Using data today

February 12th, 2016

daveEverybody likes a story.  Everybody likes to believe that they make good decisions when they trust to their gut instinct.

There was a heated debate on Any Questions last month about the closure of a local maternity unit.  It was replaced by a specialist unit 30 miles distant.

There were stories, both on AQ and sister show Any Answers, about mums who had either saved the lives of their babies because they’d driven to the local unit fast when it was open, or mums giving birth on the way to the specialist unit or in the car park because they couldn’t get there fast enough.

That’s terrible isn’t it?  Your blood boils at the thought.  The repeated insistence of some speakers that the facts were that lives were actually being saved because of the new unit just didn’t have the impact of those stories.  Presenter Anita Anand commented “the plural of anecdote is NOT data”.  She means of course that data is always more factual.  This might be true, but it doesn’t mean that it is more convincing, or that we always know how to use it.

We’ve got lots of data to choose from now in media agencies.

In the closing days of January, Sky Media hosted for MediaCom clients an engrossing conference on Data and its usefulness in transforming everyday work (allowing the brilliant punning conference title, for which I take no responsibility: “The things we do data day”).

Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Principal of Team Sky and the man responsible for winning 3 Tour de France races and 8 golds at the London Olympics, told us some of his secrets in using data to overcome conventional wisdom and confound beliefs based on anecdotes and gut instincts.

He pointed out that there’s a blizzard of data swirling around all of us these days.  The trick is to work out which variables you can detect which will really make a difference.  Be agile in trying them out, and equally agile in dropping the irrelevant ones.

Take the heart rate monitor for example.  Adopted by many as a heuristic in peak performance it turns out not to have suited every athlete.  Used too slavishly it can mislead.  How people feel is much more important that a heart rate 70% target zone.

Brailsford advocates simplifying the data down to two or three measures and then working towards progression of individual performance not a specific target.  He also revealed that he monitors moods and emotional states in the whole team all the time, not just athletes training for races.

Monitoring performance and aiming for progression is very powerful.  As soon as I started monitoring how much I walked with a pedometer (don’t need to charge as often as a FitBit!) I shifted from a mile and a half a day on average (I was quite sedentary by nature) to over five miles.

What would happen if I monitored my mood in a similar way?  Given that it is a no brainer that productivity and creativity are mood dependent could I triple those too?



I want your job – or do I?

February 5th, 2016

17-022412-why_you_should_be_following_dj_khaled_on_snapchatAmy Grier says that FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, applies to work too.  She describes the gut wrenching feeling that she used to experience in her teens and twenties about missing out on a really good party.  She says that this now surfaces, in her thirties, when she reads about her friends’ new start-ups, industry awards or promotions.

In a recent survey that Lightspeed GMI Research conducted for my upcoming book (The Glass Wall, Success Strategies for Women at Work written with Kathryn Jacob, published by Profile this autumn) we asked people across the USA, UK and Russia a series of questions about their careers.  One of them was about career choice.  The full results of the survey will be published with the book but let’s just say that I was surprised at the level of discontent that people are currently feeling about their career choices, across country, across gender and across paygrade.

As Grier points out, this can be seen to be fuelled by LinkedIn.  Every time we link in to the site it asks us if we want to congratulate someone on their new job.  As one connection of mine pointed out, this does happen quite a lot even if you don’t change jobs, as a minor tweak to your title, perhaps a re-expression from director of important stuff to important stuff director, prompts the system to seek congratulations all round.

We’re bombarded by opportunities for FOMO all the time now of course as a desultory scroll through social media when waiting for someone to turn up for a coffee, or whilst second screening in front of the telly, will reveal.  A year ago I quoted the key note speaker at a marketing conference who said that they were a bit sick of Facebook because all their friends were always on holiday, smiling, relaxed and happy.  Of course one rarely instagrams oneself looking less than glamorous, interesting or successful.  (Unless you’re DJ Khaled promoting mouthwash as a lifestyle success hack). Just as you’re unlikely to tweet another boring afternoon running through invoice queries to your followers nor are your friends going to do that either.

Are you able to shut out the voices?  Some people seem to manage it.  Perhaps it is all about focus.

