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Transformation Not Privatization


Given the more than a billion dollars in missed income targets and double and triple digit percentage increases in operating costs, it seems clear that lottery privatization has not delivered the expected rewards for Illinois, Indiana or New Jersey. While privatization may not have been the answer these states were looking for, it also isn’t the problem for these three or for any lottery. Like most businesses built around bricks and mortar distribution, lottery growth is slowing and traditional strategies and tactics are delivering less while costing more. The democratization of technology, an exponential growth of data, the ubiquitous access to everything that everyone now has and changing consumer preferences are collectively transforming everything about how U.S. lotteries must create, operate and compete, just as they are for every business as well as every government entity. Instead of privatization, U.S. lotteries, in collaboration with their suppliers, must find their way to new capabilities and competencies built for sustained success in a digitally-driven world. In other words, they must engineer a digital transformation to become data-driven and customer-centric and with it create new ways to plan, do, engage, measure and value. It won’t be simple, easy or quick, but if states and jurisdictions hope to maintain lottery as a revenue source (nearly $21 billion in 2015), change is no longer optional.

Download Transformation Not Privatization for a look at how macro trends are affecting U.S. lotteries (as well as every business and every government entity), an overview of privatization results, a look at the important ways in which U.S. lotteries differ from private industry and where assumptions around privatization may have gotten it wrong, an introduction to Digital Transformation for lotteries and a few highlights from the transformation efforts Indiana had worked through prior to their privatization.

Complete the below for a link to download.

Dust Myself Off and Start All Over Again


The top ten lists for being a successful entrepreneur don’t usually include the explicit direction to not get sick. Perhaps it’s assumed that if an entrepreneur is going to be the CEO and the CMO and the VP of Sales and more, they’d better have health reserves to carry them through. For me, when I jumped into the world of entrepreneurs, instead of health reserves I found I had a lurking auto-immune disease just waiting to be set free.

I started CODEI, LLC in the fall of 2013 with a head full of steam and a belief that I saw something many others hadn’t yet realized (or at least weren’t acknowledging.) I was sure that the convergence of so many trends including shifts in demographics and preferences, digital as the center of everything, the explosion of data (and expectations for putting it to use), the exponential nature of technology, the globalization of everything and the new understandings into how we all actually make decisions was about to have a profound impact on the way we all work. Existing organizational structures as well as the people within them could not keep pace with the continuous stream of new demands being placed on them. Being data-driven, building around the customer and meeting the anywhere/anytime demands of digital was going to need far more than acquiring some new technology or deploying a “big data” initiative or adding a digital department. I thought the path to the future for everyone was to begin the hard work of creating new ways to plan, do, engage, measure and value.

I had just come from the then $900M Hoosier Lottery where we had worked through our own transformation to becoming data-driven and customer-centric (a precursor to what is referred to now as “digital transformation.”) After facing troubling results in 2009, a turnaround was undertaken to create new competencies across the organization. Leveraging data, embracing technology and building around the customer took the Lottery from last in the industry to a consistently top performer. Without spending incrementally, the Lottery was able to align its revenue and income growth, hold its return on sales rate steady, grow participation numbers and deliver industry leading customer satisfaction scores. And while doing so also deliver award-winning retailer work, award-winning, industry-first digital work and industry-leading work bringing multi-variate predictive forecasting as well as reporting and analytics into the business. Could what we learned about what to do (and not do) help others?

CODEI, LLC was born in hopes of doing just that. While many seemed to be screaming about data, chasing the promises of the latest digital technology and deploying multiple customer initiatives, few were talking about the scale and scope of the change that was actually necessary. And fewer still seemed to recognize that it was far less about data, the customer or technology and far more about the people, across the organization. The people who were being asked to consume overwhelming amounts of data, transform their understanding of the customer and create the systems, decisions and actions that turn potential into repeatable and growing value. The people who were now being tasked to be creative, critical thinkers, collaborate in all new ways, be willing to take risks and be unafraid to fail. The problem? Schools haven’t been teaching it and organizations aren’t structured for and haven’t, up until now, been rewarding it.

I didn’t see it then, but there was actually a bigger problem. At least for me.

