Calling Bullsh*t in the Age of Big Data

Here’s a course on calling bullsh*t in market research, social and physical sciences.

University of Washington Professors Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West developed the course. Over email, Professor Bergstrom told me that he’s optimistic that the UW is going to approve the course. Adding, “So far they’ve been great.”

Reactions to a post I made on Linked In were strongly positive, with a number of folks asking if the course would be available online. I asked Carl about this. Some sort of distance option is envisioned: “We’ll try to videotape the lectures and post to youtube, for starters,” he said.

But just what is bullsh*t? The profs define the term as “… language intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.” Their course will offer a very rigorous approach for “detecting bull, seeing through it, and combatting it with effective analysis and argument.”

I hope they get their approvals and will start teaching. I’m looking forward to those YouTube videos. The link again is:

Millennials, Mindsets & Money … and Selling Wine Online (Part 2)

Note: Millennials buying wine onlinePart 1 explained just how competitive the US wine industry is and the reasons behind choosing online wine sales by Millennials as the research focus for this study in the Millennials, Mindsets & Money initiative that Howard Moskowitz and I lead.

If you would like a copy of the full report as an e-book please email me:  steve at The report is complimentary.

This post summarizes the five most important research findings from our study. But first, some words about our research aims.

The 3 Aims of Our Research

Moskowitz and I set out to discover 3 things that will help wineries create productive marketing strategies that increase their online wine sales. We used our research methods of Mind Genomics and Cognitive Economics and, in a first, combined them with the emotional research technique called MindSight developed by applied neuroscientist Dr. David Forbes. (Discussion of these is beyond the scope of this post, but will be detailed in the e-book we’re preparing on this study).

Identify and define mindsets people hold towards buying wine online from wineries. Mindsets are collections of ideas people have towards some “thing,” such as coffee, season tickets for sports teams, or hotel check-in. Ideas within mindsets can raise their interest in that thing, lower their interest in it, or have little impact. Mindsets are unique segments.

Specify the marketing messages that most strongly interest a person in buying wine online from a winery. People respond to marketing messages differently. One person can be turned on by an idea or message, another appalled by the same idea or message. We studied 36 messages about online wine buying from wineries to find those with the most “pulling power.”. Those messages included the stories that wineries tell about themselves and their business practices; the online and mobile wine-buying experience; buzz, reviews, ratings; shipping, rewards, discounts, and the motivations for buying wine online from a winery.

Identify the emotional satisfactions online wine buyers seek from a purchase. All product buying involves an emotional component, which is often subconscious.

Achieving these goals enabled us to uncover the “why” underlying online wine buying, not simply the “what” that so many studies report.

The Five Key Findings

1. Millennials are interested in buying wine directly from wineries.

About 50% of Millennials in our study would make a purchase within the next six months. There was no difference in intent between Younger Millennials (21-26) and Older Millennials (27-34)

2. There is no single type of Millennial online wine buyer. Millennials fall into one of three unique mindset segments towards buying wine online from a winery. 

I’ll briefly describe each segment and recommend a messaging strategy based on the marketing messages that substantially raise interest in buying wine online.

Segment 1: Discerning, Buys into the Winery and Wine (15% of Millennials)

People in this segment are interested in buying high quality wine from a winery with a great story.

Messaging Strategy: Appeal to their interest in distinctive, artisanal, handcrafted wines. Lower their purchase risk by giving them confidence in the wine they are buying—provide detailed descriptions and tasting notes, and highlight those bottles that earned high community ratings. It’s not the wine alone. Wineries should emphasize their compelling back stories and show how they conduct operations with uncompromising integrity. Downplay rewards and discounts as these do not drive Segment 1 people’s interest in buying wine online.

This group will pay the most for a bottle.

Segment 2: Quality Wine at a Great Price (20% of Millennials in sample)

This group is most interested in a fantastic deal, even a steal, on a great wine.

Messaging Strategy: In contrast to Segment 1, tout discounted or free shipping, quantity discount availability, and specials and promotions. Like Segment 1 they want quality wine from right-minded wineries. But these are table stakes for them. For Segment 2, the deal matters most.

