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Cesar A. Brea bio at Force Five Partners

     

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September 18, 2012

All The World's A Stage, Triathlon Edition

My son Ben and I participated in the Dover Sherborn Boosters annual triathlon this past Sunday.  We really enjoyed it.  It was his first, and my first in 22 years.  Well over 300 folks competed, well-mixed in age and gender.  They seemed like a pretty competitive, well-trained bunch to us, judging by the 95%+ who had lean cheeks and wetsuits and fancy bikes and bags that said "Boston Triathlon Team". 

After the race, I was curious to get a better handle on how we'd done.  All Sports Events  had done a great job of running and timing the event, and their table of results was very detailed and useful.  But I wanted to see it a bit more visually.  The All Sports Events folks were kind enough to share the data file, and with a little fiddling to parse and convert strings to times, I got to this (click on the image to launch the Tableau Public interactive visualization):

 

Age_and_Gender_v_Total_non-T_Time_in_Mins

Before the race, as I shivered un-rubbered on the beach waiting for the swim to start, I overheard a couple of guys my age talking about how now that they were in their forties, with their kids a little older and with more control at home and work (a state of grace I'm not yet familiar with), they had more time to train, especially on Saturday mornings. 

Plotting 6th-order polynomial trend lines through the data revealed an interesting, if weak pattern that seems to confirm this life-stage effect, for both men and women.  Average performance improves radically as you move from your teens to your twenties, declines as the realities of family life intrude in your thirties, improves once again as you rediscover your inner narcissist child in your forties, and then begins to decline again as Father Time eventually asserts himself (though with plenty of variance around the mean to give us hope).  Like Shakespeare said, more or less.

What do you see?  Thanks again to the organizers and volunteers for a great event!

August 31, 2012

#Data #Visualization To Soothe The Savage Beast @mbostock

So last night I'm sitting on the tarmac waiting for my flight to take off, chillin' to a Coldplay's-"Hurts-Like-Heaven"+poor-screaming-child-in-exhausted-parent's-lap-two-rows-behind-me mashed up mix worthy of Eminem and Dido's "Stan".  After we took off, the music moved into a second movement in which the child's keening seemed to slide seamlessly into the many sonic layers of "Paradise", to the point where I thought maybe Chris Martin was two years old once again.

Eventually Mom decided to bring Junior, a real cutie barely two feet tall, to the lavatory.  As the little guy passed by my seat he had a look at my laptop screen, where I was busy trying to decipher and hack the d3 Javascript in a clone of the NYT's beautiful visualization of the Obama budget.

(http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/02/13/us/politics/2013-budget-proposal-graphic.html)

He paused as Mom forged ahead, lingering by my seat to watch as I clicked from view to view of the data, the bubbles bouncing and re-forming to convey the vectors and magnitudes of our collective fiscal choices from one perspective to another.  His eyes moved back and forth from the screen to mine.  He became very quiet, and for a few seconds, the cabin was silent.  

Thank you Mike Bostock.  Among your life's achievements, you can count, for a few brief moments of one night, 100 grateful passengers, one relieved mother, and one happy little boy.

August 18, 2012

Gaming Facebook Sponsored Stories #fb #sponsoredstories

Facebook's Sponsored Stories feature is one of the ad targeting horses the firm's counting on to pull it out of its current valuation morass (read this, via @bussgang).  

Sponsored Stories is a virality-enhancing mechanism (no jokes please, that was an "a" not an "i") that allows Facebook advertisers to increase the reach of Facebook users' interactions with the advertisers' brands on Facebook (Likes, Check-ins, etc.). It does this by increasing the number of a user's Facebook friends who see such engagements with the advertisers' brands beyond the limited number who would, under normal application of the Facebook news feed algorithm, see those endorsements.

Many users are outraged that this unholy Son-Of-Beacon feature violates their privacy, to the point that they sue-and-settle (or try to, oops).

What they are missing perhaps is the opportunity to "surf" an advertiser's Sponsored Stories investment to amplify their own self-promotion or mere narcissism.

Consider the following simple example.  Starbucks is / has been using this ad program.  Let's say I go to Starbucks and "check in" on Facebook.  Juiced by Sponsored Stories (within the additional impressions Starbucks has paid for), all of my Facebook friends browsing their news feeds will see I've checked in at Starbucks (and presumably feel all verklempt about a brand that could attract such a valued friend). 