From the beginning I found myself more fatigued than I thought I should be. I didn’t have the stamina to both deliver existing paying client work while also nurture and incubate the philosophies, thinking and processes for helping organizations to and through a digital transformation. Instead of active networking, writing and participating in the market, I had to concentrate my dwindling energy resources on existing work. Work that while valued and touched on the needs of the future was less about transformation and more about the care and keeping of today’s business.

As my health continued to decline, I visited doctors in hopes of finding a diagnosis. Because I am a fifty year old woman, most of the visits were met less with interest and compassion and more with assumptions about who I was and what I was suffering from. Instead of assistance with my diagnosis, I learned that I needed to handle stress better and sleep more. I also learned that I needed to eat better and exercise more. I was made aware that I am getting older and with that comes aches and pains. With all that not so helpful (or original) advice, I also learned that data is as overwhelming to doctors as it is to all of us. There is a lot they do not know and there is far too much focus by most on treating symptoms vs. finding and fixing the cause. I learned that for all the excitement and chatter about patient-driven care and the value of health data, I couldn’t find anyone interested in my iWatch data and very few interested in patient-driven anything. Because I found too many who were quick to make assumptions and stop listening, I learned that I have to check their work (which they don’t appreciate) and be my own advocate. Ultimately, I learned that healthcare, like every industry, is in need of its own digital transformation.

In October 2015, I was left with no choice but to take a step completely back. Something was terribly wrong and I needed to take all my remaining energy to figure it out before it was too late. I finished an existing project and turned my attention to solving my health crisis. After too many “specialists”, too many irrelevant and possibly dangerous medications (most of which I didn’t take) and even a suggestion for unnecessary heart surgery, I finally found my way to a rheumatologist and a diagnosis. While it took way too long and I encountered way too many barriers along the way, I am one of the lucky ones. Lucky because there is effective medicine, I am recovering and getting myself and my life back. Lucky because I had access and was not willing to be dismissed. Lucky because I have great health insurance. And lucky because I had (and have) incredibly supportive friends and family who were there with me every step of the way.

So where does that leave me and CODEI? While I haven’t been able to nurture and develop the business, I was able to keep in touch with what has been happening. The conversation has
People At Center ColorSmallercertainly gotten louder and the individuals participating have multiplied, but the market hasn’t seemed to move too much.Perhaps that’s because the effort is so comprehensive, fraught with challenges and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all easy to follow to-do list. While it is true that it isn’t simple, easy or quick, it is do-able (and really, there isn’t a choice.) I still believe that driving iterative and continuous change across six practice areas starts with people. That while the customer must serve as inspiration, an advanced data competency is critical, the right technologies are key, new processes and procedures will be required and organizational structures and rewards must change, when you walk what has to be different all the way back it always gets to the people. It is with the people that most change efforts fail and it is with them that this effort must succeed. Regardless of what the future holds, I hope that resonates and organizations of all sizes in all industries recognize that changing the way they do business starts with and depends upon their people (all of them.)

As for me, as I begin to re-enter everyday life, all I know is that, just as Ginger Rogers told Fred Astaire to do, I will pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again (which I’m pretty sure is on those top ten lists for entrepreneurs.)

edited 1/27/17


Much Like In Oz, There Aren’t Any Secret Answers To This Problem


Yellow Brick Road














It’s not easy, it’s not quick and it’s not simple. That’s the best I can do. The best I can do in response to all those who keep coaching me to come up with an easy three step process for the change I advocate. That is, the need to engineer a digital transformation and re-build your organization into one that is data-driven and customer-centric.

While many are beginning to recognize that substantive organizational change is now inevitable, too many are still hoping they’ll discover a yellow brick road leading to a man behind a curtain who has the secret to making the transformation easy, quick and simple.

No one likes hard work. No one wants to hear that it is complicated and messy and laborious. No one wants to take on something that has never been done before, that crosses all departments, is long term (in a short term world) and that will likely be filled with failures and missteps along the way.

I get that, I really do. And there may be others that have figured out a way to make it easy, quick and simple. But I remain firmly rooted in the camp that it isn’t and it can’t be. The camp that recognizes that the democratization of technology and its resulting ubiquitous anytime access is transforming how we connect, interact, engage, transact, compete and value. In other words, everything. And if everything about the way we do business is changing, how do we expect to get away with changing just a few things about how we do business?

