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Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and a visiting professor at the MIT Center for Civic Media, has written a provocative post on the HBR Blog titled, “The Hidden Biases in Big Data.” She quotes former Wired Editor-In-Chief, Chris Anderson, as saying, “with enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.” Crawford then asks, can numbers actually speak for themselves?
Crawford’s answer is a simple no. She states:
Data and data sets are not objective; they are creations of human design. We give numbers their voice, draw inferences from them and define their meaning through our interpretations. Hidden biases in both the collection and analysis stages present considerable risks, and are as important to the big-data equation as the numbers themselves.
I agree. Data – big or small – can no more speak for itself than a goldfish. Big data just makes a long standing problem… bigger. Data must be cleaned and ordered before it can be used, and what numbers mean depends on how we interpret them. I also agree that what we really need is not big data but, to use Crawford’s term, data with depth. This is what I was trying to get at in my post about big data needing a little help.
Chatting to my colleague Bill Pink, Senior Partner, Creative Analytics at Millward Brown North America, he suggests that making use of big data, or any data for that matter, comes back to first principles:
What question are we trying to answer? Do we understand the people, psychology, human relationships, the category or phenomena under study? The upside of the big data is we now have previously untapped assets to help us answer these questions – mobile collection of texts, social media, set top data on TV viewing… that’s the amazing thing.
And those new data assets can be used to provide a better explanation than if we did not have those data sets to include in the story. But that assumes a framework, analytic approach and tools to evaluate and integrate the data and reach these conclusions. It’s not the presence of the data that matters, it’s the question to be answered and the ability of the new data to take us to further than we were before.Read More
Karl Heiselman, CEO at Wolff Olins, thinks that advertising is destined to become a hyper-aggressive, transactions-focused battlefield. His vision is very similar to what I once referred to as “The Doomsday Brand Scenario.” Heiselman believes that transactional advertising will be balanced by tangible brand building activities, but I am not so sure.
Unfortunately I have little doubt that Heiselman’s vision for advertising is going to prove at least partly correct. You only have to look at the way online ad targeting has evolved to see that access to deeper data profiles on individuals will enable more specific behavioral targeting. Heiselman puts it this way:
We will see advertising that is contextual to our actions and designed to encourage a specific transaction. Searching for a lawnmower? Here’s a deal for that. Eating at the same restaurant regularly? Here’s a deal for the one next door. Friends who like a certain store? Here’s a discount for you to try it too.
This is why Heiselman thinks that advertising will become a sales tool not a brand building one. The only way to clinch the deal is to offer a deal, and that is my big concern. If people are constantly bombarded with special offers, they will soon become sensitized to them. Worse still, they will learn how to game the system to ensure they get the lowest price on their purchase. In my 2007 post, I wrote:
If consumers learn which behaviors will get them the best price, then I think brand preference and loyalty will become a thing of the past–particularly since increased price and promotion activity will hide eroding base sales in a tumult of wildly fluctuating sales volume. Bye-bye, brand value, hello, lower margins and increased volatility.
In his vision, Heiselman proposes that brand builders will not be disadvantaged versus discounters, because access to enhanced information profiles will enable them to build more value into their products. Brand builders will be able to innovate with confidence that what they build will be met with consumers’ approval. The mechanisms suggested all involve creation of tangible value: delivery of superior experiences across all touch points, locking consumers in with product and content ecosystems.Read More
I think that those of us who work in marketing often over-estimate the degree of affection that people have toward brands. Much of the evidence suggests that people really do not think about brands all that often or care about them that deeply. Instead, the importance of many brands to their consumers is derived from a series of inconsequential experiences. Those brands may be more valuable as a result.
Kevin Roberts, has famously promoted the idea that brands should aspire to become Lovemarks. Its Web site describes Lovemarks as follows:
Lovemarks are the future beyond brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Ever.
Powerful stuff, and yes, brands should deliver a great experience, one people love, but is there really a brand you “just can’t live without?” Readers of this blog know I love my car, but that does not prevent me from wondering if there is something better out there. Particularly when most brands are pretty incidental to our lives, just how realistic is it that people care that much about all of them?
