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.

In the 1990s, they developed a computer helicopter simulator for training pilots.  They took pride in programming all the factors that their pilots might face in the real world, including Australia’s mascot, the kangaroo.  In a demonstration, a pilot buzzed a herd of kangaroos and, just like real-world kangaroos would do when startled, they scattered.  And then they regrouped behind a hill and started shooting at the helicopter.

What happened?  Programmers took a shortcut when developing the code for the kangaroos and, basically, used the same code for humans, but with a faster rate of movement.  They forgot that kangaroos don’t use guns.  At least not yet.

We can laugh, but marketers often make the same mistakes with their models.  It takes time (read: money) and labor (read: money) to develop models for segmentation.  It makes sense for marketers to re-use models as much as possible to economize.  While it makes sense, marketers still need to reality-check their models before rolling them out.

I’ve seen models initially developed for the financial services industry used in telecommunications and travel.  That model didn’t work out so well in those cases.  A little forensic work revealed why.  The financial services model considered only five factors: household income, household net worth, home ownership, family composition and head-of-household age.  The first three accurately predicted creditworthiness and the latter two predicted spending needs.  None of these really gave an indication of what kind of phones they wanted or where they wanted to travel on vacation.

So, before you use an extant model in your marketing segmentation, make sure you understand what it does and what it doesn’t do.

And never turn your back on a kangaroo.

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