For most of us, our businesses were built up during the 80s, 90s and 2000s when distribution, scale and iterative innovation were the primary growth strategies. When brands could be imagined and created with carefully scripted messages and company controlled content. When our measurements for success were largely based on reach and frequency and we thought we simply needed more of it to solve business growth challenges. When competition was limited, we could see it coming from a mile away and a viable competitive strategy was to artificially block access. When we could have fun playing around with digital but still rely on traditional, time honored marketing, sales and distribution strategies to deliver the revenue. When we were dealing with just a few, relatively static data sets and had all the time in the world to turn them into meaning. When top-down, slow and iterative decision-making, built largely on narrowly defined customer needs (or our perceptions of them), was enough to keep us in the game. In short, a time when companies were in control.

We aren’t in Kansas anymore. Whether you are operating in a business to business or a business to consumer model (or somewhere in between), the customer is now in control. And they want what they want when they want it and they know they can have it. Organizations built for yesterday will not keep pace with the demands of today and layering on more people, more technology and more of anything is not the answer. While there isn’t a man behind the curtain ready with an answer, there is one.

We must create new ways to plan, measure, manage and do. We must re-imagine our organizations to distribute access as well as decision-making and create all new ways to connect, interact and collaborate. And we must reshape our training and development programs so that they nurture critical thinking, unleash creativity, expand customer understanding and reduce barriers to change. And we must recreate our rules and processes to foster agility where possible but ensure rigidity where necessary. We must drive this change not just with a few people, not just in a few departments, but across the organization.

Change that recognizes the scale, scope and interdependence of the effort, yet breaks it up into consumable and manageable steps. Steps organized and ordered in six distinct practice areas:

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And just as we learned in Oz, these new capabilities we all seek are far more internal than they are external. They can’t be attained from something that is purchased. Instead they must be fostered and nurtured and created within the people. The people across the organization (all of them) who are now being asked to consume overwhelming amounts of data, transform their understanding of the customer and create the systems, decisions and actions that turn potential into repeatable and growing value. It is with these people that most change efforts fail and it is here where this one must succeed. Yes, there are external resources and new technology that will be necessary and new processes, structures and best practices to follow, but there isn’t a secret to making it happen. Instead it’s an organization wide effort that takes vision, patience and the courage to start at the beginning. The courage to start with the people.

That’s it. Nothing mysterious or unattainable. Creating an organization designed for the future isn’t simple, easy or quick but it is do-able. And really, who has a choice? Go ahead and click those heels three times, but prepare to get busy.






Question Mark Small

Not as in “who cares?”, but as in “why does it matter?”

A simple word but one with a role in helping organizations meet the rapidly evolving demands of today’s business.

Headlines and industry narrative herald the potential of bigger and bigger data sets and wax poetically about the latest, greatest business intelligence, CRM, analytics and automation software. But for many organizations, instead of improved work and increased value, there is growing frustration, unmet expectations and an overwhelming amount of noise. Why, if we have access to these amazing new technologies and stunning amounts of data, do we find so many in more pain than ever before? Why are so many organizations continuing to acquire more, add more and spend more, without seeing the results they envisioned and some continuing to fall further behind? Because technology and data do not solve anything, fix anything or accomplish anything. Data, no matter how big, can’t create value unless findings can be validated, shared, interpreted and acted upon. Expanded analytics capabilities won’t deliver value unless what is discovered can be translated to action. The potential available within any technology advancement will not be realized if the organization doesn’t rethink how they do things (and with whom) because they now have these enabling new tools.

Customers are rapidly reshaping and resetting their expectations for the organizations with whom they do business and their competitive landscape changes almost daily. The way things have always been done, no matter how effective it once was, will no longer be enough.

Everything about the way organizations plan, market and remain competitive is in the midst of seismic change. Organizations, built up in the 80s and 90s with top-down, siloed and risk-averse decision-making, are now being tasked to be staffed with critical thinkers who are comfortable interpreting data, collaborating across departments and making big and little decisions every single day. Organizations that could once rely on batch and blast communications through a few distinct, static and measured channels must now plan and implement integrated, built around the customer communications and ensure they are available in a continuously growing number of ways. Organizations with legacy data and technology infrastructures must now integrate disparate data sets, handle an exponential growth of all types of data, stay ahead of a new world of data security and integrity and put data to work in new and meaningful ways for the organization and for the customer. Organizations, built around their products, which once relied on reach, distribution, scale and iterative innovation for their growth, must now drive growth through customer-inspired transformative innovation, agile and responsive development, and segmentation and personalization. New technologies, new positions and piles of data are not enough. Organizations must change the way they work. Actually organizations don’t work or change, but the people within them do.

