Friday, April 29, 2011

Looking for data? Here's the mother lode.

Following is a (near) comprehensive list of free, publicly available data. The "I-couldn't-find-any-information-on-that" excuse is hereby invalidated forevermore:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unboxing The Pie: From Boring to Bling

Esteemed digital artist Almond Loh, Draftfcb's Director of Visualization here in Customer Intelligence, offers this infographic in hopes of "unboxing" the traditional way of building pie charts and providing simple design solutions to add data "bling" to your presentations and reports.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Impact of Cross-Culturalism on American Food

In “Sin City, USA” one can easily partake in several of the Seven Deadly Sins. Probably the most accessible to the denizens and tourists of Las Vegas is gluttony. All-you-can-eat  buffet advertisements dominate the billboarded landscape. Casinos promote specialty buffet items as loss-leaders intended to drive traffic, and the messaging somehow promotes the idea that eating beef and shrimp in the middle of a barren desert is a good idea.

The buffet at the Bellagio in Las Vegas rests at the pinnacle of comparable buffets in the casino world. “Guests may choose from the best of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, seafood and American cuisines, offered daily…” A person can get anything from waffles to sushi, all on the same plate. The buffet is a microcosm of the American food landscape. As choices continue to grow, the complexity of measuring and quantifying this diversification becomes more and more challenging.

Cinnamon, in contrast to the buffet choices at the Bellagio, is a constant within American cuisine. The spice is not only an American staple, but can be traced back to biblical times as an offering Israelites would bring to temple. Within American cuisine, it is best described as a banal staple of most kitchens.

Americans have evolved to think of cinnamon more as the name of an exotic dancer than the name of an exotic spice. What most Americans probably don’t know is that 90% of cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka and 100% of cinnamon is imported. From 1989-2009, the United States imported over $542 million dollars worth of cinnamon. The import dollar  valued topped out at $37 million in 1989 and bottomed out at $16 million in 2001 with a range of $21 million. Within the realm of food imports and exports this is a relatively  consistent product. To put cinnamon in perspective – coffee, tea and sugar over the same period varied by $2.6 billion, $197 million and $815 million, respectively. 

By comparing cinnamon’s unvarying role within American cuisine to other imported products, profiles can be created for those products that is automatically adjusted for inflation, currency fluctuations and  population growth.    An examination of this data over time eliminates any type of seasonality. This index, dubbed the “Cinnamindex”, illustrates the shifting palates of Americans as imported ingredients essential to foreign cuisines impact their appetites.

The first food to analyze through the Cinnamindex is avocadoes. Although some avocadoes are grown in California; the majority is imported from Mexico, Chile and the Dominican Republic. Their popularity can be tied to both the rapid growth of the Latin American population within the United States, and the culinary ripples that this culture has caused. Guacamole has become a household favorite and chains that present “Mexican Style” food in a quick-service format, such as Chipotle, have become wildly successful.

Another imported food that scored well on the Cinnamindex is the chickpea. Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, have gone from $8 million a year in imports to over $20 million a year in a 20-year span. Much like avocadoes, the growth can be attributed to both a rise in  immigrant populations where chickpeas are a staple food, as well as the inclusion of  hummus as a snack food staple in American cuisine. To think about the differences between today’s American’s Super Bowl spread and the spread 20 years ago, the standard chips and ranch dip are now accompanied and sometimes even replaced by guacamole and hummus spreads.

While the first two foods have an immigration wave associated with the shift in cuisine,  ginger’s exponential-style growth in America can be attributed more to a culinary shift. “New” Asian cuisines such as Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Pan-Asian styles have fueled the proliferation of Asian flavor inspirations in the American culinary  spectrum. Most relevant to ginger has been the mainstream acceptance of sushi across all walks of life. Supermarkets and cafeterias now serve this once exotic Japanese cuisine as daily fare. Ginger in turn has shifted from an annual import value of $5 million to  $38 million per year. 

Other imported goods that showed large increases on the Cinnamindex include dates, cardamom, cumin, anise, lentils, turmeric, saffron, cassava and mangoes. As American culture changes, its tastes continue to evolve requiring new ingredients. Fortunately, in a culture that rewards freedom of choice, the buffet at the Bellagio has room to expand to accommodate the emergence of a new American appetite. In contrast to the growth of these cross-cultural items are foods such as pistachios and poppy seeds that presented negative Cinnamindex scores over the past 20 years. As foods come in and out of vogue, however, cinnamon remains the flavorful, reliable staple against which culturally influenced foods can be measured.

