Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.
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Using Response Measured Advertising in an OmniChannel World

I’ve spent my advertising career in the most immediately measurable of TV disciplines…direct response television. Through that career I’ve seen the tremendous economic power that DRTV offers. Used in the right situation, DRTV delivers far more economic impact (including brand value) than traditional TV.

At the same time…in contradictions we find truth. And here’s the response contradiction.

Response measurements are exceptionally powerful at helping make campaigns more effective.

But if response becomes your ONLY focus, campaigns become less effective.

How’s that happen? We must remember that even the best metrics (response, audiences, targeting, etc.) can never measure the total impact of a TV campaign. They are helpful guides but don’t tell the entire story.

So it’s important to respect the numbers for the extraordinary help they offer as we make media dollars go further (up to 4x further). And it’s important to respect that response numbers are only one window in to the impact of our work.

This reality doesn’t only apply to DRTV. It applies to online ads (especially), direct mail, catalogs, search, and many more areas where we are able to measure response.

Here’s a recent article I called “Seeing the Forest Despite the Trees” (link here) that appeared Response Magazine’s December 2013 edition. It digs deeper into how to work with response measured media in the highly (and extraordinarily profitable) market you enter when your product is sold through the omni-channel world of phone, web, and retail store.

It’s no surprise to find DR marketers obsessed with response to the exclusion of all other reality. But it has been a surprise to find that experienced audience measured advertisers also too quickly lose sight of the fact that response measurements are indicators – but not the whole story.

It’s surprising because many of these are advertisers who have lived in a world their entire careers where they had NO measurement of response and where impact is projected by guys in the back room with pointy hats and crystal balls reading Nielsen reports. (For clarity: I do love audience numbers. But while there’s tremendous learning to be found in audience measurement, projecting sales impact based on audience remains an area for alchemists.)

So embrace response measurement for what it is: An extraordinary measurement that can help us spend client media money far more efficiently. And then lets use that measurement to drive campaigns where the total impact surprises us all.

Copyright 2014 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Cable Cutting & Self Righteous Attacks on TV

I get pretty miffed when the “cable cutter” enthusiasts try to argue that online video will drag society out of the depths of depravity found in TV programming.

After all, what are most teens watching online? You can bet it’s NOT Masterpiece Theater or Nature. More likely they’re watching video’s of guys becoming eunuch’s when skateboard tricks land them on handrails.

This attack in TV is nothing new. I remember making it a few times in youthful enthusiasm while in college. Still, proponents of new media too often sound like sci-fi books — promising a “glorious future” where the internet changes mankind. (They are, of course, merely the latest to claim to remake humanity in thousands of years of such movements.) Read more of this post

GoogleTV: “More Returns than Sales” (Logitech)

I was skeptical of GoogleTV. It seemed Google fell prey to corporate hubris – believing they could build anything and make the marketplace think it’s valuable.

And from the start Google revealed they had no coherent strategy to deliver value to consumers. Instead, announcements made it clear they were in a desperate ploy to steal ad revenue away from traditional TV. Read more of this post

How is it that Television Keeps Getting MORE Vital, Not Less? (Including Some Surprising Thoughts from Jobs.)

There’s something in the water of technology centers in the US that drives an idea that digital media always means revolution. It’s been there a very, very long time. And it makes pretty outrageous claims about technology’s impact.

But when it comes to “revolution”, more often than not, human reality keeps getting in the way. Nowhere is this more true than with the digirati myth that TV will diminish and fade into the past.
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When Brands Claim to “Engage” Online, Do They Really Engage Consumers?

Through the late 1990′s, the idea of “engaging” consumers became one holy grail of advertising. What agencies were seeking were ways to communicate with consumers as they “leaned forward” as opposed to “laying back” (e.g as couch potatoes).

And then, social media arrived. And the gentle idea of better engaging consumers with our advertising transformed into a movement seeking passionate consumer love affairs – and the emergence of Social Media’s claim to enable those affairs.

Is Online Brand Engagement a Myth? Read more of this post

Does Web Targeting Live Up to the Hype?

Since the late 1990′s we’ve been promised an amazing jump in advertising effectiveness from targeting only possible online. Initially, it was the claim to “know who the individuals are”. Today, it’s become “we track them and know everything about them”.

Truth is, online targeting hasn’t delivered, but the idea remains prominent. Part of the reason was summarized today in an excellent post by Byron Sharp discussing a recent HBR “advertorial” for McKinsey. (Link here.) Sharp criticized them, in part, because “there is an in-built assumption that hitting someone at the moment when they are thinking about the brand/category is the only advertising that works.”

