Monday, March 31, 2008

I came across another data sharing site today -

It's very reminiscent of Swivel - same type of layout but with a definite concentration on trend data from social networking sites, Google, blogs etc.

The description of the service on the site is:

"Track, compare and share data, free. Identify trends across social graphs and networks, realize the potential of p2p, track engagement metrics, look at what is really happening, real time."
I was more confused after reading the description to be honest. But from the look of the site, it has some type of voting system for trends - sort of a Digg meets data.

I might have a play around with it if I get some time. Although at some point it has to occur to people that data is not like news - it doesn't lend itself well to syndication, commentary or reproduction in any way that takes it out of context.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Text Analytics - Attensity

I was at a client's yesterday and saw a demo Attensity - a (newish) text analytics tool.

I have seen a few of these over the last couple of years. Mainly in the context of blog/message board/Web analysis - basically pulling text off the Internet and analyzing it for trends. This typically involved asking the software to look for something, which, as the Attensity guys made clear, is so 'text analytics 1.0'.

Attensity is a 'next generation' tool that does a thing called 'exhaustive extraction' (I think that was the term they used). It looks at everything and pulls out all relevant trends - not just the ones you were looking for. That is new. And it means that you're not guessing at what is and isn't important. Attensity understands the context in which certain topics are discussed and can roll up these contexts into trends - that is far from just collecting word or phrase frequencies.

It looks to be great for companies with a lot of data stored as text - emails, product feedback, maintenance records, etc. Text analysis really is one of those hairy problems few people have worked out. These guys look to have a good head-start.

It was also interesting to sit in a software demonstration when I'm involved in building a software application that will ultimately be put to a similar test (selling itself). This is maybe a separate post, but a few things I noticed in the pitch were:

  • A technology story is not always compelling to a non-tech audience - the Attensity guys made a bit of a song and dance about how their product evolved, how it fitted into the whole Business Intelligence space, etc. Not interesting to people who have had nothing to do with the industry - this is the sort of thing that gets Gartner analysts excited, but means nothing to most other people.
  • Ditch PowerPoint - or at least keep it to 20 slides, max. When trying to sell something to a business audience, you just have to answer one question, 'how will this tool make my life easier?' That's it. You don't need a long PP to do that, just a few slides and a product demo. When they get it, they will get it.
  • Get strategic - this is a knowledge tool, its value resides in the decisions you make off the back of the information it provides. Even though as a salesman for the software company you might not know a lot about the business you are pitching to, you have to get to the decision point - somehow. That's where the pain is, and it's the pain you are trying to chase down and relieve.
Despite not doing some of these things though, they sold me on the tool. Whether or not they sold my client we'll have to wait and see.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

What is Marketing?

I caught a post over at Make Marketing History blog commenting on a line from a recent SXSW panel.

Marketing is the price you pay for creating mediocre products.

That's a phrase that was apparently repeated at a panel at SXSW. It went down well, but it's so wrong. Without knowing the context, I can only observe that it sounds like yet another example of the tendency (prevalent in geekdom and beyond) to believe that marketing and advertising/promotion are synonomous and that great products sell themselves. They're not and they probably won't.
I also don't know the context in which the comment was given. But it does resemble an idea that seems to be strongly held in 'geekdom' (read geeks that start companies and sell stuff).

Unfortunately, in my opinion, neither the comment or the comment made about it are right.

The reason everyone gets 'the definition of Marketing' wrong is that people are trying to define a set of behaviors/procedures/tactics/ideas/etc. that have (almost) no similarity given different contexts. Geeks that produce great tech. products and sell them effortlessly are going to flounder at P&G with a $100m marketing budget trying to move Tide off the shelves.

It's two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT situations. In both cases, you need marketing. It's just radically different marketing.

But people lump them together and try and write books about what one situation can learn from the other. And then we get into arguments at conferences about what the 'nature' of marketing is.

We make up laws (how many P's have you heard of?); we talk about rules; we pass down advice on the proper way things are done. We pontificate on ridiculous nuances in rules and laws that have no real consequences (or at least no useful ones).

Marketing is not a DISCIPLINE. Marketing is a REACTION.

Marketing is what you do when you are a business person presented with a problem to do with a product, a potential consumer and a cost/benefit equation. That's it. After these initial conditions, Marketing branches off into a thousand different areas depending on how you react. There are no global rules, only local ones.

