Data Unpredictability

August 23, 2016

What you get with data is just data. And data just isn’t enough.


“Data is taking over marketing.”

How many times have you read an article of a similar flavour?

Data, analytics and stats is part of everyday business. More and more data is produced which means more and more time is spent analysing it.

It won’t take over, though.

In 2002, Major League Baseball team Oakland Athletics introduced a new approach to recruiting players.

Instead of relying on scouts and managers, they adopted an approach focussed on data.

Data measuring in-game activity such as stolen bases, runs batted in and batting averages.

They were able to find undervalued players and free agents that others couldn’t. Players, according to the data, that could accumulate more points than their values suggest.

This is an approach considered highly successful; the Oakland Athletics went on a 20-game unbeaten streak that season.

Before this unbeaten run, though, they went on a losing streak similar.

What they didn’t consider at first were factors that you can’t measure or see on paper. Something had to change to turn this data-driven built team of rejects into a success.

And it wasn’t the data. It was their manager Billy Beane.

Our problem is that once we see data, we make snap judgements that this data represents something that we aren’t doing that we should be doing.

Then our marketing becomes spontaneous. And mostly unsuccessful because what data provides is a limited solution.

You get numerical descriptions rather than detailed narratives. Forgetting about the human. Forgetting about the market. In marketing, this is bad.

Unpredictability, in my opinion, is where opportunities lie. (Not so much in the data.)

An unpredictable idea.

Just as sports itself is unpredictable. It’s a little random. And it’s the same within marketing.

Without marketers and strategists to piece together the pieces – real creative people – data is just numbers and graphs and charts on a piece of paper.

A shoe manufacturer sent two salesmen to Africa.

Their task being a simple one: investigate the market and report back on potential avenues for growth.

The first salesman reported back, “There’s no potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There’s massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

So was there potential?

Well, there isn’t an absolute answer. Neither was right. Just as neither was wrong.

Why would African people want shoes having never known them? Is there actually a need? Do they have money to pay for them? We don’t know.

All this tells us is that there’s some form of opportunity.

Because even with all the data and the research and the intelligence, you can never be sure if a market has potential.

You never really know if data is right. It can always be misinterpreted.

After the marketing budgets are spent, we just can’t understand why our campaigns failed. The data didn’t tell us that they would.

But the big problem is that it didn’t tell us our campaigns would succeed either.

Oakland Athletics was the first team in Baseball to use data to its advantage. An unpredictable idea, if you wish. But it could only do so by turning things around with people.

Even then, they didn’t win the World Series.

Because data always looks at the past, not the present. It’s a half-truth. No more.

They brought in older players prone to injury who needed support from coaches and physios. They needed someone to motivate players and develop the skills of others. They needed people who could lift other players lacking confidence.

They needed their unpredictable manager Billy Beane.

To create a “team” out of the data.

Otherwise it’s all just meaningless data.

Otherwise you just get a team of losers and failed campaigns.

So favour a creative approach rather than an analytical one. Because data doesn’t tell you what can happen or why something happened, only what has happened.

And we can’t afford to think like that.

The Disadvantage Advantage

July 25, 2016

The underdog organisation has two natural factors favouring its success, and they’re amazingly powerful. 


More than half of new business ventures don’t survive past five years.

Competition has never been so fierce.

Industries are full of rival organisations, all locked in battle for market share. For the mind of the customer.

It’s rare to see a market where numbers are few.

Which is seen as a disadvantage to established organisations as it is to the newly formed organisations otherwise perceived as the underdog.

But a disadvantage can produce a determination. An ability to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.

In 1940, the German battleship Bismarck was summoned to join the war. Its guns, armour and other characteristics far exceeded any other battleship.

Its most famous victory was its sinking of the Hood.

HMS Hood was the Royal Navy’s equivalent to Nazi Germany’s Bismarck, albeit not as powerful.

Decades of Royal Navy dominance on the world’s seas came to an end when its flagship was completely destroyed in seconds. The Hood’s companion ship the HMS Prince of Wales even had to turn back.

The Bismarck was invincible. Chased for months by the allied forces, it couldn’t be stopped. They couldn’t sink it.

Until a Fairey Swordfish – undetected by the Bismarck’s modern radar and automatic anti-aircraft guns – dropped a torpedo which crippled the ship. Only then was the Royal Navy able to sink her.

The Swordfish, made mostly of string and wood which didn’t have guns or a cockpit, flew undetected as it was travelling at too slow a speed.

