Stay on the Main Road

The local Trappist Abbey near McMinnville, Oregon is a peaceful retreat for contemplation, surrounded by a beautiful forest and some great hiking trails. Even though the Abbey is nearby, I had not gone there before, so my husband and I set off to explore the woods at mid-day.

Wouldn’t you know it, we had not gone a mile into the woods before we got lost. We dug out the map and turned it upside down and sideways trying to find our way. Yes, we had a map and still got lost! We were on a tiny side trail. We could not find the main road!

All the trails seemed to lead up the mountain, where a shrine is situated overlooking a bucolic valley, so we wandered on.

We slogged upward, through the muck that was a stream running down the middle of the path.

We trekked through the thicket where poison oak was lurking.

Finally, after traipsing up what was essentially a Billy goat trail, we found a spot that matched the map. We were only a third of the distance to our destination, and we had wasted time and energy. It was January, so the sunlight would not last long.

Do you remember in the movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is advised to “follow the yellow brick road?” Or do you remember in The Hobbit when Frodo Baggins wanders off the main trail and is captured by giant spiders? In folklore, we are frequently admonished by the sages to “stay on the main path.” Why stay on the main road, though? Isn’t all the adventure in blazing your own path and being an iconoclast?

Of course, there is a business metaphor here. In the business world we frequently hear about the merits of blazing your own path—and I believe that advice is sound, because mistakes and mishaps help build business savvy.  To do something great and truly break through may require you to chart your own course.

But it’s useful to reflect on when you want to blaze you own trail and when you want to follow a proven path. Here’s my advice: When you want to differentiate your services and products from the competition, blaze. But in areas—such which office tools you use—that are not as critical, visible or of high-value to your customers, follow the main road.

After this hiking adventure, I can confirm that by staying on the main road, you can:

  • Get to your destination sooner. Oh, sure, there are shortcuts to quick riches offered daily, but, at least in my experience, you really do have to put in the hard work and long hours in order to gain real insight.
  • Ask for and receive assistance. This is because there are others who are on the main road. It’s reassuring to see fellow hikers coming down the hill as you come up. They’ll tell you “Just a little farther,” or “It’s worth the effort,” and you’ll re-double your efforts.
  • Avoid unnecessary dangers, like poison oak and washouts. When you get off the main path, there are unknown dangers that can slow you down. We came across someone out letting their dogs romp off the leash, eager to jump up on us.
  • Have the safety of guardrails, traffic signs and exit ramps. When you leave the main trail, you may be confronted by a fork where there are two equally bad options. On the main trail, you have the peace of mind of knowing where you are going. You can focus on the beautiful scenery, instead of worrying about if this fading trail is going to end at a cliff.
  • Continually orient yourself to the map. When you leave the trail, you are making it up as you go. On the main road you know where you are and you have less stress.

It’s true that simply doing what everyone else does is not always the best course. A fresh perspective, a new approach, or an alternative viewpoint is often valuable. On this adventure we had an enhanced feeling of accomplishment when we found the shrine at the top and drank in the view, knowing that we’d done things a little differently. We certainly gave ourselves a bigger challenge. But I’m not sure you could argue that we added value, and that’s the question that sparked this post.

 

“Gorge–ous” data analysis

Recently on a nature hike, I had an epiphany about data analysis while photographing the scenery. It occurred to me that there were metaphors galore out there that relate to data analysis. Searching for just the right picture in the natural world is very similar to telling our clients just the right story with their data.

Catherine Creek is a state park on the Washington State side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It’s well-known for its wonderful array of wildflowers in the spring, and the hiking trails are interesting without being exhausting. I highly recommend going there in the spring or even in the fall. But be forewarned, you won’t find large breath-taking flowers like you would at nursery or garden shop. Instead there is a vast ecosystem of very tiny flowers. To see them you have to look close—really close. You have to get down on your hands and knees in some places, and really zoom in. But if you just zoom in all the time, you miss the stunning vistas. So you have to have a balance. That’s when I realized the similarities between nature appreciation and data analysis.

Catherine Creek

FIRST: DON’T MISS THE BIG PICTURE
At Catherine Creek, if you look up from the meadows, you see the river below. It’s quite inspiring! This is the Columbia River National Scenic Gorge, after all, carved in part by historic Ice Age floods, and visited two centuries ago by Lewis & Clark. So this was my first lesson – don’t just zoom in and miss the big picture. The client company is counting on the research consultant to get into the details and slice and dice the data, with graphs, call-outs and highlights. But don’t start with the debris underfoot—zoom out to see the effort and impact of the whole organization. I’ve worked with many organizations whose impact I admire, even when they are having problems. They’re pretty smart to try to diagnosis the problem and make tough decisions.

