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Big Data and Little Kids

Children are the latest data-mining targets as software track student progress, learning skills, behaviors and even where they sit in the classroom and at lunch.

The data is viewed as necessary for an assessment-driven analysis of student and school performance. But since much of the information collected could leak into the hands of non-educators, it could become a treasure trove for companies seeking to gain a better understanding of their target market. 

Marketplace Tech, a segment on NPR, is running a series of reports this week on what it calls the "Quantified Student."

"From the time they get on the school bus, until they close their laptops at night, there’s a good chance data are being collected on their whereabouts, their learning patterns, their classroom behavior, what they eat for lunch, the websites they browse on their school computers, and maybe even the amount of sleep they get," reports Adriene Hill.

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Poll Numbers Buoy Military Intervention

For a nation weary of war and wary of the Middle East, the swing in poll numbers supporting U.S. military action against Islamic radicals in Iraq and Syria is nothing short of remarkable.

As President Obama addresses the nation, a new poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News indicates 61 percent of Americans favor confronting the Islamic state. A third of respondents approved of both airstrikes and ground troops to degrade and destroy the radical group that has swept through and captured large chunks of Iraq and a portion of Syria. A year ago, only 21 percent of Americans supported U.S. military action in the Middle East.

The videotaped beheading of two U.S. journalists has played a role in reversing American attitudes to support a more aggressive posture, which presumably wasn't what the radicals had in mind. The WSJ/NBC News poll was conducted just after the beheadings.

The swing in attitude toward the radicals gives Obama a chance to revive his sagging 32 percent approval rating on his handling of national defense and foreign policy issues. It also gives him more latitude in selecting a strategy.

Ironically, Obama may have newfound GOP support for counterterrorism. In a meeting with Obama, Republican House Speaker John Boehner expressed support for training and equipping Iraqi security forces and Syrian rebels and for sending U.S. troops back into the region if the mission was to eliminate the radicals.

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The Value of a Purpose Statement

Lots of time is spent on mission, vision and value statements. Too little time is spent on a statement of purpose.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Australian management consultant Graham Kenny says mission, vision and value statements have merit in influencing how an "organization should view and conduct itself." The purpose statement is outward-focused and offers the reason why consumers or clients should care.

He gives three examples of effective purpose statements:

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Sorting Out Friendship

The shootings and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have reminded us that racial divisions remain. New research shows the divide between white and black Americans is wide and personal.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a study showing an average black American has far more friends of a different ethnicity than an average White American. 

The Washington Post's Wonkblog illustrated the gap with a chart.

If an average black American had 100 friends, 83 would be black and the rest of other ethnicities, eight of whom would be white. The average white American would have 91 white friends and only one black friend.

The survey suggests as many as 75 percent of white Americans may not have any black friends. The number of black Americans without white friends is lower, but not much. 

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Speaking Your Audience's Language

Listening and learning how to speak to your target audience is critical to success. Focus groups can help – a lot.Choosing the right word in an advertisement, direct mail solicitation or advocacy piece can make all the difference. Qualitative research is arguably the best way to inform your word selection.

Creative departments come up with campaign themes, phrases and visuals that can be exciting and evocative. But in the eyes and ears of the intended audience, they can be misunderstood or simply confusing.

If your audience doesn't get your message, that's what should get you excited. Excited enough to find out how they interpret your words and images — and what words and images would convey the message you want to get across to them.

That's a job for focus groups. They provide a place to assess your language from the vantage point of your audience. Sometimes, the meaning of your material is clear with a minor tweak. Other times, your message is muddled by the words and images you select and requires a major makeover.

Ego bruising aside, knowing that your words and visuals connect with your audience is worth the effort. It is definitely worth the expense when compared to the vast sums you could waste on advertising that misses its mark.

Focus groups also can provide clues on choices of spokespersons and communication channels. Your words may be right on, but your spokesperson is a turn off whom people don't trust. You may have the right message, but the wrong channel, where your audience doesn't visit.

Speaking the language of your audience is not a constant thing because language changes. Words that had one meaning decades ago may have a whole new meaning or connotation now. Or a word that once was in favor may be out of favor because of its association with a negative event or personality.

Understanding how your audience talks, especially about you and your products, is critical for you to talk effectively to them. Concentrate on what you mean to say and how to say it. Your words matter.