This group will pay less than Segment 1 for a bottle.

Segment 3: On the Cusp (65% of Millennials in sample)

This, the largest group, is uncertain about buying wine online from a winery.

Messaging Strategy: None of the ideas crossed our threshold for high “pulling power.” Several ideas bubbled below the threshold that may be worthwhile to employ as background assurances. These concerned pricing, reducing purchase risk, and enjoying their wine with friends and family.

This group will pay the least for a bottle.

3. Each segment reflects a different potential for sales. 

Marketing effectively to each segment means that wineries should have a way of identifying visitors and assigning them to a segment, target them, and then tailor visitors’ onsite experience with the marketing messages that work best for their segment. We developed an app that assigns people to a segment—it takes under a minute, so that wineries can know which visitors belong to each segment nearly instantaneously. The app can be incorporated into a web or mobile page, email form, etc. so that it is easily and seamlessly accessible to visitors. You can try the app out here.

Segment 1 and Segment 2 represent near-term opportunity—they account for 35% of Millennials, and should be the most productive for wineries selling wine online. Segment 3, although larger, appears to offer less potential today and would most likely be considered a secondary target for most wineries selling online.

Wineries marketing online to Millennials should create unique strategies for each mindset segment that are developed in line with their winery’s business goals, business model, values, practices, offerings, services, and experiences.

4. Millennials seek specific emotional satisfactions from online wine buying. These are the same no matter which mindset segment a Millennial belongs to.

For many people online wine buying is an emotionally risky business. That risk can be a turnoff if not addressed, leading to abandoned shopping carts and lost sales. Combined with the mindset messaging strategies wineries create, including ways to satisfy the emotions that come into play can help visitors overcome resistance to buying and feel great about their purchases.

In all mindset segments, online wine buyers do not want to feel insecure—they want to feel that they are buying the right wine and have a sense of accomplishment about it. They do not want to feel disempowered—they want to feel that that they are getting what they want. Nor do they want to feel disengaged – they want to look forward to drinking what they’re buying and to feel that they will enjoy it with others.

5. Millennials are not unique. The mindset segments apply to all generations. 

We also studied Boomers and Xers in equal numbers to Millennials so that we could compare and contrast them with Millennials. The older generations fell into the mindset segments in nearly the same percentages as Millennials. Emotional satisfactions showed the same patterns. In addition we didn’t see any meaningful demographic or attitudinal differences that explained the mindsets. It’s the ideas that define the mindsets.

The upshot is that marketing strategies based on the segments and emotions can be consistent across generations so that wineries can create a “total market” strategy if they desire. Doing so has advantages for brand growth. However specifics like imagery, sounds and language should be tailored to each generation to ensure that the messages are seen as relevant.

Wrapping Up

In talking with various wineries about our results, I learned that numbers of wineries have some of the ideas about segments and use some of the marketing messages. Our findings provide a framework that sharpens and organizes a winery’s understanding of their customers’ thoughts and emotions so that they are better able to offer a compelling site and buying experience for each visitor. And it’s not ivory tower. Wineries selling wine online can act on our findings and recommendations right now. Those that do should also think about how to express the messages and emotional assurances in images and sounds to engage more of the senses.

Millennials, Mindsets & Money … and Selling Wine Online. Part 1

Millennials buying wine onlineNote: This is Part 1 of a 2-part post on our study on selling wine online to Millennials. This post presents background on the wine industry and the rationale for doing the research. Part 2 toplines the key findings and marketing strategies guided by the research. The wine category is one we are researching for our Millennials, Mindsets & Money initiative.

How would you compete in a $40 billion industry with over 8,000 competitors? One where the top 3 firms control nearly half of the US market, and the top 8 control 60%, leaving thousands upon thousands battling for fractions of the remaining 40%? Complicating matters: most of these businesses can’t get retail distribution; most don’t advertise; barriers to entry are very low; and the number of competitors increases yearly. That’s the US wine business.