Now, what if I, savvy small business person, comment in my check in that I'm "at Starbucks, discussing my <link>NEW BOOK</link> with friends!"  I've pulled off the social media equivalent of pasting my bumper sticker on Starbucks' billboard.

I need to look more closely into this, but as I understand it, the Sponsored Stories feature can't today prevent users from including negative feedback in their brand engagements, where such flexibility is provided for.  So if they can't handle the negative yet, it may still be that they can't prevent more general forms of off-brand messaging.

I'm sure others have considered this and other possibilities. Comments very welcome!  Meanwhile, I'm off to Starbucks to discuss my upcoming NEW BOOK.

 

 

August 08, 2012

A "Common Requirements Framework" for Campaign Management Systems and Marketing Automation

In our "marketing analytics agency" model, as distinguished from a more traditional consulting one, we measure success not just by the quality of the insights and opportunities we can help clients to find, but on their ability to act on the ideas and get value for their investments.  Sometimes this means we simultaneously work both ends to an acceptable middle: even as we torture data and research for bright ideas, we help to define and influence the evolution of a marketing platform to be more capable. 

This raises the question, "What's a marketing platform, and a good roadmap for making it more capable?"  Lots of vendors, including big ones like IBM, are now investing in answering these questions, especially as they try to reach beyond IT to sell directly to the CMO. These vendors provide myriad marketing materials to describe both the landscape and their products, which variously are described as "campaign management systems" or even more gloriously as "marketing automation solutions".  The proliferation of solutions is so mind-blowing that analyst firms build whole practices making sense of the category.  Here's a recent chart from Terence Kawaja at LUMA Partners (via Scott Brinker's blog) that illustrates the point beautifully:

 

 

Yet even with this guidance, organizations struggle to get relevant stakeholders on the same page about what's needed and how to proceed. My own experience has been that this is because they're missing a simple "Common Requirements Framework" that everyone can share as a point of departure for the conversation.  Here's one I've found useful.

Basically marketing is about targeting the right customers and getting them the right content (product information, pricing, and all the before-during-and-after trimmings) through the right channels at the right time.  So, a marketing automation solution, well, automates this.  More specifically, since there are lots of homegrown hacks and point solutions for different pieces of this, what's really getting automated is the manual conversion and shuffling of files from one system to the next, aka the integration of it all.  Some of these solutions also let you run analysis and tests out of the same platform (or partnered components).

Each of these functions has increasing levels of sophistication I've characterized, as of this writing, into "basic", "threshold", and "advanced".  For simple roadmapping / prioritization purposes, you might also call these "now", "next", and "later".

Targeting

The simplest form of targeting uses a single data source, past experience at the cash register, to decide whom to go back to, on the idea that you build a business inside out from your best, most loyal customers.  Cataloguers have a fancy term for this, "RFM", which stands for "Recency, Frequency, and Monetary Value", which grades customers, typically into deciles, according to... how recently, how frequenty, and how much they've bought from you.  Folks who score high get solicited more intensively (for example, more catalog drops).  By looking back at a customer's past RFM-defined marginal value to you (e.g., gross margin you earned from stuff you sold her), you can make a decision about how much to spend marketing to her.  

One step up, you add demographic and behavioral information about customers and prospects to refine and expand your lists of folks to target.  Demographically, for example, you might say, "Hey, my best customers all seem to come from Greenwich, CT.  Maybe I should target other folks who live there."  You might add a few other dimensions to that, like age and gender. Or you might buy synthetic, "psychographic" definitions from data vendors who roll a variety of demographic markers into inferred attitudes.  Behaviorally, you might say "Let's retarget folks who walk into our store, or who put stuff into our online shopping cart but don't check out."  These are conceptually straightforward things to do, but are logistically harder, because now you have to integrate external and internal data sources, comply with privacy policies, etc.

In the third level, you begin to formalize the models implicit in these prior two steps, and build lists of folks to target based on their predicted propensity to buy (lots) from you.  So for example, you might say, "Folks who bought this much of this product this frequently, this recently who live in Greenwich and who visited our web site last week have this probability of buying this much from me, so therefore I can afford to target them with a marketing program that costs $x per person."  That's "predictive modelling".

Some folks evaluate the sophistication of a targeting capability by how fine-grained the target segments get, or by how close to 1-1 personalization you can get.  In my experience, there's often diminishing returns to this, often because the firm can't always practically execute differentiated experiences even if the marginal value of a personalized experience warrants it.  This isn't universally the case of course: promotional offers and similar experience variables (e.g., credit limits) are easier to vary than, say, a hotel lobby.  

