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Notable marketing: ThoughtSpot and SpotGirl

Promote a data-reporting tool with a comic book? Even the few vendors willing to break from whitepapers and blogs might not look natural doing it. But ThoughtSpot’s done it, and it works.

For How to Defeat the Top 5 BI Villains at Your Company, ThoughtSpot wins the Datadoodle Occasional Prize for Notable Marketing. The hero is SpotGirl, and she fights five villains business people know well.

SpotGirl’s weapon is a magnifying glass. When a villain known as DataGhoul taunts her, she just raises her glass and flings back good, smart data. When DataGhoul yells, “Your quarterly sales are down! A lot!” SpotGirl keys in the question: “How did last quarter’s sales volume compare with the previous quarter?” The answer comes back, and SpotGirl replies, “No, DataGhoul! It’s actually up!”

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Notable marketing: Have imagination, will be read

clocks-mirrors

For all the marketing collatoral the data industry produces, there’s little that I can read without forcing myself. But when the good stuff comes, it’s like a gust of spring air blowing into a stuffy room. That kind of marketing blew into Datadoodle headquarters Friday morning. VisualCue, maker of visualization software done with “tiles,” won the Datadoodle Occasional Prize for Notable Marketing with “Have Data, Will Travel.”

“This week we’re using data to travel through time!,” it declared. We’ll forgive the overuse of the exclamation marks and give credit for the rarest of elements, imagination. This tastefully designed, lively, and jargon-free creation is credited to the “Visual Crew,” but I’m sure it was hatched by just one person.

The email links to two blog posts about time travel with visualized data. The first asks how long would it take to travel from London to Los Angeles in 1914? That’s answered with a 1914 isochrone map of Earth created by King George V’s cartographer.

“It got us thinking,” the post said. “What would such a map of the world look like today?” That’s exactly the kind of thought that VisualCue wants readers to do, too.

The ending, “Until next time,” breaks the rules. It skips the call to action for something stronger, the reader’s little voice in the head. By the end, that voice might be saying, “Hmm. I wonder what I could do…” And who else to help do it than this vendor? There’s no better call to action than that, and there’s rarely a better marketing pitch than this post.

BI industry builds tools for itself: Yellowfin CEO

Why aren’t the data industry’s tools more widely adopted? Data-industry experts have fretted for years over the estimated 5 percent penetration. Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie has an explanation.

“We never contextualize applications,” he said at the recent Pacific Northwest BI Summit. “We always talk about the homogenous product. We don’t know the consumer. We don’t tailor.”

We don’t talk about the “who.” Who uses our tools? And how they’re used? The marketing rarely distinguishes one industry from another. In fact, even when you read closely, you can’t find a unique selling proposition.

Perhaps worse, says Glen, the tools don’t accommodate different modes of comprehension. Contrary to the market buzz, not everyone is basically visual. There’s also audio and, yes, words.

Take the group of lawyers he works with, for example. “A chart means nothing,” he says with a shrug. “But give them 1000 words, and that means something to them.”

When people in the data industry look around for reasons to explain the disappointing penetration into business, they should instead look within the industry. “We’re building the tools for ourselves,” he says, and that leaves out a lot of users. Tools assume too much analytical skill or at least too much motivation when the value can’t be demonstrated.

Instead, he looks tools that aren’t even labeled “analytical.” When you plan a trip on Google Maps, for example, you see which route is fastest.

The value of wasted PR

A press release crossed the big-data desk at Datadoodle headquarters late last month from a “leading provider” I had never heard of. I tried to find the news in it, but after the third try I wondered who could have imagined any news there at all.

The obvious question is how the client could be so stupid as to imagine any good came from this? Aside from reminding a few readers how to spell names, there’s probably no direct value.

The value is to the industry. Sure, we suffer trivial distraction, perhaps annoyance. But from blah blah blah comes fertility. It adds to the tech industry’s accumulated detritus, which sustains a nutritious substrate.

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Still a “tool” by any other name

A marketing manager I know stopped me in mid sentence. He didn’t want me to call his business intelligence product a “tool.”

Why? “It sounds small,” he said. But it is small, I pointed out. It’s smaller than many others in its space. It’s downloaded in under a minute and unpacks itself on a desktop in a few minutes.

But he waved that rationale away as if it were a fly, and I should have known. Marketing people, like the parents of gladiators, prefer their progeny to be perceived as big. Bigness casts dark shadows over competitors and conceals weakness. Industry insiders give big competitors good odds.

Users, though, have more immediate, personal concerns. They want something that feels good, works consistently, and adapts easily. This describes a “tool,” a label that should be taken as a compliment, not an insult.

To understand the value of good tools, read what farmer and essayist Wendell Berry writes about them. Over the years, he’s thought about them often, such as in his 1970s essay on the Marugg grass scythe.

It is the most satisfying hand tool that I have ever used. In tough grass it cuts a little less uniformly than the power scythe. In all other ways, in my opinion, it is a better tool because, it is light, it handles gracefully and comfortably even on steep ground, it is far less dangerous, it is quiet and makes no fumes, it is much more adaptable. In rank growth one narrows the cut and shortens the stroke. It always starts — provided the user will start. Aside from reasonable skill and care in use, there are no maintenance problems. It requires no fuel or oil. It runs on breakfast. Its cheaper to buy than most weed eaters and is cheaper to use than any other power mower. And best of all its good exercise.

I’d bet that everyone dreams, at least secretly, of software that matches the Marugg. Sadly, though, people with other agendas usually make the final decision — people whose careers depend on buying not tools but “solutions.” My friend the marketing manager has to appeal to those who write the checks. But I don’t care. I’ll keep saying “tool.”