How I Leveraged My 5-Year-Old to Prepare for AI

Over the span of my career, I have had opportunities to mentor future data-driven business leaders. The advice I used to give primarily revolved around the hottest analytical tools and certifications and how to tell stories through data. Five years ago, however, my advice evolved in a very dramatic way, based on a reasonably benign event.

Over the span of my career, I have had opportunities to mentor future data-driven business leaders. The advice I used to give primarily revolved around the hottest analytical tools and certifications and how to tell stories through data. Five years ago, however, my advice evolved in a very dramatic way, based on a reasonably benign event.

My wife, our two daughters and I were on a multi-state road trip. Early on, we decided to make a pit stop. My wife gave the girls $5 each to buy goodies for the road — with no conditions. Unleashed from the shackles of healthy snacking, my older daughter set about making the most her newfound economic freedom. Analytically inclined, my oldest began optimizing for the right combination of quantity, quality and taste that would provide her with the maximum overall satisfaction. My younger daughter (five years old at the time), quickly picked up her favorite fruit candy, asked my wife for a suggestion and purchased that, as well. Eager to get back on the road, I asked my oldest to finalize her decision quickly. My request was met with a look of sheer horror and frustration as she frantically searched for the optimal basket of goods that $5 would buy. With hope that the optimal solutions was only minutes away, she begged for more time to no avail.

Back on the road, my younger daughter offered my wife a substantial portion of the candy she had recommended. Astonished, my wife says, “Sweetie, if you share that with me, you will have less for the trip.” To which my daughter replied, “That’s okay, Mom. I know you like these candies. Can I have another five dollars?” To which my wife uncharacteristically replied: “Of course!” Shocked at these turn of events, my older daughter protested “What? No fair, you can do that!?”

Data Is an Equal Opportunity Enabler

I often think about that incident; especially when I am trying to help clients achieve better results through analytics. This incident is a great allegorical example of why data-driven decisions, when done well, can improve specific results, but many times fail to change the overall game. A 2015 study by KPMG identified operational efficiencies as the primary beneficiary of data and analytics in the near horizon and a more recent study in HBR also confirms that most data and analytics success is still focused on low-hanging operational opportunities. In both reports, business leaders also recognize the transformational opportunities of data and analytics. However, they will also identify an acute need for new and unique skill sets to make those transformational changes a reality.

This brings me back to the car ride. Before you assume this is a lesson about how customer empathy beats algorithms, I can assure you it is not. Not only has my younger daughter’s strategy failed on several other occasions, but I have also seen plenty of well-researched market advice from customer-centric strategy firms fail, as well. Nor do I believe this anecdote implies optimization leads to strategic myopia. (This is also not about which kid I am betting on, as they both manage to amaze and worry me in equal doses.) Instead, the lesson for me is that while analytical rigor can be foundational to disruptive innovation, the optimal solutions algorithms provide only reflect the audacity of the optimizer’s vision.

The body of recent research on successful disruptors dispels the belief that they are solely the product of a brilliant idea conceived by a highly intuitive visionary. Instead, their very existence is often an optimization exercise involving many experiments. Not only do successful new entrants go through many failed iterations, but they also emerge through the crucible of other competing ventures with similar industry disrupting objectives. Once emerged and unleashed, there is still no guarantee that the new ventures are the absolutely optimal solution. One needs only to think of MySpace, AOL and Yahoo if there is doubt. As a result, the body of knowledge on innovation is now focusing around the concept of failing fast, failing early and failing often. A critical component of the “failing for success” strategy involves testing, measuring, and optimizing rapidly and regularly and but also involves having a broad view of the playing field and the bravery to challenge existing assumptions.

AI Whisperers Wanted

The career implications of these trends for data-driven talent are significant. As analytics takes a central role in strategic business functions, it does not necessarily mean that my fellow quant jocks will rule the future. This is because traditional optimization algorithms are just beginning to transition into artificial intelligence-based solutions with the ability to learn on their own and at some point human talent will no longer be needed to build models. If you are in analytics today, it will be important to keep up with the evolution of AI solutions, but even more critical is developing your analytical creativity and bravery.