Content

Again, a simple progression here, for me defined by the complexity of the content you can provide ("plain", "rich", "interactive") and by the flexibility and precision ("none", "pre-defined options", "custom options") with which you can target it through any given channel or combination of channels.

Another dimension to consider here is the complexity of the organizations and processes necessary to produce this content.  For example, in highly regulated environments like health care or financial services, you may need multiple approvals before you can publish something.  And the more folks involved, the more sophisticated and valuable the coordination tools, ranging from central repositories for templates, version control systems, alerts, and even joint editing.  Beware though simply paving cowpaths -- be sure you need all that content variety and process complexity before enabling it technologically, or it will simply expand to fit what the technology permits (the same way computer operating systems bloat as processors get more powerful).

Channels

The big dimension here is the number of channels you can string together for an integrated experience.  So for example, in a simple case you've got one channel, say email, to work with.  In a more sophisticated system, you can say, "When people who look like this come to our website, retarget them with ads in the display ad network we use." (Google just integrated Google Analytics with Google Display Network to do just this, for example, an ingenious move that further illustrates why they lead the pack in the display ad world.)  Pushing it even further, you could also say, "In addition to re-targeting web site visitors who do X, out in our display network, let's also send them an email / postcard combination, with connections to a landing page or phone center."

Analysis and Testing

In addition to execution of campaigns and programs, a marketing solution might also suport exploration  of what campaigns and programs, or components thereof, might work best.  This happens in a couple of ways.  You can examine past behavior of customers and prospects to look for trends and build models that explain how changes and saliencies along one or more dimensions might have been associated with buying.  Also, you can define and execute A/B and multi-variate tests (with control groups) for targeting, content, and channel choices.  

Again, the question here is not just about how much data flexibility and algorithmic power you have to work with within the system, but how many integration hoops you have to go through to move from exploration to execution.  Obviously you won't want to run exploration and execution off the same physical data store, or even the same logical model, but it shouldn't take a major IT initiative to flip the right operational switches when you have an insight you'd like to try, or scale.

Concretely, the requirement you're evaluating here is best summarized by a couple of questions.  First, "Show me how I can track and evaluate differential response in the marketing campaigns and programs I execute through your proposed solution," and then, "Show me how I can define and test targeting, content, and channel variants of the base campaigns or programs, and then work the winners into a dominant share of our mix."

A Summary Picture

Here's a simple table that tries to bundle all of this up.  Notice that it focuses more on function than features and capabilities instead of components.  

  Marketing Automation Commonn Requirements Framework

 

What's Right For You?

The important thing to remember is that these functions and capabilities are means, not ends.  To figure out what you need, you should reflect first on how any particular combination of capabilities would fit into your marketing organization's "vector and momentum".  How is your marketing performance trending?  How does it compare with competitors'?  In what parts -- targets, content, channels -- is it better or worse? What have you deployed recently and learned through its operation? What kind of track record have you established in terms of successful deployment and leverage from your efforts?  

If your answers are more like "I don't know" and "Um, not a great one" then you might be better off signing onto a mostly-integrated, cloud-based (so you don't compound business value uncertainty with IT risk), good-enough-across-most-things solution for a few years until you sort out -- affordably (read, rent, don't buy) -- what works for you, and what capability you need to go deep on. If, on the other hand, you're confident you have a good grip on where your opportunities are and you've got momentum with and confidence in your team, you might add best of breed capabilities at the margins of a more general "logical model" this proposed framework provides.  What's generally risky is to start with an under-performing operation built on spaghetti and plan for a smooth multi-year transition to a fully-integrated on-premise option.  That just puts too many moving parts into play, with too high an up-front, bet-on-the-come investment.

Again, remember that the point of a "Common Requirements Framework" isn't to serve as an exhaustive checklist for evaluating vendors.  It's best used as a simple model you can carry around in your head and share with others, so that when you do dive deep into requirements, you don't lose the forest for the trees, in a category that's become quite a jungle.  Got a better model, or suggestions for this one?  Let me know!