The same people who have largely spent their entire careers being trained, rewarded and motivated to make the way things have always been done better, more efficient and more productive. The same people who succeeded in school and at work by following rules, not making mistakes and staying in their lanes. The same people who up until this point have largely not been asked or trained or rewarded for being critical thinkers, for taking risks and challenging accepted thinking. It is these people, susceptible to cognitive barriers and biases, who must now interpret data, connect the dots, create new ways to measure performance and translate insights into action. It is these people who up until this point lived in silos who are now being asked to create new relationships, envision new paths and forge new processes. It is these people, who are accepting of change as long as it doesn’t affect them, that are now being asked to change everything.

Therefore, before chasing more new technology, although additional technology will most assuredly be necessary. Before talking about new approaches to data, although a new approach to managing, integrating and working with data will be required. Before gathering more customer insight, although growing and nurturing a customer competency will be of significant importance. Before designing any more reports, although driving expanded insights, metrics and tracking will be a continuous and iterative need. Before chasing any new data sets (of any size) inside or outside the organization, although this too will be a continuous and iterative requirement. Before changing organizational structures, creating new reward systems, establishing new processes and filling new positions, although this will be part of the journey. Before all of that, start at the foundation. Start with fostering and facilitating critical thinking, improved decision-making and comfort with risk-taking and driving change. Start with the people.

Which brings us back to “so?” As in “why does it matter?”

A little word, but one with potential to change perspectives. Add “so…?” to the beginning and end of conversations to connect the plans, actions and recommendations back to their purpose and ultimately the goals. How is the information, action, or plan going to help an organization better connect with their customers or more efficiently approach their business? It may be interesting, exciting or headline making, but how does it ultimately matter? The new segmentation study doesn’t matter unless it can inform and improve future actions. Journey mapping doesn’t matter unless the organization can understand how to use, feed and apply the outputs. The reporting and analytics available within the new business intelligence software doesn’t matter unless the organization has a tight rein on its data, knows what to do with the insights and can shift and respond to the information. The insights and learning coming out of new data capabilities don’t matter if the rest of the organization aren’t aware of them. The customer list growth doesn’t matter unless it is the right audience and there is a meaningful way to turn communications and clicks into engagement and value. Obviously, all of these should matter but they require the right response and capabilities to ensure that they do.

No, fostering a critical thinking competency, improving decision making and preparing an organization for the work of the future isn’t as simple as adding “So..?” to conversations. Changing the way we work requires new thinking and capabilities around the people, organization, enabling technologies, data and the customer. Start with the people. And that might start simply with “so..?”

As in “why it matters.”

I’m Sorry, I Don’t Know.


I don't know2If only we all weren’t driven to please, to appear logical, smart and rational. If only we accepted that our memory fails us more than it doesn’t, that many of our decisions are made before we are aware of making them and we have little ability to know how we would react to a future event. If only we recognized that we have trouble accurately recalling the past, knowing all that motivates us and predicting our actions in the future. If we knew all of these things, then perhaps we would answer more market research questions with a simple, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

“I don’t know why I bought it (or didn’t buy it). I don’t remember where I heard about it first or which part of your marketing communications influenced me the most (or didn’t influence me at all). I don’t really know what products I am buying instead of yours and I can’t envision a future different than today, so I don’t know what changes would make me want to buy your products more.”

But those aren’t the answers companies normally receive when conducting market research. Questions are asked, answers are given, plans are made and actions are taken. And the market research industry is a big one. According to, the global market research industry was $40.3B in 2013. That’s a lot of questions, answers, plans and actions.

