Google’s Third Wave Of Innovation

Is it normal that a search engine is buying up all of the robotics and drone companies?

If you’re in the marketing profession, you have to be scratching your head at the moves that Google has made over the past little while. It’s hard to reconcile how a company that was founded on a search engine (and then optimizing an advertising platform so efficiently that it drove them to a $350 billion market cap) could be spending its war chest on technology so nascent and future-focused. If Google’s main form of revenue is advertising and licensing software, where will the ads be going on all of these robots and drones?

Google’s first wave of innovation.

Google has gone through two dramatic waves of innovation (with many nuances and smaller ones in between). It’s important to understand that in phase one, Google mastered search. The ability to organize the diverse and divergent pieces of data, content and information that were being created in a non-formulaic way across the Internet. It was everything from programs to articles, and (through the years) it’s hard to imagine how we would find anything (let alone remember stuff) in a world where we can “Google it.” The problem with search, of course, is that there was no significant revenue in helping to organize all of the world’s information. While Google didn’t invent keyword-based advertising, they have certainly mastered it. Ushering in the era of performance-based advertising, they nurtured search engine marketing into becoming one of the most effective forms of direct-response advertising. People searching for content would be exposed to contextually-based text ads that did not interrupt the search experience. On top of that, the ads would be sold to brands and media agencies in an auction-based mode where the cost would be charged only if the consumer clicked on the ad (showed interest). Over the years, Google has expanded the offering to individual’s website wishing to run these types of ads in lieu of traditional banner advertising. From there, the company has made several strategic acquisitions to build their GDN (Google Display Network). The acquisition of YouTube in 2006 is also significant in this first wave of Google’s innovation. Years later, they are beginning to understand the types of commercials that works in the online video world as TrueView continues to learn which ads the consumers are watching (and which ones they are skipping). Within a few years, TrueView will become as efficient at performance based commercial advertising as keywords have become. To put the first wave of Google’s Web dominance into perspective, comScore Media Metrix’s rank of the top 50 U.S. desktop Web properties for February 2014 tells the tale: In a world of over 222 million unique visitors, Google’s website account for over 187 million of them.

Google’s second wave of innovation.

Back in 2006, Google acquired a lesser-known mobile operating system called Android. It was, at the time, an acquisition that perplexed the media pundits. It was a bold play and one that has – without question – enabled Google to become a dominant player in the mobile space. Now, Google doesn’t just build applications that run on a mobile-enabled platform (which they do), but they own the actual platform on which our mobile connectivity is playing out. As consumers move from desktops PCs and laptops to smartphone and tablets, Google has continued to innovate and own the mobile landscape, and this includes being hyper-competitive in relation to Apple and the staggering success of the iPhone and iPad. Still, Android (and the supporting Google applications and mobile websites) are the 800-hundred pound gorilla in mobile. Adding some data to this, comScore’s February 2014 U.S. smartphone subscriber market share demonstrates just how much of the mobile Web Google owns: While Apple ranked as the top smartphone manufacturer (41.3%), Android led as the number one smartphone platform with over 52% of the market shares. What makes this more staggering, is that Google sites hit close to 90% of the entire smartphone browsing and app audience. In short, they own mobile as well. 

Welcome to Google’s third wave of innovation.

How does a company like Google grow? The opportunity to scale becomes increasingly difficult (will another 30 million people using a particular app truly help them?). The answer lies in in connecting the last mile of humanity that is currently not on the Internet. It’s nothing new. We have been talking about the digital divide for decades (the chasm that exists between the haves and the have nots). In fact, Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, discusses this very topic in depth in his business book, The New Digital Age – Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business (co-authored with another Googler, Jared Cohen). There are close to five billion people not connected to the Internet. There are countless appliances that aren’t “smart” or online (just yet). That is the kind of scale that Google must now focus on. For that, Google is pushing the envelope of innovation towards drones, robotics and artificial intelligence. Massive and risky bets that will enable a new type of connected consumer. Drones will enable Google to deliver connectivity to that massive last mile. Robotics is primarily based on the idea that we can get machines to work, think and do things somewhat autonomous to human intervention. This requires a new kind of computing coding and architecture – one that is based on machine-learning capabilities (yes, programming a computer to teach something to another computer and having each successive version be able to get better and teach more). While everyone is focused on Google’s most recent acquisition of Titan Aerospace for their drones, or that they have bought eight (maybe more) robotics companies in the past short while (including the very popular Boston Dynamics), not enough people have spent enough time thinking about why they acquired DeepMind in late January.