In the Land of Shiny Objects

I am honored and excited to become a regular contributor on Target Marketing. I am excited at the prospect of generating vibrant conversations on a set of topics that represent one of the biggest challenges marketing leaders face today. As a marketing consultant at the intersection of data, technology and customer strategy, I have observed — frequently — that there is a vast divide between brand/ customer strategy and data/technology strategy.

shiny object
(Image via The Marketing Moron)

I am honored and excited to become a regular contributor on Target Marketing. I am excited at the prospect of generating vibrant conversations on a set of topics that represent one of the biggest challenges marketing leaders face today. As a marketing consultant at the intersection of data, technology and customer strategy, I have observed — frequently — that there is a vast divide between brand/ customer strategy and data/technology strategy.

Multiple industry surveys report that few executives feel their analytics and technical implementation are well-connected and strategic. Despite the fact that most customer interaction is becoming tech-driven, the abundance of affordable tech options is leading to highly tactical and sometimes confusing customer experiences. The core issue is rarely the technology itself. Most solutions can work just fine at driving greater customer engagement and building brand equity. The real impediments are often organizational and strategic in nature.

The Real Problem in Marketing

Organizational challenges include overall resistance to change, but also the presence of silos where they do not make much sense. Although much has been written about this topic under the umbrella of digital transformation, it’s incredible how challenging the organizational factor remains. I hope to unpack some of the critical underlying factors in subsequent postings.

The strategic issues, on the other hand, are discussed less often. The problem begins with the marketing technology industry, itself. Driven by billions of dollars in investments, the industry has thousands of solutions in the market, each desperately trying to prove its unique value. I refer to this as the “land of shiny objects.” As marketing leaders attempt to navigate this landscape, it is easy to lose strategic focus.

In this blog, we’ll discuss ways in which marketing organizations regain their strategic bearings and leverage their tech stack for both short-term and long-term gains.

Amaze and Respect: Essential Verbs to Enhance Your Brand Strategy in 2015, Part 1

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions.

Harvard Business Review recently featured a cover story that promoted three key verbs as critical to marketing success: THINK, FEEL, DO. Does your 2015 brand plan include those verbs?

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions. As the new year quickly approaches, I invite you and your team to consider a few of these:

Amaze
The brand builders at Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender and the second largest retail home lender in the United States, have mindfully incorporated a powerful verb in its tagline: Engineered to Amaze.

The verb amaze is a driver in all of the company’s brand touchpoints—from the short video clip of Quicken Loans’ amazingly simple mortgage process on the home page to the text query (“AMAZE” to 26293) to the Zing! Blog where “Amazing Insights on Home, Money and Life” are offered to customers.

Breaking out of the maze of bureaucracy and painstaking processes that the mortgage industry is known for is what drives the leaders of Quicken Loans to create products and services that are amazingly useful to customers. Delighting its customers with a fast, efficient, friendly loan process distinguishes this brand and is part of the reason J.D. Power ranks Quicken Loans the “highest satisfaction in primary mortgage origination” for the last four years.

What do your customers find amazing about your brand? What new strategies might you adopt in the upcoming year to be even more amazingly useful to your customers?

Respect
Where does the verb respect fit in your brand’s DNA? For Jeffrey Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield, the two co-founders of Harry’s, an online men’s shaving boutique, this verb dominates their strategy. Here’s how the two describe their service:

Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced, over-marketed razors that disrespect your intelligence, and low quality, cheap razors that disrespect your face. We knew there had to be a better way, so we created Harry’s as a return to the essential: a great shave at a fair price.

Respecting customer intelligence, respecting the customer’s face, lathering in an edited and simplified shopping experience (like one of these men did in his first business—Warby Parker) and creating a meaningful charitable connection all adds up to a new venture that elevates a daily chore. Harry’s believes “a great shave is powerful, preparing you to conquer the world in your own way, every day.”

It’s apparent that this respect for their customer’s time, attention and wallet coupled with respect for the activity of shaving informed all Raider’s and Katz-Mayfield’s brand launch decisions. The co-founders conducted their own shave tests and found all existing products on the market lacking. In addition to finding a European manufacturer to make a different type of blade, it led them to reconfigure the razor handles and craft two unique and exclusive Harry offerings: The Winston and The Truman, inspired by old pens and knives.

“With Harry’s,” Raider says in a Fast Company interview, “I think we care about customers a lot, but it’s more about respecting them and giving them a product they really like, but not overwhelming them with choice-just sort of giving them a shaving tool we think will work really well.”

Plain and simple, how well does your brand respect your customers’ attention, time and wallet? In 2015, how can you be ever more respectful?

Tune in in early December for the final three verbs you should use to enhance your brand strategy in 2015!