Sometimes “Irrational” is just “Emotional”

April 23, 2008

“Predictably Irrational,” a book by M.I.T. Economist and Federal Reserve researcher Dan Ariely, has been the talk of the geekerati in recent weeks. The book, in its seventh week on The New York Times best seller list, has been the subject of commentary in professional media from the Financial Times to NPR, and is now a hot topic among the online elite.

From the book’s Web site:

Do you know why we so often promise ourselves to diet and exercise, only to have the thought vanish when the dessert cart rolls by?

Do you know why we sometimes find ourselves excitedly buying things we don’t really need?

Do you know why we still have a headache after taking a five-cent aspirin, but why that same headache vanishes when the aspirin costs 50 cents?…

By the end of this book, you’ll know the answers to these and many other questions that have implications for your personal life, for your business life, and for the way you look at the world.”

The book is well written and insightful, but reading it I couldn’t help but think over and over again that it was really a book about branding written by a mathematician who – working deep below the earth in an undisclosed location insulated from brands of any kind – had somehow uncovered the existence of brands through an elaborate mathematical proof.

If you replaced every instance of the word “irrational” in this book with the word “emotional,” it would loses 80% of the revelatory irony that forms its spine, to the point of making observation after observation which would seem plainly obvious to your average small agency Account Coordinator.

“People love free, even when they’re not getting much!” Thanks, Bernbach. Duh.

The question worth pondering here, at least from a marketing perspective, is why even really smart people still don’t get the brand thing. Why is it so hard to grok the concept of assigning emotional value to something, beyond whatever rational utility one derives from it? And is doing so really “irrational,” or is it just a function of the fact that, for better or worse, we are all emotional beings?



Getting Social Media

February 22, 2008

I was on a panel at the Cornell Entrepreneur Network event yesterday, asked to speak on the marketing potential of social media to a (smart) group of “Web 2.0” neophytes. The assignment led to some Cornellreflection on my part, and the following (hopefully) insights:

  1. People under 30 – the typical target for marketers interested in social media – don’t want online dialog for it’s own sake. Dialog is a means to multiple ends which they care about a great deal: Authenticity, Understanding, and Validation.
  2. Because of this, you have to understand social networking as a user before you have a prayer of using it effectively as a marketer. Rather than spending your lunchtime listening to paper gurus, go create a blog yourself and see what happens.
  3. After you’ve done that, don’t expect the world to beat a path to your door. Check where the people interested in what your interested in hang out today. Lurk quietly for a while, like you would wandering into a conversation at a cocktail party. Then try and make a worthwhile contribution.
  4. If you really have something great to add, post it on your own blog with references to appropriate posts in more established blogs. This will create traffic, and begin to build your social networking equity.
  5. Whenever possible, move the conversation to the real world. Blog away, but throw on some lipgloss once in a while and go shake some hands, will ya?

Did you attend the forum? Feel free to comment and post a link to your blog.

Target Marketing Changed Politics

January 18, 2008

My monthly column in Adotas is up, teaser:

No matter what your politics, these are interesting times in the realm of political marketing. After a decade-long footrace between the parties to out-execute each other in the realm of “microtargeting,” the technique is being painted as the root of all evil by progressives bent on putting the “United” back into the good ‘ol USA.

Tabling for a moment whether this shift is motivated by aspiration or resignation on the part of the Democrats, the strategy itself merits some reflection by commercial marketers.

Pretty pleased with it, actually, your comments welcome here or there.

Our Higher Moral Purpose

January 17, 2008

Between my first and second year of business school I was a strategic consultant at The Monitor Company in Cambridge. During that time Mark Fuller, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, was obsessed with an exercise to help the company define what he called its “higher moral purpose.”

“All truly great businesses serve a higher moral purpose than the need to create value for the shareholders,” he said, “and we need to find ours.”

This seemed a little pretentious to me at the time, but it stuck in my head for some reason, and as I’ve been a part of building subsequent businesses I’ve always taken the time to reflect on what thier higher moral purpose might be.

There’s an Italian saying that the only thing more true than truth is a story. The story in this video, Malcolm Gladwell’s TED speech, captures what I believe to be matchmine’s higher moral purpose:

Link to Malcolm Gladwell TED speech

matchmine headlines GigaOm!

December 6, 2007

To be honest, I never imagined I’d be so excited for us to appear in somebody’s blog. If you’re going to be in one, though, this is the one.

My favorite bit:GigaOm

What I like about matchmine is that it lines up my multidimensional taste profile (my MatchKey) with the multidimensional profile of a piece of content. For example, I like “The Princess Bride” because it combines comedy with romance and a bit of fantasy; matchmine can find other movies that have similarly specific profiles.

matchmine reminds me a bit of Pandora, which doesn’t use collaborative filtering but rather searches for music based on the characteristics of music you say you like. Pandora, however, doesn’t construct a personal profile of you to match to the music; it starts with music you specify.

matchmine can also match you to other people, by computing the similarity of your respective MatchKeys. That would be another path to find content you might like.

matchmine works across content types and services, effectively bypassing the compartmentalization of personalized recommendations. But it does so in a way that doesn’t compromise privacy, because you retain control of your MatchKey. Plus, when used to make recommendations, it’s not associated with any identifying data.

Wow. Totally get’s it. Get the whole post here:
matchmine: Made for the Multidimensional You – GigaOM

It’s a movement, baby. Resistance is futile…

More thoughts on facebook…

November 29, 2007

Published an article in ADOTAS today, looks like this will be a recurring column.adotas logo

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the mediasphere. On the one hand, we’ve had Facebook asking advertisers to belly up to the buffet of targeting data made available through their new ad initiative. On the other, we’ve seen the behavioral targeting crowd launch a “Do Not Track List,” which would clearly take some of the tastier goodies off the online ad targeting table. So what’s it all mean? Should responsible advertisers start salivating over the pictures on the menu? Or should they re-commit to their diets just as the all-you-can-eat cruise ship leaves port?

Comments welcome.

Facebook Ad Scheme: Back to the Future?

November 21, 2007

Facebook’s new ad targeting scheme is so interesting because it begins to enable advertisers to target individuals again, instead of behavior. In a way it brings advertising full circle…
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This is how the world used to work – If you were Acme Floor Wax you ran a full page bleed in Ladies Home Journal because you knew that educated suburban Moms tended to be disproportionally interested in your product. Banner ads digitized that system, but the targeting was weak early on because A.) The online community was so homogeneous, and B.) It was hard to get good demographic segment data from anonymous web site traffic.

Google changed the game, creating an ad medium designed and built for an interactive medium. Now Acme Floor Wax could target its link at people looking for “floor wax,” regardless of their demographic composition. “Search Ads” crushed “Display Ads” online, and never looked back. “Behavioral Targeting” kind of takes this to the next level, looking at behavior across web sites and trying to infer purchase intent.

Facebook’s ad approach is something totally different, in some ways bringing online advertising full circle. Now you can target the person instead of the behavior, and as advertisers come to understand this, the likelihood it will catch fire is quite high. The problem, from the perspective of the user, is that the system is too targeted. Since my private, personally identifiable information is muddled with my interests, tastes and demographic segment data on facebook, I feel kind of exposed and intruded upon by the medium.

The solution to this problem: De-couple who I am from what I like. Keep the former private and empower me to control who gets access to the latter. That’s matchmine.

It’s a movement baby.