Marketing is when you've been told by your mother you can't move your lemonade stand past the end of the driveway so you put a sign on a lamp post at the corner to get people to come down your street.

Marketing is building the next generation of telecommunications and realizing that the only way you are going to get scale is to take the big boys on by buying market share with a massive ad campaign.

Marketing is building the best search engine in the world.

Marketing is giving your product away for free to build a fan base.

Problem, action, reaction, action.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Congratulations to Flowing Data on 1000 Subscribers

Nathan over at Flowing Data has just hit 1000 subscribers for his blog - a collection of posts about data visualization and associated topics.

Definitely get over there and check it out if you can. It's one of these blogs that I stumbled upon a while back and has just been getting better and better.

Kudos to Nathan for doing a great job of branding and promoting the site as well.

1000 subscribers is a great achievement.

If I had investors, clients, revenue and an actual functioning business, I would hire him in a flash!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The History of a Brand

Valeria over at Conversation Agent wrote an interesting post about the Guy Kawasaki/Steve Ballmer 'chat' at MIX'08.

You can catch the conversation here, it's an interesting interview. Very candid.

Valeria's post was about one of Guy's comments to Steve, that 14 years olds think Microsoft is cool because all they know is Xbox and Halo - they think Microsoft is a games company! I can't comment on whether this is true or not (my list of 14 year old friends isn't that long - something I need to work on), but it wouldn't surprise me that there is a generation of younger consumers who don't know anything about the history of Microsoft, the operating system wars, or what life was like before the Internet. And not that they need to know this. It's history now - gradually turning into myth.

Valeria's lesson from this comment was that 'to new customers, your company has no legacy'.

I think this is true. And I think that companies that trade on their legacy find it increasingly difficult to define themselves for new generations of consumers.

You would think this would be a reason to constantly remind the market where you came from and who you are. But it's not. It's actually an opportunity to make yourself relevant again.

I personally hate it when a brand tries to persuade me of its long history and relevance over the years - if I wasn't part of that, it means nothing! I have no nostalgia for events I never witnessed or took part in.

Making yourself relevant to a new generation of consumers means taking ideas that worked in the past and giving them a contemporary context. Not rolling out an historical one and telling me it's still relevant.

Your brand's history is only an asset for customers that lived it.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Trent Reznor on Music Downloads

I just ran across this interesting Q&A session with Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).

He talks about his band's latest album, that they have released digitally.

I love listening to Trent Reznor as he is so candid about his reasons for quitting the label scene and honest as to how this new approach (releasing directly to the public) is going.

It's obvious that the paradigm shift towards digital downloads has been a blessing for bands like NIN and Radiohead - bands large enough the capitalize on their existing popularity. Reznor acknowledges this.

It's also funny hearing him talk about trying to take care of 'all that shit that isn't music' - websites, customer service, credit card fees etc. The album NIN has released is for sale on their site as a very high-quality download, along with art work and such.

Which in itself is also interesting. Unlike the much talked about FREE model, where the music is given away and the bands reap the rewards of merchandise, concert sales etc. NIN has decided that there is value in a premium download product and boxed CD sets.

In truth, you can download the first 9 tracks for free, but it's pretty obvious that they think there is still mileage in the paid download or feature rich CD offer.

Which, to me, talks to the power of consumption versus ownership. Seth Godin had a great blog post about FREE - that while a $1 (or $5) is nothing to most people, it does change the game. It's about commitment and choice - you're making a choice and that is represented by the effort of purchasing, not the price.

Even if the effort itself is small, it's the fact that you made it that's significant. You've gone on the record with yourself - you own it. And that is different from consumption.

Consumption is transitory. It's fleeting. And easily interchangeable.

The real trick for music bands is to get their fans to own their music, not consume it. I think NIN is heading in the right direction here. Giving it all away for free would have been a mistake. So would have DRM'ing it to the hilt and forcing people to own it.

Getting them to choose it because they WANT to own it... now there is the real value.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

One of the best marketing tactics I've seen

This is a video by a company called Equation Research. It was inspired by a technique developed by the guys at Starr Tincup - a marketing firm.

It's such a great way to follow up an introductory meeting. Basically, instead of an awkward follow-up call, the above video is posted to a blog site and the prospect gets to see and really FEEL the company's essence - from the very people that work there.