Most Wineries are Small Businesses Competing Like Crazy

For all of wine’s glamour, the lush valleys, the terraced hillsides, the local foods and award-winning restaurants, the well-appointed tasting rooms, event spaces, inns and spas, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of wineries are small- and mid-sized businesses working passionately and very, very  hard to make and sell their wines in an incredibly complicated and mind-boggling competitive market.

Direct-to-Consumer Sales are their Lifeblood

Most wineries depend on revenue from wine sales in their tasting rooms, wine club memberships, and events. These direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales depend on wine tourism, where people come to the winery, taste, and buy. But wine tourism, though big, is under attack as communities oppose new winery development and expansion plans, potentially applying a brake on their sales engines. And industry consolidation at all levels makes it tougher every day.

The good news is that the online wine channel is poised to become more important than it has been. Direct shipping, accounting for about 2 percent of wine sales last year; grew roughly four times faster than retail wine sales overall, although the base is quite small. Direct sales represent a promising revenue source, one that can help wineries tackle their daily challenges, bolster their short-term financial position, and help assure their long-term viability.

Our Research: How Can Wineries Increase their DTC Sales to Millennials?

Wineries know more about navigating tasting room and wine club sales than they do the new frontier of online sales, which many offer but have less experience with. Given the growth of e-commerce and the march of Millennials into the wine category, Howard Moskowitz and I decided to include it in our Millennials, Mindsets & Money initiative. We set out to crack the code of Millennial online wine buying – what do you say, how do you say it, who do you say it to – so that our work could guide wineries to sell effectively online, grow their revenue, and improve their business results.

I’ll have the findings posted in a couple of days. If you’d like to learn more, just drop me a line.

Research Sponsored by Nomacorc

Nomacorc sponsored the research for Millennials, Mindsets & Money. Nomacorc is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of wine closure systems. Nomacorc provided access to their clients and prospects, which helped us understand their business issues and decide on the research topic, and they provided subject matter expertise during the design phase of the research. Nomacorc was not involved in the research fielding or analysis preferring, instead, to let the research speak for itself.

7 Rules for Properly Measuring Social and PR Value

Katie Paine“What’s the ROI of social?” That’s a question I always tackle in my talks on digital measurement, and for good reason – we want to know if  programs work to help brands reach their financial goals, and how much they are contributing.

In many instances, ROI is difficult to measure, but as measurement expert Katie Paine (shown left), CEO of Paine Publishing points out, “but that doesn’t mean they are bad investments.”

Katie and I advocate understanding the value of investments brands make in social initiatives. She recently issued a 7 guideline set that provides utterly practical advice for communicators who want to understand their results and share them across the organization.

Katie Paine’s 7 Rules for Measuring Social and PR Value

  1. Count all costs, direct and apportioned
  2. Be conservative with forecasting your expected results
  3. Explain everything in language your listener/reader easily understands
  4. Make sure the value matches the objectives and/or goals. Use relevant metrics, not vanity measures that look good.
  5. Do not try to measure a long-term strategy with short-term value
  6. Do not use the lingo of accountants to articulate social change
  7. Do not fall for the ROI excuse, which is often a red herring used by skeptics to “challenge the value of a program or seek a convenient way to reject it.”

Katie explains these 7 points more fully in a pdf available on the Paine Publishing website, or email Katie [kdpaine at painepublishing dot com] and ask for a copy.  Definitely worth a visit, the site offers valuable resources on social and PR measurement that anyone involved in understanding communications impact should routinely visit.

“Utterances that will Profit a Listener …”

Relevance means understanding people deeply and giving them communications that are valuable and help them live better lives. Implications for marketing and advertising are drawn and a path towards humanistic marketing is put forward.

and therefore recommend the speaker as an ally.” That’s how Marshall T. Poe defines relevance in his book A History of Communications.  Expanding, he writes:

If you can regularly say “there’s some food over there” and be right, then you have probably signaled to me that you can probably do me some good and therefore that I should select you as a partner. Being relevant helps you a lot: the more relevant you are, the more allies you will have; the more allies you have, the larger your coalition; the larger your coalition, the more likely it will dominate the band …

The key idea locked inside the quote – “signalling that you can probably do me some good” means that relevant stories and relevant brands convey knowledge or provide pathways that help people live better lives. They go beyond merely furnishing information or products to consumers.

