Data Laziness

Ridership on the New York City subways declined last year because, well, they’re not sure, really:

The [Metropolitan Transit] authority’s acting chairman, Fernando Ferrer, said on Thursday that several factors could be contributing to the decline: rising subway delays, the popularity of Uber and other apps, and weekend maintenance work that disrupts service.

“It may be all of the above,” Mr. Ferrer told reporters after an authority board meeting. “I’m very glad that our ridership is at historic highs. If it declines a little bit — and I’ve seen those numbers, and it’s a little bit — there is no reason for alarm.”

You want “reason for alarm?”  I’ll give you reason for alarm: the MTA’s chairman can’t be bothered to run a simple Excel spreadsheet.  Let’s call this “data laziness” and show you how easy it would be to get a more definitive answer.

Actually, Excel is a much more useful tool here

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Free Advice for the ACLU

On the heels of my post yesterday about 84 Lumber’s liberal-leaning Superbowl ad, I felt the need to share that liberal does not necessarily equal smart.

Witness, this email from the American Civil Liberties Union, of which I am a proud member of long standing (OK, since last Saturday):

Please don’t call me Benjamin, BTW

Note the call to action: Tell your senator today about DeVos’ disturbing positions before they vote

Both my of my senators, Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, have gone on record against Ms. DeVos.  The ACLU has my address; they know there’s no point in my calling my own senators.  Yet here we are.

Listen, one marketer to another, here’s what you could have done:

  1. Kept your powder dry.  You could have suppressed anyone from a state where both senators oppose Ms. DeVos and thus saved the opportunity to email me at a time when I can actually be of help in New York.
  2. Given me an alternative.  They could have asked anyone in a state with two Democratic senators to badger friends in other states, especially the Badger State, where Ron Johnson supports Ms. DeVos.  They could have asked me to share the organization’s point of view on Ms. DeVos via social media.  Hell, they could have asked for a few more bucks.

If we want to protect our sacred civil liberties, we will need courage.  We will need faith in the fundamental decency of the American public.  We will need legislators and jurists to do their jobs in acting as a check on executive power.

We will also need better email marketing than this.

Strategy in the Era of Brute Force Marketing

Will marketing strategists become the horse grooms of the 21st century?

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Nice work if you can get it

Grooming horses probably seemed like a nice job in the 19th century.  After all, you got plenty of exercise and got to work with animals.  What’s not to like?

Well, in a word, Buicks.

Just as one form of technology destroyed the jobs of hundreds of thousands of horse grooms, another may lay waste to the jobs of thousands of marketing and advertising strategists.  As more and more digital marketing tools adopt optimization features, some of the core functions of the marketing strategist may begin to seem redundant.  However, I think that smart strategists will regard these tools not the way that John Henry regarded the steam drill but rather the way the first taxicab driver regarded a Model T.  That is, technology doesn’t take jobs away; rather, it makes them bigger.

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Who Cares if Email Marketing Pays for Itself?

Let me suggest a modest proposal: run your email marketing program at a loss.  As in, if you’re a retailer, stop worrying how much each email nets in incremental sales.  As in, if you’re a B2B marketer, stop worrying about how many leads each email generates.  As in, if you’re some other kind of marketer, double your email marketing budget and hang the cost.

After 10 years of articles about email marketing’s superior ROI, throwing fiscal caution to the wind seems like the worst idea since rolling coal.  Naturally, I don’t suggest taking this step for its own sake.  Rather, I suggest adjusting the way we evaluate email marketing to serve a purpose that serves the broader enterprise: research.

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Go ahead. Rip it up.

OK, I’ve exaggerated my point of view in a shameless attempt to get your attention.  However, I strongly endorse using email as an inexpensive, flexible and fast research tool.  Let’s look at what you could achieve by integrating research into your email marketing.

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Behind the Numbers: Market Research Isn’t a Tightrope Walk

Unlike tightrope walking, this post will dispel the suspense right away: market research differs from tightrope walking in that it’s actually a good idea to look down.

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Not brave enough to conduct market research

As I’ve said previously, I enjoy reading the eMarketer newsletter every morning because it usually has an interesting chart or two.  Usually, the headline summarizes the charts like so:

Most Mobile Banking Users Check Balances, Statements

Indeed, according to the survey, 85% check balances and/or statements.  End of story.

Except that’s not where the story ends.  Enter the tyranny of the top two box.

