in spite of specific choices – not because of those choices. Yet most never stop to consider which it is – choosing to believe they must have been smart rather than admit what they don’t know.

Take the idea that media buyers for DRTV ad campaigns should be chosen based on direct, head-to-head competition between media vendors.

Constructing a valid media vendor test that accurately judges each firm’s abilities is far, far harder than it seems. So here’s The Myth of the Media Shootout (link here), an article I wrote for the October edition of Response Magazine. It looks at a popular competitive testing myth in direct response television.
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