Against the odds, a plane close to decommissioning was responsible for the sinking of the world’s most powerful battleship.

But it’s not a surprise.

Small companies with small teams and small marketing budgets have also taken on the big boys for years.

And have won.

But it’s not just about strategy. The underdog also has an advantage connected to the way we are wired as humans.

Because the disadvantaged resonate with others who’ve been in a similar position of disadvantage.

There’s a common feeling. An empathy.

In the way parents favour a vulnerable child over a stronger one, even if both are their own.

And it works the same for the brands who can bring this to their offering.

To pull it off does also require a strategy, though. A battle plan.

To position and communicate yourself in a manner that customers will really understand your purpose. Your identity. Your story.

Your energy, determination and passion (even flexibility), which will come naturally in such as position, makes this story known.

All these things combined are something which customers can see and appreciate. All the things associated with brand loyalty.

And on par with the established organisations who seem to have the upper hand.

Apple took on IBM and Microsoft from a garage.

Ernest Shackleton’s stranded Endurance crew survived in arctic conditions they should never have.

Leicester City Football Club won the league with 5,000/1 odds.

They had purpose.

Those with a purpose and a disadvantage have a great chance to succeed.

We love Apple products. We knighted Shackelton. We all supported Leicester City.

We love an underdog.

As an organisation, you therefore have a natural benefit to your situation if you’re the smaller alternative.

Decision-making, though, is key to survival. But you’ll make the right ones knowing their weight. Competition in this respect also makes us more creative and innovative.

You have focus.

The Bismarck, the world’s most feared battleship, was sunk by the hands of the “Stringbag.”

Fairey Swordfish planes sunk even more ships during the Second World War. Famously sinking and damaging battleships that belonged to the Italian Navy.

And history is full of such David and Goliath tales.

And they’re tales we all love.

Because most of us have come from underdog situations to where we are now.

They reflect the story of our lives.

That’s why the advantage is the disadvantage.

Changing The Online Ad Game

May 22, 2016

Online advertising is in desperate need of a shake-up. Here’s why, and here’s how.

Ad-blocking and a different perspective on digital and online advertising

This week, AdBlock Plus reached a record 100 million users.

What this tells us is that people hate ads – and if they’re able to block them, they will.

One free download, and like magic, your browsing experience is (enhanced) rid of the many forms of online advertising.

In 1963, John Kennedy Toole wrote A Confederacy of Dunces. But the book wouldn’t get published until 1980.

Publishers refused to publish it because it lacked meaning and wasn’t really about anything.

It didn’t follow conventional storytelling and novel-writing.

For years he tried editing to the book based on publisher recommendations to no avail. In 1969, he committed suicide.

When the book did get published, it won awards of the highest calibre.

I have this book, and it reminds me a little of the online advertising problem. It was recommended to me by Tucker Max, who reminds me a little of the solution.

Now let’s get something straight: I don’t condone ad-blocking. I know too well that bloggers, journalists and content writers are the ones affected by them.

But online ads are problematic. They disrupt; they’re pushy.

At times, they hinder browsing experiences. And at most, they’re completely irrelevant.

They appear in an environment where customers are looking to interact with stuff. Where people don’t generally stay around for long.

We know this because our customers engage with interactive features on websites. We browse ourselves in this way.

The problem then lies in the fact that ads – for the most part – do not stimulate interaction of any kind.

And even if they do, customers won’t interact with it because they know it’s advertising.

Two years ago I listed 5 of my greatest TV ads of all time.

This personal list consisted of Sony, John West, Guinness, Coca-Cola and Cadbury.

Though, it’s a strange list. It’s a list of ads that weren’t built like ads.

I liked the “Balls” ad but never bought a Sony Bravia. I liked the “Surfer” ad, but have never in my life bought a pint of Guinness. And as for Cadbury, the “Gorilla” ad was great. Yet I much prefer Galaxy as a chocolate even though I hate the Audrey Hepburn Galaxy ad.

See, a strange list of “greatest” ads.

But these are ads that broke the rules.

Ads and other forms of disruption marketing should be there to aid the rest of your marketing messages. Your overall strategy.

But if done properly, they can be the trigger for that buying decision (or a buying decision of some sort).

A lot of advertising doesn’t work that way. Because clients of advertising agencies want direct results.

It’s the same in digital and with online ads.

Another problem with most ads is they appeal to people like customers. They should be appealing to people like people.

Which is why online advertising is a shambles.

