Evangelizing Analytics Through Baseball

What do you think that ERA (Earned Run Average) stands for? If you can paint the quality of a baseball pitcher with a bunch of statistics and indices like that, yes, you do have a basic aptitude to be analytical.

baseballA great many people are simply allergic to mathematics. Maybe even more so than to public speaking. They just hate the subject and the very thought of it gives them a big headache. In many cases though, I just have to blame their math teachers in their youth for not providing enough appreciation for the subject, as the same people have no trouble understanding baseball stats of their favorite teams and players.

What do you think that ERA (Earned Run Average) stands for? It is nothing but an index value made of a numerator and a denominator, multiplied by a factor. If you can paint the quality of a baseball pitcher with a bunch of statistics and indices like that, yes, you do have a basic aptitude to be analytical. Maybe not enough to be a professional analyst, but enough to be a consumer of analytics.

In the near future, that kind of basic aptitude may be all we need to navigate through this complex world weaved in numbers and figures originated from humans, machines and networks that connect them all.

All the headachy equational problems will be taken care of by the smart machines anyway, right? Maybe.

The way this old analyst sees it, the answer could be yes or no. Because there is no way for any machine to provide good answers to illogical questions (like Mr. Spock would point out). And the logical mind comes from mathematical training — with a little help from the DNA with which the subjects were born.

Why do I worry about such things now? Simple. I see too many decision-makers who say they must get more into analytics, and their behaviors tell otherwise. It is unfortunate for them, as the verdict is out already on the effectiveness of good analytics. In fact, the question is no longer about whether an organization must embrace more analytics-based decision-making processes, but about how deep and complex they must get into it. The winners and losers in the business world will not solely be determined by the business models, but by the effectiveness of execution, enhanced and measured by analytics. Gut feelings may have worked well for many in the beginning of the last century, but that won’t be enough when competitors are armed with data and analytical toolsets.

We are undoubtedly living in the complex world now. The differences between people who freely wield technology and toolsets and people who are afraid of the changes won’t be just income levels; it may even form new social classes. And yet, the way many are dealing with perceived and real challenges isn’t much different from the past era. No, you can’t just work hard and hope that everything will be alright. There are people who see what is coming before anyone else does. Not all may be able to “see” it completely per se, but at least some have better future prediction than others. And those who do properly employ predictive analytics will clearly have an edge over those who don’t.

Then, why is it so difficult to “sell” analytics? There are many reasons. The first one, I think, is the fear of unknown (or unfamiliar territory). People hate to spend money and resources on the things that they don’t understand. The majority of the population does not understand how the internal combustion engine works, so the car companies sell coolness and other perceived benefits of their products.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing sexy — for the general population, not for the geeks — about algorithms that may increase sales and reduce costs. So, the analysts must try to emphasize the benefits of it all; yet too many fall into the trap of believing that everyone will appreciate the beauty of the solution they agonized over. Well, most people simply don’t care for the details. That is why engineers don’t sell cars, but salespeople do. Analysts must get to the point fast; possibly within a minute, as most don’t have the patience for anyone’s mathematical journey.

Another reason why selling the concept of analytics is difficult is collective resistance to change. For most people, change is scary; and even if it’s not, it’s terribly inconvenient. All organizations and people in them are accustomed to some existing ways of doing their businesses. Analytics inevitably invoke changes in existing behaviors. It may start with a simple request for some extra data collection (“What do you mean I have to enter more data into my Salesforce account?”), and ultimately move onto changes in decision-making processes (“Oh, now I have to look at those model scores while I’m on the phone with the customer?”).

Talking Baseball … and Direct Mail?

They’re not exactly two things that you would think go together, but when I got a postcard from my hometown Philadelphia Phillies in the mail, I knew it would make for a good story. Or maybe two.

They’re not exactly two things that you would think go together, but when I got a postcard from my hometown Philadelphia Phillies in the mail, I knew it would make for a good story. Or maybe two.

So here’s the deal.

For a couple of months, I’ve been providing direct mail pieces from Who’s Mailing What! to my colleague, Ashley Roberts of Printing Impressions (a sister brand of Target Marketing) for use in her video series on PI XChange. The only requirement is that they demonstrate an interesting printing technique.

Phillies_01This postcard jumped out at me for several reasons.

First, it came from the Phillies, my favorite team. I’ve always been a fan, even if it sometimes has meant a lot of time waiting for them to jell into a pennant contender again.

Second, the printing. I love the spot gloss that was applied in spots on the front.

Third, the clever messaging. It’s promoting game tickets to a business audience. Yes, business and pleasure are two things that definitely go together.

Anyway, long story short: I showed this mailer to Ashley, and we agreed that both the printing and marketing audiences of our brands might be interested in learning more. She did all of the legwork, getting all of the important information on who designed it, who printed it, and how.

Last week, we and our great video production crew were privileged to be guests of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia. We talked with Tina Urban, the team’s Director, Graphic Production, and got more insight, as well as the nitty-gritty details about both aspects of this mail piece. And we got to wear our Phillies gear!

Please check out the video for much more. And, as always, any comments, etc., are welcome!

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Any Time Is Search Time for Consumers

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere.

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere. Go to any sporting event and see for yourself just how much online activity is going on all around you. It would be a fair to say almost everybody is constantly online with a mobile device.

This highly distracted behavior is not confined to sporting events. This behavior is the new norm. It is pervasive. Google has recognized this and has adjusted their algorithm to give a boost to mobile friendly sites. There are several clear signals for ecommerce site owners in this shift to mobile. With limited search real estate available on smaller screens and search rankings increasingly difficult to secure, each organic search click becomes more important. They must not be wasted. It is imperative that a site catch the surfer on their first search and direct their attention directly to the product they want with minimal effort; otherwise that searcher may very well move on to another site or to some other online activity. Are you making it as easy as possible for all your visitors to find just what they want almost instantly? That should be the goal.

If your site were perfectly optimized—an ideal, hypothetical, situation, every searcher would conduct a search and find just the right product on the very first try. It doesn’t work that way even in fairy tales. It took Goldilocks three tries to find the “just right” porridge. Are you effectively supporting the customer’s quest through your navigation, and does Google understand how your navigation supports the user? If you cannot answer this in the affirmative, you need to adjust your proverbial sails to catch the wind.

Ask yourself whether your faceting supports a second more refined search query. For example, someone searching for “batting helmets” might want to refine their search to reflect the user (youth or adult), a brand or price preference, or the whether the helmet is for slow pitch softball or high-velocity hardball. Your navigation and its faceting should support this searcher behavior. Does your site make it easy for the first time visitor to quickly find additional options when they arrive from a search engine, or must they go through numerous clicks to see them?

Your navigation should act as a secondary search tool. Google has recognized the value of the navigation, and through site links allows site owners to communicate key navigational elements. We can expect to see Google continue to make efforts to compress more useful information into less space in the search listing in an effort to satisfy the user more quickly. Give your Google listings a quick sanity check and see if they conform to how users look for your products. One quick tip is to review your two and three word phrases and see if they show up when and where you would expect them. Search and shop your own site the next time you are sitting at a ball game with spare screen time. You’ll be surprised at what you might find out.