Getting computers to think better.

It has been reported that Google spent close to $500 million for DeepMind (which doesn’t seem like much, if you consider that it also paid over $3 billion for Nest not that along ago). DeepMind was in stealth mode when purchased, but we have been told that the London based technology was developing artificial intelligence to help computers learn and operate like humans. Couple that with connecting more devices, purchasing drones and robots and you can let your mind wander. From a marketer’s perspective, this may still sound quizzical and off-brand, but to anyone willing to expand their horizons, it is clear that Google is a company not willing to rely simply on media as a business model, but rather much more interested in technology and connecting the word. This is important for brands to understand as well. Perhaps the real future of marketing is not in just getting more efficient with advertising dollars, but in following Google’s footsteps to help connect your our brands to more people through technology on a more global scale.

The above posting is my monthly column on marketing innovation for Strategy Magazine. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


Let’s Stop Mixing Up Digital Advertising With Digital Marketing

I get into this fight all of the time.

When people talk to me about advertising agencies – especially ones that claim to be “fully integrated” – what I (still) hear is: digital advertising. Make no mistake about it, advertising is a juggernaut in the world of marketing, but it’s not everything. That’s the main gripe I have when people look at advertising agencies with digital capabilities, and try to compare them to a digital marketing agency. Here’s my theory on this (and it’s not perfect, there are variances and exceptions to every rule): An advertising agency (whether they have digital capabilities or not) are in the hammer and nail business. To an advertising agency (which would be the hammer), everything can be solved with an ad (which would be the nail) – and yes, to a hammer, everything does look like a nail. There is nothing wrong with that. Advertising is an essential component of a strong communications platform, and it is still a very efficient way for a brand to communicate a message to an audience. Brands can complain all they want about the diminishing returns on advertising, but this is a problem that gets exacerbated when lack of compelling creative meets a faltering scarcity model (too many channels and opportunities).

How does a digital marketing agency fit into this?

It depends on who you ask. We’ve been running Twist Image since 2000 (that’s 14 years, for those who do not want to do the math). And, for all of that time, we were never looking to solve a business challenge with an ad. We have always looked at the business challenge and tried to develop a solution that is based in the digital world. So, we’re looking to create products and/or services that can help a brand leapfrog both their competitors and the more traditional ways of connecting with consumers. From there, we build a framework for success (and, if you’re struggling to understand the difference between a framework and ROI, check out Avinash Kaushik‘s amazing article titled, See-Think-Do: A Content, Marketing, Measurement Business Framework). Once we have that product or service (and yes, that could be an e-commerce solution, a game, an app, social media initiatives, a website, etc…) and a framework for it, it becomes a question of communications. From the communications standpoint, we’re trying to leverage a healthy mix of paid, earned and owned models to help the brand to be successful.

Can you feel the difference?

Advertising is one component of the communications challenge. The reason this confusion is so prevalent in the marketing industry, is because we use media spend as the benchmark for some kind of marketing mix comprehension. Just today, eMarketer published the news item, Digital Ad Spending Worldwide to Hit $137.53 Billion in 2014. I thought it was a typo. From the article: “Spending on ads served to internet-connected devices including desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones and tablets will reach $137.53 billion this year, according to eMarketer’s latest estimates of worldwide paid media spending. Digital spend will be up 14.8% over 2013 levels, according to the forecast, and will make up just over one-quarter of all paid media spending worldwide. That’s up from about one-fifth of spending in 2012, and it is set to rise to nearly one-third of the total by the end of our forecast period, when advertisers around the world will invest $204.01 billion in digital.”

That’s a lot of bank.

Actually, that’s a misnomer. It’s a staggering amount of dollars. And, when marketers are pouring that kind of financial resources behind the paid media spending of brands, it’s easy to see how the distinction between advertising and marketing gets foggy. If you don’t think it’s staggering, just check out this chart: Internet Advertising Revenues Hit $7.3 Billion in Q1 ’11 from the IAB. I remember when the paid media spend was well under the one billion dollar level (I remember it so well, because I was selling online media back in 1999). Now, digital advertising spend is rivaling that of TV, and for one good reason: brands put the money where the consumers are. And, where do you think that the consumers are?

It’s about more than media.