John Kennedy Toole wrote a novel like no one had seen before. In the early days, it wasn’t even considered worthy of being a novel.

He produced something that was truly unique that when reached its audience, made a big impact.

It was a gamechanger in popular literature.

Advertising, and marketing for that respect, need creative thinkers like this. Ones that create trouble.

Like Tucker Max.

Troublemakers can combat things like ad-blocking.

Troublemakers can give you the edge over the competition. They can change the game.

No matter where ads are placed online, eventually, people will find ways of ridding their browsing experiences of them. This includes native ads.

So think differently about online advertising. Your “ads” may get consumed in ways you thought weren’t possible – just like those TV ads. Shake things up.

And if you read A Confederacy of Dunces, you’ll know what I mean.

Then there won’t be a need for ad-blockers.

Periscope Isn’t All It Seems

March 23, 2016

Periscope is a powerful thing – but its use may damage your brand. 

Periscope isn't all it seems

In January, 20,000 people tuned in to watch a puddle.

(By the way, this actually happened.)

Swarms of people rushed online to see swarms of other people trying to get across a piece of road covered by water. It really is as crazy as it sounds.

It all went down on Periscope – a live video streaming app, that like so many video services is gaining a lot of attention.

Probably more so because of this puddle incident.

Because when Periscope, and likewise Meerkat, came out in 2015 they didn’t make as much a splash.

But Red Bull, Spotify, Mountain Dew and Adidas are or have all used Periscope. So maybe we should take notice.

Facebook certainly have as they now favour live videos to saved ones on timelines with their new service called “Live.”

As marketers, we’re always looking for ways to release new products or show behind the scenes footage or support our customers or improve transparency.

Periscope and similar platforms seem like a good way to do it.

Recently, Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique’s periscope on their team plane demonstrated the potential Periscope has to bring fans and customers closer to a brand.

If I was Barcelona’s board, though, I’d be concerned.

Because there are outright implications, too – ones that need consideration before firing up the app.

If your brand isn’t ready for live streaming, you could end up in a spot of bother by trying it. It is actually live, after all. The complication here, of course, is that if you don’t dip your toe in the water, cooler-younger competitors will do so and will overtake you.

Which means a lot of brands will test Periscope which will then lead to the Periscope market getting saturated.

As what Periscope really is, is another marketing channel to add to the mix – a powerful one at that.

My question is: do we need another?

Just as something has gone “viral” doesn’t mean that brands should allocate an annual marketing budget to it.

We see things go viral often. What we don’t see is things going viral in the same way a second time.

And that can be traced back to some of marketing’s most viral campaigns such as the Blair Witch Project and Red Bull Stratos.


Because at the time of it happening, you’re immersed in the campaign. You believe it. You think you’re on to something special.

You believe you’ve discovered something that no one else has (even though it has spread around the world by then).

But in reality, it isn’t exactly like that.

Days after the puddle incident, a marketing agency came out and claimed responsibility for the incident.

Days after the Blair Witch project hit the cinemas it was obvious that it was all staged.

Which doesn’t fill me with confidence with for the future of Periscope and the agency in question when it comes to live streaming.

Viral campaigns aren’t sustainable; saturated markets aren’t environments where things can go viral, neither.

As the second Blair Witch movie taught us – which by the way, did you know exists?

You Are What You Think You Are

December 14, 2015 – 2 Comments

When it comes to positive thinking, the secret lies deep within.


Positive attitude. It’s something that’s spoken about often.

Positivity is associated with satisfaction (happiness). Negativity is associated with disappointment (sadness). I know which I’d rather.

But that’s easier said than done.

After all, the unexpected does happen. Life more often than we like goes differently to how we want it to. But that’s life.

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD.

He ruled like many before him did. But he was different to his predecessors. He’s considered as one of the few good Emperors to have ruled Ancient Rome.

As well as a military general, he was a philosopher.

He’s better known for his intellectual work than his work on the battlefield.

He once said: “You have the power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

Now, don’t forget he ruled during a turbulent time in the Roman Empire. Outside threats were no doubt at the forefront of his mind.

But during this time of fighting rival nations and tribes, he would find peace – a state of psychological stability and composure expected from a leader of a nation – through nature.

Nature would guide him. It would inspire him.

We see nature as trees, oceans, mountains and creatures. We are also part of this group. Life itself.

What nature really is, though, is something that doesn’t have rules. It doesn’t see threats. And it lives on regardless like it has done in many forms on Earth for over 3.5 billion years.

