This post briefly summarizes four threads of thought and a conclusion around problem orientation.

I read “Evaluation of Internet Advertising Research” by Juran Kim and Sally J. McMillan. It’s effectively a social graph exercise. The findings themselves are interesting (and you can read about that through the Web Analytics Association once I publish the review), but this reference to “invisible colleges” was especially fascinating – just coming off of the SLAB Karen Stevenson talk at OCAD. Kim and McMillan make the point that visualizing bibliographic graphs (a social graph) is useful for uncovering these colleges.

The second thread has to do with “The Market Valuation of Internet Channel Additions”, by Geyskesn, Gielens and Dekimpe. In it, they construct a model to judge whether or not a company should create an Internet channel – and use newspapers as the case study. Given all the thought that has circulated around content and monetization. It got me into really thinking about how the same flattening forces that makes it possible to do great things, also has the power to destroy content. Flattening can be creatively destructive too. Out of negative externalities comes problems needing to be solved.

The third thread has to do with Jim Novo and the Drilling Down Project. The thesis that RFM can be done with no more than a spreadsheet and it’s scallable downwards for small businesses, is compelling. It’s taking makerting analytics away from the data mining domain and down to a micro-level. The technology has certainly flattened. And this opens up an entire world that is so exciting analytically – with applications for marketing science, revenue projection, and, when combined with the principles of Mason, lumped with web analytics – you get Novo-Mason WARFM. There’s incredible power in there.

The fourth thread has to do with extreme customer centricity and some of the material that Maciek Adwent has been emailing my way. A good synthesis of much of that material is: “from small things grows big things”, and a derivative of the Matt Milan life/work balance thesis. This thread actually matches well with the whole “Crossing the Chasm” book, which is an original root artifact of extreme customer centricity. There’s a lot in there, and much of it is transparent with some of the cross-blog talk.

If we’re going to take the customer centricity thesis to it’s extreme, then we have to consider their networks. If web analytists and marketing scientists can’t communicate what they do quickly and understandably, and the problems they solve, in a nugget – in a sound byte, then how will potential customers ever know what we do? Moreover, why would they ever want to talk about us? How can you use the power of networks and word of mouth if you don’t have the bear minimum requirement: repeatable duckspeak words?

It kills me to say it, but I think we have to be more problem-oriented in our communications than solutions-oriented. We need to be incredibly specific about the problem that we’re solving.

It’s far easier to talk about a problem that you’re wanting to solve, especially in an economy that is generating so many new problems to solve.

I think a solutions-orientation is essential. The mark of a great analyst when confronted with a problem is to see several solutions (at minimum) and, at maximum, to recognize when they’re looking at a wicked problem. But I think we need to keep more of the solutions-orientation to ourselves when we’re communicating what we do.

Taken from this point of view – you wouldn’t use the word ‘Novo RFM’ to describe what it is that you do. You determine the one problem that RFM can really solve really well, the bigger the problem, the more important it is. The more marketable the solution. There’s also other interesting problem spaces to be explored. For instance, the problem of online content monetization is a screaming problem – and I think that Novo-Mason WARFM might actually offer an incredible solution. If the term Novo-Mason WARFM puts you to sleep – you’re not an analyst (and welcome to my blog!). It’s a solution set that has been screaming for a really big, juicy, problem to solve. It makes more sense to talk to people about the nature of the problem and briefly mention the solution. And let curiosity run its course.

That’s where I’m at now. I’m at customer centered problem sets.

2 thoughts on “The Intersection of Four Threads and Problem Orientation

  1. Jim Novo says:

    Wow Christopher, that’s a brain dump and a half! I am with you on the “we have to be more problem-oriented in our communications than solutions-oriented”.

    I think many WA folks don’t identify problems that need to be solved, they just bring data to the table and say, “Here ya go”. This approach leads to solving very small problems really well. If you can’t get anybody to pay attention to your WA reporting and accomplishments, you are probably solving too small a problem.

    Sometimes WA people point out trends and improvements and so forth, but “traffic is up” or “campaign is improving” often doesn’t solve a significant business problem of any kind; it’s simply a report on what is happening.

    I think one of the reasons this is happening (as recently I pointed out a eMetrics Toronto and WT Engage) is the WA community is becoming too insular, too self-facing. This circular blogosphere chatter is so focused on the details of web measurement that why we are measuring anything in the first place tends to be forgotten – tripping over dollars to pick up pennies, so to speak.

    This is one of the reasons I am a big supporter of the Web Analytics Association effort you are a part of to expose the WA community to authentic Marketing and Advertising research through peer-reviewed Journals. There is a huge need for the WA community to be exposed to voices outside the echo chamber.

    Further, WA folks need to reach out to other silos in the company and get active in helping to solve real business problems, many which start on the web but are measured in the back-end of the company. Why don’t more web analysts talk to the analysts in Finance? That’s where you will find the details of important problems that need to be solved. Finance can be your best friend, and after all, there is a common base to the language – business optimization, measuring productivity, and continuous improvement.

    Regarding RFM, or the RF version I think is more appropriate to the web, this idea solves one of the most important measurement issues in customer-centricity – identifying dis-engagement. Think about it.

    Customers who are “engaged” are probably satisfied with your performance. If you really want to act on customer-centricity, you need to focus on the dis-engaging visitors / customers and find out why they dis-engaged through segmentation. Is a campaign creating customers who dis-engage, and why? A product? A salesperson? A content area?

    The special thing about interactivity is the ability to engage people, to create the two-way dialog. If you are successful with your design, copy, service, product and so forth, people remain engaged.

    So while measuring engagement can be affirmation you are headed in the right direction, you are only measuring self-selected and perhaps very patient individuals. It is only by measuring, isolating, and identifying the sources of dis-engagement that you will make any real progress on customer-centric goals, and Recency is the key to that measurement.

    Recency is literally the most powerful interactive metric in the world of customer-centricity. Now that we have more tools capable of measuring Recency, we just have to teach people how to use it.

    And it’s really very simple. Start here: what percent of your visitors or customers have interacted with you in the past 3 months? Past 6 months? Past 12 months?

    If you don’t know the answer to those questions, you are not (or are afraid to be) customer-centric.

    Measure the dis-engaged (most will be shocked by the percentage), and then ask yourself, “What did we do to cause this?”

    That’s customer-centricity in action.

  2. Thanks Jim!

    You’re point is well received and well taken.

    We have to get away from the insularity. The bridges to the Data Mining community, the Design Community, the Developer community, the Finance Community, and the Academic Community are hard to build, but well worth the effort, I think.

    To your point, to be sure, using WA to measure the ‘RF’ is key. Obtaining the time series data to measure the ‘M’ on the other end has, historically for me, difficult. But, it’s well worth it. When you have a partially linked dataset, amazing things can come out of it.

    Real competitive advantages can emerge out of that.

    Time to keep on building.

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