Everyone has “Big Data”

Just about everybody has heard the term “Big Data.” Most likely you have heard it in the context of Fortune 500 companies or the government scanning millions or billions of pieces of information looking for patterns. These amazing feats of data analysis require special software packages and tons of hardware; did I mention millions or billions of pieces of data? So “Big Data” is strictly for these multi-billion dollar companies and the government, right? Well…

Even relatively small sets of data can have patterns. Obviously the more data you have the more confident you can be about the pattern, but if you have been in business for a few years or working on starting a business, you probably have more data than you think. When we hear the word “data” a lot of us immediately think “computer.” Understandable, but wrong. data is simply a collection of “things.” It could be your memories of the last 10 customers you worked with. It could be the sales figures in your accounting system. It could be the collection of invoices in your filing cabinets where you scrawled notes about the customer. The issue for most of us isn’t that we don’t have data, but rather we haven’t yet taken the time to organize and examine the data we have to see the patterns that exist, or don’t know how to.

In fact, you most likely have access to some very powerful tools to organize and analyze data. I’ll introduce those in upcoming posts.

The Presidential Debate: A Metaphor of the Marketing Challenge

First off, let me say this post has nothing to do with who should or should not be President of the United States.

No, what I thought interesting was for all of the analysis of who “won” or who scored a hit on the other, the end result of the debate will be pretty much nothing. No massive swing in the polls for one candidate or the other. Which makes the debate a perfect metaphor for so much marketing today: Lots of noise and hyperbole, but really nothing new, resulting in… few sales.

There was nothing new presented in the debate. No new policy announcements, no real solutions to real problems. People who were going to buy their candidate anyway are still buying, and those who weren’t…

This is the lesson that so few marketers allow themselves to learn. In today’s market, hyperbole works, but only if it is hyping something truly new and original. If you already have some customers who support you, they will stay with you (as long as you don’t actually do something to damage the trust you have built,) but you probably won’t attract too many new followers – we have heard it all before from too many sources, and it has become background noise.

The reality is you need to present something different, something unique – which is hard to do in a market flooded with competition. Find that differentiator, a true difference, and then scream it from the hills with all the hyperbole you can muster. Screaming the same thing over and over again won’t get you very far. Not today.

Proper Presentation

What good is data to prove a point if your audience can’t make sense of it? The obvious answer is: not much. The answer is so obvious that we often spend an inordinate amount of time trying to present our data in the most graphically attention-getting way figuring this will get our point across! Lots of colors, annotations, call-outs, 3D bars and pies. I freely admit to agonizing over just the proper angle of my 3D pie chart and just the right size of my vertical 3D bars.

Until now. Having read “Storytelling with data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, I now know that I was probably doing more to confuse my audience than enlighten them. Probably the single most striking advice she gives is: NO 3D. She is adamant about it. Why? Because to render a 3D graph, programs like Excel must make certain sacrifices in accurate placement of the bars and scales on the X and Y axes, which show misleading results.

I always thought one of my great failings when creating presentations about data was that I was not a very good graphic designer (like, not a graphic designer at all). Suddenly I find I don’t need to be, in fact the temptation to make a graph super stylized tends to decrease the effectiveness of what you are presenting.

If you are frequently making presentations that include graphs (or worse, you are just dumping out tabular data) I urge you to check out this book. The author’s sense of simplifying the presentation to make the most impact is dead-on.

The belief that we must present data in almost an artistic manner because it just “feels” that is the correct way is shattered by the reality of how this can actually mislead or even confuse the very people we are trying to convince. Nice to know my lack of artistic sense can be overcome with just a little common sense and the most basic functions of presentation software. Data doesn’t lie, but it sure can be made extremely confusing. Let’s make sure our point gets across simply and effectively.

Well intentioned, but incorrect advice

Where Do I Start to illustrate confusion and the need for a plan in a project, a career or life

Recently, I was looking through some posts on a speaker group and I ran across a question from someone just starting out: I would like to start speaking, who should I be contacting and how?

One person replied that the person posing the question was getting ahead of themselves. First they should have a presentation written and know it backwards and forwards, then they should go out and give that speech for free to as many groups as possible to polish it, and after doing all that, then they should start thinking about contacting people about paid speaking gigs.

The advice was well-intentioned, but wrong. The first thing anyone with an idea should do is find out if there is a market for what they want to sell, be it a product, services, or in this case, a keynote presentation. Too often we are told (or convince ourselves) that we need to hone our skills or product until there is no question we have reached as close to perfection as possible. The problem with this of course is that if no one is interested in what we have to sell or say, we have wasted a grand amount of time, and we are going to be VERY frustrated when we start selling.

