Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

You may find it surprising, Gentle Reader, that I should be posting on the issue of poverty in support of Blog Action Day. After all, Eating Out is about the enjoyment of fine food and wine - a topic far removed from the concept of poverty.

At the same time, those of us fortunate to be here in the world's culinary capital get reminded every day that poverty is all around. Even in Japan, many people struggle to make ends meet and homelessness is a chronic problem. Consumer finance is often used as a solution to want, and indebtedness rises in a sickening spiral. Single mothers often go without food to have enough for the children. The attitude of government and passers-by to these issues constantly surprises me.

Poverty is not a disease, nor is it a terminal affliction of humanity. It requires action - action by people like you and me. Buying an extra "bento" at the conbini is a simple yet effective first step. Give it to someone. Don't present it; quietly give it and walk humbly away. There but by the grace of God goes each one of us. Just do something... anything other than ignore or bemoan.

Because poverty won't go away until it's driven.

Time for full disclosure: I used to organize, and still participate in, a rice-cake delivery program in Shibuya. And I can assure you that the targets of this food program relish every bite and flavour just as much as we diners at our posh restaurants.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The sky is falling! CERN-tanty

What-ho to the morons who said that the world would vanish in a black hole once the Large Hadron Collider was turned on. Well done, chaps! I have never heard anything more stupid in my life, and that comes from a veritable encyclopedia of silly statements I have heard.
Talking about the LHC, see Kate McAlpine's LHC Rap at YouTube. It's actually a good explanation by this MSU postgrad.

Talking about hadrons, I liked best the line in the Times by Ben Macintyre:
"Until yesterday, I thought Higgs boson served with Captain Pugwash".

That is quite the funniest thing I have heard today, and shows a good turn of phrase together with a sharp grasp of what he doesn't understand. Better yet,
" the doom-prophets were wrong, as usual, their quark being far worse than their bite."

The madness of the media age is evident when these doom prophets - none of whom is even slightly qualified to comment on the physics of warm tea, let alone high energy proofs of theoretical models or GTEs - actually get equal airspace with people who know what they're talking about!

Oh for the days of peer review! At least then we'd have sensible people writing about sensible things. Or maybe I'm just an idiot ....

Saturday, January 27, 2007

So I'm an idiot?

Now it's been a while since the last post, but that doesn't mean that I've been in a coma. Cricket-watching in Australia, cooking and laughing with family and friends, thinking about where I'm headed next...all sorts of things have been running through this febrile mind.

Apparently I'm involved in some transformation work at the asylum, although it's hard to see what's changed and where. While there is no doubt that the agenda has been published, there's little change in the behavior of the people who seem to be charged with bringing it off. Reading the post on the "food Bullies" at The Amateur Gourmet (surf to this blog, it's great!), I've realized that - apart from also being a food bully - that I'm a transformation bully.

What most people don't realize about transformation, particularly in measurement and the MRM space, is that it is transformational. There are basically 2 types of change - continuous improvement or kaizen which seeks to take a process approach to effect incremental change; and discontinuous or disruptive change. Disruption does not occur within a continuum, but deliberately breaks the paradigm to look for other approaches (some of which may be what you're already doing!).

Einstein said it best (to paraphrase) when he reminded us that it is lunacy to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. I spoke yesterday to the American Chamber of Commerce, telling people to measure what matters. People wanted to know what matters! I don't know, even in my own environment. The stuff that matters is nearly always not what you keep seeing in front of you, and nearly always comes from the fifth dimension.

Here's what matters - the things that seem incongruous. If you build a hypothesis, and something happens that doesn't fit, it's likely that it's important. The human animal has evolved to pay attention to what is different rather than what fits in the model. Yet so many people turn off the "noticing" switch when they arrive at if bland unanimity ever powered a group of people to achieve greatness.

But maybe I'm the idiot. Almost always people from other companies pay more attention to what I say, and many go on to employ my thinking in their transformations.

So, am I the idiot?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Idiots who can't make up their minds

I want you to try to imagine having your heart ripped out through your mouth. Not a pleasant thought, and definitely not a pleasant experience. Trust me, I know. Over the last few days, the idiots in the system have convinced some people that the sky is falling in, and that this would be an appropriate time to panic. A Japanese version of Chicken Little - Tanuki Little?

Now, the data doesn't support the notion that the firmament is collapsing - in fact, it's probably telling us that it looks like rain. Maybe even snow. But it's equally as evident that there will be a rainbow in the very near future, which the peasants will tell everyone is a divine sign of the god's favor. We all know that there are simpler explanations than supernatural intervention, but that's not as emotionally powerful for the milling masses.