When was the last time you read something about a brand and said to yourself, “you see… that is smart!” That my reaction when I read the AdWeek article, Why Johnson & Johnson Treasures BabyCenter’s Data. Moms and soon-to-be moms tend to like BabyCenter for information. That digital property is owned by Johnson & Johnson. Think about the business solution that J&J solved with this marketing solution. Think about the data capture that is happening on this site. And, ultimately, think about how they can leverage all of this information to better target both the advertising on this site (and even when J&J advertises on other mom-related sites). It’s staggering. It also demonstrates the massive chasm between digital advertising (the last mile of communicating the brand to the world) in comparison to the digital marketing work (develop a platform for moms, build a framework around it and push a communications platform to either get the message out or, in this case, even monetize it).

Don’t dismiss advertising.

It bears repeating: advertising is big, massive and growing (especially in the digital channels). Just look at those numbers: $137.53 billion in 2014. Still, advertising is but a subset of the communications platform which – in and of itself – is a component of a greater marketing good. Be floored by the media dollars that are being shifted to digital, but without a sound marketing platform that runs horizontally throughout the brand/organization, those messages will – for the most part – fall on deaf ears.

Still, digital continues to look healthy, growing and ever-evolving – even when we confuse the terms.


It’s Gut Check Time For Marketing

How do you feel about the marketing dollars that are being spent at your organization?

This is about much more than your marketing mix, and this is much more serious than how creative your advertising is looking these days. Quick question: how much do you rely on data and analytics to build, develop and deploy your marketing? This is not a trick question. It’s a very serious one. We live in a world (finally) where the data doesn’t lie. In fact, there is so much data (and so much depth to it), that acting without data seems incredulous (and that’s using a kind word).

What do you know about your consumers?

What do they like? How do they like it? What are they doing? How are they doing it? How many steps does it take for them to purchase? What is their path to purchase? What is your cost per acquisition? How much of your advertising is being optimized along with these data sets? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Still, when these questions get asked, the rooms always get quiet. Forget all of that. Be real. Get honest. If you could better understand what, exactly, your consumers were doing and were able to test and try different things against that to see if you could improve their path to purchase, would you?

Of course you would!

Here’s the thing: none of this stuff is all that expensive to do. In fact, I would be willing to argue that there are some awesome free (or even cheap-ish) tools that can make every marketer that much better. This is nothing new. These tools have been around for a while now and they are fairly sophisticated (Google Analytics, anyone?) and have become quite mature. You also don’t need a team of IT professionals to get this stuff up and running. For the most part, the vast majority of these tools are cloud-based and require little more than dumping a simple line of code on to your digital pages. I’ve seen administrative assistants pull this off as well as an IT director. 

In a world where you can do… why aren’t you?

It was a big, massive sigh. The kind of sigh that leaves you shaking your head. This feeling of almost complete defeat. That, with a slight glimpse of glee. Why glee? Because I can help. That was the array of emotions I felt after reading the Marketing Charts news item that was published today and titled, 1 in 2 US Marketers “Trust Their Gut” for Marketing Budget Decisions. Half. Half of all marketing decisions are made with our guts. With all of this data. With all of this big data. With all of this insight. With people like Avinash Kaushik and Bryan Eisenberg telling us this stuff for almost twenty years. We’re still just using our guts to decide? From the article: “There seems to be a consensus among marketers that they need to reinvent themselves to succeed, particularly as the vast majority believe that marketing is undergoing a revolution. But few of those who want to reinvent their role know how to go about doing so. Part of embracing a new approach to marketing also involves experimentation, and 54% of respondents believe that the ideal marketer should take more risks. That risk-taking extends to new technologies, but marketers were twice as likely to agree that they are more comfortable adopting new technologies once they become mainstream (65%) they they were to agree that they make use of new technology even before it’s proven (31%).” 

Depressed much?

As a digital marketing agency dude, this is mostly good news. It means that our runway at Twist Image continues to be both long and wide as nearly half of the marketers in our business are still acting quite traditionally in this world that has so radically changed. Still, as a Marketing Activist (Media Hacker or whatever you want to call me), it saddens me to read how little has changed. We’re still in the era where the CMO would much rather see their brand on a sports arena (mostly a vanity metric) than be working day in and day out to lower the cost of marketing, by being razor focused on the data, optimization and improvements that can be made by integrating technology throughout the entire marketing system. So yes, it’s gut check time.

What kind of marketing department do you want to be a part of in the future? Those that are driven by gut feelings or the data?