In hopes of finding sure bets and low risk paths to big rewards, asking customers what they want, what influences their decisions and what could be done better and then designing communications and solutions based on that feedback seems the right thing to do. It is true that today, more than ever, understanding customers and building solutions inspired by them is the only path to sustainable growth. The problem? It is also true that while market research remains a critical component to discovery, on its own it can’t tell you all that you’ll need to know. As Steve Jobs famously noted, “… People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

This doesn’t mean that market research isn’t valuable, simply that it shouldn’t be used to answer the unanswerable questions. We know that people can’t tell you what they don’t know, can’t recall and can’t predict. If the questions are asked, answers will likely be given. But those answers may not bring you any closer to the truth and could lead you away from it. Existing methodologies must be reviewed and perhaps new methodologies created to reflect what we now know about decision-making, memory forming and prediction capabilities.

While that review might indicate some change is necessary, what won’t change is that market research can’t provide answers. That is, answers upon which actions should be taken. Instead, it generates data. Data that must be put in context, integrated with other data points and interpreted for meaning. Data from market research, like all other data points, serves as just a few pixels in a continuously growing and evolving picture of the customer, the market and the future. More important than any individual market research or data gathering and analytics activity, is how the organization sets expectations for, integrates and interprets its data as well as how the organization shares, manages and acts on the insights. Every single day.

What should you do next? Answer a few questions. What information is necessary to answer your most critical customer, market and business questions? Do your current market research and data capture and analytics activities give you the information to answer those questions? And three, how well does your organization manage, integrate, interpret, share and act upon those findings?

Will you need to make some changes? I’m sorry, I don’t know.

If Big Data is the Goal, How Will You Know When You Are There?


boat on ocean 500

Or even how to get there? Your business problem isn’t “Big Data”. Your business problem may be acquiring more customers, better understanding your customers’ needs, optimizing your distribution channels or any number of the challenges (and opportunities) that exist for businesses today. With data you may be able to better address these, in amazing and inspiring new ways, but data isn’t the problem so it can’t be the goal.

That there is significant value to be gained through data (of any size), is no longer a topic of debate. On any given day, one can find conferences, articles or webinars sharing the state of the “big data” industry and the massive potential available for all through the active use and leveraging of data. Often the tone is one of urgency and seems to imply that everyone else is pretty far down the data road. It’s easy to see why people start simply chasing data, afraid they’ll be left behind. They have to get moving, have a data initiative and demonstrate they are using data in their decision-making processes. Get access to piles of data, hire a few individuals, bring in new software and get going. And wait to start reaping the benefits that have been promised. The benefits of what? To what?

What will be improved or optimized? What hypotheses are you looking to explore or operation are you looking to streamline? Who should be benefiting from the outcomes, making different decisions and changing their behaviors? What processes need to be changed to reflect these new ways to make decisions?

It is true that data is more challenging today than ever. Disparate data sets, exponential growth, an endless parade of new technologies, difficult to predict threats to security and the demand for continuous innovation make managing and leveraging data increasingly more challenging. Access and reporting is the easy part. Learning how to apply the outcomes of working with data, to be data-driven, isn’t a journey with a single path, but instead one with multiple concurrent paths. Iteratively and concurrently gaining competencies in the areas of Customer, Data, Technology, Organization and Application requires more than a few people and software packages. Jumping into a data initiative, regardless of the size, without the right perspective, objectives, plans and resources will result in an initiative that at its best will cost far more than it should and at its worst be deemed a failure (and put the organization further behind).

There isn’t any reason to panic. Sure, there are organizations out in front, but most are just getting started. While many may have been working with data for years, only a few are very far down the data path. While a few organizations can see their way to Analytics 3.0, most are still working through 1.0 (and some are still working to get there).  Many are sitting on legacy systems, data, and software and working with organizational infrastructures and reward systems built for a different time. Most are short on budgets, time and importantly the resources necessary throughout the organization to envision and execute a data-driven strategy.

And really, all of that has been okay…until now.  While it may have felt a bit frantic and challenging over the past few years, most businesses have been able to stay with their markets and find spaces and paths for growth. But, it’s getting more difficult and more expensive to deliver the same results. Seismic market, technology and consumer shifts are changing how businesses connect, compete and build their revenues. It isn’t fully here just yet, but soon it will be impossible to deliver growth in the ways we have in the past. There is chasm that is opening and without change many will get left on the wrong side. Companies must begin to know and respond to their customers in more robust and responsive ways than they ever have before. They must know what to stop doing, what to start doing and what to do better with their customers and with their operations.