Which all brings me to remind you all of the 4 S Principle for Data:

Store - Start by making sure you store your data to an accessible database that's structured, and architected to ensure multiple views into it. That means no more Excel spreadsheets, no more Word documents, no more dumb ETL operations (unless they produce XML that's stored in your db), no more personal Access databases.
Share - Next, demand and enforce complete transparency into the data. That means forcing your team into regular reporting to a wide audience, and forcing your audience to pay attention via visually attractive interfaces like Dashboards and Table Mats. While most people think that this should be the last step, my advice is to do it early and do it often. Everyone begins to expect certain behaviors and almost always wants to offer advice on how you could do it better.
See - Use the data to generate insights that take the form of actionable recommendations for your own team and your clients. This is the equivalent of answering the "so what" question. Remember that not everyone has the same degree of familarity with the data sets, and often don't see the the relevance of what you're trying to present. The answer is to make it clear that the purpose of the exercise is to power the kaizen process, and that there are obvious returns on the time, money, and energy you're spending on it.
Simplify - the problem with most data geeks is that they expect that everyone is as interested as they are in sucking on the data firehose. Danger, Will Robinson! Almost never true, and always dangerous. So make sure that you're presenting the data in ways that make visual sense and that are painfully obvious to even the most "gut-feel" observer. That means making the metrics construct really simple - to the point where you're asking your boss to look at just 3 or 4 things, rather than multi-dimensional graphs in 8 point font with thousands of data points.

My preferred position is to design 4 predictive constructs that can be expressed as vectors - that means that they have a value (position) and a direction (velocity). I call these constructs "diagnostics", like you get from your doctor. And I feel that these should be a Sales Health diagnostic, a Sales Force Health diagnostic, a Product diagnostic, and an Operations diagnostic. And when you roll these up, you should get a quick health check on how you're performing against strategy. Each diagnostic probably has up to 10 key variables that roll up into a number that has relevance for senior management.

Because I think that executives don't need to know what we screwed up; they need to know what's going wrong!

Or am I an idiot?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What is the collective noun for idiots?

So I'm trying to figure out how to take a medieval marcoms operation into the 20th century, and the peasants are revolting. Not us peasants in the marcoms team, who are dancing with St Vitus (see the Wikipedia article and a Saints Encylopedia for more information about this 16th Century German mania). The other peasants - the worker bees who pay the bills and those who count how many flyers we sent. But now people are saying that we need to stop being creative and generate wildly successful collateral, and start to concentrate on "da purosesu"... Time for a rant!

The Lunatics are taking over the Asylum!
Since when can you excite (careful word selection to avoid "delight") customers when you're up to your ears with nuts and bolts? Since when can you generate truly impactful marketing communications with lists of ingredients and spadefuls of product info and dosage bullshit that should be printed in 5 point italic Times New Roman on the disclosure statement?

When the discussion degenerates into accountants trying to tell me that the photographs are too small (when the material tests really positively with real customers), and box-stuffers telling me that we need to get a second bid on that service we got for free from some people who think we're cool - then the world's a crazy, mixed-up place. Forget anarchy and civil the meek (read pencil sharpeners) are really trying to inherit the earth!

I'm coming out of the closet!
Gentle Readers, I want to use this blog space to proclaim to the blogosphere that I'm part of a bunch of prophets that's going around the world trying to talk to people about making marcoms accountable, credible, and transparent to the C-Suite (Boardroom for Brits!). That exercise goes by the name of Marketing Operations Management, Enterprise Marketing Management, mumble mumble - suffice to say there's about 5 abbreviations fighting for the space.

It's embarrassing, but I believe that numbers and evidence for decision-making is important. Heck, I've done over a quarter of a million air miles this year trying to get other people to understand it. I've explained to accountants and logistics people how to aggregate data into actionable insights, how to create predictive metrics that allow for pre-emptive interventions, how to make the marcoms world a better place. I've told communicators and marketers about my secret shame - I love analysis that shows me how to excite customers and drive our brand engagement through the roof.

Some simple math
Here's the point - the only things that add value to a business are those things that contribute to the brand. Like marketing, R&D, aspirational collateral etc etc. Everything else is part of a process of extracting that added value and turning it into green folding stuff. And last time I looked at my Grade 1 arithmetic textbook, this is subtraction - x minus y equals z. And anytime y is bigger than x, the result is going to be a negative number.

Now it took humanity until the 16th century (see this brief explanation) to invent negative numbers, and a further 100 years or so until Descartes first used the term imaginary numbers. But now, the lunatics are suggesting that we need to invest more in the extraction (via processes and ROI calcs that either stop the whole locomotive or make it so slow-to-market that it's worthless) rather than the creation of value! Subtraction that generates a negative number. And negative numbers are imaginary - try going to Walmart and offering negative $99 for a DVD player!

Get to the point, Terry!
Here's the point - someone has to come around with the straitjacket and get these lunatics out of my way. Sure, use your number and your data to get insights...but make sure that the result is more exciting stuff, rather than a huge folder of numbers and Excel spreadsheets that bury good ideas.

Or am I an idiot?

Friday, December 01, 2006

How "satisfied" can idiots be?