Seems like such a smart idea. Except, let’s add reality. Any salesman knows that if we wait for the “best point” to ask for the order, we won’t sell much. At the same time if we always ask for the order at the worst time, we will never make money. In a way, traditional media planning walks this middle line focusing a reasonable amount, but casting a wide enough net to get the surprise purchasers.

The Digerati Code. But the Digerati ignore this reality and wholly embrace the assumption, leading to the following hypothesis:

Given a specific product or brand…

1. We CAN use digital tracking to determine points in time when consumers are most receptive to receiving ads about that product or brand.
2. Once we detect when they are most receptive, we CAN present ads that hit them at that most receptive time.
3. When ads are presented in this way their effectiveness is dramatically higher than using traditional methods.

If any of these three are wrong, we’ll never locate the Holy Graal of digital marketing.

What Does Experience Show? There has been no general increase in marketing dollar effectiveness as a result of digital efforts. And digital response rates (CTR’s) are pathetic while online CPM’s remain a fraction of what traditional media is able to demand.

There seem to be two realities:

There are times when online targeting pays out exceptionally – usually for highly targeted direct response campaigns. My guess is that constant low cost testing helps them figure out, of the target criteria available, which ones are connected to response. But brand campaigns don’t have this luxury.

So broader brand efforts haven’t seen a dramatic increase in ad dollar effectiveness. In fact, many campaigns curtail their online spending because there are simply too few places to spend money that achieve acceptable results. (For example, Pepsi and Best Buy have both recently redirected media funds away from digital and back to traditional. Apple has always succeeded with heavy traditional spending and minimal digital spending.)

Is Targeting Fundamentally Flawed? My sense today is that there’s a big problem matching market to online variables in a way that generates impact. Because online variable must be limited.

Assume Criteria List A tells us what makes a good target consumer. Unfortunately, if you have defined your audience well, nobody’s tracking what’s important in your list.

Because, in truth, Criteria List B is what is actually tracked.

But hoping to cross this gap, some digerati take “B” and expand it to Criteria List C using database correlation.

SO, this leads to three questions:
1. Can we effectively reach our audience “A” when we only have “B”? Not really.
2. How accurate are the projections in “C”? Probably not very accurate.
3. So can we reach “A” when we add the projections “C”? Probably not.

So, it turns out that online buying is pretty much just like buying TV with Nielsen rating data – just with some additional criteria. But “more” criteria doesn’t mean “the important” criteria. What we’d really like to know is predisposition to absorb some of what we say and have that cause action in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with this situation – TV has succeeded for years with Nielsen’s. But what happened to the consumer targeting nirvana we were promised?

Watch Out for VC Hype. VC’s know this theory is a clever way to try to increase value for their ventures. Also, this theory is one of the few really unique things the digerati can claim.

Even worse, ad agencies are suckers for this theory – probably due to a common agency disease I’ll call “Nielsen frustration”. (This is the tendency to blame weaknesses in Nielsen audience measurements for the fact your ads didn’t work. “If only the RIGHT consumers had seen our rats dumpster diving for sandwiches people would have bought the sandwiches in droves…”.)

That’s all nice. But online behavioral targeting hasn’t shown huge results in practice. Even worse, the theory has hung around for a decade without dramatically changing results. How much longer should we wait?

Until proof arrives, it seems best to conclude that online targeting is nice, but no magic pill.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Bad News…And Good News about Social Media’s Effective Audience Reach

My 4th of July post included links breaking out social media consumers. With this foundation, let me suggest the following:

Your effective social media audience is about 10% of your potential customers.

First, let me clear about “effective”. One of the problems looking at social media is that “everybody” has an account. But that doesn’t mean you can reach “everybody” through social. The only people who are reachable are those who rise above a certain level of activity and who pay attention to/pass along commercial messages.

So in these terms, “effective” means those people you can actually get in touch, motivate, or otherwise influence with through social media.

Secondly, the lessons taken from this numbers seem pretty solid. About half of the US has a social media account and about 20% of those are active enough to be reached commercially (posting, checking in). Hence, 10% seems a smart choice.

This number is postulated as a planning estimate – realistic, even slightly aggressive, without being curmudgeonly. It’s not intended as the be all and end all of counting social media impact. Even better, the lessons it tells us seem resilient. Double the number. Does it change the role social plays in your marketing? Not really.

But Aren’t There Hundreds of Millions of Facebook Accounts? Yup. There are. Many are duplicates and a great many are foreign. And of the remaining, are they active enough? To reach someone commercially they need to be active enough that your messages don’t scroll below the page break on the social media screen.

