Pitching MR solutions in the EU


When pitching US market research solutions in the EU, be aware of a different privacy regulative environment. The reason for this short post is that US developers of market research (MR) technologies appear to be unaware that their technologies may not be allowed in the EU (or their functionality severely limited).

In the past week, I have been contacted by several developers intending to present at the IIeX-EU event in Amsterdam that gasp when they learn that they may be subject to the EU regulative framework. For instance, many regions in Europe prohibit the use of CCTV to track customer movement, others limit the use of GPS technologies and still others prohibit the aggregation of data from different sources as it invades the customer’s privacy (basically you can identify an individual which is usually restricted). Yesterday I was asked: “How do marketers manage to work in Europe?” My answer: “They really don’t; they are confined to advertising.” That said, there is no need to panic even if you are presenting next week in Amsterdam. What you need to is this:

  • Speak with a lawyer that knows the EU privacy regulative framework inside out and outline briefly where your technology may conflict with these regulations.

  • If your technology does conflict with the EU regulations, do not despair – just open with a statement such as: “We are aware that our technology may not be fully implemented in Europe due to a stricter privacy regulative environment, but we want to demonstrate its full potential so that you may select what components may be of interest to your company.” EU managers are wary of the privacy regulations, so gunning ahead without that type of disclaimer may cause them to stop listening right there. The reason is that if they perceive it as a potential risk in terms of invading customer privacy, they will immediately decide not to explore it further.

  • Once the disclaimer is established, knowing exactly where your technology enters into the EU regulative red zone allows you to state that during the presentation itself. That removes the immediate barrier and encourages the audience to seek you out after your presentation.

  • When the presentation is complete and you are approached, find out from them what they can do with your technology. Be more ears than mouth at this stage – it will save you a lot of time and enable you to follow-up using their own ideas as to how to introduce your technology to Europe.

See you in Amsterdam.


Efficient laziness


Premise: The key to success is delegating and outsourcing, not doing everything yourself.

Laziness and efficient laziness are not the same. A lazy person really does not want to do any work whereas an efficient lazy person seeks to finish an assignment by delegating much of the workload. In order to do be able to delegate effectively, however, a considerably effort must be allocated to planning, preparation and execution and that, in my opinion, is what efficient laziness is all about.

When I engage in projects, the first issue on my agenda is to clearly define what the client wants to do, how he or she prefers to do it, and what elements are critical for project success. Instead of attempting to do everything myself, I outsource nearly 90% to professional firms and individuals that I trust will deliver satisfactory results. Understanding what is needed and who can deliver it is basically what I do. This approach increases the service level to the client for multiple reasons:

  • Instead of engaging tasks sequentially, they are engaged in parallel which shortens time to market and begins to generate client revenue faster.
  • Placing too much on one plate can create burn-out and fatigue while outsourcing spreads the workload more evenly, thereby reducing the risk of error or misjudgment.
  • Through outsourcing or delegation, responsibility is shared which means that instead of the entire weight of the project being on the consultant’s shoulders, he or she can leverage that against other professionals in charge of specific tasks (the consultant is still ultimately responsible for the project outcome but it is far easier to supervise and audit the work of others rather than do everything personally).

I usually deal with the planning stages concentrated on opening up new market territories for clients. In order to determine the investment required and the ROI, concrete quantitative and qualitative data has to be complied. While I could do this myself, it would mean that the time-to-market would extend which results in time lost. Therefore, when engaging in strategic planning, I prefer to subcontract those elements so that I can fully focus on how to position the client in the territory with minimal risk. In like manner, I am often on the other end as other consultants outsource marketing strategies here while they concentrate on the client overall business strategy. Keeping things focused works in the favor of the client and gets the job done faster and more efficiently than if one and the same consultant attempts to do everything. Micromanagement is not what the consultant should engage in for two main reasons:

  • It isolates the consultant from other, skilled professionals and contracts the network.
  • It puts the consultant under too much pressure that can lead to confusion and even project collapse.
  • It prevents the consultant from building a real consulting business as micromanagement usually results in a sole operation.

Many consultants attempt to do it all and few if any really succeed. Some even end up hospitalized as a result of over-exhaustion and stress. In my opinion, a consultant that cannot effectively manage own operation efficiently cannot help clients achieve a similar objective as they fail to grasp the importance of delegation and efficient task allocation. A strategic consultant effectively provides CEO support and as such is not supposed to perform individual tasks covered in the strategic outline anymore than the CEO does. Instead, his or her role is to ensure that the job gets done properly, is delivered on time and meets objectives; it is all about managing the workflow, not to drown in it.