Ads Worth Watching… And Spreading

Some ads are worth watching (again and again). Totally true.

This week, I am attending the TED conference. TED has been working hard to highlight TV ads that are “ideas worth spreading.” When I hear people say that they hate advertising, I don’t believe them. People hate bad advertising and, unfortunately, a good bulk of the work that comes out of the advertising industry is mediocre at best. If you poke around on YouTube or Facebook, you will discover that people love ads that tell a story. People love ads that make them laugh, think, cry, grow and more. Volumes have been written about what it takes to produce a great spot. Volumes have also been written about the abysmal failure and poor reception that TV ads get. Still, when it works… it just works. Once again, TED has selected ten ads that work. They are worthy of your time and attention. And, if they do the job they are supposed to do, who knows you may just become a customer… a loyal one.

TED 2014′s Ads Worth Spreading:

P&G – Thank You Mom.

IBM – A Boy And His Atom.

Guinness – Basketball.

Adobe – Click, Baby, Click!

Google Earth – Saroo Brierly: Homeward Bound.

Dove – Camera Shy.

New Zealand Transport Agency – Mistakes.

Virgin America – Safety Dance.

Honda – Hands.

Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund – Let’s Save Africa.



Awards Worth Winning

Are you cynical of people who win awards or make some kind of bestsellers list?

Whether it’s the New York Times‘ book list or an advertising award, I have always had a love/hate relationship with these types of accolades. I’ve seen so many people game the system (yes, even ones that seem un-gameable) that I often look at the “winners” with an air of deep suspicion. Not that long ago, a friend released a business book that debuted on one of the major bestseller lists. I was a little dumbfounded. They had not done much in terms of pre-press and sales, they had no serious/significant presence on social media, and there wasn’t even that much media attention the week of the book’s release. Still, the book hit the top ten list. The next week, it was gone. And, even on the week where it did appear on the list, if you were tracking its position on Amazon, there wasn’t any significant spike. Isn’t that all a little strange? Not really. You can buy your way to the top of the list. If you don’t believe me, you can read more about that topic right here: Buy Your Way To The Top. I’ve seen the same thing happen at industry awards. Where agencies who are on the selection committee or the board of directors of the organization tend to accumulate the most awards. It has to be a coincidence right?

On the other hand…

Awards and making bestseller lists can be very validating. For the hard work and dedication. For helping the team behind the work to coalesce and come together. When it’s merited, it is magical and it can change business. In that blog post above on buying your way to the top, I did contemplate using one of those business book services that guarantee a spot on these lists. I never did it. It felt icky. It didn’t feel real. I see brands and individuals do this everyday online. Buying friends, followers, fans, likes… you name it. It makes me sad. It’s an act of vanity that is simply thinly veiled desperation. The numbers don’t validate anything, especially if there’s nothing behind it. People who buy their way on to lists like that tend to feel like it’s a strategic move because they can use the title of “bestselling author” or “one million fans” on Twitter to drum up more business in terms of speaking, consulting or impressing new clients. But it’s hollow. It’s not sustainable.


If anyone does any semblance of research, they will see the truth. Your book may be number six on the bestsellers list this week, but if it’s gone next week (never to return), the only people that you may be duping are these poor new clients that are being lied to (not the best way to start a new business relationship). If you can sleep at night, good luck to you. If a book falls off the list, it means its a book that didn’t attract an audience. It means that people bought it and never took to it. They didn’t share it. They didn’t help it grow. It means that the publicity that a lot of authors grab in this moment still isn’t enough to make anyone really care. So, it’s more like a desperate cry for attention than anything else. If you buy a million followers, but nobody cares about your messages, posts and shares, it’s the worse kind of vanity metric.

Earning it.

You have to earn it. Don’t you? When it’s earned, it’s honest. It’s true. It’s something to be celebrated. You may be wondering why this all on my radar at this point? I just got an email from my publisher that my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete, won two business book awards. One is the Gold Award in Networking from the 7th Annual Axiom Business Book Awards. I had no idea that my book publisher has even nominated it. The book was also named one of the Best Books of 2013 in Business & Investing by Amazon. I was proud and I wanted everyone to know. I wanted to share the news with you, but I almost didn’t. I got worried. I thought that people might think that I am simply bragging, or that I did something in the background to make these awards happen, so when the news broke, I could be all like, “What? Me? Why, I’m flattered… for sure…”

I’m really blown away… and proud.