Walking past Shibuya Station yesterday, I was greeted by building-size posters celebrating KDDI Au's discovery of "customer satisfaction". Interestingly, it was matched by a poster 90 degrees to its left offering Softbank Vodaphone's (Yoda-phone?) version of mobile telephony. Time for a rant!

I can't get why companies can't get no satisfaction. I have never come across a more useless metric and indicator than "satisfaction", and most attempts to link this to behavior flounder around the notion of predictability. Here's why it's useless:
  • Satisfaction measures a customer's response to a past intervention or service. For that reason, it's time bound and thus historical rather than predictive.
  • Satisfaction can not be tied to loyalty, unless the initial reason for responding to the intervention or consuming the product/service is made explicit and included in the measurement.
  • Satisfaction is transitory in nature, and can not often be shown to make transactional contributions to brand loyalty or engagement.
  • Satisfaction needs to be framed inside a construct that handles propensity to switch.
  • In a contemporary environment where technology and connectivity offer the customer significant voice and active brand participation, satisfaction is considered the norm by customers. Therefore, only negative satisfaction (dissatisfaction? No, that's different...) is tractable in the model.

While many people talk about brand loyalty, the only effective metric that matters and can be shown to postively impact RFM (in my humble view) is customer engagement. As a function of how likely a customer is to recommend a brand or experience (remember that word...) and a number of secondary variables, engagement can be represented as a vector - meaning for the idiots that we can give it both a value and a directional component. That in turn means we can make decisions about interventions that will impact future engagement scores. In other words, while satisfaction numbers tell us we screwed something up, engagement numbers give us the opportunity to impact the emotional relationship with customers. I'd rather know how many customers I can gain than how many I lost.

Engagement, just like dating and mating, is the result of an experience that is shared between the provider and the consumer. We dance, get to know one another, realize that we have some things in common, and establish a relationship with mutual value. We reproduce ourselves (tell other people about the brand).

That's why, boys and girls, customer experience is the important component of both strategy and execution and satisfaction focuses only on execution. That's why transformation practice demands a detailed understanding of the customer experience, whereas satisfaction can only drive kaizen, or continuous improvement. And it's why customer experience lets us grow a business, while satisfaction only lets us defend an existing market position.

Or am I an idiot?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why marketers are idiots

Just back from a trip to the USA (see my post about the Waldorf Astoria on where the only high point was a discussion with some colleagues about business intelligence - now there's a double negative if ever I heard one! Everyone was talking about needing to get data out to executives and having people pay attention to fact-based decision-making.
Time for a rant:

  • executives aren't interested in data! Showing me a pile of numbers and reams of paper is not going to get my attention. Tell me a story and you might see me listen.
  • decision-making is rarely fact-based. People, especially busy people, are much more likely to use their emotions to make a judgment. Stories generate emotion, facts generate boredom.
  • attention is rarely commanded, and more often it is paid to the coffee and cookies rather than the matter at hand. Telling stories will get attention.

So what am I trying to say here? I can not understand why people don't get the fact that it's stories that get us to learn and laugh, wonder and weep, look and listen. From the moment we're able to listen, life's lessons are best delivered via stories that communicate the central facts inside a context that has relevance and immediate meaning. Stories fire up the imagination, allow people to test their (emotional) hypotheses against a non-threatening construct, and allow everyone to take part in a sharing experience without consequences - real or otherwise.

Hint: Last time I looked, data does none of these things (unless you're a real data freak like me). A picture is worth a thousand words, and a story is worth a googol (correct spelling) of data points.

So here's why marketers are idiots: if their talents and passions are all about getting emotional brand responses from their audiences (and you need to fire them if this isn't the case!), then why would they want to fall into the trap of providing executives with data? That's falling into the trap of plucking out your eyes when everyone else is blind. It means you're having a discussion with finance wankers and nit-picking logistics experts on their terms. Get out of here!

Word to the wise marketer: when you collect data into bunches of like items, you get information. And information similarly processed leads to intelligence (business or otherwise). Once you have intelligence, you can weave these together to create compelling stories. And stories are what you're paid for. Any stop short of the destination on this continuum is selling yourself and your ideas short.

Now I'm a huge fan of dashboards and data suites - it's just that these things are indicators that point towards a holistic outcome, not the be all and end all. I've created some best of class data constructs, but I've always been successful when I've turned these into diagnostics that give busy people visual insight into what's going wrong and how to fix it. The data is irrelevant if it doesn't roll up into an actionable insight that creates future value - if the C-Suite wanted historians and librarians, they would fire you and hire some. Communicate the insight via a story.

If you're starting down a track towards providing the C-Suite with data, remember the wisdom of the robot in Lost in Space - "Danger, Will Robinson!". Your goal should be to create a story (in words, sounds, images and all the sensual tools you have at your disposal). Sure, have the data available but ask the "so what" question up front before you bore me to death (come to think of it, that might be a viable success strategy for my C-Suite...). Tell me a story...

Or am I an idiot?