Many marketing communications and brands, perhaps the majority, don’t do that vital signalling. Brands tell people how wonderful they are and what they offer. Those “me” messages and me-too products flunk in the evolutionary sense. People don’t connect with them. Lacking connection, the messages and brands become profoundly irrelevant.

Each one of us experiences irrelevance daily. Open your inbox. Start going through it. How many emails did you skip past or delete because it seemed that the senders were pushing something on you, or that the emails’ contents focused more on them than you?

Those senders think their messages matter to you but they failed to ignite your interest. Without understanding you and helping you do something meaningful, there’s no reason for you to give them any attention or engage as they would like. You realize: they’re not your ally.

Connecting – neuroscience and motivational psychological researchers agree, requires thinking deeply about people. Not as an afterthought. From the outset.

UCLA’s Matt Lieberman and colleagues in his social cognitive neuroscience lab make that exact point in their study “Creating Buzz: The Neural Correlates of Effective Message Propagation.”

They looked into the brains of people who would be communicating messages by sliding them into fMRI scanners. Lieberman and his collaborators found that ideas which successfully spread were associated with the brain’s reward and mentalizing circuits. (Reward circuits concern the value of a particular message to the sender. Mentalizing circuits concern the anticipated response a message will have on the message recipients).

These neural systems turned on immediately when the communicators-to-be first heard the messages.

Dr. Srini Pillay of NeuroBusiness Group summarized the findings simply and practically:

If the message has value and takes into account the needs of others, and if you are committed to spreading this message, it is more likely to reach many more people than if you were just communicating a message that you were excited about.

How much marketing communication is spreading “messages that [brands] are excited about?” And by extension, their products, services, or experiences?

Columbia University’s Professor Heidi Grant Halvorson identified relevance as one of three “loyalty triggers,” warmth and competence complete the trio. Relevance promotes feelings of connection, a desire to stay around, and aids in building relationships. (Katherine de Cerbo offers a good summary of Halvorson’s loyalty triggers here in the context of blogging audience development and loyalty).

It might seem that relevance is one-way, that if we think that people’s needs are deeply understood and met, then that is enough and Bob’s your uncle. Poe makes the essential point that we constantly test for relevance because our ability to live good lives depends on it. Ultimately relevance is a judgment each of us makes. We are wired to be relevant and to recognize relevance.

Appreciating relevance from the evolutionary perspective charts a course towards improving brand communications, whether in straight-up advertising, content marketing, or whichever form brands choose. The challenge before us is a big one for most brands. Understanding people as they would like to be understood and serving them runs counter to many ingrained mental models and marketing practices.

As I’ve talked about relevance with friends, some of them ask about empathy, probably because it is gaining attention in the marketing world. Relevance as conceived here goes beyond empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – and on towards a humanistic business approach. There the goal is to be an ally helping people improve their lives by empowering them to live them to the fullest extent.  And isn’t that marketing’s purpose?

“Apologies for the Slow Reply.” The Pleasures of Postal Time.

That’s how Richard Davies opened a recent email reply to me, Nine days elapsed since I wrote to him about several people who might be interesting for him to interview for his podcast “How do we fix it?” and other matters.

Did I mind a slow reply? Just the opposite. It struck me like the difference between fast food which hits on a few tastes and slow food with its complexity and depth of flavors. I enjoyed reading his stories about the upcoming networking coffee he was about to have, his plans for contacting a colleague, and his interest in contributing to a compilation of humanistic business resources I’m putting together.

Reflecting on why I enjoyed reading Richard’s email, I realized that his progress notes and ideas came to me as a whole, not as a series of individual items delivered in discrete messages across a week and a half. That allowed me to concentrate on what he wrote, to think about what to say back, and to feel calm instead of performing the usual drill: react, respond, and go on to the next one.