August 06, 2012

Zen and the Art of IT Planning #cio

It's been on my reading list forever, but this year I finally got around to Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  It was heavy going in spots, but it didn't disappoint. So many wonderful ideas to think about and do something with. Among a thousand other things, I was taken with Pirsig's exposition of "gumption".  He describes it as a variable property developed in someone when he or she "connects with Quality" (the principal object of his inquiry).  He associates it with "enthusiasm", and writes:

A person filled with gumption doesn't sit around dissipating and stewing about things.  He's at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what's up the track and meeting it when it comes.  That's gumption. (emphasis mine; Pirsig, Zen, p. 310, First Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition 2005)

In recent years I've tested my gumption limits in trivial and meaningful ways: built a treehouse, fixed an old snowblower, serviced sailboat winches, messed around in SQL and Python, started a business. For me, gumption was the "Well, here goes..." evanescent sense of that moment when preparation ends and experimentation begins, an amplified mix of anxiety and anticipation at the edge of the sort-of-known and the TBD.  Or, like the joy of catching a wave,  it's feeling for a short time what it's like to have your brain light up an order of magnitude more brightly than it manages on average, and watching your productivity soar.

So what's this got to do with IT planning?

For a while now I've been working with both big and small companies, and seen two types of IT planning happen in both settings. In one case there's endless talk of 3-year end-state architectures that seem to recede and disappear like mirages as you Gantt-crawl toward them.  In the other, there's endless hacks that "scratch itches" and make you feel like you're among the tribe of Real Men Who Ship, but  which toast you six months later with security holes or scaling limits.

Getting access to data and having enough operational flexibility to act on the insights we help produce with this data are crucial to the success we try to help our clients achieve, and hold ourselves accountable for. So, (sticking with the motorcycle metaphor) a big part of my job is to be able to read what "gear" an IT organization is in, and to help it shift into the right one if needed -- in other words, to find a proper balance of planning and execution, or "the right amount of gumption".  One crude measure I've learned to apply is what I'm calling the "slide-to-screen" ratio (aka the ".ppt-to-.php" score for nerdier friends).

It's a simple calculation.  Take the number of components yet to be delivered in an IT architecture chart or slide, and divide them by the number of components or applications delivered over the same time period looking backward.  For example, if the chart says 24 components will be delivered over the next three years, and the same number of comparable items have been delivered over the prior three years, you're running at "1".

Admittedly, the standard's arbitrary, and hard to compare across situations. It's the question that's valuable.  In one situation, there's lots of coding, but little clear sense of where it needs to go, tantamount to trying to drive fast in first gear.  In the other, there's lots of ambition, but not much seems to happen -- like trying to leave the driveway in fifth gear.  When I'm listening to an IT plan, I'm not only looking at the slides and the demos, I'm also feeling for the "gumption" of the authors, and where they are with respect to the "wave".  The best plans always seem to say something like, "Well, here's what we learned -- very specifically -- from the last 24 months' deployments, and here's what we think we need to do (and not) in the next 24 months as a result." They're simultaneously thoughtful and action-oriented.  Conversely, when I don't see this specifics-laden reflection, and instead get a generic look forward, and a squishy, over-hedged, non-committal roadmap for getting there, warning bells go off.

Pushing for the implications of the answer -- to downshift, or upshift, and how -- is incredibly valuable.  Above "1", pushing might sound like, "OK, so what pieces of this vision will you ship in each of the next 4 quarters, and what critical assumptions and dependencies are embedded in your answers?"  Below "1", the question might be, "So, what complementary capabilities, and security / usability / scalability enhancements do you anticipate needing to make these innovations commercially viable?"  The answers you get in that moment -- a "Blink"-style gumption test -- are more useful than any six-figure IT process or organizational audit will yield.

 

July 26, 2012

Wanted: Marketing Analytics Director, Global Financial Services Firm (Mid-Atlantic) # Analytics

I've been working with a global financial services firm to develop its marketing analytics / intelligence capability, and we're now building a highly capable team to further extend and sustain the results and lessons so far.  This includes a Marketing Analytics Director to lead a strong team doing advanced data mining and predictive modeling to support high-impact opportunities in various areas of the firm.  Here's the job description on LinkedIn.  If you are currently working at a large marketer, major analytics consulting firm, or advertising agency, and have significant experience analyzing, communicating, and implementing sophisticated multi-channel marketing programs, and are up for the challenge of leading a new team in this area for a world-class firm in a great city, please get in touch!

July 23, 2012

2012 NLG Bike-a-thon Recap: Meeting Desastre and Triomphe With The Same Visage #Autism

Friends,

As many of you know (having been barraged with a Twit-tensity worthy of @justinbieber), Saturday I rode in the Nashoba Learning Group annual bike-a-thon.  Nashoba Learning Group is a school in Bedford Massachusetts for children with Autistic Spectrum disorders.  Our family has been involved with the school since its founding over a decade ago; it now has 90 students.  It achieves wonderful results, and shares what it learns generously.  And now we're also building an adult program as well.

It's not too late to sponsor me for the Bike-a-thon!  

This year's ride was among the most beautiful I can remember -- a lovely, relatively cool and dry New England summer day.  Nonetheless, experience has taught me to seek any advantage possible.  So, at breakfast, I spied this number, and imagined the drafting possibilities of a one-machine peloton:

Photo-1
Perhaps it should have concerned me that its crew looked a little strange:

Screen Shot 2012-07-23 at 5.39.18 PM
Nonetheless, I smiled back, and off we went!

Speed_mach5
10 miles into my admittedly parasitic strategy (Hey, I did offer to take my turn at the front, but I think they laughed), I thought I heard "Activate les contre-measures!"  I thought I saw tacks, but I really can't be sure.  Slowly though, the sound of the breeze in my ears was replaced with a slow hiss...

AyVKq5eCAAAUElo
I pulled over, and wistfully waved on the vanguard of riders offering their help.  No matter!  My wife knows I live for moments like this, when I can break out the tools I so rarely get to use!

AyVLGVXCcAA9d5B

Furiously I pedaled - no, clawed - my way back. Well, scratched a bit.  Let's just say it was a nice day for a ride. 

DSCN1250
Thank you again so much to all of the incredibly generous people who supported NLG this year!

July 20, 2012

Please sponsor me for the 2012 NLG Bike-a-thon: Last Appeal, 2 Pictures #Autism

NLG gets results...

NLG 2010-2011_iep_performanceFA3811E0AA9E

...and makes people happy

Photo


Thank you!

 

 

Please sponsor me for the 2012 NLG Bike-a-thon, Appeal No. 358: 2007 Ride Recap #Autism

Hi folks, a reminder to please sponsor me for this year's NLG Bike-a-thon!  Here's the link to the donations site.  Below for your reading pleasure is my recap of the 2007 ride.  Thank you!

------------


"Friends,

Thank you all for being so generous on such short notice!   

Fresh off a flight from London that arrived in Boston at midnight on Friday, I wheeled myself onto the starting line Saturday morning a few minutes after eight 
.  Herewith, a few journal entries from the ride:

Mile 2:  The 
peloton drops me like a stone.  DopeursNever mind; this breakaway is but  le petit setback.  Where are my domestiques to bring me back to the pack?

Mile 3:  Reality intrudes.  No
domestiques.  Facing 47 miles' worth of solo quality time, I plot my comeback... 

Mile 10: 1st major climb, L'Alpe de Bolton (MA), a steep, nasty little "beyond classification" grade.  I curse at the crowds pressing in.  'Allez! Allez!' they call, like wolves.  A farmer in a Superman cape runs alongside.

Mile 10.25: Mirages disappear in the 95-degree heat.  (First time I've seen the Superman dude, though.  Moral of this story: lay off the British Airways dessert wines the night before a big ride.) 

Mile 10.5: Descending L'Alpe de Bolton, feeling airborne at 35 MPH

Mile 10.50125: Realizing after hitting bump that I am, in fact, airborne.   AAAAARRH!!!

Mile 14: I smell sweet victory in the morning air!

Mile 15:  Realize the smell is actually the Bolton town dump

Mile 27: Col d'Harvard (MA).  Mis-shift on steep climb, drop chain off granny ring.  Barely click out of pedal to avoid keeling over, disappointing two buzzards circling overhead. 

Mile 33:  Whip out Blackberry, Googling 'Michael Rasmussen 
soigneurto see if can score some surplus EPO

Mile 40:  I see dead people

Mile 50:  I am, ahem... outsprinted at the finish.  Ride organizers generously grant me 'same time' when they realize no one noticed exactly when I got back."
 


View Tour de NLG in a larger map

July 18, 2012

Please sponsor me for the 2012 NLG Bike-a-thon

Folks, I ride once again this weekend for Nashoba Learning Group.  Please sponsor me if you can, it's a really worthy cause.  Thank you!