For over a decade now, UPS delivery trucks in the USA have avoided making left turns. Analysis of tracking system data found that eliminating left turns – which often left the vehicle idling at an intersection for significant periods of time – would save time and gasoline. This is exactly the sort of insight that allows a company to change things for the better, but it can be really tough to find no matter how much data is available to you.
The initial UPS analysis was conducted back in 2001 well before the hype about big data, but it does indicate the sort of benefits that might be derived from analyzing the masses of data now available to us in business and marketing. Since 2004, UPS claims the no left turn policy has saved over 10 million gallons of gas and reduced carbon emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons.
Would the tracking data used in the analysis qualify as big data today? That all depends on which definition is used. If all UPS vehicles were included in the analysis – about 90,000 at the time – then it would be big data according to Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger. An article in the Financial Times reports that his favored definition of a big data set is one where “N = All,” in other words, you do not need to worry about sample bias because everyone or everything is included in your data set.
That, of course, is still one of the biggest issues facing the use of big data today. Rarely does “N=All.” In his article, “Big data: are we making a big mistake?” Tim Harford seeks to highlight why big data might lead us astray, citing the examples of sample bias and also hidden causation as reasons why big data might cause us to make big mistakes.
I honestly can’t remember how I came to see this video. It features Katy Woodrow-Hill, the head of planning at Dare, describing her top four tips on becoming a ‘doing’ brand. But I thought the ideas were well worth repeating here.
I have amended the order in which the tips are given for what I hope is a good reason. One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is to focus on what they want to do or say without connecting it to the brand’s purpose, the difference the brand is intended to make in people’s lives. You need to start there and work out how to best publicize the brand.
1. Make what you do relevant to what you stand for
Good works are great in their own right, but if you want get the most out of your investment then you need to tie the actions back to what the brand stands for. The obvious example of a brand that does this superbly well is Red Bull. The brand invests in a myriad of different sports and events but they are all tied back to the idea that Red Bull uplifts mind and body.
2. Make what you do relatable
Assuming that your brand can make a difference in people’s lives, then the key question is whether what it stands for – the promise, positioning, personality – resonates with the target audience. What you do has to mean something to them, it has to resonate.
3. Make what you do simple for people to understand
So true but so often ignored in practice. “People will figure it out,” has to be one of the most over-used excuses for poorly executed creative. One time in a hundred the audience might be so intrigued that they want to figure out what is being shown or said. On the 99 other occasions, they simply click away to something of more interest.
In a recent post on iMedia Connection, Millward Brown Optimor’s Pandora Lycouri and Dmitri Seredenko conclude that Samsung can’t buy love. In “Can Samsung Buy Love?” they contend that simply outspending Apple is not going to overturn the strong emotional connection with users that Apple has earned through consistent innovation and iconic style. Maybe not, but it might help Samsung charge a price premium over other brands.
I have recently spent some time exploring how some brands manage to charge a price premium. Premium is the ability to command a price premium in any product category; it is not the same as luxury. Luxury brands practice an extreme form of premium marketing and additionally leverage the power of scarcity. Limited supply helps convey a perception of exclusivity.
In the course of my exploration, I have spent some time exploring the mobile phone category in the USA using BrandZ data and Euromonitor. Given the fast-paced nature of the market it is the marketing equivalent of studying how fruit flies evolve. Brands enter the market with something new, they evolve to fend off competition and then, like as not, die. Anyone remember Palm?
The fascinating thing about the entry of the Apple iPhone to the category was the way the brand immediately supported a price premium over the available brands because it was clearly seen to be different from them. Functionally and from a design viewpoint, it was unlike anything else and so it commanded a price point unlike anything else. This was apparent in our data from 2008 onwards even though the brand took a while to establish widespread salience.
My friend and colleague Erik du Plessis once observed to me that “survival of the fittest” was really a misnomer and that it should be “death of the least fit.” As he noted, the lion gets up every morning knowing that it just needs to be faster than the slowest buck, and the buck wakes up knowing it just needs to be faster than the slowest in its herd.
His comments are entirely relevant to the analysis presented by Chemi in Bloomberg Businessweek. Companies and brands do not need to be the best in their industry to survive, they simply need not to be the worst. However, another factor not considered by Chemi’s analysis was price. If a brand wants to command a price premium it needs to offer a better than average experience and be seen as different in a good way.
If all the companies in a product or service category are viewed badly by consumers, then it may not matter if they are dissatisfied with their current choice since they have no obvious alternative. Lacking alternatives they simple have to tough it out, getting more disgruntled and resentful the longer the poor experience continues. Particularly where service contracts or annual fees are involved, people will have limited opportunities to switch and prior experience of changing provider may prove painful and futile. Of course, from the company viewpoint it is a great business model to have customers who feel trapped and feel they have nowhere to go. You can squeeze as much profit out of them as possible… until, that is, someone comes up with a better offer.