Colleagues who’ve adopted this “write when you have something meaningful to say” approach realize that exchanging more complete information with context and a point of view offers greater value to the recipient and ups the quality of the conversation. Fewer but more thorough communications contribute to efficiency and productivity in many ways: better understanding, alignment and coordination among co-workers or friends; more time devoted to work; and a relaxed, attentive more open frame of mind.

Slow reply doesn’t mean taking 9 days or some defined period of time, just however long it takes for a stepping-back to see the bigger picture, to figure out what’s really going on, and to map out a path to progress. We hunger for this. One of the most important pieces I’ve read on knowledge management dates from the 1970s. I think the title was “On the need for evaluated information.” The author, a library scientist, argued that knowledge workers needed vetted information organized, synthesized, and presented in ways leading to rapid comprehension, analysis and decision-making. Thirty-five years later that need remains a largely unsatisfied demand. My experience running the Knowledge Center at the Advertising Research Foundation in the late ’00s and early ’10s revealed that’s what members wanted: not just access to information – they had plenty of that – but an authoritative take on an issue from their perspective. They want to know: what does it mean for my brand and business?

The people best equipped to do that level of information gathering, analysis, interpretation, and recommendation are those closest to the situation, not third-parties. Each one of us is that person. If we are to serve our cause, whatever it is, we have a responsibility to offer a slow reply.

Email, IM, social media, and texting advances make it routine to send, post, update, and share. It’s in their nature to be immediate and for us to use them as they would like. But we can use them a little more deliberately at times. When we really have something to say, it won’t be a slow reply at all, but a valuable communication from you. And that’s a pleasure.

Mind Genomics and Cognitive Economics: Introduction and Methodology

The paper below introduces mind genomics and cognitive economics, and explains the methodology. The subject of the paper is “artisanal bread,” but the mechanics for every study are exactly the same.

Download (PDF, 1.32MB)

Millennials, Mindsets & Money

Millennials, Mindsets, and MoneyMillennials, Mindsets & Money is an initiative led by me and Howard Moskowitz using mind genomics science and cognitive economics (see Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk for background),

We aim to help brands improve their understanding of Millennials while providing actionable guidance that will help their marketers answer the question: “How do we market our product, service or experience to Millennials?” – and grow our business today, sustainably, and profitably over time.

Our goal is to create a science of Millennials through which we understand the mindsets, preferences, and economic trade-offs Millennials make daily about products, services or experiences. Each “chapter” of the initiative will focus on a single product category. To date we completed two studies on beer, one on macro, the other on craft, and have one on wine in the field. We will rollout to financial services, food, travel, entertainment, transportation, and more.

We plan to make top-line findings available through this blog, and we plan to publish a series of ebooks, one for each studied category. We expect to publish 3-4 per year.

Sponsors underwrite the cost of the research. They gain a thought leadership platform for their marketing, and they have access to the full data set for slice-and-dice analysis for themselves or to advise key business partners.

Interested in sponsoring a study in your category?

Contact Stephen Rappaport who will provide you with all the details, benefits, costs, and timeline.

Influence without Influentials: Seinfeld Shows Us

My good friend Mark Earls is coming into town in November for the IIeX forums. You may know his books “Herd” and “I’ll Have What She’s Having.” They make the point that observing what other people do influences us. It doesn’t mean we will always copy what they do, but what we notice gives us something to think about doing and, if we do it, the idea spreads. With enough spread, mass behavior, such as product adoption, may take place.  Mark’s books offer a range of examples. This grassroots approach contrasts with the top-down Influential-Follower model that rules much of today’s influencer marketing programs.

I’m always looking for illustrations of how observational influence works because, living in our interconnected interpersonal world, it’s vital that marketers understand how ideas spread by people and through people, not merely to people. As with so many things, “Seinfeld” nailed it perfectly. Watch.