Failing to delegate and utilize the vast resources available through professional firms and individuals renders the consultant unfit to undertake strategic projects as he or she will be bogged down by mundane tasks. We have all heard about CEOs that micromanage and the effect this has on employee turnover. Many consultants fall victim to that and I find it counterproductive. There are only so many hours in a day and they have to be leveraged. Trusting those we work with is essential and I prefer to handpick the best teams available.

As usual, this is my approach to the consulting business that some may not agree to. It does work for me and my clients, however, and therefore I wanted to share it.  I have always been fond of delegation as it helps we take on more and larger projects faster while maintaining a lean operation. For some that may not work; for others it will. It depends on the context. I would greatly appreciate feedback.

Radioactive writing


Premise: The key to success is communicating to the reader, not yourself.

English is my third language, so I am being quite bold to presume I can provide any advice on how to deliver material in that fine language. Still, I have repeatedly succeeded in getting the desired results using a minimal amount of words, be it an email message or a social network post, a survey or a presentation, a business plan or a corporate strategic action plan where it is imperative that everyone clearly understands the objectives and is willing to participate.

Three sentences is really all it takes to find whether a target is willing to engage, be it on a personal level or professional. Consider the following when you are composing an important email message:

  • Sentence 1: Opening statement – If you know the recipient, start of a personal note, if you don’t, find the common denominator.
  • Sentence 2: Disclose the reason why you are contacting the recipient and outline potentially mutual benefits.
  • Sentence 3: Suggest a follow-up that invites the recipient to reject the proposal without that hurting your relationship.

This may sound a bit cold and impersonal, but the fact is that lengthy messages are unlikely to be read. Usually they are left to be read later and eventually end up unread. When writing messages, matters tend to go wrong between sentences 2 and 3 as the sender begins to prove the concept in order to reduce the risk of rejection. Such messages tend to look like this:

  • Sentence 1: Opening statement.
  • Sentence 2: Beating around the bush a bit.
  • Sentence 3: Beating some more around the bush.
  • Sentence 4: The core issue; why you are contacting the recipient in the first place.
  • Sentence 5: Evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
  • Sentence 6: Further evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
  • Sentence 7: Even further evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
  • Sentence 8: Go personal leaving the recipient no means to reject the proposal without that hurting your relationship.

The first message can be read in seconds; the other takes a minute or more. The damage done using the latter approach is threefold:

  • It demonstrates lack of confidence (fear of rejection).
  • It demonstrates lack of clarity (fear clouds the ability to think).
  • It puts a wedge between you and the recipient (fear is weakness and causes recipient discomfort or irritation).

Business schools, especially in marketing, emphasize the use of normal language when communicating as most people have only basic vocabulary. That does not apply when writing to executives, Board members, investors and other professionals. People at that level are quite sophisticated and can take offense if an issue they understand quite well is explained to them. If they do not understand the issue, they will find out about it privately or simply ask for a clarification.

Snorri H. Gudmundsson, CEO, GC Venture Consulting

Data Journalism, or how open data can transform journalism


Today the job of a journalist is to be the first to report on a new event or a given topic. However, being first is often at the expense of quality. Even being the first is more and more of a challenge, as nowadays, every single citizen can become a journalist in five seconds. Just open a Twitter account, select relevant hash-tags (i.e. those keywords starting with a #) to your topic and start tweeting about what is happening around you (e.g. earthquake, epidemics, political problems etc.).

In this post, we will demonstrate how journalists could benefit from open data, allowing journalism to shift its main focus from being the first report on a development to being the first to telling us what it might actually mean. Using open data, journalists can help everyone to see possible solutions to complex problems. What I’m saying here is that journalism would be less guessing, less looking for quotes — instead, a journalist could build a strong position supported by data and this can affect the role of journalism greatly.

A first interesting and inspiring example in data journalism is the Las Vegas Do Not Harm series on hospital care (the next post will be about medical open data, stay tuned).

The Sun analyzed more than 2.9 million hospital billing records, which revealed more than 3600 preventable injuries, infections and surgical mistakes. They obtained data through a public records request and identified more than 300 cases in which patients died because of mistakes that could have been prevented. It contains different elements, including: an interactive graphic which allows the reader to see by hospital, where surgical injuries happened more often than would be expected; a map with a timeline that shows infections spreading hospital by hospital; and an interactive graphic that allows users to sort data by preventable injuries or by hospital to see where people are getting hurt.