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Pre-Emptive Cringing

How soon before advertisers worm their way into Goals in Google Calendar?

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Pardon us, but do you have any oats?

If you didn’t read the announcement, Google has added a feature to its popular calendar that makes it easier for users find time to reach specific goals.  You want to work on your Spanish twice a week?  Tell GCal and it’ll schedule two sessions each work para aprender Español.

Given that Google earns a tad of 90% of its income from advertising (PDF), you must excuse me for cringing in advance.

Step 1: Advertisers start buying keywords in your Calendar

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Models Can Be Dumb

I once worked in a building that housed a photo studio.  The good news was that we often rode in the elevator with pretty, pretty models.  The bad news was that they often seemed flummoxed by the elevator button panel and would hover over it, looking for the 12th floor.

Yes, human models have a reputation for acting dumb.  By the same token, computer models often act dumb, too.  As a result, marketers need to take caution when employing models.

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It would be wrong of me to use a picture of a pretty young lady just to get clicks.

Just ask the Australian Army.

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Book Review: The Fires

I’m going to recommend that you read a book I hated.

More accurately, I want you to read one chapter of the book I hated: The Fires by Joe Flood.  So don’t buy it; instead, borrow it from the library or find it in a Barnes & Noble and just read chapter 12, “Quantifying the Unquantifiable.”  Apart from the awfulness of the rest of the book, chapter 12 gives a master class in how not to use data.  The lessons therein pertain to anyone using data, although of course I find it most useful to apply those lessons to marketing data.

The book covers an interesting point in New York City history, the late 60s through the mid 70s, when fires ravaged poor neighborhoods despite the city’s best efforts to stop them with better management courtesy of management consultants (what could possibly go wrong?).  Yes, the book covers the “Bronx is Burning” era (a much finer book with a broader perspective).

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Today, FDNY is well-integrated with the neighborhood.  Note the dinosaur skull on the truck that serves the American Museum of Natural History.

Why I hated the book

Before getting to the good part, I should explain why I hated the book overall.  Author Flood rehashes mid-20th-century New York City through a highly distorted lens.  How distorted?  Let me put it this way: he attributes the failure to the efforts of arch-liberals Mayor John V. Lindsay (who was, in fact, a liberal) and the RAND corporation (which grew out of the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, those filthy hippies who built the AC-47 gunship for the Vietnam War).  He also intimates that Tammany Hall maintained a strong grip on city politics into the 1960s, which would have come as a surprise to Tammany Hall, had it existed in more than name only at the time.

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Let’s Mess with Starbucks: A Datajacking Primer

Pity poor Starbucks.  Coffee snobs, a demographic that Starbucks all but created, love to hate them.  Whenever the American right wants to take a swipe at liberal values, they try to pull some stunt at Starbucks, such as mixing Berettas and cappuccinos.  Across the pond, British activists use the House of Mermaid as a stand-in for globalization and/or Yankee imperialism.  Since SBUX CEO Howard Schultz proudly supports Israel in his private life, some anti-Zionist organizations have suggested boycotts.

(On a personal note, I suggested a counter-boycott at the time and recommended that my Zionist friends buy multiple espressos in support.  Those were some very hyperactive Jews.)

Now I invite you to jump on the bandwagon and help me turn Starbucks cafes into rattling dens of death metal by messing with Starbucks’s data.

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The World’s Most Advanced Mathematical Model: You

A few days ago, I had the privilege of recording an episode of the Inspiring Action podcast with my old fellow traveler Mark DiMassimo (I’ll share a link when it’s published).  Among other things, I discussed simple ways to bring data-centered thinking into marketing without making yourself or your team crazy.  Then Mark asked me a simple yet insightful question that honestly had never occurred to me: what did I mean by mathematical model?

OK, I would have preferred “what can you tell us about the rumors of your hook up with Sofia Vergara?” or “what was it like crushing a grand slam to win the World Series?” but the question forced me to articulate something most people gloss over.  We often talk about “the model,” but what does it actually entail?  If I wrote more clickbait headlines, I’d say “the answer will astonish you.”

Heavy duty mathematical modeling requires a sophisticated statistical approach backed by computing power and software know-how.  However, everyone reading this post has access to his or her own surprisingly effective model: your own brain.

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Groannnnn….mathematical modelsssssss…

In short, you think in math even when you don’t think you do.  Surfacing this sub-conscious math can make you a better marketer.

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