The video is really easy to do (full disclosure, I do some work for Equation Research now and then and was there when some of this got filmed at their off-site in Florida). The blog site costs nothing to set up (Blogger is free to run). And it can be customized for each prospect.

Mike Travis, the CEO of Equation told me that when the Starr Tincup guys did this for their business, they had an 80% call-back rate for the prospects they targeted. Pretty amazing stuff.

Why does it work? It's personal. Personally targeted to you and you get to see the personalities of the people you will be working with. It's also different. You don't run up against this type of tactic very often.

One of the best mashups of online video and a blog site I have seen in a while.

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Monday, March 10, 2008


A message from a company responsible for sending out monthly reports to a client of mine:

PLEASE NOTE: Starting with next month’s reporting, we will no longer proactively send notifications advising you when your reports are posted. Your monthly reports are scheduled to be posted by the end of the 7th business day of every month. As of the 8th business day, if you are not finding your reports on the site, please contact your Client Manager.

When the cost of an email is zero. It can be automated. And it's one less thing you have to remember to do. Why? Why not send an email?

Or better yet, just have this at the bottom of each message - 'If you would like to stop receiving automatic alerts when reports are updated, click here'.


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The Long Tail and FREE

By now most people have probably seen the Wired front page article on FREE - Chris Anderson's new book.

He was also recently on the Charlie Rose show. (I have to confess I had no idea who Charlie Rose was before I watched this - he reminds me of a slightly more animated and intelligent Larry King).

FREE is turning into an interesting debate. Mostly because everywhere Chris goes, he seems to scare the hell out of traditional businesses. It's fun to watch.

It occurred to me the other day (as no doubt it has occurred to many people) that the Long Tail thesis and the FREE are intertwined to a large extent.

As digital distribution models push the cost of a digital goods or services to almost zero, the likelihood you are going to find and try them rise - dramatically.

Amazon utilizes significant economies of scale to store and catalog books, CDs, etc. and lets you search this inventory for free. If the associated costs of storing and cataloging all those products wasn't essentially zero at the margin, it couldn't deliver the service (or it would have to charge you significantly more for the products).

The same economic fundamentals letting you search Amazon's inventory are also responsible for Google's success, the sweeping changes in music consumption and the changes to come for movies and TV - huge economies of scale that push marginal cost to a negligible amount.

Neither FREE nor the Long Tail exist without this.

It really is a new business model. Which is why people find it so scary I guess.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

R.I.P Business Objects 'Insight'

I blogged in July last year about community data sites such as Swivel and Many Eyes.

I also mentioned that the Business Objects play in this area - - looked to be trumped up marketing hype.

Well, eight months on, I can't find hide nor hair of the BO site. It has simply vanished.

This is a good thing. BO launched this initiative with no real effort to build a community. And its goals were too lofty.

Today the world becomes more intelligent, said Bernard Liautaud, founder, chairman, and chief strategy officer of Business Objects. While there are a number of sites dedicated to aggregating and analyzing data, Insight is unique in providing members with tools for data visualization, data collaboration, and a platform to publish challenges to the online community. Our goal is to change the way problems get solved, to work on issues that have a global impact, and to challenge the conventions and paradigms of online communities.
That's an excerpt from the original press release.

So they wanted to 'challenge the conventions and paradigms of online communities'. To illustrate just how ridiculously far they fell short, have a look at these two YouTube videos

This one is the CEO of the company talking about the new initiative.

This one is one of there business partners talking about the new initiative.

Total combined views on YouTube? Less than 500. And not one comment. Not one person saying, 'go BO, change the world'!

Their 'insight' site is dead, so I can't imagine it had any greater numbers. Or any community at all. There certainly wasn't the last time I looked.

To put this in context, the one YouTube video I released of UK house prices plotted to a roller-coaster (my attempt at experimental data visualization) is currently at 1,400 views with 7 comments.

So with $35 (the cost of the software) and 2 hours of my own time I tripled the views of the ($500,000?) BO launch initiative on YouTube and actually got a conversation going.

Credit to BO for trying. But the Internet is just a different game.

On the Internet, no one knows (or cares) you're a dog - or a billion dollar company.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Net Promoter Score

I'm doing some work for a client around Net Promoter Score at the moment. It's run by a company called Satmetrix.

