Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Winning awards is winning sales

For anybody who missed it, James Aitchison at WARC has published a great summary piece contrasting all of the entries to this year's Cannes Lions with those that were shortlisted (paywall link)

As an analyst, these two tables were really heartening to see. David Ogilvy famously stated, "We sell, or else" and objectives for the shortlisted entries are dominated by sales metrics and by proven uplifts to those metrics.

78% of shortlisted entries had "Increase sales" as an objective, compared to only 40% of entries as a whole. Unless combined with a sales link, "Increase Awareness" - the most common objective for all of the entries - is dangerously close to that classic woolly objective, "make a noise", which to be honest I usually read as "waste some money".

We sometimes think that award winning ads and effective ads aren't necessarily the same thing, but it looks from this paper as if we sell, or else don't win awards too.

Top 5 objectives from all entries to the 2011 Cannes Lions (% of entries.)
Note the relatively low number that target increased sales and also social / non profit creeping in at #5.
And top 5 objectivesfor the shortlisted entries.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Social media as a source is a dangerous game for newspapers

Many commentators have described the conditions currently facing the UK newspaper market as a 'perfect storm'. The increasing share of advertising budgets taken by the web, rising print prices and a recession are combining to put pressure on printed news as never before.

Alan Rusbridger recently explained The Guardian's price rise to £1.20 in these terms,

"All newspapers are being buffeted by a number of forces, not least the digital revolution, which is competing for attention and sucking advertising, especially jobs advertising, out of print. If fewer people buy newspapers (and our bit of the market has shrunk 9% over the past six months) that's less revenue. If, because of a tough economic climate or changing technologies, fewer people advertise in print, that's less revenue still."

I'm not going to try to claim I have the answer to these problems. However a trend is emerging in the digital versions of our traditional news outlets, which I'm certain is not the answer.

I reviewed the excellent Flat Earth News a while ago and that book makes a fantastic case for the churnalistic echo chamber that our news outlets have become. If one paper reports a story, then all can report it as fact, referencing the first that ran it. If it's sourced from a wire service, it's gospel and need not be checked, even though wire services are under huge financial pressure themselves and so are cutting back on their own checking.

Traditional news outlets are trying to use their presence on the web to position themselves as a higher quality source of information and debate than social media. You'd expect more reliable information and a better standard of debate from The Guardian or the BBC, than you'd find on Twitter. It's a sensible strategy.

Unfortunately, cost cutting and a desire not to miss out on information that people can source from outlets like Twitter is also seeing their quality eroded.

At the moment, this is largely visible in news outlets' Live Blogs. Take this example from the BBC's football transfer deadline day coverage.

Transfer deadline day is very much silly season for rumours, but if I want pure speculation, there's plenty to be found on Twitter. If the BBC's only bringing me the same speculation I can find elsewhere, then what is its purpose?

An example on a more serious story appeared on The Guardian website yesterday in their coverage of the Dale Farm eviction case.

Several commentors on the article (inlcuding me) had argued that even though plenty of reporters were present at the site, we'd heard very little from local residents' on their opinions of the planned eviction. Plenty from lawyers, politicians, celebrities and the travellers who live on the site; almost nothing from their neighbours.

Eventually, the writers of the Live Blog cobbled together a few opinions from people commenting on the article who 'claim to be local to the site'. It was a weak solution to an element of the story that the reporters could see they needed to cover. Crucially, it's only the relatively low volume of comments on Wallpapering Fog that stops me from doing exactly the same thing here. If I hit any one of the multitude of current affairs forums and nicked a bit of content, I could do exactly the same thing here. For The Guardian to stand above social media, it needs to do more.

It's a small symptom of a growing problem. When our news outlets just serve commentary that they've sourced unchecked from social media, what is their purpose? I can visit social media directly and I can't easily check the claims made there either.

This sort of tactic will work for a while as organisations like The Guardian are able to live on their reputations, but gradually, those repuations are being eroded. Like a brand that becomes addicted to price discounting, they buy cheap sales now, at the expense of the future value of the company.

Our traditional news media need to cut costs and to adapt, but if they don't set themselves apart from social media by differentiating on quality then they'll have no future at all.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The elevator pitch for analytics

I tweeted a link to this thread on Linkedin last week. It asks, "What's the elevator pitch for analytics?" and quite a few of the answers are a disaster.

A few gems include...

"foresights" based on statistical analysis of data for proactive decision making. 


Identify exceptional insights and value through measures derived from business initiatives.

Well I don't know about you, but I'm sold. Where do I send the cheque?

It's language like that which scares marketers. It should scare anybody! Plain English is a beautiful thing.

Actually, I think the question makes a fundamental mistake and a lot of the confused, jargon filled answers in the thread stem from there. We should never, ever try to sell analysis. Analysis is a means to an end and you sell the result, not the method. If you don't know what end goal you're trying to achieve, then you can't sell the work that's going to be needed to get there.

So as a marketing analyst, what's my elevator pitch?

I'll make your marketing budget work harder, so that you have the choice to either win more customers for the same money, or spend less on marketing without harming your business.

I'll do that by measuring how your customers react to the advertising that you run now, and then forecasting what will happen if you make changes.

And that's about it. For a Marketing Director rather than a CEO or FD, you might even want to leave out the bit about saving money. I've never met a Marketing Director yet who wants to prove their budget could be cut without damaging sales...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The chart you should never see on a dashboard

This chart communicates two data series pretty well. It's not cluttered and it's definitely not a pie chart.

Unfortunately, it's also an almost guaranteed sign of a dashboard that's looking for a purpose and that hasn't been designed with a task in mind. A dashboard that won't help you.

Dashboards are for monitoring data that you already understand. Data, which you very likely already know how you'll react to when it changes. This chart is for analysis - it compares data, looking for a relationship.

Take the term 'dashboard' literally for a minute and think about the data that's displayed on the dashboard in your car. Your speed is shown on there, because you need to know it and because you already know how to make it change when it's too fast or too slow.

You have a petrol gauge too. That's useful data to avoid an embarrassing call to the AA from the hard shoulder because you've run out of petrol. Again, when the gauge drops, you already know what to do.

A lot of data about your car isn't on the dashboard. There's no report on the mix of gasses coming out of your exhaust for example.That's useful information to know whether your engine is running efficiently, so why isn't it there?

It's not there, because if it's out of line, what are you going to do about it? If you're like me, then you probably don't even know what out of line might look like. It would be a distraction from driving at best. There might well be a warning light on the dashboard that says 'see a mechanic' when the exhaust gasses aren't right but that's a very different concept to showing you all of the data and hoping that you draw the right conclusions.

Back to the chart then. It's a classic sign of a dashboard that's trying to be used for analysis, rather than for keeping an eye on indicators that you understand. We had a client recently ask for a chart of their sales vs. the weather and it's very much that kind of chart. The client didn't really want a chart of their sales vs. the weather; they wanted to know if their sales were affected by the weather and they thought that the chart might tell them.

It wouldn't.

You need a mechanic for that. In marketing, we call mechanics analysts.

Dashboarding large amounts of data that you don't already understand in detail, won't help to improve your marketing. It will distract you from driving.

Monitoring a lot of statistics and hoping to spot relationships between them won't work. You need to be a mechanic, or at least to want to learn to be one.

Dashboards are for metrics that you understand. That you already know how to respond to. Everything else is analysis and it doesn't belong on your dashboard.