Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Right + Wrong: Logical narrative, Post hoc fallacy, + Confirmation bias

It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong. -Voltaire

"How will it contribute to sales?"

That's a fair question in any business context. Of course the answer isn't always easy...or direct. For instance, how will deploying a web based game contribute to sales of a consumer packaged good?

One answer might take the form of a logical narrative: 

"By providing an entertaining way to educate prospects on the product's differentiating qualities, they will be more likely to choose the product versus competitive products whose qualities they don't understand."  

The logical narrative relies on bold...each of which is a testable proposition...through research, prototyping, or limited launch.

Another form of an answer might look like this:

"We launched a web game for a different client and sales increased 5%." 

This answer appears valid. It reflects an actual experience. It includes data (in bold) about sales. It can't be tested, though, because it occurred in the past.

But which answer is better?

It depends...on the degree of bias and fallacy you are willing to tolerate.

Say What?

Post Hoc fallacy assigns causative explanations to events based on their sequence...evaluated after they have occurred. I got a headache, then it headache predicts rain.  It is an entirely natural human quality that probably saved our ancestors from wild animals or starvation or insanity. Entire belief systems can be built around post hoc fallacies that assign explanations to patterns we are hard wired to see...that doesn't make them true however.  When challenged by new data that doesn't fit the pattern previously identified, post hoc fallacies contact our confirmation bias filters to prevent further challenge to our beliefs...and ability to learn.

Confirmation bias is the innate human quality of seeking confirmation for what we believe. Prioritizing data that supports our predefined beliefs and discounting that which challenges it.  It too is hard wired. One must struggle mightily to recognize it, let alone overcome it. Sometimes it's simply not worth the effort. But in answering questions like the one above about impacts on sales, it can be dangerous for marketers and their clients. 

Because when we let only our biases drive what we believe about marketing, we miss the opportunity for meaningful insights. More importantly, we miss the opportunity to discover what we don't know. And ignorance has never been a marketing imperative. 

So what?

So let's look at the the answers above. If one prefers the second, data-driven answer to the original question, one must be comfortable with the degree to which confirmation bias and post hoc fallacy combine to discount challenges to the cause and effect gaps in the statement: that the game was responsible for the sales lift...that the other client situation is similar to this client, etc.

In one prefers the first, logical narrative answer, one must be comfortable with the idea that the assertions can and should be tested, that the purpose of a test is to challenge assumptions, and that the outcomes of the test are in doubt. This can seem daunting in the context of being expected to have answers.

As marketers, though, we should step up to uncertainty. We are uniquely positioned to recognize the bias and logical fallacies on which so much of human experience is built...including marketing. We can insist on the discipline of controlled experimentation in our efforts. The kind where we try things out in a planned approach that identifies and controls for the effects of bias and fallacy in our recommendations...and in the evaluation of the best of our abilities. 

In that regard, the logical narrative approach to answering questions about marketing's 'impact on sales' provides an alternative approach to expectation setting. It isn't easy, because it requires an acknowledgement of uncertainty.  And in an age of self evidence that can be a tall order (here). 

It may also increase our discomfort level (one of our themes for 2009, here),  but it has the benefit of getting us closer to a fact-based marketing reality and away from perceptions that marketing relies on magical thinking or assertions alone.

Because in the new marketing economy, it can be dangerous to be wrong.


Monday, April 27, 2009

What about online: 10 answers to question

You might be at a restaurant with the client...or an office gathered 'round a speaker phone. Sometimes it will be part of the meeting agenda...maybe even the whole agenda...other times, it strikes out of nowhere, an ad hoc query or a thoughtful question to stimulate action...'it' is the question..."what about online?"

What about it?

"Oh", you might think, they must mean social media...or they mean a corporate website, or an email campaign...or a rich media Twitooglespacebook widget. 

But what does a client or colleague really mean with a question like that (or one of its various, um, varieties)? Regardless of the time or place, the ambiguity or clarity of the conversation's context (or that of the inquisitor), here's 10 simple questions that can help get us from "What" to "Why" to "How"...they shouldn't be the last questions you'll ask, but they are a reasonable place to start the conversation...

