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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Bureaucracy Tends to Protect Itself Even If That Causes Its Own Failure

This is a short post – because I mostly wanted to pass along Steven Dennis’s excellent thoughts about innovation in big operations. He posted those thoughts this morning on his blog in an entry titled “The problem with saying ‘no’“. You can find him on Twitter at @StevenPDennis.

In this post he observes that while there are important times big operations (bureaucracies) need to say “no”, it is far easier to reject risk than to embrace the opportunity that’s possible through that risk.

He also observes that the reward system in corporations leans heavily toward risk avoidance – and I’ll add that this is true even when avoiding that risk leads to failure.
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The 24 Hour Fitness Personal Greeting Is Creepy

Some of the worst ideas start when someone means well, but doesn’t think clearly. Or. maybe, just thinks clearly badly. Either way, 24 Hour Fitness’s newly impersonal “personal” greeting just doesn’t work for me.

The Facts. I joined back up with 24 Hour Fitness just over a year ago. It’s a beautiful facility with gorgeous big windows overlooking the Willamette River and Portland’s West Hills. And, I have a great personal trainer, the equipment’s solid, the facility good, etc…

Except, somewhere in the past few months, the front desk team received orders from above to “greet members by name”. To some executive it probably sounded like a warm, personal way to build connections with members. Perhaps it came under the category of “engagement”. Regardless it’s one outstanding example of how “personalized” can mean “creepy”.
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Cursed by Checkbox Video

You know the videos I mean – the ones made so the agency can check the box “Cool video complete”. (Of course, many of them aren’t very cool – at least to consumers. But we’ll hold off on that discussion.)

Checkbox work has always been a curse. Before it was video (back in the dark ages of the 1970s and 1980s) it was the checkbox slide show. When I was a client shopping for supercomputers in the 1980s aerospace business, if the salesman brought the slide show or video I’d skip the meeting. My team had learned that these checkbox presentations never communicated what mattered as we evaluated computers.

That was then and this is now. And what used to be merely dull and boring has exploded in that way only the web can make things explode… (It’s amazing how fast bad marketing choices replicate across the web.)
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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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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 Disruption the Most Important Model for Innovation?

The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success. iStock_000017829020Medium

Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better). (More on schools here.)

Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.

And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).
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