So back to the question, if data (of any size) isn’t your goal. What is? Ask questions and build your plan, objectives and measurement around the answers. Why, What, Where and How will your organization be better, faster, more relevant, more effective, and more productive by the leveraging of data? What data is already available within the company to make that happen? Start in that space, be focused and be prepared to keep going.

It Isn’t Her Path To Purchase


It’s your path to a sale. We often use phrases such as “moment of truth” and “path to purchase”shutterstock_103545335 Reduced 3 when referring to customers and how they interact with products, follow a path to purchase and ultimately make the decision to buy. These terms, and the processes and principles behind them, have proven invaluable as marketers sought to better understand where and how the customer made the decision to purchase (and repurchase) goods and services. They helped to identify how to better influence and incent these decisions and focus attention and resources on the moments that made a difference


Is it time though to evolve this thinking? Or at least amend it. These ideas, while instrumental in moving marketing forward, are defined primarily from the perspective of the company doing the selling. In this Age of the Customer (as coined by Forrester), it is time to change the way we think about and measure communications opportunities and challenges. We all seem to agree that the future is not about pushing more and screaming louder, but is instead about creating compelling content that your audience wants to and can easily come and get. Building plans around the customer and fully leveraging data and insights (and enabling technologies) to do that well.

Which is why we need to start here. The customer isn’t on a path to purchase products, she (or he) isn’t on a journey through a land of brands and it isn’t her moment of truth. These are the experiences of the company. This perspective is valuable, but it doesn’t fully address the customer perspective. The customer is making her way through her days, hoping to make a difference, taking care of her family (and herself) and enjoying her friends. On good days she is getting the most out of her life and on bad days she may be just working to minimize the losses. On all days she is inundated with thousands (upon thousands) of messages, all insisting they will help her to work better, parent better, experience life better, look better, feel better, really just to do anything better. Whether your brand is a $50K car, a $2 bottle of tea or the best business analytics software package, you are simply one of thousands and thousands of goods and services claiming to be the one she must have.

It’s more than semantics. Being customer-centric, changes focus, processes, priorities and how we measure success.  Relevancy takes the lead from reach and frequency. It forces companies to work harder at creating differentiated value and connecting it with the right audience. It turns the focus away from pushing more messages in every possible channel and towards finding the right channels for your customers and your messages. And it demands a robust use of data and research to uncover, track, analyze, apply and continuously improve.

What does this move to customer-centric mean for “moment of truth” or “path to purchase” and “journey”? They are all pieces of getting smarter and more efficient at doing what we do. Marketing. Connecting the right customers with the right messages and experiences about the right products and services, in the most efficient way possible. How that looks is different today than it was yesterday (and will be again different tomorrow). The world in which we market is changing rapidly. The responsibility is on us to as rapidly evolve what we do and how we do it.

To keep her clicking that buy button, build your plans around her.

What’s The Secret To Data-Driven, Customer-Centric Marketing?


First, the bad news. There isn’t a secret. There isn’t a quick and easy way to turn your data into value. There isn’t a one-size fits all software to be implemented or a book or company out there (including Codei) that can, overnight, transform your organization. And even though there are 1.8B returns when you Google “big data” (49M for data-driven marketing) and a must-attend seminar somewhere every single week, none of these will have a quick-fix answer.

Now, the good news. Anyone can make it happen. That is, anyone with the right plan, resources and organizational involvement. And there are smart and thoughtful individuals, well-researched books and conferences to help you put your own unique plan together. It’s simply a matter of getting started.

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Are You Caught Juggling?


shutterstock_small 126745586I don’t know that there is a person who hasn’t watched with wonder a juggler. Whether it be balls, blades or bats, it is a mental and physical feat that not everyone can accomplish. His attention is singularly on the movement of the balls and their alignment with a relatively fixed trajectory. If a ball gets slightly outside of the desired trajectory, the juggler will make an adjustment to get the next one back in line. And if he gets a bit behind, he will steal bit of “time” from the next ball, which may cause it to be less than perfectly placed or caught, which will then cause … you get what usually happens next.