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SECOND: EXAMINE THE SMALL DETAILS
While examining the low scrub at Catherine Creek, you’ll see a multitude of tiny flowers, patterned rocks, vivid moss and gnarled trees. On one trip we only hiked about 100 yards from the parking lot in the first 20 minutes. We were so caught up in the details of the tiny vegetation that we didn’t log a lot of steps. This gave me a new perspective on data analysis. Those small details are an essential element of the bigger story. For example, a first-person narrative, which has been collected directly from your client’s front lines, provides specific details that anchor the analysis and can be quite profound.

THIRmullinD: PATTERNS REINFORCE THE MAIN NARRATIVE
Once you see the details, you can re-focus slightly in order to see the patterns and connections that the details merge into. Those patterns provide examples you might use. Is this pattern representative of the whole picture? Can this information be extrapolated to complete the puzzle? In what way are the parts interdependent?

 

 

footprintFOURTH: LET THE DATA TALK
As in data analysis, an important picture or story can be ruined by your own impressions—in the case of nature photography, a simple boot print or paw print can wreck a shot. You need to get out of the way and let the data tell the story. That’s why in
win/loss analysis we recommend working with an unbiased outside consultant who can be a dispassionate observer. In one-on-one interviews with a third party, clients do not feel pressured to temper their remarks based on their business relationship with you. Their voice is heard and noted. No foot print.

 

pineconeFIFTH: ADJUST YOUR FOCUS
In photographing nature, sometimes you zoom in on a seed pod or a single leaf and blur the rest of the image. Other times, you zoom out and let the foreground get fuzzy in order to capture a far-off vista. That really resonates when we’re letting the data tell a story. In qualitative research, there are always contradictory stories. Your customers may complain about pricing, but what is it about your product or service where they feel the value is missing? The challenge is to do two things at once – to be immersed in the data AND see the whole story.

At Catherine Creek, I also tried to push myself to focus in on a single detail AND enjoy the grandeur all around me. It’s a tricky balance, but if you get it right it can really pay off. That’s when I realized the similarities between nature appreciation and data analysis.

 

Give Your Brain a Jolt

As an experienced information and market researcher I’m always on the lookout for new concepts that will help me keep pace with the quickly evolving marketing landscape. These are resources that I use to both inspire and inform Romainiacs’ efforts—because sometimes, as my mother-in-law says—you need “a jolt.”

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: This site brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. I read the weekly blog posts from top to bottom. Sometimes I read it out loud and I frequently forward the email to others. Recent posts include these thought provoking topics:

  • How To Focus: 5 Research-Backed Secrets To Concentration
  • NYPD Hostage Negotiators On How To Persuade People: 4 New Secrets
  • A Navy SEAL Explains 8 Secrets To Grit And Resilience


Business Source: According to the research, people who read business books make more money — a lot more, and even in tough economic times. So, I’ve signed up for the premium version of Business Source, a business book summary site. Best of all, I can digest these summaries in on my phone, iPad, Kindle, or—well you get the idea—any device. For January’s installment, I watched an animated video on the book titled

  • The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom without the 9-5.


Coursera: I just finished my first MOOC class and I can’t stop talking about it, as my colleagues will attest. I tried other open online courses before, but was disappointed. The class I just took was an Introduction to Marketing from the Wharton School of Business, which is the #1 business school in the world. The class was excellent because it was provocative, informative, and insightful. I’ve already signed up for another course. This one is on Design Thinking. If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is expand your knowledge base, you’ll want to sign up too. In an Information economy, we all have to be life-long learners and keep our skills sharp.


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Next Draft: Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors, and he is a big fan of pushing yourself to keep current. He recently wrote that the NextDraft’s “Dave Pell scans what seems to be the entire Internet to find the most fascinating articles, which he then distills to a pithy, provocative, and punchline-packed read. I stop nearly every afternoon to give this newsletter a look.” I do, too—and I recommend that you add it your list of ‘can’t miss’ reads.

