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The Net Takeaway: Get the Story Right...


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Get the Story Right... · 02/02/2009 01:20 PM, Marketing

Everyone thinks analytics is all about the data. I hear amazing stories of petabyte warehouses, state vector learning algorithms, and every other aspect of the data. But it really comes down to the story: What is the data telling us about the world? This is the context, the relevance, the “impact”, all those pieces.

This comes, in part, from shared meaning. Once we all understand what a metrics is all about, then we can communicate with it. But if we make up something new just to be different, then we lose some of that shared meaning, communication disappears, and the story fades away. That story is the center of it all: if you can’t tell the story, then all you have is meaningless data.

And when it’s missing, its just painful to watch. Here are some examples:

RYG It’s very common to have Red/Yellow/Green status reports on projects. But did you know that people have different interpretations of RYG? My most recent team has this standard:

This seems strange to me. I think in terms of Star Trek: Green means everything is good, but when Yellow alert is called, well, get ready to bring the noise. And Red alert means that people wearing red shirts should just start writing their wills.

But in this version, we have a page full of “Yellows” which means that all is going fine… which, in Star Trek terms, should be Green. And given that I think this way, so do lots of others. So, when we review our status with others, we have to spend time explaining that our metric, though named the same as theirs, has a different meaning… and that they shoudn’t freak out just because we have a page full of Yellows; that just means all is fine. And, not surprisingly, we wind up spending time just converting Greens to Yellows when presenting our status internally, but keeping them Green so that we don’t get confused among ourselves.

Lack of shared context just creates dysfunction, but people in power like things the way they like them. The story suffers when the writer can’t communicate with a shared language.

2009 Super Bowl Ads Watch them anywhere; I saw them at Yahoo! Big Games Ads. For $3million per 30 second spot in some cases, one would expect the ads to really attempt to resonate. Instead, many threw shared meaning into the air with no real story, or a story relying on assumed shared context that just wasn’t there.

Who were Disasters:

What Worked?

Call them assumptions. Call them the “duh” factors. Call it what you will, but everything, every interaction, should be a story based on shared understandings. Try to use your audiences’ language; reference their POV in the story. Put a beginning, build to an end, wrap it up. Stories are how we communicate throughout history, so make the story understandable with shared terms (or at least define your needlessly made up ones).

These examples all show flops because of lack of story or lack of shared context, or both. All your visualization, all your analyses, they all need to flow into a story based on shared context.

Take a few minutes, watch some of these ads, think about how you communicate your data: Are you creating a story like Bridgestone or Monster, or are you throwing junk up and hoping your user will see something in it like Sobe?

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  1. Hi Michael!

    When I came to work this morning, my co-worker asked me how I was defining a certain metric, because she thought it “made a lot of sense, but hadn’t heard it defined that way. What was the name of it again?” I laughed because she was rightly confused and even I don’t remember what I might have called it! I said to her that we needed to have a brown bag lunch to build out a glossary of definitions to post on our walls…Loved your thoughts…very clearly articulated ;-)

    Shey O'Grady    Feb 2, 03:16 PM    #

  2. In defense of Sprint(Nextel) ad…
    The mashup of these two companies can be seen years after they merged. The roadies fit the Nextel ‘Git’ R Done’ brand that has my dad still yelling at his little yellow phone. Contrasted by the CEO ad, with the yellow Apple store look where he presents himself as a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs telling is how grand technology is. It is a dichotomy but if it sells phones, in this case, yellow could mean progress.

    P. Alston    Feb 3, 12:33 AM    #

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