At work, the ability to juggle too many tasks and keep them all moving is quite impressive as well, right? New findings actually tell us the answer is a resounding no, except in very specific situations. And this same research also tells us the negative ramifications of getting caught juggling can be significant.

It was while reading Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir that I encountered research regarding juggling and its impact on cognitive bandwidth. The book is a must read for anyone looking to better understand barriers, biases and motivations. At the risk of over-simplifying the findings and their implications, juggling causes a hyper focus on getting done the tasks at hand (or catching up the tasks that were due yesterday.) This focus leaves little to no bandwidth for other thought processing, likely resulting in errors in judgment and decision-making as well as reductions in productivity.

Finally, there was an answer! Many have long been confounded by organizations that implement strategies and tactics that seemed to others ill-advised. Although they had the information to tell them otherwise, they continued to spend unwisely, layer poorly formed tactic on poorly formed tactic and do/spend far more than necessary (or sometimes not enough). Some often seemed to be desperately chasing revenue, plugging holes and shoring up old strategies. Yesterday’s tactics chasing yesterday’s revenue. And the same actions (already proven to not be effective) often intensified as the revenue got harder and more expensive to come by. Wasn’t it obvious to them that they were stuck on the same trajectory, that they weren’t changing their tomorrow? Why would they keep wasting time, resources and efforts?

The instinct to only see data that rationalizes previous decisions likely explains a portion of this behavior. Not having the right people who know how to look at and interpret data (or are not properly motivated to do so) also influences these misreads.  But these explanations don’t account for all. Now there is a more complete answer. Many are likely caught juggling. They actually cannot see that their actions are causing their environment, that the data is right in front of them, that they aren’t charting a path out of the vicious short term cycle in which they are trapped and that they are continuously robbing Peter to pay Paul.

What do the issues caused by juggling have to do with data-driven, customer-centric marketing? Everything. Fully leveraging data is much more than a few new reports or a few new analysts. Working with data means having the time and ability to understand it, put it in context, and know what else to ask and when/how to apply learnings. Bandwidth must be available to allow for the complex decision-making required to continuously turn data into learning, separate leading indicators from noise and shift actions and resources as necessary. Instead of having the organization’s resources juggling roughly the same tactics on the same trajectory for diminishing returns, attention must be shifted to ensure data and technology (and all their strengths and weaknesses) are properly being interpreted and applied to continuously improve insights, optimize initiatives and deliver amazing customer experiences.

While a juggler is certainly fun to watch, it isn’t fun to watch or do when it is happening in your business. Given the significant disruption and rapidly shifting demands of today’s marketplace, it’s more than just not fun. Getting caught juggling can have serious consequences.

Start At The Very Beginning

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start_feet It’s “People, People, People” that make the difference when it comes to getting the most from your data, but how do they get started? With the right approach, leveraging data will help an organization be better, faster and more efficient at every facet of meeting the needs of their always connected and in control customers. With the wrong approach though, attempts to leverage data can result in confusion, missteps and wasted dollars. What needs to happen to get started on the first path and not the second? Rodgers and Hammerstein had it right, “the beginning is a very good place to start”.  Start there and build a strong foundation. Establish objectives that align with the business. Have a vision for the future but optimize what you have first. Don’t attempt to jump too far at one time and recognize it is a journey where value compounds. It takes new thinking and new behaviors across the organization to capture and unleash the power of data and a complete understanding of data, its potential as well as its limitations. Following are some considerations I hope you will find of use as you build your data strategy.

Data Is A Piece To A Puzzle, It Isn’t The Puzzle.
Data is a piece of understanding the customer journey, the market opportunity and optimization opportunities. To get the clearest view though, multiple data points should be placed in context and integrated with other puzzle pieces such as research, understanding of motivations and behaviors, market data and other business factors. Whether there are a few data points or many, rely on people (and give them enough bandwidth) to interpret, analyze, contemplate, draw conclusions, generate ideas and decide actions.

What People See Is All There Is (to paraphrase Daniel Kahneman).
Be careful because our vision is clouded by hidden biases and barriers. In other words, we see what we expect to see, want to see, are limited to seeing, have time to see and are rewarded to see. To limit negative impact, have the right expectations, the right people (and enough of them) and design rewards and incentives to motivate curiosity and seeking an ever more crystalizing view of your customer, market, business and future.