RefME logo

RefME – Citation Tool that Frees Up Time for Research

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RefME, a free citation management tool, only launched in Sep 2014 but already has over 1 million users. It is used by researchers in industry and academia, students, and even legal professionals, and has already received numerous accolades and awards. If you cite any type of information–from journals to books and movies–I recommend you take a look at RefME. I just completed a review of RefME for FreePint. Here’s the introduction:


From the FreePint Blog:

We asked Cindy Romaine to review the product as she has many years of experience in managing information resources and runs her own research consultancy. Having reviewed RefME (Subscriber content) she found its “ease of use for generating citations for bibliographies and footnotes” in a large number of formats of real value.

As Cindy explains, “By efficiently creating bibliographic citations, RefME gives you more time to spend on the substantive part of your research and less time spent on formatting bibliographies, footnotes, and in-line references”.

“Think of it as crowdsourced referencing,” she adds.

The product has over 12.5 million books in its database and seven export options including:

As Cindy says “RefME is an excellent product for building resource lists, bibliographies and footnotes. Because RefME is free, not ‘freemium’, you get complete functionality from this product compared to other products that charge a fee for additional features.”

High End Reference Management Solution

endnote logoEndNote was designed to help corporate and academic researchers better manage references. I just gave EndNote X7 from Thomson Reuters a thorough test drive in an assessment for FreePint and found myself thinking several times, while reviewing such features as the PDF de-duplication function, ‘they’ve thought of everything’.”

Although the majority of EndNote’s user base are in academia, significant proportions also come from government agencies, research institutions, pharmaceutical and corporate R&D, as well as a small percentage from the healthcare and clinical field. EndNote has 3 million users across all its offerings – which includes the free online reference manager as well as the more robust desktop solution.

When you are considering a reference manager, it is worthwhile understanding the difference between reference citation tools and reference management tools. There is a continuum of capabilities and being aware of that will help you evaluate and select the tool that best matches your needs. EndNote falls on the high end of the scale, as it is a mature product with many robust features.

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To find out more you’ll need to log on to FreePint. The purpose of the review is help you gain an informed understanding of the tool and find out whether the price is worth the breadth of capabilities.

Two Flats, One Spare And Brand Advocates

Recently, my husband and I were on a rockhounding field trip on a dirt road in the wilds of Idaho. We hit a bad spot in the road and bam! bam! just like that, we had two flat tires.

2-flatsNot to be foiled, we had brought along an electric tire pump for just such occasion. But, when we tried to repair the tires they would not inflate. None of the other tricks we had up our sleeve worked either and it was getting late. Ultimately, we had to be pulled onto a flatbed truck and driven 50 miles into Boise, where we arrived at midnight. Cost: $385.

The silver-lining to this story is that we have towing coverage with USAA. Within one day, the refund for the towing service was in our bank account. I’m a big fan of USAA and a brand advocate; I tell everyone about them.usaa2-150x150

And as I learned at a recent presentation by Rob Fuggetta, CEO of Zuberance, USAA has a lot of brand advocates. USAA’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), a metric for loyalty and brand advocacy, is #1 among brands in the US.

brand-advocate-book-150x150According to Fuggetta, the author of Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force, it’s not just the brand promise’s but the customer’s experience of the brand that builds advocates. Service is what makes the difference. Brand advocates are the people that, when asked “how likely are you to recommend our services?” score your product or service at a 9 or 10, out of a possible 0 – 10.

Word of mouth (WOM) recommendations happen all the time. They are now tweeted, mobile and web-enabled, but they are not new. Fuggetta made this important connection for the audience: WOM advocates have clout – they influence purchasing decisions and because of that, it is important to cultivate as well as mobilize your advocates. He also made the point that right now, the brands with the most recommends and advocates are the winners in the marketplace.

brand-advocates-2-300x225How can you mobilize your brand advocates? Here are the top techniques:

Request reviews and incentivize people to participate in your brand. Did you know that almost every category has review sites for product or service reviews? Interesting!

Give advocates an opportunity to tell their story about your brand. I just did this for USAA in the introduction to this blog post. My husband often does the same for Les Schwab Tires, a regional tire store in the Pacific Northwest that is also top in their category for WOM. That’s where we were towed to that memorable night in Idaho.

And, finally, you have to keep the energy going. Brand advocacy is not a one-time promotion. You have to work it, train on it, and build on it. Gather testimonials, collect stories, and curate the messages. Brands rarely build themselves.

Oh, and please “like”and tweet this post. Thanks!

 

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