Michael Caine, talking recently while plugging his new film Youth, said, with all the wisdom of a long and successful career, that he had never been ambitious for anything. He’d always focussed simply on doing a good job, the best job that he could.  His drive was to be better than he had been the last time, and so the only person he wanted to beat was himself.  “I have no sense of competition, the only competition I have is me.  Get on with it, stop worrying about fame, become the best that you can be”.

Changing jobs, or even changing careers can feel like the only answer when you are in cold January and February and fed up with picking typos out of documents that should have been spell checked.  Remember though that the grass does always seem greener on the other side of the mountain.  Furthermore if you base any career aspirations purely on social media feeds you’re basing your emotional life on how good your contacts are at spinning their lives.  You might as well base your emotional life on how you compare to the models in glossy magazines.  Good luck with it but I don’t think it will be very much fun.

So I don’t think that I do want your job, however great it sounds on social media.  I will focus on being better at mine.



What does your email style say about you?

January 29th, 2016

cat phoneDelivering a point in person is quite different from saying something on email.  I’ve known people be enraged on reading a communication from a much loved colleague because their normal smiley manner of delivering a terse comment is missing from the written word.

The opposite can of course also be true.  Do you find yourself automatically apologising for having a difference of opinion or daring to ask a question.

“Do you regularly use the words “just,” “sorry,” and “I think” in your emails? You may be undermining yourself and the message you’re trying to send.”  Well now, of course, there’s a digital tool for either circumstance.

Cyrus Innovation have built a plug in for Gmail that highlights “sorrys”, “I thinks” and “I’m not an expert but” on draft emails.  CEO, Tami Reiss was prompted by debate about women and their tone of voice in the workplace.  She says:” We had all inadvertently fallen prey to a cultural communication pattern that undermined our ideas. As entrepreneurial women, we run businesses and lead teams — why aren’t we writing with the confidence of their positions?”   This is far from exclusively a gender issue however. In fact, sorry, but self-deprecation and apologetic tones may be an issue of national stereotypes, a dim echo of Bertie Wooster saying “Sorry, old chap” without meaning to be apologetic at all.  Clearly flexibility and being above all conscious of how you might come across in email is crucial.

In the thousands of emails that flow through the system you can be enraged, entertained or appalled in all kinds of ways.  Hate emoticons? Love them? Think they belong to teenagers?  Think “How are you” at the beginning of an email is wasting time?  Can’t stand people who give you one word answers without acknowledging you as a person?

The Crystal Email Assistant analyses people’s personalities and tells you how to write them a convincing email suggesting for instance that you “appeal to her feelings” or “send lots of information” or alternatively “no more than 3 sentences required”.

People form a view about you from your email.  So do businesses and marketers of course.  Yahoo’s Jeff Bonforte believes that email will get more “intimate”, and connect us even more emotionally.  As it does of course it will be able to reveal more and more about us. The data that can be understood from the billions of emails flowing through the system will be one of the best sources of information that can continue to help business with more precise targeting, appropriate messaging and indeed forecasting.  Over 100 billion emails are sent every day.  Insight from this vast swathe of information might be a controversial issue (though data is anonymous), but will also be fascinating.  Apparently for instance you can better predict the weather in New York by what emails say about needing an umbrella that day than the weather forecasts can.  Attitudes to risk, fun, love and shopping will all be evident. Understanding and emotional insight, from millions of emails.  All the better for insurers, retailers, marketers, creative briefs, programmatic and return on investment.


Champion moves

January 22nd, 2016

Dewey-Finn-School-of-RockThe 1997 advert for the Teacher Training Campaign: “No-one forgets a good teacher” resonated with lots of us because of course it is absolutely true.

My best teacher at school was Miss Stott.  She was only 4 foot 8, close to retirement and built like a sparrow but at the sound of her high heels tapping down the corridor the otherwise usually St Trinians like atmosphere of the fifth form calmed into complete submission and everyone paid attention.

The chemistry teacher had no chance on the other hand.  However impressive her qualifications and whatever her knowledge she had no opportunity to impart anything to us because she never had any control of the class and she knew it.

We’re inspired by teachers on stage and in film. From Dead Poets Society for example: “No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world” to The History Boys: ““One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them.”

There’s one of Maggie Smith’s first great roles as Miss Jean Brodie who memorably states ““It is well, when in difficulties, to say never a word, neither black nor white. Speech is silver but silence is golden.”

