Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Consumers And Canteloupe, Qualitative And Quantitative

Pleased to meet you, Miss Five-Foot-Seven, Chai-Drinking, Coon-Cat-Loving, Versa-Driving, Hair-Dyeing “Toddlers & Tiaras” Watcher. I’m Mr. Six-Foot-One, BMW-Driving, Golden-Retriever-Petting, Downhill-Skiing, Pokemon-Watching Foreign-Currency trader. Only I’m not.

I’m not any of those things. Oh, I’ll pet a golden retriever if it’s handy, and I’d drive a BMW if my income as a blogger let me afford one, but I’m not most any of the things the ad profilers and online targeters think I am. And too bad for them, because they’re investing a whole lot of money, and a goodly chunk of the southwest Asian ex-pat community, into convincing advertisers that I am.

Let me put it another way. One of my favorite marketing quotes of all time comes from that fabled business text – you see it at Wharton and Harvard all the time, tucked inside an upstanding copy of Practical Cost AccountingThe Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, And Bubble-Gum Book.

The quote goes like this: “If you’re looking to build a large cantaloupe, it’s best to start with a small cantaloupe and not a collection of cantaloupe parts.”

Are you digging the marketing connotation? If not, let me place both my hands on your back and push. If you’re looking to know your customers, it’s better to really know some of your customers and not just be a collector of customer parts.

I’m an eclectic guy. If someone were to borrow my iPod, I guarantee they wouldn’t last five songs. Maybe the grunted Bahamian gospel songs would do it, or the scratchy Hawaiian-guitar songs, or the hardcore Cajun stuff, or maybe the one-man-band recordings of my own compositions. And if by miraculous means that wouldn’t drive them over the edge, I’d tailwhack them into the abyss with a 40-ounce chunk of Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

My whole life’s like that, and targeted ads can’t keep up. In fact, all they do is amuse me with their Mr. Magoo-like focus on what they think matters to me right now. As sharpshooters, they’re Brazilian rainforest tribesmen trying to take down stealth bombers with blowguns. I checked out all the hot hatchbacks from Mazda to Subaru and bought a van. I don’t want a McPherson guitar. They’re $9,000 and they don’t even have the soundhole in the middle of the top. Today I want the album from Nat “King” Cole’s brother; yesterday I wanted The Kooks. At no time was I even remotely contemplating the new release from Sugarland.

However, what I wouldn’t mind is a company that wants to sell me something sending a person to sit across from me and ask me what I like and don’t like, and especially what I like and don’t like as pertains to their product.

And the funny thing is, as a marketer I want the same thing. In a world where quantitative data drives Mark Zuckerberg’s limo, I would much rather have one really good piece of qualitative data, shaded and nuanced beyond measurability. I would rather truly understand one of my customers than watch the numbers of the masses pass before me like Oompa Loompas.

I was going to call this decision is a no-brainer, but actually it’s the antithesis of a no-brainer, which I suppose would make it a “brainer” if that term didn’t sound … well, like it was created by someone with no brain. Emotional connections are formed in shades and nuances, and once purchases move outside of the sustaining-basic-needs range, emotional connections are the driver.

And they’re not just the driver of a single purchase; they’re the driver of repeat purchases, which are the Treasure of the Sierra Madre to most sellers of stuff. And they’re not even just that: They’re the foundation on which Apple was built, and Starbucks, and Fender, and Gucci and Harley-Davidson and Disney and all the other brands with Fill-In-The-Blank Stores on Times Square – not to mention Times Square itself. Hey, an iPod is a limited-access hard drive in a box. Starbucks is a cup of coffee. The head says you need a cup of coffee (especially this morning); the heart says you need a Starbucks.

The problems with going qualitative are pretty obvious, and never more so than when you’re scanning the columns to either side of whatever you’re trying to read on the internet. Qualitative is pretty much numbers-proof. Hard data can’t be captured from qualitative research any better now than it could be back in the days when advertising two-stepped to the theme from “Bewitched,” less Elizabeth Montgomery and the elephants in the living room. And the major selling point of today’s fin-de-siècle media landscape is that everything can be measured.

Not yet. IBM may have invented a computer that can beat Ken Jennings at “Jeopardy!”, but it has no idea how Jennings feels about that. Could be that Jennings will now devote his entire life to defeating the computer, riffing on Boris Karloff one minute and playing Rocky the next. Running up the library steps and raising your arms exultantly may take on a whole new meaning.

Qualitative also requires a different sort of front-end work. Instead of tapping the masses’ data vein and just letting it pour into a bottle, qualitative requires endless sorting through the flow to find the killer T-cell.

What’s interesting is that the electronic landscape exudes qualitative potential like Sarah Palin exudes faux compassion. And Oil of Olay. The experts and agencies who view the internet as a sea of quantitative data aren’t wrong per se; they’re just missing the ocean of qualitative data right next door. Twitter and Facebook are the keys to a qualitative castle that will not – I repeat, will not – tell you everything you need to know about your customers, but will point you in a direction where you can find everything you need to know about your customers.