Besides, I think there is a benefit for brands that fly under our conscious radar. The ones that rely on cues and circumstance to trigger instinctive positive reactions and habits stimulate behavioral loyalty. I suspect that there are many brands that thrive because people have become habituated to them. They buy them time after time, without thinking about the price they pay or the alternatives. Loyalty is built up over time through repeated good experiences and repeated purchasing behavior.
Bill Moggridge, one of the co-founders of design company, IDEO, is quoted in the Objectified documentary as saying:
I like the concept of wearing in rather than wearing out. You’d like to create something where the emotional relationship is more satisfying over time.
(People) don’t have to have a strong love relationship with their things but they should grow sort of a little more fond of them perhaps over time.Read More
A couple of weeks ago, I referred to an article on the importance of signs titled, “The Secret Language of Signs” by Julia Turner in Slate magazine. She has a second article called, “Lost in Penn Station” that I can really relate to. I like to believe I have a good sense of direction, but New York’s Penn Station just seems designed to confuse and I have been lost in it on more than one occasion.
Turner suggests that the reason Penn Station is so confusing is not that the “wayfinders” who design the navigation system and signage ignored good practice, but that three sets of designers designed three different systems. You see, Penn Station is home to three different railroads: Amtrak owns the station and manages its own concourse, but it leases the rest of the space to New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road. As Turner notes, each organization’s signage is legible and directs people well within its own concourse, but people using the station often have to navigate across all three to get to where they need to be. She says:
This is a crazy way to manage information at the biggest railway station in the country. The user experiences Penn Station as one place. But the current system assumes that the user experiences the station as three distinct spaces.
Of course, Penn Station is not alone in its craziness. Brands do it all the time. For instance, I do not distinguish between the British Airways Web site, the flight on a BA Boeing 747, arrival at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, or using the company’s customer service hotline. As far as I am concerned, they are all different parts of the experience of flying with British Airways. When one part of that experience fails to meet my expectations, the whole brand suffers. The same is true of banks with ATMs, physical outlets, Web sites and correspondence.
Turner suggests that one of the main reasons Penn Station fails to deliver a positive user experience is that no one is responsible for the entire user experience. She states that the single most crucial thing a wayfinding designer must do is think about the user, anticipate their goals and understand how they will perceive a space. She says:Read More
Product experience is the ultimate determinant of brand loyalty. Design of that experience is one of the few areas where creativity can still provide a tangible and sustainable competitive edge. However, the brand experience extends far beyond the product to all brand touch points, including advertising. Recently I heard of an example of advertising that literally was a touch point.
Rob Valsler posted a photo of some chapattis on his blog in the Millward Brown Greenhouse (the company’s own social network). Chapattis, thin flat rounds of unleavened bread, are ubiquitous in Indian and South Asian cooking, but unlike most of their kind, these chapattis had writing on them. Apparently the Hindi script on the chapattis asks, “Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?”
The chapattis were distributed to thousands of pilgrims from a stall set up by Lifebuoy at Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest religious gathering. In his post, Rob asks if the tangible dimension of handling the chapattis adds to the “experience” of the communication. Does the physical act of touching food increase receptivity to the message about hand washing? (He suggests the connection does little for enjoyment of the chapattis).
As Graham Page notes in response to Rob’s post, there is evidence to suggest that tangible communications have an advantage over the intangible. In 2007, working in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, Millward Brown used functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to physical and virtual stimuli.
You can read more about the research here, but the findings suggest that tangible advertising not only engages more senses, it appears to produce deeper engagement with the advertising. The printed materials evoked more brain activity associated with integration of sight and touch, stronger emotional response (suggestive of stronger memory formation) and deeper integration with personal thoughts and feelings.
I would note that in the last finding, touch seems to improve integration with personal thoughts and feelings, seems similar to the finding that touch improves the desire to own a brand. It makes me think we need to reinstate the physical experience of a brand as an important component of the marketing mix. While digital and augmented reality are new and sexy, maybe we need to remind ourselves that humans are still designed to experience the world through all of our senses, not just one.
So what do you think? What other forms of non-traditional tangible ad formats have you come across? Please share your thoughts.
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