Who’s using data in the best way?

October 13th, 2017

goldthisgirlcanWho is using big data in the best way?

The shortlist has been published for the best use of big data for buying.  The Gold winner of the Media Week award 2017 in this category has just been announced.  The excellent shortlist demonstrates the range of applications for media buying:  reacting to the news; identifying snacking occasions; geo-targeting and colour matching, identification of lapsed exercisers.  MediaCom won by working with Spotify to target women with unused exercise playlists for Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.

For every brand there are endless possibilities.  In every case there’s also a judgement to be made about the real return on marketing investment from precise targeting versus mass marketing.  Byron Sharp’s Ehrenberg Bass Laws of Growth should be consulted.  Due diligence must be done on costs and consequences for the brand.

Outside of media buying, who is getting the most out of their use of data?

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s declared objective is to transform the business from mobile first to AI first, making optimal use of algorithmic decision making.  They’ve just announced that their voice recognition software has been optimised to understand how children speak, thus perhaps bypassing generations who aren’t “voice friendly” ie don’t want to issue commands to their devices out loud.

Other businesses are (unsurprisingly) less further along the journey of making the most of data at scale.  In fact some aren’t even seeing any return on their investment in data.

In Newvantage Partners’ Big Data Executive Survey most businesses who are investing in big data are seeing some return, but are a long way from either transforming the business or establishing a true data driven culture.

The survey, published in October’s HBR, covers c-suite executives at Fortune 1000 companies.  On a positive note, this is the first time since the survey began in 2012 that nearly half the respondents are positive about any measurable results.  The big wins for those companies are in cutting costs.  In terms of the other ambitions from big data, the majority say that they either haven’t reaped any benefit from their efforts or haven’t even started yet.  Adding revenue?  67% answered negatively.  Establishing a data driven culture?  42% have started and not realised any value.  31% haven’t begun.  69% don’t think they’ve speeded up any current practices through data.

The reason for detailing the results is not to provide comfort for those people who are big data haters.  Yes, you are right to think that big data does not provide the immediate answer to every question. However the gulf between companies like Google who are built on data and those who aren’t gives clear advantages to the former.

On a positive note, despite the time it is taking for the full value of big data projects to be realised, 81% of respondents thought that the projects they worked on were a success.

And, cutting costs aside, the second most positive outcome is finding new innovation avenues.

Big data will transform our businesses.  We can and should set targets, goals and a clear vision for what success will look like and where innovation will deliver most value.  All transformation requires flexibility to be built into the process.  What looks like one obvious direction might require a pivot to deliver true value in the end.  Also of course, expecting a fully-fledged benefit before the full nature of the outcomes are clear is a fool’s errand.  Even where progress seems slow and complex, it is crucial not to lose focus on transformation and jettison advantage.


Want to boost your bottom line?

October 6th, 2017

John Amaechi OBE, Psychologist-2282

Want a real competitive advantage?

New McKinsey research, published in the FT, reinforces earlier assumptions about the importance of diversity and calculates that the gains can be even greater than previous stats.

Simply put, companies run by diverse teams perform better.  McKinsey have analysed gender diversity at exec level across 754 companies across the globe.

Companies in the top quartile are 22% more likely to outperform the national industry average than bottom quartile companies in terms of profitability (ebit) or return on equity.

22% is substantial.  But that’s the conservative figure.  Using “economic profit” (ie the company’s ability to create value in excess of weighted cost of capital) the difference between top and bottom quartiles is 67%.

How do you deliver diversity according to McKinsey?

–      A ceo who is committed publically and internally to improving diversity with a tailored strategy for the business

–      More women in executive positions

–      Diversity goals as part of the business strategy and value chain

It is a year since we published “The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business”.  Kathryn Jacob and I have done over 60 talks about the book.  It’s clear that despite the economic benefits of diversity at senior levels many sectors still haven’t managed to deliver the conditions or the outcomes that are needed.  Many businesses are working towards this, and making great strides, but there is more to be done.

Rhetoric about diversity, an awayday, a spoken commitment are not enough.

At the FT Women on Top conference last month psychologist John Amaechi introduced the concept of “plausible deniability” as a crucial factor in holding back real change.

He thinks that this a core reason that things stay the same.  Without diagnosing this in an organisation, calling it out and dealing with it, there is a real danger that any amount of training will be in vain.  Plausible deniability is specifically a legal term.  At its most serious it is a term used for the ability of people to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others in an organizational hierarchy because of a lack of evidence that can confirm their participation, even if they were personally involved in or at least willfully ignorant of the actions.

However on the broader spectrum of plausible deniability we may all have witnessed some version of it.  Certainly it came through in some of our investigations for the book.  People who witnessed behaviour that they could be expected to change but found it easier or politically expedient to ignore.

