Friday, March 27, 2015

the cult of authenticity [five minutes]

Sorry young millennials.
You are not special.

Your old Gen X mums and dads were just as confused as you, in their day.

'Ultimately, the uneasy relationship The Stranglers had with the punk scene reflected the need that the various protagonists within the movement had for 'authenticity'.

In 'The Culture Of Narcissism', Lasch had noticed that in the late-industrial cultures of the West, in which basic needs had become easily satisfied, and new wants had to be created by the propaganda....a “cult of authenticity” had emerged within “the spectacle” of consumerism that fetishised spontaneity and the confessional.

Punk’s most glaring, and therefore most sensitive, internal contradiction was that it was a largely manufactured movement that was intended to give vent to the organic, spontaneous rage of British youth.

The Stranglers weren’t marginalised because their “opportunism” made them less “real” than the other punk groups. They were marginalised because their established history drew attention to the inauthenticity of the others.'

Identity, Status, Structure and The Stranglers by Phil Knight.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

norman whitfield and barrett strong are here to make everything right that's wrong

Our good friend @MarkSareff had a pop at the growing tendency for some sections of the marketing world to be bewitched by 'neurobollocks' in a post over on Linked in.

And rightly so.

The infamous Martin Lindstrom 'You Love Your iPhone, Literally' article is a particularly salient example.

In any case the idea that individual human brains, studied in isolation from other factors can predict future buying behaviour is pretty flawed.

Studying how and why people behave the way they do in real buying situations over time, and how they act within the broader culture and environment is far more important.

Indeed much of what passes for - and is acceptable as - standard 'market data' - derived from surveys, focus groups, satisfaction scores and the like - is equally flawed, and suffers from many of the same limitations.

Small sample sizes invariably produce more extreme results.

Separate small groups often produce results that bear no resemblance to each other’s.

And, most importantly, lab or focus group outputs are not an analysis of real world behavioural data because the environment has no similarity to the one in which buying decisions will actually be made.

Neuroscience is an important science, there's no doubt about that.

However, as with every new shiny object adopted by the marketing community in an attempt to shortcut real planning rigour, cherry picking and misusing a few 'sexy' techniques off the top and then using the outputs to jump to conclusions is neither correct nor advantageous.

I commented on Mark's piece, noting that we should again be mindful of Sturgeon's revelation (that 90% of EVERYTHING is shit).

For advertising, there must be a middle way, however.

On the art side of the art v science debate is the Bernbach-ian dictate of taste, artistry and magic so venerated by creative departments. But this is not satisfactory either.

In Paul Feldwick's recent book 'The Anatomy of Humbug' - a compendium of popular advertising theory from the last hundred or so years - he correctly points out that all those words exist to close down discussion rather than open it up.

That's not to say that intuition and gut feel aren't useful to guide advertising decisions. In fact there's some pretty decent science to back up the value of smart heuristics.

If I were to open a market research company I'd name it Whitfield and Strong.

A small section of the lyrics from 'I Heard it Through The Grapevine' tell us most of what we need to know.

'People say believe half of what you see, son,
And none of what you hear,
I can't help bein' confused,
If it's true please tell me dear?
Do you plan to let me go,
for the other guy you loved before?'

Believe nothing that consumers tell you they they do.
Believe about half of what you see them do.
And believe nearly all of what the behavioural/sales data tells you they have done, because that's best indicator of what they might do in the future.

Though, you still can't be sure.

All of which is a decent excuse for this...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

if it's not love, then it's the bomb that will bring us together

For a time during World War II, the chances of a member of US bomber crews actually making it back from any given mission, were on the side of slim.

The nature of the work meant that bombers were out for a long time, they were massive cumbersome planes visible from a long way away, and their ability to do serious damage if successful meant they were the number one target of both the guns on the ground and in the air.

For the bomber crews, each subsequent mission piled up the odds against them making it back this time.

And the Army Air Force couldn’t make planes quick enough to replace the ones that went down.

The situation was unsustainable.

In the hope of a solution the military engineers examined the bombers that made it back from their missions.

Patterns started to emerge. They saw the damage tended to accumulate in the same places.

They observed clusters of bullet holes along both wings, down the center of the bomber’s body and around the tail gunner area.

The answer was clear. The bombers needed more armour.

However they couldn’t just reinforce the entire plane – the weight would prevent them from even taking off.

So, based on the data they had, the obvious solution was to put thicker protection where they see the most damage, and ramp up reinforcement in the areas where the bullet holes clustered.

Just to be sure they were doing the right thing, the engineers called in a statistician, one Abraham Wald.

Wald was a member of the military’s ‘Applied Mathematics Panel’ – a secret boffin unit working out of Columbia University applying the science of probability and statistics to the war effort.

And good job they did, as Wald saw immediately that they were about to make exactly the wrong decision.

Because the common patterns of bullet holes actually showed where the planes were strongest.

The holes showed where a bomber could be hit repeatedly and still make it back.

The planes that didn’t make it home were being hit in different places.

Until Wald’s intervention the military were overly focused on the planes that made it home and almost made a potentially catastrophic decision by ignoring the planes that got shot down.

That’s a long-winded way round to pointing out that the same survivorship bias is prevalent in marketing departments and agencies every day.

Just like our Air Force engineers, it’s easy for marketers and agencies to get distracted by the high response rates and dramatic ROI that appears to fall out of marketing discounts or offers to a particular segment of heavy customers.

On the surface it appears logical.

But these are people who are likely to buy anyway.

These customers are the cluster of bullet holes that registered on the wings of the planes that made it home.

And the bigger the plane the bigger those clusters will naturally be. This is because the bigger brands in any given category tend to have slightly higher rates of bullet hole frequency (and loyalty) than their smaller competitors.

For just about any brand, attracting the mass of category buyers who are light and non-buyers of the particular brand – just like the bullet holes that didn’t show up, or barely registered on the bombers that made it home – holds the key as to whether the mission is going to be successful or not.

Survivorship bias in marketing is your tendency to focus on heavy buyers instead of light or non-buyers and on activities that look like winners in the short term which turn out to be losers in the long game.