So new data finally helps us see through the outsized claims from the social media companies, the research manipulation by VC funded PR efforts, the gaga news coverage of Tweets (where you reach far fewer than 10%), and hip new ad agency claims to have bred a new type of man who populates this Brave New World.

Some might suggest the number will grow in the future. I’m not so sure. Because the way social media works a consumer has to sort through a tremendous information load. And that suggests that it may be limited to 10% for quite some time to come.

Isn’t This Bad News? No larger company can survive communicating to only 10% of their market. So if you can’t reach any more than 10% of your target through social media, then it cannot be the core of your marketing.

Taking it one step further, it’s my experience that many of your most valuable customers probably aren’t reachable on social media. I’m close to three “enthusiast based” social communities for very high end craftsman topics. Social media plays a strong role for companies marketing to all three. And specialty topics like these are predicted to attract experts.

The truth is, I’ve found that the best craftsman aren’t socially active. And, that many of the most socially active are NOT great craftsmen. (Showing how mere social activity doesn’t guarantee that someone has significant influence.)

But while SoMe isn’t going to take over the world, it isn’t all bad news.

The Good News: 10% Is Pretty Good. Think about radio. If you can find a radio show that reaches 6% of the audience, you’ve got a VERY large shows. What about TV shopping? QVC and HSN used to proudly talk about having around 8% of TVHH’s as viewer/shoppers. Traditional TV? Except for the absolute biggest of primetime shows, 6% of the population is a very nice number.

That comparison isn’t really fair. Hedging for viewing activity, “TV” in all forms reaches probably 70% of your potential audience even though a single network show is unlikely to get more than 2% or 3%. Hedging for listening activity, radio in all forms probably reaches 60% while a single show typically reaches less than 1% of a market.

Still, all-in-all a 10% potential (after a LOT of spending and hard work) is a pretty decent number. There is one qualitative difference that is important.

When you buy a TV show, you buy a direct connection with a known audience. But when you attempt to market through social media, you probably need to figure that each endeavor gets little audience pieces whose size is unknown until after the effort is complete. That means it’s difficult to set a goal and know what it will take to meet that goal. How much effort does it take to get 10% of your market to see your message with social?

C’mon, You’re Ignoring Lady Gaga. Someone might point to the hundreds of millions of Lady Gaga video views on Youtube. But big numbers aren’t the same as meaningful numbers.

First, those views are driven by huge traditional media coverage – Gaga is brilliant in her ability to drive “buzz” with outrageous actions.

And, of course, Youtube isn’t social media. Those views are driven by massive TV and Magazine coverage. So what is social media’s contribution here? I think it’s that social media raises her latest antics to the awareness of the traditional media.

This is, in fact, a very solid use of social media – showing that the buzz is high enough that it is picked up in the traditional media. And it makes sense that it’s effective with the 10% number.

Only A Starting Point I don’t think this is, in any way, the last word on social media. Rather, it’s a starting point. And I hope that there continues to be quite a bit of conversation in three areas:

- Can we get more accurate on this general number?
- How can we develop estimates for specialized markets?
- Assuming the number is below 25%, how should we use social as part of our mix?

And THIS discussion will be much more productive for marketers than the hype we’ve endured for the past few years.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Incredible Deception: Using Research to Drive New Media Adoption

Here’s a surprise. Facebook hired a PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, to smear Google… Oh wait. Facebook says they were just placing unflattering articles about Google privacy concerns. And there’s a tiny bit of outrage.

Why is it only a tiny bit given the depth of the scandal? Perhaps because deception is fundamental to the new media business. Oops. Did I say “deception”. That word is a bit loaded because deception is in the eye of the beholder.

And, that’s why it’s so effective. There are always excuses where a company can claim a deception is purely accidental or simply the result of good marketing (unless you have the Facebook emails).

Mark Twain knew deception’s power: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Today, new media propels the lies through 10 to 20 full earth orbits before the truth touches its laces.

And it’s exactly the new media investment ecosystem that knows best how to leverage the ability to deceive with…new media. Although told in highly creative forms, there’s really only one lie that new media teams use: new media will kill old media.

They suggest it everywhere and have caused it to become so prevalent in the Bay Area that even Farhad Manjoo couldn’t avoid passing along this lie in his book “True Enough” – after he had spent 200 perceptive pages looking at how we mislead ourselves.

I’m going to continue looking at this in a post that’s a bit long for my taste. But this is a critically important issue.