Some of the Glass Walls preventing talent from rising to the top of business that we spotted in our research have a whiff of this.  Team leaders who don’t spot that there is someone in the team who is unhappy with the tone of the banter that supposedly is crucial for bonding.  Keeping up the tradition that the Christmas outing is still to go to Spearmint Rhinos because everyone always has gone along with it.  Assuming that everyone will acquire the same ability to clamour for promotion when there is clear evidence that there is a gender divide.

Amaechi didn’t mince his words that this kind of behaviour needs to be eliminated.  Unconscious bias training might make the business feel like it is doing something but it is no more effective than taking antibiotics for a virus.  You’re taking some action certainly but it’s going to have absolutely no effect on the problem

Targets for diversity in senior management must be set, monitored, and delivered.  Why wouldn’t you if it is going to deliver this kind of competitive advantage?





Why frequency matters

September 29th, 2017

drakeYou used to call me on my,

you used to, you used to

You used to call me on my cell phone

Late night when you need my love

What makes a hit a hit?

Since the dawn of popular music, two factors have mattered most, as reporter Derek Thompson explains in Hit Makers.  A catchy song.  Frequency of exposure.

There’s some science to prove this.  iHeart Media owns a songtesting company called HitPredictor.  They play hooks from songs to an online panel three times and the audience score the song.  Songs can score into the 100s but any score above 65 is considered a potential hit.

Some of the biggest songs score well under 80.  Beating songs that score in the 80s, 90s and 100s.

Drake’s “Hotline Bling” quoted above barely scraped 70 in the HitPredictor ratings, but was top five in the Billboard Hot 100 on release.

Songs become hits because if they’re catchy and have a good melody.  They also need frequency of exposure.

Pop songs become hits when they’re familiar enough, both in their structure in general (people like something that sounds like something else that they liked) and when the specific song has had enough airplay or online exposure to be recognised.

This is of course not just true of pop songs.  The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world.  Some argue that this is down to the incident in 1911 when it was famously stolen.  This gave the painting immediate notoriety and exposure and as soon as it was recovered, two years later, queues of people lined up to see it, and are still doing so.

And of course this is why frequency matters in media.  It’s not just that shared experiences are crucial.  It is also that the more familiar we get with a brand (and its brand story), the more likely we are to buy it again.

Data analysis can now pinpoint the precise frequency that is optimal for a brand’s message.  Frequency works (although as we know precisely only up to a point.)

Frequency works because it makes the brand easy to think of.  Thinking that feels easy is called “fluency”.  As Thompson writes: “Fluent ideas and products are processed faster and they make us feel better – not just about ideas and products we confront, but also about ourselves.  Most people generally prefer ideas that they already agree with, images that are easy to discern, stories that are easy to relate to and puzzles that are easy to solve.”

Fluency lifts the brand from system 2 thinking (which is hard) to system 1 thinking (which is instinctive).

So frequency is good.  But it is not infinitely good.  Human beings like new things too.  As we develop from babies we learn to love to operate in the zone of proximal development.  Just outside our core comfort zone.  Where stuff is new, but not too new.  Different but sort of familiar.  This is an educational term, but it can be useful as a concept for understanding why variations on a theme are so necessary, in marketing as well as in hit making in general.

When catchy tunes start to annoy you, when politicians bore you with the same buzzwords and when yet one more advert follows current trends slavishly then you need the new.

Audiences like the familiar, and they also like the welcome surprise.  In media planning repetition is good, but frequency caps are crucial.  In marketing sticking to the brand truth is crucial, but regularly surprising and delighting the audience is essential.


We are social media

September 22nd, 2017

SMWThis month JoeMedia took on the big topic of whether Social Media is dividing us or bringing us together.

As their CSO Will Hayward pointed out at the recent Social Media Week London conference there’s been a huge stepchange in democratising news because of Social.

News is no longer curated by a set of editors sitting in Fleet Street as it was last century.  We can all find out what’s going on all the time anywhere in the world.  This is a privilege and a burden at the same time.  To a greater or lesser extent, we learn about what’s going on from sources that confirm our existing biases – and it is arguable whether this is more or less true than in the pre-internet era.

Alongside the democratisation of publishing has come much more visibility of hate and harrassment.

Do these two trends go along together?  Most readers will applaud the openness of opinions and at the same time deplore the hatred.  Is one the necessary consequence of the other?

Here’s Hayward’s important question: “In light of GamerGate, harassment of non-CIS gender white males on line and general casual misogyny, has social media really had a positive impact on society?”

The Fawcett Society  doesn’t wholeheartedly agree that is has.  Fawcett – a UK based campaigning organisation for gender equality that has been around since before there was TV let alone the internet – has launched #ReclaimtheInternet, to combat the rise of cyber-bullying, revenge porn and online abuse.

On the other hand the internet has given a voice to communities that were previously silent.  Mums at the school gates for instance always have had strong opinions.  Now those opinions can’t be ignored thanks to sites like Mumsnet and Netmums.  #Everydaysexism has given everyone an insight into harrassment calling out behaviour online but also in the real world that’s surely unacceptable by most people’s standards.