It’s better to not try and understand it.

Because that would be unnatural – we’ll probably never understand life on Earth to the full.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how did life begin? or what is the meaning of life?

If you’ve found the answers from scientific theories or religion, you have cheated.

That’s where I think most people go wrong. Trying to understand everything, and more importantly, trying to understand others. Caring too much about how others judge us and what we do.

You are what you think you are.

Of course, if you work in marketing you’re always trying to please others. To convince people to like you so they buy from you.

But does it have to be like that?

Maybe when we deal with others, we should stop caring.

From an early age, we’ve been told by our parents and our teachers to control our thoughts and behaviours. A role which our bosses are now taking up. But they shouldn’t because they belong to us. Not to them.

We should let things run on instinct away from these external pressures and rules and let things go.

Just like nature.

Marcus Aurelius also said: “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” I think he’s right.

If we start letting nature take its course (like it was always destined to) then we may start seeing things different. We may change our attitudes towards stuff.

We may even like it. We may gain a more positive outlook.

Take a stream, for instance.

A stream flows continuously. If it comes up against a stone, it will find a way to go around it. It won’t think to stop. It will never think.

It has a crazy vision to get to the ocean.

And it’ll do everything it takes to keep flowing; to stay alive. To get to that ocean.

It’s not perfect. But it’s always moving forward. Always making progress no matter what it may come up against on its way. It doesn’t care.

That’s what nature is.

That’s a positive attitude.

And it comes from deep within. All you have to do is find it.

Pitching and Performing

November 2, 2015

The world of movie stars and theatre performers are no different to that of sellers.
sales_pitches_movie_performances_are_one (2)

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately.

Some of them good and some bad. And what generally defines a good or bad movie is the actors within them.

Anyone can put up with bad visuals, but if the acting is bad the movie becomes unbearable.

I once read that stage acting is the hardest form of acting.

Because the stage actor has to perform the role he is required to do, and then tailor that performance to the live audience in the theatre.

That’s where acting becomes a little like selling.

The more you think of it, it becomes a lot like selling. Because a good actor is like a good seller; they can both convince the listener about something despite the varying environments those situations occur.

Neither are real. But the more real you can become, the more convincing the performance.

So what makes good actors?

No acting role is the same. Just like no movie or no theatre performance is. So for actors to play different roles they have to become different people.

Just like in method acting (a form of acting where actors develop a set of thoughts or feelings to place themselves within that character), sales people need to also put themselves into character.

To warm up and then address the situation by looking to find out what the person is feeling and thinking, and then following suit.

Because if you’re on the same level as your audience, you’re in a position where they will listen to you. That’s a start.

There are other things, though, to keep in mind.

Limit what you say and say it with purpose. Map everything out beforehand as clarity will go a long way.

This said, it’s inevitable that along the way your audience will drop off. Momentary lapses in concentration isn’t uncommon just as it isn’t insurmountable so welcome the obstacles.

But always think positive. Nothing great has ever come in the short term.

Inexperienced actors and inexperienced sellers will give up and get disheartened with rejection. The great ones always overcome them.

Right there on stage and in a pitch meeting, diminish them by improvisation. Have the confidence to take performances down different roads should they need.

Avoid the questions and the statements that negate audience participation as well. Leave out words of doubt (“maybe” and “could” and “perhaps”) and always keep the conversation going (“and” and “also” and “again”). Be unpredictable.

Remember, acting or selling, you’re still pitching. So get your performance gearing up to a position where you can pitch. You want your audience to feel, know or do something new during or concluding.

Thinking a little more about acting within selling situations?

This will seal it.

Whilst acting, know that the audience is giving up their time and money to come to your performance. They want an experience. And in the time they’re watching you, you’re in their hands. They’re not in yours.

So look to serve. Pride yourself on what you do because what you’re looking for is a positive outcome. Your product – just like your performance – can really benefit someone’s life. Act with purpose.

If the audience’s world won’t improve following your performance, you’re in the wrong game. So be true to yourself. Commit.

The movies that win oscars are not the movies that have the best plots or the best writers. Oscar-winning movies are ones where the actors have truly delivered something special.

That have delivered a performance worthy of someone else’s time.

Pitches and selling situations are no different.

Social Media Scarcity

September 11, 2015

Your tweets and social updates are at risk. Here’s why.


The scarcity principle is as simple as principles come:

We place a higher value on things that are scarce, and a lower value on things that are abundant. That’s it.

