Category Archives: Changing Times

2014-04: The [insert name of well known disruptor] of [insert industry or vertical]

I guess this can go under the more things change, the more they are the same…

In the late days of the first wave of internet start ups there was a proliferation of companies whose tag line became the above. In short the X of Y. These companies were often ridiculed as they were simply latching on to the reputation of another company to solicit interest. Regardless of who they were or whether their products were any good. The lack of an imaginative tag line as conveyor of disruption and ingenuity showed exactly the opposite. Worse they suddenly tide their brand name to that other company, and should that company’s reputation get tarnished, they would suddenly get the negative association with it.

Fast forward to 2014, and we’re seeing a new crop of these companies:
– the netflix of books
– the zipcar of planes
– the Amazon of medicine
– …

To me this is really ironic, and sad that we are getting to that point again. Maybe the worse case are ones where it’s referring to another company who’s tag line is a reference to another company (that’s so meta).

2013-08: Demographics of 1

A very quick post to get some thoughts down on paper.

I used to work in consumer marketing in banking.  One of the regular habits was trying to understand our customer base and our prospects.  For that, we relied heavily in segmentation.  Segmentation, is nothing more than trying to take a group of people (say all your customers) and try to group them or organize them into sub groups that allow you to understand how they behave or what their preferences may be.  In banking, we often use life stage market segmentation, as you can rationalize people’s financial decisions and the opportunities to market to them through the stages of life that they go through.
For example, one could argue that many people go to college, and to go to college they will need to borrow money.  This is a great time to talk to them about student loans.  Therefore you could train your marketing segmentation to find all people in the age of 16-21 and who either are in college towns today, or live in areas that have college degrees (as there’s an assumed correlation between presence of degrees and likelihood to attend.
One can keep on coming with similar examples of why it makes sense to segment the population into logical sub-groupings, and trust me, the nefarious applications of this are not lost on me (google red-lining).
But this is a very antiquated model.  It’s a model that’s based on a) a lack of availability (either due to internal technical means, or simply lack of capture) of data on customers, b) antiquated concepts of human behavior, c) focused on likely models (i.e. normal distribution of data, “we have a high degree of confidence that this large group behaves the same”), and d) not appreciative of the ways in mobile and digital technology have vastly changed how we behave.
So the next wave is the marketing to the individual… Marketing to 1, segmenting to 1 or demographics of 1.  What does this mean?  Basically that we need to develop mechanisms for marketing to the individual at the right point in time or place.  Therefore making your (the marketer’s) connection to the individual extremely relevant and pertinent to the moment and/or the place that you are in.  For example, a bank should start to think about prompting me with options for banking when it studies my behavior and sees when I (not the people in my age, income, geographic segment) use their services, and predict what I will I as an individual will need. It’s that magical moment of relevance that is so well captured in movies when the relationship between two protagonists is epitomized by one knowing the right details about the other, without that other having described them.
We are starting to see this develop with push towards geofencing, mobile advertisement, etc…  But how do organizations get themselves ready to develop marketing strategy based on this new data landscape, and more importantly how do they shift from their current antiquated models and data systems to these newer systems.

Please no more Vodka

Please please please stop it with the Vodka…

  • Vodka has no taste.  Some say it’s why it’s the better alcohol…  Rubbing alcohol also has no flavor…  Good luck!
  • Vodka is clean.  Some say that’s why it’s the better alcohol… Ok… then why are so many marketers not mostly (if not only) promoting and creating fruit flavor enhanced vodkas…
  • Vodka is usurping Gin’s role (gimlet, gin & tonic).  Vodka has slowly been finding it’s way into the Gin market.  Martinis, Gin & Tonic, Gimlet… you name it, most of these drink were originally gin drink (or mostly gin drinks).
  • Vodka is better for hangovers…  Ok, I have no fact base here.  I simply don’t drink Vodka, but also am not a professional drinker that has to plan the drinking and the recovery from my drinks.
 So I say to you… To hell with Vodka, pour me some Gin!

Backlash on Quantitative Analytics

Hi folks!  Ah June… it’s getting warmer, and Spring is wrapping up.  Looking forward to some summer vacation.

I wanted to take a second to pause and reflect on a conversation that I had recently. By all accounts, I’m a data nerd, an analytics nerd, a map nerd, and a geek too.  But at the same time, I think of myself as someone who is very pragmatic (80/20) and tries to get the best answer with the right level of effort (not necessarily the least).

However I recently was on a global call, where some people were talking about data analytics, and how to (and I paraphrase) infuse the work with more analytics.  Now, I’m the first to promote a facts based approach, and a hypothesis based approach to solving business problems.  However sometimes, the “science” only gets you part of the way, and common sense can get you the rest of way. I am not advocate no quants and all common sense (or vice versa), but am suggesting that we have to have a very balanced approach, and always ensure that we know when one needs to take over.

One of the outcomes that I recently came across in a project situation was specifically that this focus on pure facts, pure analytics, pure mathematical determinism lead to a sub-optimal solution as the analyst focused so much on solving one problem that they fully missed the overall client problem (i.e. local optimization with no global optimization).

It may be just the current pendulum swing, but it seems that this 100% quant based approach can lead to less than desirable results.  What do you think?

University Donations

Hello again my friends… I guess this should get filled on miscellaneous and maybe “times they are a changin'”


I recently made very meager donations to my high-school, undergraduate university, and graduate university. The response that I got from each of the universities was quite disproportionate with the what I would expect which made me think

Really meager…:

I cannot over emphasis the meagerness of those donations. These are all institutions with endowments that start in the millions of dollars, and all receive many gifts, grants, and donations in the millions of dollars. My gifts, at best, represent less than 1/1000 of a percent (yeah, that’s like 0.001% or 0.00001 of what they received). They are the types of gifts that normally either don’t even make it to the annual report or get lumped into the “Other donors”.

Over the top University reactions:

A few days after sending my gifts, I began receiving acknowledgement emails. These automated or semi automated messages were quickly replaced by very personalized messages, almost as though it came from a long lost friend or relative. “How is it going in Boston?”, “Are you working on interesting projects?”. Amusing enough, I chalked it up to a low cost / low effort attempt to gain more of a contact with donors (even cheapskates like me). A few weeks later, the emails were replaced with notes and cards thanking me for the donation. Not only were they cards, they were cards with personal notes handwritten on them. I was floored.

What does it all mean:

In my true nature, I began wondering about what it all meant. Were these schools so desperate for funds that they needed to thank everyone and anyone? Even someone like me who has never donated and isn’t sure about doing it again? Or were my gifts so low that they became a laughable matter. I can see them thinking “Yeah, obviously you’re not working on any interesting projects because you can’t even afford to send us something that won’t cost us more to process than it’s worth.” I do not know what it all means, just that the intensity of response was way over the top of the gift, and it made me a bit uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that every little step counts, and that a lot of these small gifts will become something. It’s just that it feels funny when the level of gratitude you get for a gesture is out of whack with gesture itself.

Parting Thought:

Here’s an idea… if you ever feel down on yourself and want to have a nearly unsolicited letter of gratitude and adoration that is sure to boost your ego, make a little donation to your alma mater… you’ll get that boost within 3-5 days.

Update… 6 months on… The attention continues