  1. Who are the people you have in mind to use this? (i.e., numbers, occupation, education, location/region, other demographics, behavior and their attitudes as possible). 
  2. What specific actions do you want the people in Q1 to accomplish (e.g., find information, complete a transaction, etc.)? 
  3. Why do you believe the people in Q1 will take the action in Q2 (i.e., why will they find it useful and what will make it desirable)?
  4. What are key obstacles to people successfully completing the action now or in the future? (e.g., what makes the experience usable/unusable).
  5. What expectations are there for the amount of time a person will spend taking the actions in Q2? (i.e., the frequency of their visits, the duration of visits)?
  6. What measurable business goals does the project support (e.g., gain subscribers, solicit feedback/contacts, #leads generated, $ sold)?
  7. What are the expectations for content and what are the anticipated sources of content (e.g., visitor-generated, in-house, stock)
  8. What are the expectations about end user, development, and production technology environments (i.e., web hosting services, browsers, operating systems, email)? 
  9. Who are key stakeholders and decision makers in your organization (for this project) and what review and approval protocols are anticipated? 
  10. What other assumptions (e.g., Budget, Schedule, Maintenance, Upgrades) exist about the project and what are the risks associated with its failure?
With a little or a lot of detail, the answers to these questions have the benefit of being testable see what those people identified in question 1 say as their actions answer the questions for themselves.  

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Truths + Facts: Belief systems being challenged

Facts and truths don't really have much to do with one another - William Faulkner

One of the truisms in an age of self evidence is that everyone is entitled to their personal truths. Sometimes, we actually use facts to support our positions, often times we use data. And in other situations, we just hold some things to be self what I just typed.

For marketers, we've relied on the best available data to discern that facts that support the truth about our advertising efforts. Neilsen ratings, market research, market development data...all provide proxy support for the truths we hold to be self evident: that the campaign we created is reaching the right person in the right way with the right impact at the right time. Put another way, we believe it was noticed, we beleive it worked. And in the general truthiness of the statement 'more often than not', we are right.

But what if we really wanted to know the facts? The best available data on TV viewing is about to get realtime and real betterer: TiVo has announced that they are going to sell realtime data on what viewers watch...and all but the smallest of the country's 210 markets. (see here).

So what?

TiVo's universe of 3.3 million subscribers is, of course, self selecting and not entirely representative of all demographic groups...except the one defined merely as 'human'. But beyond that, the TiVo announcement may mean the following truths become self evident using the facts:

  1. Neilsen's quarterly local data on 400 households, three or four times a year, may seem as quaint and incomplete as a single candle on an 80 year old's birthday cake.
  2. Marketers may know the facts surrounding a program's viewer habits, such as timeshifting, program browsing and viewing duration, as well as the inevitable ad skipping.
  3. Media planners and buyers may get to explore a host of new facts challenging assertions by reps on topics like dayparts, must-see TV and program ratings.
  4. Advertising agencies will have access to facts about behavior that can inform audience insights and creative approaches in a test-evaluate-retest model more common in the online and direct response spaces.

Of course, whether these truths turn out to be self evident will depend on what the facts actually say...and one's willingness to believe them. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Devil, devices and the journalist's diaspora: Answers I'd like to know

Three questions for the 3rd day of the week:

Is the devil advertising?
AdWeek conducted a poll (here) in March to see who John and Jill Q. Public blame for the current economic the sense that the blameworthy "caused people to buy things they couldn't afford." More than two-thirds found blame with advertising agencies...the highest percentage among all other suspects listed.  So, though people are seemingly more aware than ever that they are being continually sold something, apparently we all feel powerless to resist the temptation toward overconsumption and a lust for things.  Either that or it's "those other people" who can't resist selling their financial soul on advertising's lure. If only agencies could
 convince clients that we're responsible for all that consumption...maybe we'd get a little sympathy?