Another data journalism project is called “Murder Mysteries” by Tom Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service. He built from government data and public records requests a demographically-detailed database of more than 185,000 unsolved murders, and then designed an algorithm to search it for patterns suggesting the possible presence of serial killers. An interesting input if you are considering in a particular geographical area, right?

Open Data journalism is the future of journalism. More concretely, it is journalism that leverages open data in order to unravel the meaning of a story. More specifically, it can be declined to the following dimensions:

  • Enable a reader to discover information that is personally relevant
  • Reveal a story that is remarkable and previously unknown
  • Help the reader to better understand a complex issue

Open Linked Data is a key for the success of data journalism. Also, powerful data visualization techniques are needed so that journalists can:

  • Find open data relevant to the subject of the article they are planning to write
  • Manipulate the available data (perform statistics, connect data etc.).

Data journalism may predict the next financial crisis, help fight poverty and corruption.

Big Bank(g)


Researchers say the so called Big Bang was at the origin of everything: time, space, eventually, life. Replacing one letter in the word Bang yields the Bank, which has a role as essential in our society as carbon for life. Interestingly the prefix Big makes sense in both cases. In the first, it’s the very name of that famous explosion or whatever it was. In the second, I’m hoping this post will make it clear. So let’s start defining the Big Bank.

Banks have more data about their consumers than companies such as Google, Facebook or Amazon. These companies have revolutionized consumer intelligence, i.e. techniques to have a 360 degree view of the consumer. This is why we love them, as we get a very intimate experience while using their services (think about the personalized product offers). In order to create those offers and show them at the right place and the right time, these companies need a 360 degree view of every consumer. Now let’s consider the bank. It has our credit card purchase history and buying preferences. The question is, if they have this data, why do we still receive completely irrelevant offers, such as a coupon for a shop we rarely visit and that is at least 100 miles away? The answer is simple: Banks have a fragmented view of their consumers. What does this mean?

  • Several internal data sources. Even worse, several technologies used to store and manage this data. Part of it could be plain text. Part of it XML. Clearly, it is not easy to aggregate such silos and extract meaningful knowledge about the consumer.

  • External unstructured data. The consumer’s Facebook and Twitter feed and web clickstream data. This is key for understanding their preferences and opinions. If a consumer shares information from an iPad, why recommend him/her the newest Samsung Galaxy? A coupon for an Apple device would make more sense, right? Also, if he/she is a fan of Lady Gaga, a coupon for Rigoletto at the MET would probably not make any sense.

  • Contextual data. More and more payments will be performed with a mobile device, so called mobile wallets. Thus, the location of the consumer can be retrieved. Remember those coupons we used to get for stores 100 miles away? History!

We have listed only a few challenges banks are facing to get a 360 degree view of their consumers. Big Data technologies are key for building the infrastructures that allows the unification of data silos. Our world is increasingly interconnected and banks should definitely think about leveraging Big Data technologies to gain business insight from the massive amount of data at their disposal. And we have just defined Big Bank.

Thinking forward

strategyPremise: The key to success is focusing on your client’s value chain, not the client’s immediate target audience.

I do quite a bit of market research for businesses, government agencies and international organizations. What I have found is that an overwhelming amount of these clients focus on their immediate customers and direct surveys toward how better to service them. The problem here is that these customers usually have their own customer-base and that configuring a survey targeting their needs does not extract sufficient information as to how their customers gain by participating in the survey. This usually leads to a low response rate.

Market research surveys need to look past the client to the end customer in order to extend the value-chain forward. When executing a survey for an international institution like the World Bank Group, asking its immediate customers whether or not a certain project would benefit them provides insufficient information as to whether they are likely to participate in that given project. Taking it forward, however, by asking them how they could better approach their own customers was the World Bank to launch said project renders the survey far more accurate as we get responses based on actual opportunities. I have found that the most effective surveys are not directed toward the immediate customers but to their customers. Example:

A website hosting firm wants to attract more business. If it directs the survey to potential customers, the deciding factors will revolve around price, security, backup, support and down-time. If it directs the survey to actual customer needs, it will revolve around how they can gain more business by doing business with that hosting firm. This approach causes the survey to double as a sales vehicle.