The most concerning new media lies are told with research. Using research in PR takes advantage of a blind spot in media.

Most journalists have at best a cursory familiarity with research. As a result, they don’t feel qualified to evaluate whether research is valid. So when a company makes a research based claim journalists feel obligated to cover it and will always state the theory that “it’s backed up with research” – especially if there are statistical error limits reported. (Those +/-3% numbers make anything believable.)

Fortunately, in politics Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com does excellent work commenting on misleading, skewing, and other deceptions with research. There is no equivalent in media and advertising. But Byron Sharp’s blog is beginning to challenge flakey advertising research.

This is a good development because research manipulation preys on the market at a vulnerable point – while they are attempting to rely on data to accurately understand rapidly evolving market forces.

Unfortunately there is a disaffected group who want nothing more than to throw out the “old way” and replace it with something new. Groups like this drink deeply from deceptive research because they aren’t really interested in truth – just finding ways to justify their ideas.

Create the Research Answer You Want. There are a wide range of options that create mis-leading research. One particularly insidious ploy works like this:

- Articles are placed that claim something (e.g. “TV is dying”).

- Research is done among the people who have read those articles and, quite surprisingly, this research finds those people “believe” TV is dying.

- The research is put out and it will show things like 90% of marketers “believe they should shift” their money out of TV.

Notice what is missing: reality. In fact, the key to brilliant use of this research is to ask marketer’s opinions and avoid tracking facts media facts (ad spending, ad effectiveness, reader engagement, etc…).

Those of us in the TV business know this work well because this type of research deception has been used against TV regularly. And, here, opinion doesn’t reflect reality. TV has been attacked since the 1980s when VCRs were going to kill it — but didn’t. And in this decade with the theory that DVRs would kill TV ads — but solid, trustworthy research shows that DVRs not only haven’t hurt advertising, DVR’s seem to have made it more effective.

Yet despite these truths, research lies support ad agencies who quite often claim TV is a dying medium. Fortunately for our economy, it’s not.

Twitter was a particular beneficiary of this type of work. It wasn’t until earlier this year we found out that Twitter reaches an exceptionally tiny portion of the US population. But the press hype created a marketing opinion shift that implied Twitter was much more significant than it really was.

Bandwagon Research. Another deception through research leverages the human urge to become one of the popular crowd and may have played an important part in Republican party actions that led to the election of Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts.

I don’t know what actually happened in Massachusetts. But let’s take the hypothetical case and assume a candidate is behind, but not too far. A survey is crafted which is designed to show that the candidate is leading even though they aren’t (it’s easy to create this type of research).

Carefully timing the release of this survey will get independents and moderates to switch their votes and jump on the bandwagon. This can cause the election to swing and eliminate any opportunity for an opponent to respond.

This research is always “statistically” valid – but statistical validity doesn’t equal truth. Statistics in research never look at the validity of the questions being asked and can’t detect manipulation through cleverly wording the questions.

As one example of misleading with research, consider this study: http://www.strongmail.com/pdf/SM_Trends2011.pdf

Note that this study compares “advertising” with email. Wow. That’s like comparing answers between “will your company increase R&D spending?” and “will your company buy more binder clips?”

Then it reports headlines showing exceptional email strength. Except the fundamental comparison is flawed. And even if it weren’t flawed, the headline is meaningless when you really think about it. The 25% who will increase advertising will mean hundreds of times more money than the 65% who will increase email spending. The business opportunity is with advertising and not email.

But media won’t walk away from a study like this – or the headlines it generates. Instead they’ll use it to imply new media success and old media failure.

Study by study, the deception is nothing to worry about. But multiply this one study by the thousands more just like it and you have an entire industry jumping into wasting client money. And all the while, this research use is embraced by a group of people hungry to build agency bookings, make billions on IPO’s, drive their careers to new heights or become pundits.

As long as I’m on a roll,another deceptive practice in new media is the “look how big” comparison. Here’s one I heard at a Google presentation:

“Lady Gaga posted a music video and got 95 million views in a year. Just think about it, only 500,000 people are watching MTV.”

Let’s look at this. Lady Gaga is 1 in a million. And, her numbers ARE big – but they’re driven to those heights because of nearly non-stop coverage in the…wait for it…traditional media.

Still, let’s consider the MTV comparison. The Google presenter implied the internet is more powerful than TV. Bull.

In terms of viewer minutes, Lady Gaga’s videos got about 385 million viewer minutes in a year. In only a single day, MTV accumulates nearly twice as many viewer minutes. And in a year, they accumulate 700 times more. Note also that Gaga is the extreme example driven by excessive traditional media.