When will TVs + computers become one?
Time was when web designers had to ask themselves whether to use Adobe's Flash toolset based on best guesses (and some data) about the penetration of the Flash player among target audiences' web browsers. Now, it looks like TV producers will get to ask that question.  Adobe announced an agreement with most major TV set chip producers to include Flash on their standard TV chipsets. (here). This could usher in an era of truly interactive TV applications...just like those available on computers. Which makes one wonder whether the idea of a separate name for 'monitors' still has any relevance.

Does the future of news include journalist nomads?
Anderson Cooper, Walter Conkrite...journalism has always had it's personalities. But in the midst of the continuing erosion of newspaper's viability (and influence?), one might wonder how the news can be reported credibly without an institution to organize it all or a powerful personal brand to establish credibility. Well, brings together the best of personality journalists and the emerging Twitterverse. Now you can follow all your favorite investigative--and celebrity--news figures from the comfort of your Twitter-enabled device.  

Bonus 4th + 5th questions: Has Twitter jumped the shark? Or has Oprah?
We knew Twitter had something of a bubble mentality surrounding it when Oprah had 35,000 followers without having ever uttered a tweet. Now that she--and every other celebrity on the planet--see twitter for what it is...a 140-character space in the fragmented media landscape in which to suck at people's Twitter's Fail Whale destined to make more frequent breaches? The Orca, er, Oprah affect, it would appear is alive and well. (Chart below indicating Twitter share of internet traffic on the day of Oprah's first tweet.) With almost half the Twitter following of the POTUS, Oprah tells her nearly 500,000 followers about working out, reading the paper and going to bed...remarkably ordinary. (Oprah's twitter posts here)  Announcement of Twitter's new policy limiting the number of followers, unless your Oprah, here)


Form follows function?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The perfect flaw: quotation mark philosophy

Perfect is the enemy of good -Voltaire

Good is the enemy of great - Jim Collins

Whether you read 18th century French philosophers or 20th century business book writers, the aspiration to explain 'how to' obtain success in life's pursuits tends to get boiled down to quotable quotes. Without embarking on an exhaustive (and exhausting) literature review, though, let's look at the two quotes above.

Are these two philosophies for success mutually exclusive?

How one answers that question depends entirely on how one defines the relationship between three words: Good, Great, and Perfect. For instance, if one believes that great = perfect, then the answer is yes...they are opposing philosphies. 

So what?

This is all just words, right? What's the big deal? Besides, this blog is supposed to have something to do with marketing or the interwebs or social facespacing or something like that, right? 

Ok, it's like marketeers and advertising advocates we (as in the collective 'we') have a long history of thinking we get to define our brands. We spend time ever-polishing and striving for the great idea to realize the one perfect positioning, strategy and elements of communication. Trouble is, after all that, someone else (the customer or the client) gets to define whether it's great. Not us. Ever.

You don't get owt [something] for nowt [nothing]. -Benjamin Disraeli

So if you are a marketer who believes that great = perfect, then by extension you beleive that someone you don't control (which is to say everyone but yourself) sees the world just like you. That's the ultimate market of one, marketing to oneself.

If you beleive though that great = good, then the good work is the work that accomodates the innumerably imperfect ways in which diverse customers will define it.  To paraphrase Disraeli's north country quote above, "you don't get good from nothing". And nothing is what we get when we allow the pursuit of the perfect to paralyze good actions...that is not is costly.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What would Google do: Wield scalpels or axes?

Last week, I posted online about ad spending's overall flat 4Q08 performance and sung the fanboi theme of "search is where it's at." (here)

This week, Google will post 1Q results and some analysts...Imran Kahn of JP Morgan to be specific... are suggesting that Google may actually show its first ever decline (here). Should that come to pass, the hopeful will explain it away and the hopeless will say "I told you so".

So What?

Suspending our disbelief in analysts for a moment (their 'success' in forecasting the current economic circumstances being, um, a data point), let's ask the pop culture question:

What would Google do?

Well, what they've been doing. Since before the first quarter of 2009, they've cut some workers, full time and part and hired others...they've cut some programs, like Google Notebook, Jaiku and Dodgeball (here) and started others. They are preparing themselves to remain viable in challenging times by formally evaluating what works and what doesn't...who works and who doesn't. Of course, they've done this all along...that's one reason so many Google gadgets have existed perpetually in beta.