I was recently involved with a survey where customer needs were assessed. The problem was that it did not extend to address the needs of the target audience’s and so resulted in a low response rate. The survey was directed toward what it would take for the client – a hosting company – to attract more business but it did not address how the client’s customers would benefit from doing business with that firm or what their needs were. The insights generated revolved around price, security, backup, support and down-time which, while providing some information, did not help the client formulate an effective go-to-market strategy.

A survey that does not extend to encompass the entire value-chain (this excludes surveys intended for direct market targeting) will fall short as it skips the needs of the end-customer. Therefore, before engaging in market surveys, I prefer to map out the value-chain and transform the survey itself into a sales vehicle that, while generating the data needed for client decision-making, will present a solid argument toward its immediate customers that the client in question is the ideal choice in order for him or her to increase own revenue generation.

Market surveys are usually considered to be a vehicle for data gathering while I consider them to be partly that, partly a marketing weapon. Any individual that takes a survey is subject to what a client is offering. It is a marketing opportunity that most survey companies fail to recognize. Why ask a respondent whether or not price is a factor when it is just as easy to ask what his or her customer’s concerns are? The respondent may answer with ‘Yes’ while his or her customer may answer ‘No’. A survey that is directed toward the immediate customer does not address the value-chain whereas a survey directed toward the customer’s customers does. A survey has the target’s attention – use it!

The purpose of a survey is to extract information that is useful to the customer. Why not expand that to encompass the value-chain instead of limiting it to the immediate customer? I have found that by extending the survey increases the response rate significantly as respondents perceive a direct value for their own business as opposed to merely generating results useful only to the immediate client.

I would appreciate feedback and comments from other market researchers that have similar or other experiences with this.

Vision creates leverage

visionPremise: The key to success is selecting clients based on vision, not business volume.

Lawyers will completely disagree with this premise and so may many consultants. The premise rests entirely on what type of consultant you are. Still, consider the following scenarios:

Consultant A lacks focus and vision and has three clients that have no common denominator. For the sake of clarity, let us assume that one client is a bank and that the project revolves around internal cost analysis, another a pharmacy chain that seeks to improve its customer experience, and the third a five-star restaurant facing a PR crisis due to a customer experiencing an allergic reaction to slatur (Icelandic dish made from the innards of sheep and similar to haggis) that has been trending on Twitter for two weeks with no end in sight.The consultant’s ability to leverage them against one another is very limited.

Consultant B has focus but lacks vision. He or she has the same three clients but this time, they all share a common denominator: customer insights. The bank wants to increase market share and business volume using the most recent emerging and disruptive technologies and methods available, and so does the pharmacy and the restaurant. As the same technologies and methods can be used (with minor variations), the consultant can practically deliver his or her services using the assembly line approach. This may, however, restrict the consultant’s playing field and prevent him or her from engaging in very large projects that call for a broader scope.

Consultant C has both focus and vision and shares the same three clients. As he or she has selected them based on how well they fit his or her own vision, the playing field can be very large. This is the realm of management consulting and international strategy. This consultant does not accept the three as primary clients; instead, he or she has accepted an international institution as a client to formulate a strategy to which the three secondary clients play a part. An example of this would be an institution that seeks to increase infrastructure growth in an emerging region through direct investment in key sectors. By placing investments so that they have the desired effect, an opportunity presents itself for the three secondary clients to become first to market in that region. Once the region begins to grow, the demand for banking services increases and residual income levels warrant the entry of the pharmacy chain to that market. It also presents an opportunity for the restaurant to open up another venue. These projects are much larger than Consultants A and B can tackle. They are also unattainable if the consultant lacks vision and allows him or herself to be sidetracked by projects that do not fit that vision.

Vision is associated with having a goal – objective or target – that the individual strongly believes in. Merriam-Webster defines vision (in this context) as “a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination” which is exactly what it is. The challenge of operating using vision as a primary weapon is that it is intangible and therefore has to be supported by a strong, logical framework. Steve Jobs had a vision that we would carry the internet around with us and now we do. Nokia did not share that vision and has been acquired by Microsoft as a result:

Two years after hitching its fate to Microsoft’s Windows Phone software, the Finnish phone maker that once dominated the global market collapsed into the arms of the U.S. software giant, its mobile business ravaged by nimbler rivals Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.” Reuters

Vision relies completely on the ability to sell it. It is a future often very different from the world as it is today. Consider this:

[Steve Jobs] had cajoled AT&T into spending millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to create a new feature, so-called visual voicemail, and to reinvent the time-consuming in-store sign-up process.” Wired Magazine

That is an example of how vision is extended outward to encompass secondary entities that are targeted as key players to bring the vision about. Understanding consumer behavior and economic interaction is fundamental is providing a solid backbone to any form of vision, for vision needs capital in order for it to manifest; else it will perish as our dreams do once we awaken.