We still hear the old chestnut, “do what you love, and the money will follow,” or some variation on that theme. We are fed the stories of people who gave up the grind of being a lawyer or a stock broker to pursue their dream to create pottery, jewelry, or perhaps something even more exotic, and how this business grew to be even bigger than their previous career. A lot gets left out of those stories. One thing in particular that isn’t mentioned or gets glossed over is the person in question often has been doing this new business as a hobby or a sideline for years, and has developed a following. In marketing-speak: they identified their target market. In my terms: they have identified a key data point: will anyone buy this?

Simply put, before you decide to spend a whole lot of time developing your product, service, or speech, find out if people will actually pay for such a thing, and if there are enough of those people to sustain you. Don’t let your desire, belief in, or love for something allow you to ignore cold hard facts.

Are you sure about that?

factsYou probably have some cherished beliefs about how your business works, how marketing works, and how you can make more money. If you really want to change things, you need to open your mind to what data can tell you, even if it destroys some of the those cherished beliefs.

Let’s take a very common belief (at least amongst us older people) these days: Millennials as a group are selfish, lazy, entitled, and have no work ethic (at least not as strong as mine!) Now, let’s look at some data:

And that is just a few things from just one source – who sourced all of his statements. You can see the original blog post from Dan Schwabel.) While this is hardly definitive, it makes you pause when you consider your own beliefs.

We often get our information anecdotally, for millennials it might be from a friend who had a friend who had a cousin who knew someone who owned a business and had trouble with some younger workers, and then form an opinion.

My point here is not whether millennials are lazy and entitled or not, but rather “beliefs” need to be evaluated against data. How many of your beliefs about your business might change is you started looking at some cold hard data?

Phone Marketing Fail

Oops Word on Big Red Button Correct MistakeIf you know me personally or have been following me for a while, you’re aware that my specialty is data, and the technology you can use to leverage that data. Given that, lets see if you can guess pretty quickly what could have been done to make this fail a potential success.

The other day my cell phone starting ringing near 10:00 PM. I personally never call any of my friends or family much past 9:00 or 9:30 PM, unless it is an emergency, so I grabbed my phone feeling a little apprehensive. When I looked at the number, it wasn’t one I recognized, so I figured that it was a wrong number, and just let it go.

I didn’t look at my phone again until the next morning. That’s when I noticed I had a voice mail message. The message was from someone (actually their assistant) who I had met at a recent event in Las Vegas., reminding me about something I had signed up for at that event. The message was time stamped around 10:00 PM.

I became a little irritated when I realized last night’s call had simply been part of someone’s phone marketing. I tried to figure out why they thought it was a good idea to call someone that late at night. Then I realized, they hadn’t thought that at all. Realizing that most of their contacts from the event would be solo-entrepreneurs, I believe they  thought (quite correctly) that the best time to reach these people was in the early evening… assuming of course that the people they were calling were on the West Coast, where they were calling from.

The fail should be obvious to you now. Rather than look at their data, and divide up their list into the various time zones – a little bit time-consuming, but we’re probably talking only a few hundred leads at most, they just started calling. They didn’t pause to think that maybe some east coasters came out for a west coast event.  Can they recover with some of these prospects? Probably. But they just made their job harder.

When people think of data analysis, they think of the hard stuff. Checking an area code for the time zone is data analysis too and isn’t terribly hard. The money is in the data, even with something this simple.

Directions For The New Year

Change Vs. SameI subscribe to more email lists than I care to think about. Part of the reason is I like to see what people are offering and what the trends are going to be. I have noticed more and more that the emphasis is engagement. This makes sense because first you have to get someone’s attention (with a cool video or neat thing to do) to start a relationship. The key word in that last sentence wasn’t “attention” (although that is important,) it was “relationship”.

Relationships are hard to start and harder to maintain. That is why so many of us prefer to try to get someone to buy something now. The problem is that there are so many things vying for people’s attention, and the percentage of immediate buyers for our particular product or service is very small, that it is really an uphill battle.

On top of this is the changing patterns of what works and what doesn’t. Things that worked today won’t work tomorrow, and things that stopped working years ago start coming back.

To that end, check out this article from Inc. Magazine. While they are described as trends in Internet Marketing, several of them apply directly to most any kind of marketing. You’ll see that the emphasis is on engagement and relationship building. Ads, which were never great, but had some usefulness to smaller businesses are going to get harder to use for engagement. Content will need to be richer and more useful.

