On Tuesday morning I was feeling cursed. Which isn’t natural when you’re in a gorgeous room looking out on a huge pool with the sun sparkling on those tiny little waves that an early morning swimmer makes.Two kinds of fires, one literal and one figurative, were confounding me.
The real thing? An electrical fire at a nearby Starwood hotel had relocated another conference (of electricians(!) – irony of ironies) to the Phoenician; causing us to shift half our rooms, re-visit the flow of our event, and re-print everything. It could, I suppose, have been much worse. The fire might have been at the Phoenician and we’d be bussing our group all over Scottsdale to land in some foreign world of 3-star hotels. My figurative fire was the sudden unavailability of our keynoter to...well…keynote. A day in which I had scheduled some early morning meetings and then was planning to travel to Sedona for some hiking and cliff-dwellings looked, suddenly, much less pleasant.
So the day before X Change wasn’t great. Wasn’t good. Wasn’t really even okay. But the pressure of a looming tomorrow is a great spur to action, and action is the conqueror of despair. So by Tuesday evening, heading over to West Lawn and seeing the giant glowing square of our X Change banner against a darkening, desert sky I was feeling rather better. We had re-organized our rooms and our keynote. All would, fingers crossed, be well.
And it was.
It was for both personal and professional reasons. Personal, because it is such a pleasure to see so many people I count as friends. Yes, these are people I may see but once or twice a year and yet know as friends from the talks and times we’ve shared at X Change over the years. It would be hard for me not to have a good time sharing drinks with these people. Professional because once the conference starts and the conversations began, it was the same wonderful, satisfying and even exhilarating experience as always. It just works. And, electricians or no, the desert and the Phoenician were lovely indeed; a fine backdrop to the sparkling conversation.
All of which left me, by conference end, in a very different state of mind. Tired, as always, but happy too. Happy with the usual glow a successful conference will engender, but overlaid with the additional satisfaction of having encountered and overcome struggle. As a statistician would no doubt say, appreciation is highly correlated to pain.
I took away a great deal to think about. I’ll try to share some of the take-aways (big and small) in future posts and here's a brief overview of some of the things I'll be talking about.
My first two Huddles were on integration strategies and the join of offline and online data. Both ended up focusing on back-office and organizational issues around master data management. That’s natural, and while I might have preferred more discussion of join strategies for detail data, the biggest challenges to data integration are nearly always organizational. One of those Huddles featured an absolutely fascinating discussion between two attendees, one from a huge bank and the other from a gaming company. Their respective approaches to data management were as opposite as the companies they work for, and yet each made exact sense in their environment and there was much to be learned from both. There isn’t one right approach to analytics and IT organization. One size does not fit at all. You should borrow approaches appropriate to an LA based gaming company filled with aggressive young engineers with some care. But what cool approaches! You’d be very wrong to ignore them too.
Personalization was (unsurprisingly) high on my list of topics as well. I probably lost an argument in this Huddle (which doesn’t happen to me that often). I said something that I think (still) was largely right but also rather incomplete and then ended up defending it beyond the point where it needed to be defended. Is personalization just a fine degree of segmentation? I still think it often (even mostly) is just that. At least, I believe that those who dismiss segmentation as not personalization are completely wrong. But there is a level of personalization that transcends segmentation and I’ll admit that in many of the most compelling uses of personalization online it shows up in this radical form. Conversation exposes boundaries in your thought that you never quite get to on your own – that’s why it’s such an effective teacher to the willing student. I’ve blogged extensively on personalization this year, but I’m going to add one more to the list and talk through some of the discussion around personalization strategies and the techniques that relate to them.
If the integration Huddles went in a direction that I might have expected but not chosen, the Huddle on data democratization went in a direction that, to me, was utterly unexpected but perhaps even more interesting than what I anticipated. We spent almost half this conversation discussing the perils, pitfalls and methods for democratizing detail level data to fellow analysts and data scientists. As the owners and curators of digital data, we’re increasingly supporting other analysts – not just our traditional audience of marketing stakeholders. It’s a totally different world and it’s not nearly as easy as you might think. Great discussion with lots of interesting take-aways.
One of my two favorite discussions was the Voice of Customer conversation that came next. Not only did I walk away with some great new questions to experiment with, but there was a tremendous discussion of the ways in which digital analytics can inform product development not just marketing. Phil Kemelor (who attended as well – Alex Destino was leading) summarized this discussion beautifully in his key take-aways from that Huddle and it was a kind of epiphany for me. I’d heard the same discussion (and even drove part of it) but not taken the core point as much to heart. There is a profound point to be had here – and an opportunity to both grow and fundamentally re-shape our focus in digital analytics to be something more meaningful and interesting.
My other favorite discussion was the last of the conference. We’d extended last year’s wild-card Huddle concept by scheduling a full slate of wild-card Huddles based on the seven most popular topics from the Conference. I got to sit-in on Brady Lauback’s Huddle on Customer retention analysis and a really fascinating discussion of how to visualize customer retention and attrition. We’ve been exploring zero time-based charting views for a variety of tasks (don’t worry – I’ll explain that seemingly cryptic description in an expanded post) and I think it’s a great visualization technique. It’s application to this particular problem and the study of cohorts wasn’t necessarily something I’d fully appreciated. This is a powerful, simple, and widely applicable data visualization technique used on a key problem in digital analytics.
I can’t wait to debrief with the rest of the EY team, read the take-aways from the other Huddles (posted to the Linked-in group for X Change) and see what else I missed. Exciting stuff.
If you were there and are reading this – thanks so much for being part of the conversation. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you didn’t make it this year, there’s always next.
Same time next year?