As a marketer it is essential to understand changing tastes within culture. Marketers must balance the adherence to classic offerings and the exploration of new brand extensions and product genres. By examining the data available, risks can be mitigated and trends can be understood. 

Ultimately, data is recursive so taking calculative risks and measuring the results leads to an understanding of the implications. In the realm of food one can always measure themselves on the Cinnamindex to gain an understanding of shifting tastes in American culture and the impact of cross-culturalism.

(Special recognition and thanks to Jason Methner for his research and writing prowess!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Impact of Cross-Culturalism on the English Language

Language is a record of culture. One can deduce things about a culture based on how its members speak to each other. In Korea, for example, speakers base their culture on respect in relationships. The result is three phrases that are the equivalent to “thank you” each with a differing degree of formality to be used based on the relationship between the speaker and the listener.

It is not only the words of appreciation that people use to indicate culture. One can make a case that as culture develops, languages expand and words take on new meanings to capture this evolution. We can quantify cultural trends by examining the creation of words.

The best way to survey the record of language change is to observe words added to the Modern English Language. Through the analysis of the way the dictionary has changed in the past 10 years — some words added, other taken out – we can gain a better understanding of shifts in American Culture.

In approaching this research the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was identified as the best candidate for a dictionary source. The dictionary is considered to be the most conservative within the English language. The editors of the OED have strict rules about adding words based on usage. It makes for a great resource to track changes over time.

On March 14 2000, the Oxford English Dictionary began a subscriber-based model that allowed digital access to the dictionary. The digital database also highlighted quarterly modifications made to the dictionary. Over the 10-year period from June 14, 2001 to June 10, 2010, thirty-five revisions were posted and 3,907 words were added to the dictionary.

By examining these words it becomes clear that the majority of the words can be classified into five different categories:

In the past ten years it is clear that these 5 classifications have been pervasive throughout American culture.

Over the past 10 years, new technologies have arrived in popular culture. The web, smartphone, digital camera well as countless new gaming systems have all been added to the technological landscape. All of these items, as well as other technological progress, require words to describe them. Despite all of this evolution only 18% of the more than 3,900 words that were added to the OED can be classified as technological.

In addition to technology, the world’s inhabitants have come to realize that they need to take care of their environment in order to give future generations the ability to thrive. The environmental movement has come to the forefront of popular culture. Discussions on a carbon tax, the discovery of new species and new words for differentiating organic and non-organic foods all occurred in the past 10 years. Yet only 11% of all words added to the OED in the past year can be classified as environmental.

One of the subjects that received the most press in American culture over the past ten years was politics. Two wars were begun in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first black President of the United States was elected. The Tea Party movement gained traction in the American landscape and the two major political parties diverged using rhetoric to differentiate themselves from each other. Still only 9% of the words added to the dictionary over the past ten years were political in nature.

As Baby Boomers age, they will continue to need more medical treatment. Advances in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and the production of new drugs have helped make the healthcare a key driver of language. But in spite of such shifts within culture only 13% of the words added to the OED can be classified as medical in orientation.

The largest category of new additions to the OED was, in fact, the result of the influence of other cultures. New English speakers brought with them customs, traditions and food from their cultures and introduced them into mainstream society. The resulting shift in the English language was the needed linguistic reaction to the cultural vestiges spread amongst the general public. Over the ten-year analysis period, 31% of the words added to the dictionary had a cross-cultural theme. This group was the largest segment of added words within the analysis by a wide margin.

One can expect the cross-cultural trend in American culture to continue. As the world becomes an easier place to explore and borders are overcome by instant communication tools, our language will continue to evolve. The reflection of these changes will illustrate the sharing of culture and the seepage of cultural nuances into the mainstream arena.

How does your brand communicate with its customers? Do you speak to them at their level using words they will understand? Language is a lagging indicator of culture. As marketers, communications must be part of the forefront of culture. Which of the five major themes does your brand most closely align with? Are you using vocabulary that aligns with your target segment and demographic?

Examine the language of your brand. Audit the words you are using and measure it over time. Make sure that the language evolves with your brand and your audience.