Consider also that MTV’s viewer minutes include advertising which means the ability to charge hundreds of millions of dollars each year for those viewings. Lady Gaga’s economic power? Hard to calculate. But, nowhere near the economic power of MTV.

And that means that we learn absolutely nothing about the value of online video from this example. But that’s not what our Googler said.

A Rampant Problem. I cannot comment fully on the intent of the people behind all this mis-leading research. A portion of the research error comes because many new media advocates lack the training to think clearly about research.

Regardless of intent, it is sad that the majority of media surveys mis-lead in ways like these. Certainly the media world is changing and that means we desperately need good research that shows the truth about this change. Too bad that the rarest of rarities is quality research about new media.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Mid-term Status on Web Delivered TV – Chaos Only a Geek Could Love

My family upgraded to a beautiful new 55″ flatscreen, moved over our Comcast and TiVO, then added an AppleTV and upgraded our sound system. And, so, in one grand swoop, we became a modern TV family.

How is this new world? No longer needing to go to the video store for old movies is quite nice. But prepare yourself for four types of chaos.

Content Chaos

You’d think that a monthly Netflix subscription would deliver everything we need. But Netflix streaming has massive content holes. Even worse, there’s no way to predict whether the content you want will be available or not. Besides, Netflix only has old stuff. Old movies. Old reruns. And Disney isn’t on Netflix – at all.

So how about Hulu? The Blazer’s playoff game bumped 30 Rock. Of course, this season isn’t on Netflix. I find it on Hulu – the paid version (cha ching). We have a monthly now, but we really don’t need Hulu. Our cable/DVR combo is much better except for those few times there’s a problem with the cable feed.

Ah, but what about new movies? They are not available on Netflix. That means we have to either seek them at Redbox, TiVO them from the HBO feed, or pay through Comcast OnDemand or AppleTV. Hmmm, $4 a pop.

So we thought we’d figured a lot out. But then the Bin Laden raid pre-empted The Amazing Race. But who wants to miss that episode. So, we dashed off into Digital TV. Where to look? Netflix? Nope. AppleTV? Nope. Hulu? Nope. CBS’ website? Not on my iPad. Ah, its on the website if we choose to access it with my wife’s laptop. And as long as we wait some period of time after it was supposed to have aired.

Format Chaos

Before content chaos we confronted format chaos. These devices bombarded us with format options. HDMi or RGB? Svideo or RCA? 720p or 1070p? HD or SD? And each device (except AppleTV) has a huge range of input or output settings. Which one’s work well together? My former network manager wife shook her head as we tried to sort out the alphabet soup.

Remote Chaos

After basic setup, we entered “The Remote Zone”. Our TV is surrounded by 5 devices – each with it’s own unique remote. Then, I remembered a programmable universal remote I’d been given. About 3 days of tinkering later and one remote carried the whole system. Whew.

Reliability Chaos

So we get this all cobbled together… And then there’s an unreliable signal. With Netflix at least once or twice per movie or rerun we lose lip synch and have to restart. At other times Netflix stops in its tracks and pops us out. This didn’t happen wtih – what’s do you call that not so old way – cable?

Not Ready For Consumers

This world is far, far from a consumer quality world. Why?

Too complicated. You REALLY have to want to watch something to figure it out. (And, no, this won’t be fixed by making it 100′s of times more complicated with Google searching on the web.)

It is waaay too expensive. 10 monthly bucks here and there. Then little bits of $4 to get one movie at a time. So right now we are probably paying $30 to $40 per month over our cable bill. But Cable offers more and is easier to use.

With all this in place, we still mostly watch Cable using our DVR – a simple system that is cheaper and delivers the vast majority of what we want.

My kids watch the most on these digital gizmos. It seems to fit their developmental stage interest in watching the same basic program over and over.

And yet, have the digerati claimed about all this digital so-called freedom? That it’s simple and less expensive. NOT IN MY EXPERIENCE!!!

A Call To Action: Fix It

It’s true – none of this was possible 6 years ago. But that’s not the point.

Right now Netflix is real, but Hulu and most of the other options are toys. For them to move beyond this stage, they must rise to mass consumer quality. Consumers won’t pay extra monthly fees without getting far more in a far easier format.

The way things are going I expect we are entering a period with 5 years of bankruptcies, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. Then, maybe someone will bring it together under one roof.

Who might that be? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, my guess is that it’s the cable providers (e.g. Comcast) who are going to create a unified system. And given their track record for making easy-to-use technology, that should probably concern us all.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved