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Posts tagged with Communities

The problems with Big Data and how DirectLink™ solves them

Posted on April 17, 2013 by Leave a comment

FutureShift is a data-driven strategic and brand planning company, which uses its proprietary software to develop databases and customer feedback that enables direct communication to any user defined segment.  

If you’re like most people in business today, you’re probably talking about “Big Data” and what it can do for you.  One can hardly scan the business section of any newspaper or magazine without reading about it.

On April 15th NY Times, columnist David Brooks wrote an excellent article about the limits of Big Data.  It’s titled, “What You’ll Do Next”. It was of interest to me because we offer large-scale, qualitative customer intelligence to our clients with the ability to instantaneously email people who share a distinct set of differences.

Let me explain because it’s really quite simple.

The purpose of research or recording data (quantitative or qualitative) is not to tell you what people have in common but what drives them apart.  If in your marketing, you find the common denominator between all your customers and then deliver them a message that addresses that commonality, you’re actually speaking to no one.  You haven’t addressed any particular interest that anybody has that might indicate that you understand their specific needs.

This is why we use (or build) your database to tell you how your customers are different from each other and how they want that difference to be addressed.  As Brooks points out, “People are discontinuous…the passing of time can produce gigantic and unpredictable changes in taste and behavior, changes that are poorly anticipated by looking at patterns of data on what just happened.” Nothing could be truer in marketing today.

One of the problems with Big Data is that it is essentially a rear-view mirror. It looks for past patterns of preferences based on purchases or contacts and assumes their patterns will tell you how they will act in the future.  Brooks quotes the Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier book, “Big Data,” noting “this movement asks us to move from causation to correlation.” But he writes, “Correlations are actually not all that clear.  A zillion things can correlate with each other depending on how you structure the data and what you compare.”

We’ve all probably experienced this when buying products ranging from books to vacuum cleaners from Amazon.  You’ve surely seen, their notations that people who bought these books, also bought these.  What they’re doing is simply taking your history of book buying, comparing it to others with similar lists and laying what those people bought next onto your page.  In other words, past history from people like you equals future purchase probability and with enough purchase data, there may be some accuracy in that prediction.  However, Amazon can’t know that last week I had no interest in buying books about terrorism and this week, sadly due to the events in Boston, I do.  Until I make my purchase, but then all kinds of things can intercede with my buying decision.  There are just too many potential disruptions to patterns of purchases to be good predictor of future behavior.

We’ve created a forward-looking mirror called DirectLink™ We ask your customers “what if” and “why” questions.  We capture their words and then quantify their ideas, perceptions and motivations.  Then, we give you the ability to instantly segment them and download the email addresses of any segment you select.

With DirectLink™, you can immediately see what differentiates your customers, the words they use to describe their differences and their emails so you can you respond specifically to their unmet needs.  Most purchases are motivated by either frustrations or the need to fulfill unmet needs.  Big Data doesn’t engage customers to determine their frustrations or needs.  DirectLink™ does. In doing so, you are directly engaging your customers to increase loyalty and ultimately, sales.

Learn how Futureshift would approach your marketing challenge or arrange for an online demo of DirectLink™  by calling 212-444-7192/7193 or email strategy@futureshiftnow.com


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Should we politicize tragedy?

Posted on December 16, 2012 by 3 Comments

After Friday’s mass killing of 20 young children, ages 6 and 7, which follows so many other mass killings in recent years, it’s time we all read and thought about the 2nd amendment to the Contstitution upon which this nation is founded.  The amendment calls for:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Keep in mind that this amendment was written and adopted in 1791.  George Washington was still in his first term as president then.  It had only been eight years since the end of the American Revolution, although we were in the midst of the Northwest Indian War, taking place in what today, we know as the Industrial Midwest – Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc.  Vermont had recently become the 14th state.

To say the United States was a very different place than it is today is an enormous understatement.  The country’s population then was a little more than 4 million, nearly 1/80th of what it is today.  The inventions of the American Industrial Revolution were still 40 years away.  The Colt 45 Revolver wasn’t invented and didn’t see use for another 80 years.  The firearm of choice in 1791 was a single-shot muzzle loaded rifle.

While we can certainly say that the framers of the Constitution were wise and prescient men, it would be fantasy to think that they envisioned a world where anyone on the street could buy an automatic or semi-automatic gun with incredible firepower and large self-loading magazines…and that’s where we are today.

We have an amendment to our Constitution that has been sanctified as a bedrock right for any responsible or irresponsible person regardless of their intent to carry a gun of virtually any type on the street, into schools or even places of worship.

Now in 1791, it’s likely that you could carry your rifle with you almost anywhere you went.  Of course, then you might need it to scare off an attacking bear, bring home dinner or keep your scalp if in the midst of a territorial Indian war.  There was also the need to assure the populace that a militia could be formed at any time to ward of an attacking nation or people.  Today, we have what is known as armed forces and police to handle that responsibility.

Hunting, of course, is an American tradition and virtually all hunters, the possible exception being former Vice President Cheney, are well-trained and responsible gun owners.

So why the need for weapons that can so easily kill dozens of people in only a few seconds?  Why is this right so sacrosanct in the United States today?  The chief lord and high protector of gun-of-any-type ownership rights is the National Rifle Association, popularly known as the NRA.  Their website is nra.org.  You should visit it so you’re familiar with the people that are protecting our Constitution and intimidating our politicians.

One section of the NRA website is called “NRA Opponents”.  Here’s who is listed there:

  • Animal rights activists
  • Anti-gun politicos
  • Brady campaign (instituting background checks for gun ownership)
  • Clinton gun ban (and more specifically, anyone with the name “Clinton”)
  • International Action Network on Small Arms (a global movement against gun violence)
  • Mayors Against Illegal Guns (with a photo of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to symbolize the arch-villain)
  • Obama Administration (you can guess which Marxist-Leninist, Kenyan-born traitor is pictured there)

The NRA has 4.3 million members and revenues of $205 million.  Yet, with this relatively small membership and revenue base, it has intimidated politicians of both political parties into subservience and fear of even having a discussion about gun ownership rights and laws to regulate them.  It has become an efficient political machine and advocate of gun ownership.  Today, there are more guns in the U.S. than there are people.  One-third of them are hand-guns and it’s estimated that another 20% are semi-automatic firearms.

It’s often said that we get the government and country we deserve.  If we tune out of politics and get politicians that create laws we don’t like, then we shouldn’t elect them.  I can accept that.  But I can’t accept that anybody deserves to be shot or have their loved ones shot and killed and nor should any civilized society allow this.

The NRA and its defenders who want to forestall any discussion about guns have already been saying we shouldn’t politicize this tragedy.  That’s exactly what we should do.  Even today, the 31 senators who are strong supporters of no restrictions on gun ownership refused to go on any of the Sunday morning talk shows.  Not a single one of them had the courage to stand up for their heinous beliefs.  This tragedy and others like it should cause us to take a stand like so many tragedies of the past.  Which side of the fence are you are on?  Are you for semi-automatic gun ownership or against it?  Are you for background checks and waiting periods or against them?  Are you for mass murders or against them?  These are not difficult questions to answer.

As perverse as it may sound, I’ve come to believe that these acts of murder are what the NRA wants, that they are anarchists at heart and their depravity guides them to thinking more murders equals more guns equals more support for their other political goals.  Does that sound extreme?  Maybe, but it’s less extreme than holding up rights for any clown to own weapons that can used to kill young children who only want to enjoy their school day.

Of course, we can do the usual and express our views to our friends and families and we can grieve with the victims who have lost their loved ones.  However, nothing happens in this country unless the majority speaks up and pressures their elected officials, the cowards that most of them are, to act and to do so now, to stop equivocating, to end their “cautious calls for action” and to do something real to end these horrid acts now.  So write, call and email your Congressional representatives and your town officials today.  Don’t straddle the fence or advise caution.  Get angry, politicize and demand action today.


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10 ways to make your customer database work harder

Posted on September 18, 2012 by 2 Comments

It has become a standard part of every organization’s marketing plan to have a database of customer emails.  Millions of companies and institutions are sending out email newsletters, promotions and solicitations everyday, both for consumers and the trade.  You’re probably receiving many of them yourself and if you’re anything like me, you probably delete all but a few as soon as you see them land in your email box.  More often than not, these are emails from companies you know or may even have requested information from.  The others end up in your junk folder.

About 20% of these emails get opened but a much lower number are actually read — click through rates are about 5%.  Another way of saying that is 80% of these emails are never opened and 95% are never read.  When you think of it that way, you have to ask how you can improve?

At Futureshift, we have a different approach on how to make databases work harder and we put them to work for our clients.  Here are 10 tips for improving your database performance:

1.  Have a database strategy.

Think of it this way:  Would you advertise without an objective, creative strategy and message?  Database marketing is no different.  What do you want your database to do for you?  Who do you want to reach?  What do you know about them that tells you what they want to hear from you?  Do they all want to hear the same thing or should you segment them by interest or need and address them accordingly?  Think these things through and write a strategy that keeps your database use focused, disciplined and integrates it with your other marketing programs.  Otherwise, say hello to junk folders.

2.  Think of your database as a community.

If you think about databases as numbers of files and demographic fields, you’re working with an outdated framework.  Imagine that you’re the mayor of a town and each member of your database is a resident.  They live in separate areas that may have demographic and psychographic markers but more importantly, they have different needs.  Some areas may want better schools, some more security or different zoning.  Databases are no different.  They can be grouped by needs and then you can address your database members with just the information that they’re looking for.

3.  Don’t buy.  Build!

You can build your database more quickly by buying names from list brokers.  You also can alienate a lot of potential customers and get labeled as spam.  It’s better to build one by one, if necessary, even if you’re starting at zero.  There are a number of techniques that can raise awareness of your company and you’ll add prospective customers who actually are interested in learning more.  For one of our clients, we began at zero several years ago and now have 8,000 members of their trade and nearly 100,000 loyal consumers signed up.  Click-through and open rates are higher than industry averages and unsubscribes are lower.  The reason is that people want to be there.

4.  One size does not fit all

Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make with the information they send to their database members is that they send the same information to everyone.  That’s a fast way to increasing the number of unsubscribes.  People want information that pertains to their needs.  Email is similar to advertising in that you have only a few seconds to attract the reader’s attention.  It’s a quick trip to the delete key.  A singular approach, whether in e-newsletters, promotions or other announcements will speak to only one group.  Over the years, the amount of competition and market clutter has fragmented both trade and consumer markets.  You can think of it like cable TV.  We now have access to more than 1,000 channels with most focused on a specific area of programming to meet specific viewer needs (history, cooking, discovery, shopping, etc.) When programming doesn’t address needs, people change the channel…or they hit the delete key.

5. If you can only know one thing about your customers, know their frustrations.

A frustration is simply an unmet need.  If you can fulfill unmet needs, you’ll have a customer.  How do you learn what frustrates people about your product?  Ask.  Your first email to a prospective database member should be to ask questions about their frustrations and needs.  There are some easy ways to use either closed- or open-ended questions to do this.  Once you understand unmet needs, you’ll see that people can be moved into needs-based segments.  You’ll also learn that many of the demographic and psychographic markers you used to use are really not an accurate guide to predicting what customers and non-customers want to know.

6. Your job is to listen, not tell.

Most databases are used to broadcast information about companies and products, and the goal of most database acquisition programs is to build quantity rather than quality. The conventional wisdom goes that since conversion percentages run so low, you’ll need larger and larger databases so that very small number of customers will continue to grow.  But at the same time, you’re making yourself vulnerable to a competitor who is better at building database size than you and has more resources to offer incentives.  The old adage that it’s better to talk to people not at them is true with database marketing too.  Ask questions, find out what people need, and what they really want to hear from you.  We often ask “What is it about this product that companies tell you that is of no use to you?” and “What would you like to know that nobody has asked you in the past?”

7. Tell them what you heard.

Whether trade or consumer, the first question people ask is “What do other people like me think?”  B2B customers want to know how their peers are dealing with the same issues they have.  Consumers want to know how others, just like them, solved the same problems or used certain products.  This is why early chat rooms were immediately successful and led to the growth of social media.  After you ask your customers about their needs, report back to them on what you learned.  This says that you listened to them and that you have an understanding of who they are, how they are distinct and what they share with others like them.  It pays off.

8. Involvement = Loyalty

This is the payoff.  Build by asking, then listen, acknowledge and then ask again.  Stop giving a monologue to your customers and build a dialogue with them.  Do this enough and you’ll be able to get them to help you add qualified people to your database through friends and family or associates programs, join advisory boards or participate in regular feedback panels.  Over time, you can turn them into your brand ambassadors and expand your marketing reach.  Isn’t this the real goal of marketing?

Two other commonly misunderstood caveats need to be kept in mind:

9. Facebook likes are not a customer database.

Social media has its uses.  It’s a like a TV channel that goes out to the masses.  It can be great for raising awareness but it does not acquire an audience that you can always reach nor does it help you segment customer needs.  Social media is like shooting a shotgun and hoping you’ll hit your target.  They’re out there but you don’t know where they are nor when they’re paying attention to you.  Database marketing is a completely different marketing tactic and one is not a substitution for the other.

10. Using successive emails to qualify people.

Many companies capture emails from people who visit their websites.  Then they begin a series of successive emails and key future marketing based on which email garners a response.  However, it doesn’t work that way because customers don’t give you that many chances.  Keep in mind the environment in which your email is one of dozens or even hundreds your customers or prospects receive each day.  Your first email has to give them a reason to respond.  Draw them into a dialogue and then you can qualify them along the way.

Follow these ten tips and you’ll improve the performance of your database.  More importantly, you’ll get closer to your customers and create relationships that generate sales and referrals.  While I’m advocating asking a lot of questions of your database members, note that I didn’t mention market research once.   Market research will tell you what people think at a point in time and that information can be a good evaluative mechanism.  But this is about having a conversation and using some digital tools to allow you to engage your customers in very large numbers.  While we have our own proprietary tools for increasing customer involvement and loyalty, we can also help you do it on your own.  The important point is to stop looking at database marketing as a linear process and see it as a relational part of your marketing program.


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If you read nothing else, read this

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Leave a comment

Yes, it’s been a two month hiatus, wiped out by the holidays and start of the new year, but we’re back in force.

Every so often, an article comes along that everyone should read.  Whether you’re in business, a blogger, twitterer or just find yourself hanging out on the Internet, some authors writing for The McKinsey Quarterly have come up with one you shouldn’t pass up.  I hesitate to tell you the title because I’m afraid it might it scare some of you off.  But let’s plunge in and I’ll explain why it’s important.  The article, “Clouds, big data, and smart assets:  Ten tech-enabled business trends to watch” sounds both techie and ominous but it’s really neither.

You can download it here and to make things simpler, I’ve highlighted the important parts, at least as I see them.  It’s written in McKinsey business speak but don’t let that intimidate you.  Of course, if your idea of fun is to skip the latest episode of 30 Rock or pass up The Daily Show and settle down with the Harvard Business Review, you’ll feel right at home (I speak with experience in this.)

The article is particularly important if you’re in the information technology business, but the trends that the authors cite are effecting all of us in both the way we go to work and the way we live.  It’s time to rethink your priorities, how you’re marketing, selling, or using technology to walk, run or keyboard your way through life.

It speaks to the importance of web-based communities and their pervasiveness in our work and home lives.  Yes, web-based communities can be about marketing to corporations and the latest episode of your favorite TV show to consumers, or the latest revolution abroad, but it also highlights the growth in co-creation and collaborative work and ideation that’s taking place.  Organizations, corporations and countries are expanding in their depth and breadth through cross-boundary networked organizations.

Small countries and corporations can rapidly become bigger than large ones by managing global knowledge and using communities to create, test and provide feedback.  Scaling up is no longer limited by your own resources.  Simply use those that belong to others but are waiting for you to stop by.  Innovation and creativity now and increasingly in the future are coming from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.

This is a very thought provoking article that will get you asking whether you’re taking advantage of these trends or spending too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”


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Mistake #3: “Tonight, we have a really big show.”

Posted on August 11, 2010 by Leave a comment

This is the third of a series on Mistakes Countries Make and How They Can Get It Right.

Those immortal words were heard in millions of American homes every Sunday night, during the 1950’s and 60’s, as they were spoken by television impresario, Ed Sullivan on his weekly variety show.  His show was so popular that it was common for children and adults to mimic Sullivan’s nasal accent saying, “Tonight we have a really big show.” A “really big show” for Sullivan fans meant an extravaganza of music and theatrical variety.  It wasn’t Elvis Presley’s first television appearance but certainly was his most famous.  It’s where the Beatles were first seen by most Americans and where viewers were introduced to opera and ballet.  If it was big in entertainment, it was on Ed Sullivan.

The idea of the big show continued into business where today, the really big shows are the Consumer Electronics Show, National Housewares Show, MacWorld Expo and many more.  Large trade shows have become prolific in the U.S. and around the world to the point where they are almost a commodity.  Their cost for exhibitors has increased rapidly placing a premium on those shows where one can see a clear rate of return.

Yet, despite the high costs of trade shows, the idea of the “really big show” has morphed into private, branded trade shows and has become a part of many marketing programs from foreign industries.   It has become common for foreign governments to come to the U.S. and hold large private events for their industries such as food, wine, textiles, technology and more.  An event company and PR firms are hired, hotel and exhibit space secured, visitors and prospective buyers are recruited, foreign companies provided with exhibit space and dignitaries flown in to cut the ribbon or give a keynote speech.

The expectation is that the U.S. media will show up (they rarely do), give the event, its organizers and the foreign industry the right amount of fawning coverage in newspapers and magazines and that buyers will attend with their wallets at the ready.  To ensure the event’s success, the media from the home country is brought in, photos are taken, ribbons cut, speeches made and the event is widely proclaimed to be a grand success…except that it’s often not.

What can’t be seen from abroad is that Americans have become jaded by the extraordinary amount of marketing clutter in their lives.  Surveys have suggested that Americans are exposed to more than 1,500 marketing messages a day.  From the time they wake up until they turn their lights out at night, Americans are bombarded with radio, TV, print, Internet, outdoor, mail, email, phone and tradeshow messaging.  Of course, this takes place in other countries but it has been going on for more years in the U.S.  What foreign visitors most comment on when they visit the U.S. is the number of choices that one has during the day, whether shopping, viewing, listening or traveling.  It all adds up and the bottom line is that the only thing that makes a difference in our lives is the value of our relationships.

When there are so many modes of marketing, word-of-mouth from people we trust has so much more influence than anything else on what we buy and the decisions we make.  Just as we trust our personal friends, business relationships are what influence us in the end.  With all the decisions we have to make, and features and benefits to evaluate, it’s the value we place on relationships and the people who make recommendations to us that makes a difference.

The problem with the “really big show” is that relationships are begun there but not developed or solidified.  We use shows for looking, evaluating, asking and considering but rarely for buying.  When considering any product that has a high cost or a long-term evaluation or testing phase, shows, at best, serve as introductions.  It’s the work that takes place afterward that makes a difference.  Small events or conferences are often better than big ones because they allow prospective buyers to ask more questions and conduct a give-and-take with the seller.  Prospective buyers considering a foreign supplier want to know that both the individual they’re dealing with and their company isn’t going to be in the U.S. for only a week here and there.  They want a commitment to a relationship, to being involved for the long-term, to possible risk sharing or even partnership.

Trade associations and their government partners who have the mandate to promote industries, should consider:

  • More small events are better than a few large ones.
  • Teach your people to engage with Americans.  Too often foreign business visitors to the U.S. stay back and don’t approach Americans.  We like you to reach out to us.  In fact, events that are built around networking are likely to be more effective than those built around display.
  • Events, big or small, will be more successful with both pre and post event follow-up programs.  Prospective sales are most often lost because of poor or slow follow-up.
  • You should have an active online social media program that reaches out to prospective buyers.  You’ll know the difference when your social media site has far more Americans or customers on it than your domestic friends and associates.  It’s incredible how many companies and industries tout their facebook and linkedin pages that are filled with people from their own country.  Where are the buyers?  Who’s building relationships with who?  To what end?
  • Remember that social media sites like facebook and linkedin are closed systems and have their limitations.  There are no lists to download nor will you have access to anybody’s email address.  At futureshift, we build private communities that support events but more importantly build and support relationships because members self-subscribe and willingly give you their private contact information.
  • Rather than think about events, think about building communities.  Community members gain trust for each other and that’s what builds brand loyalty and sales.

So given all this, what made Ed Sullivan such a successful icon?  Sullivan spoke to American audiences in the 1950’s and 60’s when modern marketing was in its nascent stages.  He spoke to us every week, his way of building a relationship with us, and he always showed us things we had rarely seen before.  If you’re a modern day business version of Ed Sullivan, which probably means your name is Steve Jobs, go ahead have the “really big show”.  Otherwise, do something that makes sense and works in today’s U.S. marketplace.


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