Yes, But Does It Matter?
Just because you have the data does not make it meaningful, useful or actionable. Using too much data or not enough in your decision-making can lead to wrong conclusions that then lead to wasted efforts and resources. Set up filters that keep efforts focused and prioritized but not so much that you miss underlying causes, signals and trends.

Courageous People Still Required.
The variables and influencers that go into almost every business are such that there is not an absolute truth to be achieved or a perfect prediction to be made. Data, regardless of size, is not a crystal ball. No matter how robust the analytics, past performance cannot precisely account for shifting market preferences, irrationality of human behavior, the results of untested initiatives or new types of competition. No amount of market research will get your customers to accurately tell you why they do what they do or what they will want in the future. They simply do not know. To stay in front of the market, today’s world requires vision and bold actions. Data will inform these, but cannot tell you what it has no way of knowing.

And You Will Trip.
At least it will feel like you did. Some of what you try will not work. Some of what you thought was causation will turn out to be correlation. You will design reports that don’t tell you what you need to know. Solutions you thought were perfectly aligned with customer needs, will not be. You will miss some important signals that will then look obvious with hindsight. Each step though will teach you something and will help you journey closer to the truth and to better products, better communications, better customer experiences, more efficient operations and inspired innovation.

New Technologies + Old Ways Of Doing Things = Disappointment.
To get the most out of your data, the organization must be collaborative, engaging and foster risk-taking and exploration. It must handle change, development and innovation in new, iterative and agile ways. An active thinking mindset heavy on logic, reasoning and comfortable with complex decision-making is necessary for positions across the organization. Marketing and IT must together forge a new way of doing business and the entire organization must work to ensure the right philosophies, people, training, structure and incentives are in place to support this new way of staying in front of the needs of the market.

Right People, Right Need, Right Focus.
There are many facets associated to working with data including compiling, integrating, managing, mining, reporting and analyzing. And another set of functions associated to turning insights derived from the data into new capabilities and actions. A mix of skill sets and competencies are required to keep eyeballs on interpreting and leveraging data for the needs of today while concurrently having enough doing the same to envision and prepare for the needs of tomorrow.

Generate Meaningful Customer Value With Care.
The always connected customer is expecting you to leverage data and technology to stop pushing irrelevant messages and let them start pulling what they need when they need it. This requires judgment, creativity and commitment to the long term value. In fact, data does not remove the need for creativity, its importance is increased. The better targeting and potential for improved reach that data and technology affords is of little value if the messaging and content is not engaging, compelling and relevant.

Don’t Go Chasing Everything.
According to Forrester Research, on average, organizations are using just 12% of the data they already have. This is as true for marketing tactics as it is for data. Before chasing new, first focus on optimizing what you have. When acquiring new, the latest, most popular software solution or marketing tactic may not be the right solution for your needs. Carefully align business objectives and priorities, built from business and customer insight, with solutions. Take on new only as quick as your team/department/organization can handle them. Focus on a few new and do them well. Consider three longer term priorities that require stepped development concurrent with a continuously rotating set of three shorter term priorities that you can develop in a quick, iterative and agile way.

While Your Action Figure May Not Make Sense, Make It Interesting.
Show and tell is as important now as it was in Kindergarten. An action figure is no longer what you share, but you must find other ways to engage your audience. What the data means, what actions the outcomes should inspire and the results of actions already taken may seem obvious and compelling to you, but they are not to anyone else. Spend more time sharing your learning and enrolling the organization in the inspirations, implications, results and action steps than you are spending acquiring it. Celebrate little victories and as much as possible turn data into stories with pictures.

Take It Very Seriously.
A final consideration is to be thorough when defining your data management, governance and compliance plans, including how the organization is approaching security, privacy and access.

The right approach to data is the foundation for ever improving insights, optimized resources and engaging customer experiences. I’ve shared some of the considerations I find important when working with data. I hope there was something in there that helps you with your planning. It may all seem overwhelming, but just as Rodgers & Hammerstein advised, “start at the very beginning”. As with Do Re Mi, with the strong foundation of notes, a beautiful song can be created. For your data strategy, with a strong foundation of the right behaviors, expectations and resources, the significant benefits of data will begin to be realized.