The knife and fork Snickers eating technique spread when people saw it, copied it, and added momentum by riffing on it – cookies, Almond Joys, donuts, even eating M&Ms with a spoon on the street. People bring ideas they come across into their lives for their own reasons, in ways meaningful to them, and will keep them for however long they want – they aren’t told by an Influential Person what to think, feel, or do. Elaine’s exasperation with watching people eating handheld snacks with cutlery shows that adoption is not automatic: resistance to new ideas exists, and this resistance impacts where, how fast, and how far an idea may spread. (The notion that social networks govern the spread of ideas is closely related to Microsoft researcher Duncan Watts).

Social networks like Amazon and Facebook get and leverage the power of observational influence. Amazon product pages give visitors the ability to see what others are doing, buying, or thinking about for just about any item. Facebook’s News Feed improvements get better at presenting the items that any user is probably most interested in seeing and connecting with because they draw upon the social graph, the network of people a user is part of. Facebook figures out what each of their users notices and gives them more of it, until Facebook recognizes a shift in interest and then re-jiggers their news feeds.

Observational influence is subtle and indirect, yet our habit of mind is to default to the Influential-Follower model. Mark Earls says that influence occurs when “normal people see and copy (or not copy) what other normal people are doing.” Duncan Watts makes that point, as do Facebook and Amazon who use it to their advantage.  For most of us marketers, the obvious question is: How can we?

Humetrics – Fact and Feeling Play Big at Sentiment Analysis Symposium 2015

Sentiment SymposiumI coined the word “humetrics” while writing The Digital Metrics Field Guide to capture the idea that digital measurement increasingly captures what people are doing, saying, and feeling, and that measurement becomes a way to understand people as people, not as inanimate numbers. This edition of SAS showed that promising technologies are not merely becoming commercialized but becoming applicable, useful, and capable of generating meaningful business results.

We still have a way to go – I can’t believe how much writing about social media in particular is focused on strategies and tactics but not what individuals are looking to accomplish in their lives.

But SAS 2015 showed that the cutting edge is understanding people, their feelings, emotions, and actions for business-building insights. Here were some of the highlights:

  • Seth Grimes, conference organizer and probably the most knowledgeable person about all things text, started us off with the notion that we are operating in a research world of “facts and feelings.” The two are inter-related. He and I have been thinking along similar lines. Independently of one another he started emphasizing a term similar to humetrics, what he calls “human analytics.” This idea appears to be gaining prominence within the zeitgeist.
  •  John Liu of cognitive computing company Digital Reasoning is on this path, too. He told me: “advances in tech and sentiment have brought us to the point where mining cognitive and emotional behavior is rapidly becoming mainstream. Take a quick look at the Digital Reasoning website to see what he means.
  • Emotient demonstrated their very cool facial coding application. If awards were given out for best demo, theirs would have won best in show. Not only does their software analyze one person, it is capable of analyzing groups of people.  For those of us in communications, their software is used to analyze commercials. Their approach brings the cost of emotional response research way down while making it highly scalable and more precise. Unlike many of the neuromarketing approaches that signal when an emotional response occurred, this goes further by specifying the emotions and the sequence of emotions that people experience while watching an ad. Emotient can integrate with third-party surveys, which opens up many possibilities.
  • Along with emotions, the work of motivational psychologist David Forbes (CEO of Forbes Consulting, a Copernicus Company) was showcased in a workshop centered on his new book The Science of Why: Decoding Human Emotion and Transforming Marketing Strategy. David’s approach centers on 9 motivations that are discoverable through a method he developed called MindSight. In just three minutes a  person can be motivationally typed. When a sample of respondents is typed, the patterns of motivations suggest segments that are unique and mutually exclusive, thereby allowing them to be used for target marketing purposes. Like Emotient, MindSight can be linked to from a third-party survey or task to add a motivational layer to the analysis. Again, nearly unlimited opportunities. I plan on testing it in the cognitive economics studies I’m doing for my new book Millennials, Mindsets, and Money.
  • In addition to these solutions, many papers went beyond reporting numbers to talking about people. Look through the agenda to see what I mean.

I’ve attended several of the SAS meetings over the years. This one had the strongest program so far. I’m looking forward to the next one.