The gulf between the great teacher however and the average one is enormous.  Now one man is attempting to change this with an unconventional and controversial training programme to teach the teachers the moves and tactics for greatness.

Author Doug Lemov has produced a detailed recipe for success for “Teaching like a Champion” which has impressed many although others have criticised it for demonising some and being too formulaic.  If you read through the tactics though what becomes clear is that there is a huge number of them that you can apply to other situations where you need to command the attention of people in a room.  So if you don’t always feel like a champion when you give a presentation at work, deliver a new business pitch or a speech at a conference there are techniques in Lemov’s work that you can borrow for success.

Missouri’s Education Evaluator System lists a series of proven techniques from Lemov which are useful to keep up your sleeve to roll out if attention flags in your big moment.  They include: “Circulate – move around the room”.  There’s huge power in coming away from the podium or the front of the room.  “Check for understanding”, don’t keep harping on about programmatic and big data without ensuring everyone is with you! Ask for group response, getting the audience to answer in unison can be fantastic for the energy in the room and if all the other speakers have just been talking at the audience it can have fabulous impact. He suggests that you create a “Vegas” moment – use lights and sound to change the mood.  If the budget will stretch, bring on the dancing girls!  My favourite of his tactics?  And one which is very difficult to deliver…………..


“The Wait”.


Say nothing.  Delay a few strategic seconds to create more impact than any amount of talking can.



Here’s 16 predictions for 2016

January 12th, 2016
  1. nyeMore adblockers used by more people. Not because people hate advertising, not because advertising is more intrusive than it used to be.  Whether these two things are true or not is irrelevant.  It is because ads slow things down that you really want to get at.  Some news sites and magazines take four times longer to download because of the advertising.  No-one wants that.  Why wouldn’t you adblock if that is the case?  The solution? Not meaningful ads, not better targeted ads.  Better or more appropriate application of technology.  That works in mobile: smartphones and ipads as well as desktop.
  2. Media budgets spent in accountable media. Accountable in terms of outcomes, not traditional media metrics.
  3. No stepchange in media research. Although we are long overdue a revolution in cross industry standards, and although many siloed media are investing in research solutions that benefit them in isolation, there is still no sign of a true cross industry solution.
  4. Customer service will transform how people think of brands. I was on hold to a financial service institution for 40 minutes last week, but they assured me that my call was very important to them, so that made it ok.    Next year sees the launch of a bank with no bricks and mortar.  Designed to service the customer.
  5. Less spin, more authenticity. Brands that sell with stories about warmth and empathy that their creative agencies have made up, will underperform versus brands that deliver warmth and empathy and then have creative that tells brilliant stories about what they have actually done.
  6. SEO gains significance. Not just because it helps with search. But because if your product delivers in natural search it means that it is largely doing the right things for marketing in general.
  7. A long overdue recognition of the importance of acting locally for national brands. A superb way to cut through the competition.  Also we are not one nation, Chelsea and Tottenham aren’t equivalent, let alone Durham and Swansea.
  8. A continued shift in how trends form. The traditional canon of influence – published critics and trend setters – gives way to a constantly changing set of internet self published influencers.
  9. The power of friendly and respectful communications strategies for competitive standout. Brands must be friendly to their fans and followers.  If you speak out for a brand then you expect to be thanked, liked, retweeted etc and recognised.  One way comms will not do.  Reply, acknowledge, amplify.
  10. The employee brand increases in importance. What do the people closest to the brand say think and do ie those who work for the retailer, service provider or manufacturer.  Their voice is going to be recognised more and more in 16.  They are the real brand ambassadors and their views make a difference.
  11. More diversity in business and in media. The inspirational efforts of individuals such as Karen Blackett OBE, the day to day efforts of every business leader, and my next book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, with co-author Kathryn Jacob published in the autumn will all help to drive real change.
  12. New app ecology: the end of fragmentation and the rise of the VPA
  13. Strong women on the rise. Ditch the stereotypes.  We’re going to see a whole new set of strong women out there in 2016.
  14. The re-emergence of insight in comms planning. The industry has been focussed on, some would say obsessed with, tech and innovation at the expense of brilliant insight.  Strategies driven by the latter are the ones which have true business outcomes.  The rest is just tactics, fun in the moment.
  15. Proper use of the second screen, not just tactically but as core brand strategy.
  16. The best creatives will be media planners. The best media planners will be closing sales.