Soon, we'll see if Imran Kahn is guessing...rather, we'll see if his guess about Google's earnings is right. Either way, Google will do what it's always done: use the precision scalpel of ongoing, formal evaluation to determine what must be excised and what must be retained and encouraged to grow. That's a sensible strategy for every quarter...during good times and all the others.


What would agencies do? Zenith Optimedia is forecasting global ad spending to fall in 2009 by the most in 29 years (here). Particularly in the US, which is forecast to feel an 8.7% drop across the board this year, the tough times in the ad business may continue.

And though Zenith forecasts a 1.5% increase in 2010 globally (they would be considered, well, hopeful), a 1.5% increase after an 8.7% decrease still leaves you down from the original number by 7.4% (as we all know, percentages are not additive).

Will agencies employ scalpels or axes? Scalpel's and axes work in different ways of course. What they share in common is that their effectiveness as a tool depends entirely on the skill of the people choosing to employ them.

Keeping skilled people...those most skilled at adapting to and driving innovation in environments of further, yet-unanticipated change...will be hard, especially if it's not a formalized part of the existing evaluation model.

Pushing this lame analogy beyond the breaking point, the random axe of employment is ultimately harder, though, because cost cutting's effectiveness always ends at zero. An agency that successfully navigates this decision set will set itself in the best possible place for success on the other side of whatever pound of flesh the 2009 ad market demands.

I suspect that many of these successful agencies already behave a lot more like Google, and a lot less like what one generically thinks of as an agency.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sense, Sensors and the Press: Answers I'd like to know

Three questions for a Thursday in April:

1. Have they lost their minds or finally found them?
Ford intends to hand over the marketing and promotion of it's 2011 Fiesta model to...100 twenty-somethings with no advertising experience. This group will spend six months with the vehicles (provided free of charge by Ford) and will be encouraged to post their experiences on YouTube, Flickr and other social networking tools without constraint...Kind of like what vehicle owners already do after their purchase on sites around the web. I guess we'll see, among other things, how advertising experience and actual product experience stack up against one another in the marketing mix for Ford's Fiesta Movement.  (Full story here).

2. Do we define ourselves by the company we keep?
Citysense provides  mobile, GPS-enabled hipsters with heatmaps that show where the cool kids are hanging out in SanFrancisco. By signing up, users allow their GPS-enabled phones to send realtime location data (anonymously...they 'promise') to Citysense.  Citysense then uses where users go (and the preferences you've established at signup) to display a color-coded heat map ofwhere 'people just like you' are hanging out...complete with directions.  Something tells me that the real fun might be in seeing where the 'people not like me' are hanging out.

3. What if one's problem is...oneself?
The Associated Press, struggling to decide if the news should be kept behind copyright lock and key, has apparently decided to send a legal cease and desist notice to...itself. Or rather, to one of its afilliates. Seems the affiliate posted a video from the YouTube channel the AP created, using 
the embed code available from the AP's YouTube channel (which is designed to support such things). (Full non AP story here). Alas, the enemy within wins every time I'm afraid.

4. Bonus 4th question: Why rabbits...and eggs?

Flickr image source here

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Timelines, in about 30 seconds

"Don't waste time or time will waste you" -Muse

One of the modern world's great obsessions is tracking time. From timepieces on our wrists to too much time on our hands, time, as the timeless saying goes, waits for no one. But whether you prefer spending your time in the past or investing your moments in the future, there's nothing quite like a tidy timeline to layer some linear context onto the temporal world surrounding us.  

And now, creating an interactive timeline need not require wasted time nor lots of time waiting thanks to Timetoast. Timetoast lets you create interactive timelines in seconds (or minutes). and then publish them to the web site of your choice.

So here's a timeline I created about setting up timelines...from the time I first logged online until the time I finished this timeline (spooky, huh?):

So what?

It's a useful little tool. It's so easy to use, even a Gieco advertising manager could use it.  And it's speaks to the emotional desire we have to assert control over time...even if for only a fleeting moment.