If we were to walk into a shop to find two seemingly identical stocks of items, both costing the same, but with one running low, we’d pick that one over the other.

It’s in our nature to do so.

There are lots of examples out there to portray scarcity. Time-sensitive offers are something you’ll come across on e-commerce websites every day.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

But I chose this example – that of limited stock or a perception of limited stock – because it bears another psychological principle that motivates action. One closely related to scarcity.

That’s social proof.

If there’s a situation when an item is limited in stock because others have flocked to it means that it must be something worth checking out. Something worth buying.

This is a principle that we need to take into our marketing activities. That goes for sales as well (because that’s where it has historically been used the most).

So, on to social media scarcity.

Nearly 30% of consumers in the UK feel that brands share too many social media updates. That marketers like you and I tweet too many times or post too many photos.

What happens when something like this happens? You lose that follower. Then that follower stops seeing your updates which means he or she won’t see your messages. So you can’t engage with that person, and then you can sell to that person.

All because of the scarcity principle.

Too much of something is the killer of all things: say too much of something, then that something becomes irrelevant to its audience.

Go to a restaurant and eat yourself silly. Take a starter, main course, and a desert. Plenty of drinks with that, as well as a coffee to finish it off.

Would you enjoy the food so much to say you’d go back there right away? Not really.

You may have had a good time with friends, but you won’t go back for the food you went there for in the first place. Simply because you’ve eaten too much of it. You don’t know what it even tasted like to remember whether it was good or bad.

Why do you think high-end restaurants make their portions small?

As consumers, the more we consume the less value that is placed on that consumption. As marketing men, that’s bad.

The key, then, is to make everything precious – or at least seem it.

We generally want the things we think we can’t have. Keeping this in mind, it makes sense to limit what we say to our prospects or customers, be it on social or not.

Just as social media updates and messages are best kept scarce, so should the content that you’re talking about during.

If more people see you, more people will share you. And that’s how you get your social proof. To get more is to say less.

Keep trying to push out content and special offers and time-sensitive deals without consideration of the principle for which you are loading this content with is defeating the whole object.

So don’t put your social updates at risk.

Push your scarcity out scarcely.

The Blessing of Constant

August 24, 2015 — 2 Comments 

Why working out and marketing is the same.


If you work out, you’ll know what I’m talking about here.

If you work in business or on the front-line of that business, this will also strike a chord.

Look at all the great looking guys and all the great looking girls. The ones that not only look good but feel good because of looking good.

“Why can’t I look like that?”

If you’re amongst the group of people asking these kind of questions, then you’re an idiot. Alarm bells are now ringing.

Because the people that are in good shape and skinny and are well-groomed don’t get like that naturally. (Well few do, but it’s a minority.)

They’re like that because they work hard.

They spend their time looking after themselves and spend their evenings in the gym. Exercising. Keeping fit.

In business – in sales, advertising and marketing – it’s the same.

The person that is constantly looking to better him or herself is like the business that is always busy on the front end of the business.

Who is looking to bring new business into the business.

But it’s tricky.

Conduct a marketing campaign now, and within the first few weeks you’ll see nothing. One night out on the town equally won’t promise anything.

Give it a few months, then you’ll have something worth shouting about.

Hit the treadmill for an hour and you’ll feel terrible afterwards. But if you start hitting the treadmill every single day then you’ll start to feel great.

You’ll be getting fitter.

The principle is the same if you work in either of the professions mentioned earlier that involve bringing customers into a business. The front line.

You might take a sales call today and feel at though you’ve got nowhere. But after that call, not only have you started a relationship that may turn into a sale, but you’ve also taken valuable feedback for your next call.

You might conduct a marketing or advertising campaign and feel as though you’ve had no ROI. But what you have actually done is started to build your brand, as well as learned a lot about your market.

That’s the blessing of being constant.

Look at the big players. The big brands. The guys that get the girls. They’re constantly promoting; constantly working out.

Yes, they may get an injury at some point. They may get hurt. But chances are they won’t, and become fitter as a business. More visible.

Just like anything in life: if you want to be good at something, you have to keep on doing it. No matter what the circumstances are.

The brands that are blessed with great clients and great staff are the ones that are always busy. Busy attracting these people. Because they won’t come by just having a great looking website or headquarters.

You’re probably in some form of relationship right now. You probably did something to get it too.

Just like there are potential relationships out there, there are potential clients.

You just have to constantly want them.