Tag Archives: marketing data

Data’s Inigo Montoya Problem (Part I)

Of all the quotes in the infinitely quotable movie “The Princess Bride,” (“Have fun storming the castle!”  “As you wish,” “Never get involved in a land war in Asia!”), one always stood out for me:

Vizzini: HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

If I’ve encountered one problem more than any other in marketing data, I’d call it the Inigo Montoya problem: the dangers of using misleading data.

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Photo courtesy of, let’s see here, The Daily News.  Huh.

The problem seems so widespread–and so dangerous–that I’ll address it over two columns:

  1. How misleading data occur
  2. How to prevent or work around bad data

In theory, bad data shouldn’t exist.  Of course, as Homer Simpson noted, “In theory, Communism works. In theory.”  How do bad data arise?

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Data’s Dirty Little Secret

If you ride New York City subways, you have probably come across Poetry in Motion, a noble attempt by the MTA to deliver us from Dr. Z.  One of these missives really stuck with me:

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing entirely straight can be built.

This quote came from Immanuel Kant.  I had no idea what  Kant meant when I read “The Critique of Pure Reason” in college, and I understand why I didn’t know why then.  Herr Kant was warning me about marketing data.
I know, again with the data.  Stick with me.  You might learn something.  If not, you can at least tell people you read an impassioned exegesis of Kant today without really lying.


I’ve talked before about how purchase data can mislead marketers, even though marketers generally prize purchase data above all other types of data.  When I visited the topic two years ago, I made the argument that purchase data only record what people did, not necessarily what they wanted to do.  For instance, a buyer may want to buy khakis, but if all she only sees corduroys at the store, she may buy them instead.  In turn, the retailer doesn’t learn what the buyer really wants, which may mean mis-targeted communications down the road. Continue reading

The Most Dangerous Thing in Your Office

Take a look around your office and pick out the most dangerous thing you see.

Is it cleaning fluid?

Is it your espresso maker?

Maybe your paper cutter?

No, no and no.  Well, unless you have a REALLY big paper cutter.

No, friend, the most dangerous thing in your office doesn’t have sharp edges, heating elements or questionable chemicals.  The most dangerous thing in your office has something far more treacherous: your marketing data.

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Playing with Danger: How to Ask Questions of your Data

In my last post, I discussed marketing data as the most dangerous thing in your office and outlined how to tame it.  Now, let’s talk about how to draw insights from your data.

First, ask yourself a question: are you Nate Silver?  If you are…um, hi, Nate.  Thanks for reading.  But more importantly, if you’re Nate Silver or an honest-to-God data wizard, then you already know what you can and can’t do with data.  You can run all kinds of exotic analyses and make wild predictions that come to fruition.  In short, you have nothing to learn from me.  Godspeed.

If you’re still reading, then you need to understand one thing: data don’t tell you anything other than how to guess well.  However, good guesses can help you more than you might think.

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