None of this is bad news. It is simply the way things go. The one New Years resolution you should have is to plan to bring your prospects and customers closer to you, not through ad bombardment, but through relationship building. Make them feel you understand their problem. You don’t need to be their best friend, just a trusted advisor.


Naughty Networking

naughty-or-niceIt has happened to all of us. We meet someone at a networking event, we give them our card, and a week later we get their ezine in our inbox. When it comes to being naughty or nice when networking, one action stands out among the naughty: signing people up for your list just because they gave you their business card.

Now be honest, have you done this to people you have met? Maybe you rationalized it away by saying, “But they were interested!” Let’s look at this and come up with a better way.

It is easy to look at your list, see you need to grow it, then look at those business cards you collected at last night’s networking event and figure, hey, these people need to hear what we have to say! The problem is you didn’t ask for their permission. But EVERYONE says we must grow our list, so we add anyone that gives us a business card.

What we really need are interested and engaged people on our list. The person that politely listened to us at last night’s event (possibly partially anesthetized with alcohol) isn’t necessarily really interested in what we have to say.

So for the rest of the year, at the remaining holiday networking meetings you will be going to, try one of these methods (or both!)

  1. Ask for permission. Simply say, hey, if what I have been saying sounds good to you, can I add you to my newsletter list? If they say no, then don’t add them. If they say yes, add them before your next ezine or weekly tip goes out.
  2. Do this even if they gave you permission – consider it a bonus technique! Call them a few days after the event to tell them how much you enjoyed speaking with them, and that you would appreciate setting up a time for them to tell you more about themselves or their business. If you forgot to ask for permission before, now would be a good time.

It is all about relationships. Don’t try to start one by signing people up for your list without their permission. Would you want to begin a relationship with someone who starts off by violating your trust?


Avoiding Holiday Dead Time

Sparkly blue

I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, “no one does business over the winter holidays.”

Yep, we know this for an absolute fact, that from Thanksgiving to New Years, things are dead.

Except that isn’t a “fact” it’s a business urban legend.

Sure, if your market is individuals and what you are selling isn’t exactly something that can be gifted, you might be up against the holiday budget – you know the one: I will only spend this much on presents this year, and of course they spend way more, leaving that much less for you. Of course that is assuming that everyone in the world is a serious spendthrift. Not everybody is. You won’t know unless you ask.

Businesses may be low on budget, but then again, if they have budget left, or they are trying to keep their tax burden down, they may be willing to invest in a small project or two. Maybe not the $10,000 6 month contract you were hoping for, but a quick and dirty $500 or $1,000 project that gets your foot in the door, and starts – or maintains, the trust relationship.

I can tell you this time of year is always my busiest. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask for more business, my clients just know I am available, and they jump on it.

The question is really do you want to do the work? Do you want to think of special offers to entice customers to buy – even if maybe they receive the product or service in January? Can you offer some quick short project that they can get immediate benefit from without making them double-check their wallet? Are you willing to do the work? That I am afraid is up to you!

How fast is your list spinning?

Spinning top with motion blur showing rotation

One metric about email that always gets mentioned is “open rate.” Simply defined, this is the percentage of your total list that opens any particular email. Open rates have a slight accuracy problem due to the ways people can review their email in the various email clients out there, but let’s go with them as they are.

Open rates are relatively useful to see the general popularity of your emails, and of course how any one email “performed.” However there is a simple metric that you can get from just about any email marketing system that will give you a sharper picture about audience behavior. I call that metric “List rotation.” What is it? Simple. List rotation is the percentage of your list that opened at least one email in some defined time period (3-6 months are pretty good periods.)  What this metric tells you is just how bad or well your list is performing overall (I know, the actual metric of performance is how much did you make off your list, but let’s play with this a bit.)

Let’s say that you find 50% of your list opened at least one email over 6 months. Yet you might only be averaging a 10-12% open rate. What is going on here?  Depending on the demographic makeup of your list, what content is interesting or engaging may vary from person to person, which causes the rotation: “That looks cool, I’ll open that one, but that one… ehh.” People get a ton of email, and it has become a chore picking and choosing which emails should be opened on any given day. The good news is they are interested in what you have to say, the bad news is they aren’t interested enough every time. You can never find content that appeals to everyone, and it is even harder when you have a diverse list built from many different sources and list build techniques. When you start noticing a lower open rate, before you panic, take a look at your rotation rate – it may not be as bad as you think!