What these two awards mean to me, is that people actually bought this book, talked about it, told others to check it out. For me, that’s the “big checkmark” when you write something like a business book. So, I’m thrilled to announce that CTRL ALT Delete has been recognized. And, I mean it. Because I truly had no idea that it was even nominated. I can’t thank you enough for your constant support and belief in the ideas that happens between my ears. On top of that, make sure that your work gets the opportunity to be recognized by your peers, by your industry and by the people who care. When it’s done authentically and ethically, there is nothing that is more rewarding.

Thank you… and if you want to know more about CTRL ALT Delete, please watch this:


The Naked Brand And The Future Of Marketing

Society blames advertising for a lot of things.

Here’s the truth about advertising: it’s role is to get the consumer excited about something. He’s another reality: reality is not all that exciting. So, advertising exaggerates the good parts of a produ…

Market What Works. Get Schooled… Seth Godin Style

Are you interested in taking a very modern course in marketing?

With each and every passing day, I get a handful of emails asking me who offers up the best course in marketing. Up until today, I wasn’t sure that I had the best answer to give. I do now. And, you can thank Seth Godin (who else?) for that. Seth loves to push buttons (poke them?). He loves to provoke with his myriad of brilliant business books (you have read Purple Cow, Linchpin, The Dip and all of the other ones, haven’t you?), his daily kernels of deep wisdom on his blog always inspire and force you to think, and now, he’s teaching a course (actually, this is his second one). He calls it a workshop, but trust me, it’s a course. A deep and rich one that is full of powerful information.

What does modern marketing look like?

Seth teamed up with Skillshare to launch The Modern Marketing Workshop. It’s a course aimed at marketers – at all levels, for all types of organizations. If you’re trying to understand where great ideas come from, how to connect in a more direct and profound way with your customers, and – most importantly – how to market what works, then this course is for you. Listen, if you have been following this blog for any semblance of time, you know two things about me: One, I am an unabashed fanboy of all things Seth Godin. Two, I don’t shill for anyone unless the value of the product far outweighs the price. Unless it’s something I one hundred percent believe in and think that everyone should be checking out. Here’s why Seth created this course from the man, himself…   

“Marketing has changed more in the last 20 years than any other business discipline. Far more than accounting, manufacturing, or management. Why are we relying on the same-old traditional textbooks? Why are CMOs cornered into decisions that make no sense? Why do leaders still talk about marketing and advertising like they’re the same?… It turns out that just about everything we learned in school, just about everything our boss, our board and our co-workers believe about marketing is out of date. The new course includes videos, new ebooks, worksheets and more (more than 75 pages of brand-new material and many hours of discussions and projects for you and your team.) I hope you’ll devote the time to really dive into it, and you’ll challenge your peers to do it with you.”

I’m in on this course… are you?

It’s not free, but it’s only $19 (which, is as close to free as you can get, if you consider the professor and the quality of which he creates any form of content). This just seems like the perfect course for everyone in marketing to take, to do the hard work along with, to share with their team members and, ultimately, to make marketing (as an industry) that much better.

Check out the video promo below and sign up before it’s too late: Seth Godin’s Modern Marketing Workshop.

An Online Skillshare Class by Seth Godin


Where Is The User Manual?

How does that coffee machine work?

I’m not a big coffee drinker. Too much caffeine does not play well with my biology. I’m anxious enough. A heavy does of it, and I’m spinning like a top, I get a headache and it’s all regret. Still, occasionally, I like a cafe au lait (who doesn’t?). Tasty. We’ve had the same coffee machine in our office at Twist Image for as long as I can remember. I walk by it multiple times a day. There are only a handful of buttons on it. I have no idea what those buttons mean or how to use it. I also recognize that we live in a world of coffee pods, where you simply slide these little tins into a coffee machine, hit a button and “poof,” you have a French cafe style coffee pumped into your “Friday… my second favorite F Word” mug without any pretention. Still, I am clueless. It’s just a bunch of buttons and sliders that I don’t understand. I’ve tried. Sitting next to our coffee machine is a binder. On that binder, it says, “Coffee Machine User Manual.” It’s a binder. For a coffee machine.

How does your iPad work?