A Demos survey a couple of years ago calculated that there are on average 9000 misogynist tweets a day.  Twitter’s verification tick has improved the experience online (to an extent.)  Bruce Daisley, EMEA Twitter supremo, says that he’d verify every Twitter user.

This begs the question: does the ability to disguise your identity online bring out unacceptable behaviour?  (Real character is how you behave when no one is watching.)

Social media encounters are different from real life ones; at the same time both better and worse than face to face conversations.  They are not an accurate reflection of each other.  A 2012 Harvard study found that in real life people use only about a third of personal conversations to talk about themselves (I’m sure we can all think of someone who stretches this stat, but this is on average).  Online that number jumps to over three quarters.  Your ego more than doubles in size when you go online.  Part of the attraction is that it is all about you.

What you get from this is a world that is twice as good as anyone’s good traits and more than twice as bad as the worst traits.

In real life conversations we usually have to put our best selves forward.  Most people do that most of the time online too.  But, just as in the playground, you can find popularity through attacking those who are perceived to be weak.  If we’re online, we have a choice.  Will you be kind, will you be mean, or will you stand by and watch?  What’s the role of the tech titans?  To preserve freedom of speech or to moderate (censor) behaviour? Martha Lane-Fox said recently that we are at the inflexion point of the internet, it’s mid-life crisis.  Time to take a step back and think.

We all have a choice because we are social media.


Is it time to pour the tea yet?

September 13th, 2017

booklaunch12 months ago Kathryn Jacob and I published The Glass Wall: success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business (Profile Books).

Since publication we have given over 50 talks in companies in many sectors ranging from the civil service to banking via media companies and the entertainment business.  Businesses have recognised that they are better off in terms of leadership and profit if they have more women leaders.  Since this time last year there has been plenty of talk.  What has and hasn’t changed, and what more is there to do?

Our book is packed full of strategies for women to progress, and for businesses to ensure that they promote talent irrespective of gender.

The Glass Wall is the invisible barrier that exists in many workplaces and prevents women from fulfilling their ambitions.

One of our most controversial recommendations (it is Britain after all) turned out to be that if you are a woman on the way up you should not pour the tea or coffee in a meeting as it will immediately give the impression that you’re not there to make decisions or give advice, but to help with the catering.  This formed one of the headlines in our coverage in the national press: “Don’t make the tea: how to get to the top in 8 steps”, and a big part of our talking points on Woman’s Hour.

Someone recently remarked to me: the senior men out there must be “spitting feathers” waiting for their tea to be poured.  We always acknowledged that if you’re the boss, its ok to pour the tea.  Are there enough women bosses to change our view?  Is it time yet to fill those teacups?

Not by recent evidence no.

The gender pay revelations from new legislation that requires big companies to publish the facts have proved very useful, but make stark reading.

The BBC got lots of publicity when it appeared that by far the majority of highly paid stars were men.  As the celebrated Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey put it: “Whether we’re black, white, brown or pink with green spots, we’re the majority. And we deserve to be valued in the same way as men – for our brains, our experience and our expertise. A gender pay gap at the BBC makes it look faintly ridiculous. Why would young women want to work there?”

Company after company has revealed pay deficiencies between men and women in sectors as different as banking, the civil service (where the gender pay gap is widening at a quarter of organisations) and even the church.

In our own sector the 2017 IPA census showed a reduction in the number of women leaders year on year.

There’s been a row at the seminal 21st century company, Google,  when an employee claimed that biological differences accounted for the pay gap.

The man responsible for the memo in question left the company, but as Kathryn and I can attest, he is certainly not the only man who thinks that this might be the case.  We know because it is a question we get asked at the talks we give.

Gender assumptions start early (did you see the BBC 2 show “No more boys and girls?  The increased confidence that the girls acquired when boys and girls were treated the same was very moving) and  they run deep.  Every manager needs to go out of their way to ensure that they’re fair to talent of every kind, whatever their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability or age.  The EHRC points out here that many more measures need to be taken to speed up equality.

Where targets are being set for board gender parity at big companies the current solution to meet them often seems to lie in appointing more women NEDs rather than executive directors to the board (where the real power in decision making lies.)

Whatever barriers you face to the career you would like, its crucial to develop resilience and a set of strategies to deal with every barrier to success that everyday working can throw at you.

Confidentially, Kathryn and I have been surprised by some of the issues that have been raised at our talks by the attendees.  Not because we haven’t come across them but because they are much more common than we thought.

Not enough has changed.  Time for business to take a good long hard look at itself, in every sector, and make real changes to ensure that the Glass Walls come down and talent thrives.  Time for every woman to ensure that she doesn’t get frustrated in her ambitions.  Sometimes you might need to use pragmatic solutions to win sure, and what you want probably won’t get handed to you on a plate, but the time has never been better to take the next step.  Meanwhile, don’t pour the tea.