Without vision, consultants struggle to make ends meet since they cannot leverage their clients nor secure projects much larger than themselves. They also fail to attract the right people to work with, for they do not look for individuals that share their vision – and can deliver parts of it – but those can perform mundane and often uninteresting tasks (such as typing, proof-reading or data gathering). A consultant with a clear and convincing vision will not only seek to realize it; he or she will strive to surround him or herself with the right people and select the right clients to bring that vision into fulfillment.

You decide the menu

MenuPremise: The key to success is sticking to your own menu, not providing a custom dish for each client.

Pleasing a client can lead to wrecking your business. A consultant knows his or her strengths and weaknesses and provides services that match the profile. Clients on the other hand do not know where the consultant’s strengths and weaknesses lie and therefore attempt to stretch the consultant’s services in new directions. Sometimes a consultant manages to accomplish this successfully, but more often it spells disaster for both parties.

A marketing consultant that provides superior strategic advice and planning but has little experience in social marketing may be tempted to add that element into the service mix to satisfy client requirements. This not only puts the client at risk; it threatens the consultant’s business as the chances that he or she will fail are overwhelming. The proper way of handling this type of situation is to bridge the gap by calling in external – or secondary – consultants that are strong in areas where you are weak That way, the client receives a superior service throughout and it also defends you against unexpected hiccups. This is called establishing a core competency chain (and just like any other chain, the weakest link will break it).

I deal almost exclusively with the strategic end of the marketing spectrum but am frequently asked to build webs, create ads, or engage in social marketing. Although I can do all of these to a certain extent, there are others that are far more proficient in doing so (e.g. Chris Tompkins of the Go! Agency). When it comes to determining whether a  solution fits within the market research realm, my first stop is with Lenny Murphy of Gen2Advisors. Working closely with consultants that are very strong in specific areas greatly reduces workload on this end which expedites getting things done (i.e. shortens delivery time which increases client satisfaction). It is very tempting to try doing everything the client asks, but experienced consultants understand the value of leveraging skills through delegation. Unfortunately, many learn that the hard way.

Working with external consultants means that contractual arrangements have to be in place where roles and responsibilities are clearly outlined. In ‘The purpose of a contract‘, I stressed the importance of entering into a contractual arrangement with a client before engaging in actual work. The same applies when working with colleagues and other service providers. There may be a brief period of assessment during which no contract is necessary, but before approaching the client with a proposal, a contract between the primary consultant and secondary – supporting – consultants must be in place. If it is not, the latter are likely to perform under par as a business relationship has not been established. Working with other consultants without a contract that binds them weakens the entire service offering which reflects back on the primary consultant and usually does so negatively.

The consultant’s main weapons are his or her skills and reputation. The skills are what is on the menu. Straying too far from the menu exposes the consultant’s weaknesses and may damage his or her reputation. I have done that but was fortunate enough to be able to salvage the situation by calling in secondary consultants before real damage was done. That experience taught me a valuable lesson: stick to your own menu. Since consultants often work on highly sensitive projects and can neither share who they have worked for or on what, word of mouth is critically important. After social networks emerged, that word spreads fast and far in seconds. A serious mistake or a demonstration of incompetence can literally end a consultant’s otherwise successful career in a matter of days (e.g. Arthur Andersen and Enron). For clients, LinkedIn provides the means to weed out the rotten apples; just check the consultant and his or her network and find whether he or she has received recommendations from business management, industry leaders or high-profile consultants. For consultants, that same resource is recommended to identify the strongest external consultants for your own projects.

The bottom line is that a consultant that sticks how is or her own menu is unlikely to make mistakes whereas one that does not is taking extreme risks. I have a clear menu in place from which I will not stray. I deal with business and marketing strategy, financial and economic analysis, SaaS and business intelligence solutions, but have experts on standby that can deliver superior results whenever client requests fall outside that scope. I think of my services as menu items and the services of external consultants as ambiance (e.g. wine, music, decor, cutlery). Together, we deliver a great experience but alone, our five-star restaurant becomes a fast food joint. A decrease in quality causes a decrease in consultant fees and no consultant wants that to happen. Comments and feedback welcomed.

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