It also offers an opportunity for discussion around events and the ability to add descriptive detail and imagery to otherwise meaningless points in time. Or for important points in a project.

Now if only it could accurately plot what comes next... 

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bringing the Brand Heat: Branding as the Butt of a Joke

The long running competition for your entertainment/telephone/internet/TV dollar has seen some serious twists and turns. Cable companies promise phone service, phone companies promise television, Internet companies tell you to pull the plug on both...and everyone wants to tell you what you already know: that you have a choice.

Direct TV and Dish Network, the satellite contingent, have a long history of using their ads to create fun friction in the competitive space. Some of the ads are entertaining (louder ads anyone?). Some obtuse. (See here for ad gallery). But one caught my attention during March Madness for the way it used  'brand' as the butt of the joke...while serving up useful and usable benefits as differentiators.

[You'll want to ignore the lame image manipulation at the end as they are not part of the original spot and we're added by someone claiming to find subliminal messaging in the spot]

In the Direct TV spot, a fictional cable company executive team at Cable HQ reviews the functional benefits of Direct TVs web-accessible DVR service (aka...I can set my DVR from anywhere, at anytime). It's about a Functional Feature + Benefit. The cable company's response to competitive differentation is to...conjure the forces of 'brand heat'.

The team, including CEO Character Ed Begley Jr.,  congratulates each other on the brilliance of the idea: which is invoked using the noun 'youth' and the latinized ending '-ize' to create a brand response promising to "youthenize America'.

So What?

It's entertaining (though your mileage may vary)....and it points out something obvious if not always apparent: if the basic offering isn't differentiating, then the functional benefits (i.e., usability) can be. In this socially networked world, customer-centered service innovation can become the PR...and the advertising.

The Deutsch/LA agency (the latest agency to dish the dirt in these campaigns) has done a nice job of making brand heat the butt of the joke in this ad, proving that irony can, in fact, be pretty ironic sometimes.  Of course, Direct TV's 30-second skip forward feature is also pretty ironic...given the investment they've made in producing their TV advertising with big name stars.

That an ad agency and their client would use useful and usable service innovation as competitive differentiation against the vague concept of 'brand heat' a TV certainly a gallows humor sort of way?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

When down still means up: 4Q08 online ad revenue

The web is not television...or print...or radio. And so it's not surprising really that online advertising revenues might follow a different trendline...even in the face of the steepest economic downturn in modern times (insert ominous bell tolling here).

The IAB and PricewaterhouseCoopers (LLP, dontcha know) reported that 4Q08 online advertising grew at a 3% pace over the same period in 07 to $6.1 Billion (full year report here). And while 3% up when the overall economy was down by at least that much would be good, the subplot is even more meaningful: 

Revenue from search, which makes up the largest segment of the online advertising market, rose 13 percent to $2.8 billion. Revenue from banner ads, fell 4 percent to $2 billion. In fact, for the full year 2008 every other category of online ad format--rich media, digital video, email and sponsorships--was down over the same timeframe in 2007. 

Source: Pricewaterhouse Coopers/IAB

So What?

Certainly one quarter doesn't make a least let's hope not for 4Q08...But it does seem consistent with a theme: one of our Marketing Themes for 2009 even! (here). In addition to some of the previous postings on ad deflation and banner blindness, the challenges to traditional models moving online are simple: pay for performance versus pay for impression (or pay for annoyance, in the case of intrusive ad formats). In times like these, business performance anxiety among CMOs and other indirect-revenue functions can be...heightened.

Having hard data on what you got for your ad dollar--even if it's still indirectly correlated to sales--beats assertions about marketing least it will if you report to a CEO or CFO...or shareholders...or banks...or government stewards!

Ads online are good...when they perform for everyone involved. Useful and usable to prospects. Trackable results to advertisers.  Innovative pay-for-performance pricing models, like search ads or from vendors like AdFusion, will continue to gain share from advertisers regardless of the overall advertising revenue direction.  In times like these, performance model purveyors will gain share because they put their pricing model where their mouth is. I think that's a good thing.

Times like these indeed.