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a bit of a twist on recommendation/referral scores. It subtracts people who aren't likely to promote/refer your brand from those who are. The result is a score that fluctuates as both ends of the referral spectrum change.

It's not a bad idea. Makes lots of intuitive sense. And in general, I'm a fan of calculated metrics like this as they are more sensitive to variance than straight averages.

Satmetrix released a white-paper to explain the nuances of how NPS is calculated.

I loved everything about the NPS score until I read the white paper. Way to destroy an easy, intuitive and relatively obvious concept with some not so easy and less obvious logic and statistics.

There are two main things I didn't like about the way they presented the score and how it was calculated.

Firstly, this is a graphic of the inputs into their model:

(Sorry for the low resolution, I can't seem to get it much higher)

This is a pretty standard regression set up. On the left you have a bunch of things you think affect the things on the right. The things on the right (Behavior and Referral) are what you are trying to 'predict'.

The red flag was why have referral on the right? Especially when on the left you have 'likelihood to recommend'??? Essentially, you are attempting to predict referral behavior with intent to refer. Hmmm, I wonder if those might be related? Of course they are. You don't need a model to tell you that.

Why not just try and predict purchase behavior? That is, after all, what you are wanting to affect through good customer service.

The only reason to keep referral on the right is to make the result stronger. And sure enough, they get some high correlations - 80% of the time, Likelihood to Recommend was the strongest correlate with 'Behavior'.

But it's not really 'Behavior' - it's 'Behavior/Referral' and you are using things you know will affect referral ('will you refer me') to prove your point. It's like using rainfall to predict water levels and then being amazed when it does.

Ok, so there are some issues with the model. I could easily let that slide, they have all this in-market data collected over years of analysis to prove the usefulness of NPS.

Like this...

Again, I it took me a couple of looks to believe my eyes. They are calculating an almost 90% correlation between NPS and 5 year revenue growth based on what are essentially three outliers.

The thing with linear correlations like this is that if they aren't weighted in some way, one (or a few) outlining points push the correlation up (or down) significantly. In this case, take out Southwest and Alaska and the relationship takes a dive.

Besides, should it even be linear? Surely a brand like Southwest should benefit MORE from a higher NPS as recommendations will propagate virally in a way - more recommendations mean more trial, which mean more recommendations.

Considering the complexity of what makes up 5 year revenue growth, I would be AMAZED if you could eyeball a relationship like the one above and actually SEE the effect of customer referrals. It's in there somewhere, but it's not likely visible.

So, while I like the idea, the evidence leaves a lot to be desired.


Just came across an article that does some validation research on NPS. Not surprisingly, it couldn't replicate the original NPS results. And this quote from the inventor Frederick Reichheld is interesting:

All we did was quantify this common sense in a way that made sense to business leaders—the target audience for my book. These practical leaders have little interest in advanced statistical methods. Frankly, we see little value in continued debate about cause versus correlation, timeframes, or statistical methods.
If I was an executive in company that got sold on this score, I'd find that a little condescending!

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NY Times Box Office Graph

A friend of mine came across this the other day - the NY Times Box Office Graph (thanks Aaron).

I can't recreate it on this blog in its entirety because there is a significant interactive component - so I encourage you to go and have a play. The best I can do it paste an image:

It's very hard to read from the image, but basically it's every movie since 1986 plotted on a type of stacked area chart by time (time is the horizontal axis).

When my friend sent this to me, he didn't know if it was awful or good. I think it's good, but in a way very different to a normal graph.

It's good because it is interactive. When you go to the site, instead of just relying on the image to convey information, you can mouse over the different areas and see more detail - the actual movie's graph is highlighted (allowing you to see it more clearly), you can click on it for a description of the movie and there is even a link to a NY times movie review.

I found myself perusing movie titles from 10 years ago, ones with respectable box-office revenues that I had never seen. After a while, I realized that the graphic was probably working well for exactly its intended use - browsing movie titles.

Which is good, because as a graphic for the sole purpose of relaying and comparing information, it's not that great. Primarily because in the interest of space, movies are plotted on the top and bottom - which makes it hard to compare the relative heights of the areas. That and it's kind of cluttered.

But even then, the color coded areas do make comparisons possible.

Still, it's the sort of graphic you would put on a website to let people play with, not in a PowerPoint presentation to a movie studio executive.

Horses for courses.

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