It’s a fine line, I know, and the temptation to stop at Facebook and Twitter is greater than the urge to scarf a Thickburger when the rational mind says, “Salad. Ranch on the side.” But these über-destinations are the mere jumping-off points, the home of cantaloupe parts and small cantaloupes alike. It’s up to you which you choose, and what you do with them next

But leave me out of it. I don’t like cantaloupe. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Leonardo da WHO?

Knute Rockne would have you believe there’s a direct connection between success in football and success in business, but since he’s dead you’ll have to believe me. There is a direct connection between success in football and success in business.
However, the direct connection is not always the one you think.
Here; let me explain.
A week ago the home team, the Wisconsin Badgers, played in the Rose Bowl against the mighty Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University.
Now, far be it from me to disparage the institution that brought the football world Doak Walker and Sammy Baugh (not to mention Tonsillitis Johnson and Artis Toothis from Dan Jenkins’ delightful quasi-sequel to Semi-Tough, Life Its Ownself). However, Wisconsin didn’t exactly put its best foot forward in Pasadena.
The mighty mighty Badgers made it to the Rose Bowl by virtue of the off-tackle play and pretty much just the off-tackle play. You can read more about that over in the football blog (football-1-stick-gum.blogspot.com), but the idea is that Wisconsin built up a Rembrandt offense – painting and only painting, and furthermore only paintings of the off-tackle play.
The problem with that is Paul Chryst, the Badgers’ offensive coordinator, wasn’t happy being Rembrandt and running a Rembrandt offense. He wanted to be Leonardo da Vinci and invent the helicopter, too. He wanted to run bubble screens and skinny posts and toss sweeps just to show he could, and he wound up losing the most important game of his life because he couldn’t just face facts and be Rembrandt.

In terms of his job, Paul Chryst makes a great Rembrandt but a lousy Leonardo, and that got me thinking: What do you do as a marketing professional when a genuine Leonardo appears in your midst?
You know the marketing type: the person who can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, the person not only equally adept at research and product design and creative, but so overdept that they’re better at all three things than any one person in your department is good at one of them.
The easy answer is just to defer to them and let them do everything. That’s what I do, for I love the easy answer the way a wino loves muscatel.
However, I also acknowledge there are big problems with that, starting with the fact that letting them do everything runs like Cam Newton over every process and workflow in your organization.
Now, workflows and processes and I get along about as well as Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck, but I have to say if you want your own personal series called The Office renewed it’s probably not the best idea to ignore them entirely, even in the face of greatness.
The trick is to maximize use of your renaissance person’s skills without pushing aside everyone else in your department, and fostering the impression that you respect The Way Things Get Done Around Here, even if The Way Things Get Done Around Here is that nothing gets done around here.
Unfortunately, there’s no shining path to enlightenment in a case like this. What you do depends on the temperament of the individual, the collective mood of the department, and the culture of the organization as a whole.
It’s important that the factors be considered in that order, though, starting with the individual. The No. 1 question is whether you want this person in your department long-term. I know the temptation is to say, “This person is a fargin’ genius! Why would I not want them in my department?”
Because they know they’re a fargin’ genius, for one. Because their fargin’ geniusness disrupts everyone around them, for another. Because what your department and your organization needs right now is not genius but order – and there are times even an old chaos-theory guy like myself would take order over brilliance. When an advertising campaign has already been launched and simply needs to be maintained, for instance. When there’s a whole lot of gruntwork to be done and a shortage of grunts, for another. Geniuses tend to rebel at gruntwork, or do it so haphazardly you’d think it was done by a goat – and not one of the better-educated goats.
 Assuming the renaissance individual is capable of working productively in a team setting, the next step is to build a department so that everyone’s happy and the best talents are best utilized.
I’m a big proponent of ownership. I believe an organization functions most effectively when everyone is given ownership of a piece. It can be a tiny piece, but it’s theirs and they have control over every phase of it – including deciding where the money is going to be spent. If you own the hood ornament on the company limo and you’re given the power to spend money on its upkeep, you’re going make sure it’s the best hood ornament in the universe, even better than the Petty Girl ornaments on the old Nashes.
As it applies to the renaissance individual, give them a little piece of everything from your department – or better yet, give them ownership of one entire marketing program, top to bottom, start to finish. Remember Standard Oil; vertical integration can work even better than horizontal integration in the proper setting.
Organizations are sort of the anti-Paul Chryst. They refuse to acknowledge the possibility of a Leonardo in their midst. It’s understandable; organizational behavior is all about predictability, and genius is by nature unpredictable.
Given that, if a master of all trades should materialize in your midst like The Last Mimzy the best approach may be to pretend to the organization that such a phenom does not exist at all. It certainly expedites things. Things have come to a pretty pass when you have to hide such a light under a bushel, but considering that most organizations operate by shoving people into silos it’s not unexpected.
So to bring it all back home, the connection between success in football and success in business is in recognizing your Rembrandts and your da Vincis, and not allowing one to be the other.
Good luck with that. And Go Badgers!