Do me a favor, take a look at the instruction manual for your iPad. How about the one for your iPhone? Your Android smartphone? Hmmm… no manual. That’s interesting. Turn it on, slide to unlock it, touch and go. If you make a mistake, don’t worry, you won’t break the thing. It may take an extra second to figure it out, but you won’t be punished by scolding hot water. Think on this for a moment: what is a more complex technology with a myriad more of functionality? That coffee machine or that iPad? That coffee machine user manual makes me laugh every time I see it. We talk about marketing, advertising and communication as a way to inform the public about the existence or nuances of the products and services that we sell, but marketing is so often left out of the actual development and experience, that what marketers are really left to do is to simply talk about something that may be overly complicated to explain and use.

Marketing includes design, usability and experience.

Don’t forget about that. We often do forget about this or get lost in the erogenous zone of simplicity. Steve Jobs from Apple forced the world to look at design, usability, experience and marketing as one, holistic, thing. Business books, articles, case studies, documentaries, blog posts, annoying Instagram quote pictures deluge our eyes/brains with the idea of focusing on simplicity. I’d offer this thought: don’t focus on simplicity. Simplicity is the outcome of bringing together the right people in the room that can get you to a specific point of resolution for your business. It’s like trying to create something viral. Viral is a result of doing a lot of things brilliantly. Same with simplicity.

How to do away with the manual?

That specific point of resolution should be this: is it possible for your business to create something that does not require a manual or training? Ugh. Sucks to read that, doesn’t it? Sucks to think about it. I know many business-to-business companies that will scoff at this notion, simply because this is how they ensure regular (and ongoing) revenue – through training, support and other value-added services. Fine, it may be impractical to completely do away with instruction manuals and trainings, but what if the real goal was to reduce it to its bare minimum? For my dollar, this is the highest form of marketing: creating something that is both needed and completely frictionless for the consumer (these are the things that consumers love to use and talk about). Find me a product that does this and was not accepted by a strong customer base, and I’ll call you a liar (in the nicest way possible). Oh, and if you think it’s one hundred percent impossible to drive your products and services to the point where instruction manuals are not needed, feel free to study (in-depth) some of the design thinking that the Apple team (and other folks – like the people at IDEO) are bringing to market. How they did it, might just surprise and inspire you and your teams. Lastly, remember that we have reached a very unique inflection point in time (and, it’s something I discuss in a lot more detail in my second book, CTRL ALT Delete). We are finally at this amazing point in society when technology has removed the technology from technology. This stuff is intuitive, it does not require an instruction manual and it’s accessible to all people – across demographics and psychographics. From the very young to the very old, to everyone in between. That is something to cherish, celebrate and integrate into all of our business. Always.

Dump the instruction manuals. That’s the beginning phases of brilliant marketing.


Crazy, Sexy, Cool: Attributes Of The Most Clickable Ads

How entertaining is your brand?

On the surface, this may seen like a simple question to answer. If you produce movies, energy drinks or running shoes, you probably have something that is highly entertaining. Most of us don’t work for brands like that. We sell valves, insurance policies, accounting services and the like. Not the kind of stuff that evokes deep emotions like laughter and tears. Still, we live in a day and age when most brands are forced to be out there. Not just with television commercials, flyers and ads on the radio, but actively engaged online. We need to get people to like our brand on Facebook, pin our images on Pinterest, subscribe to our YouTube channels, retweet our 140-characters of goodness on Twitter and more for attention. In fact, when it comes to the modern marketing mix, you will often find many companies struggle so desperately, that they are willing to buy media to promote their content posts or spend money on fan acquisition (there’s an oxymoron in there, if you think about it). There are countless strategies that marketing pundits will put forward in order to help brands understand where and how to create value in a world that has never been so cluttered with advertising.

Screaming louder than everyone else.

If you go back a mere fifteen years, marketing experienced a new dawn. Social media brought with it the ability for brands to have real interactions with real human beings. As powerful and profound as that was (and still is), the waters have become quite murky. The current arms race for likes, friends, followers, subscribers, retweets, pins and more has brought with it an over-simplification of what a brand should be pursuing. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like are no longer encouraging brands to figure out a way to create a depth of meaning and connection with their consumers. If you scratch slightly beneath the surface, everything that they offer is sold much in the same way that traditional media outlets have sold their traditional advertising. It has become just another type of marketplace, where the brand who screams the loudest gets the most attention. So, is the promise of social media dead? Do we really need to care about depth of interactions, building true relationships, nurturing people towards engagement, or are we looking for just another quick fix in a long history of advertising’s version of the one night stand?  

Tell me what you want… what you really, really want.

You would think that as your business adds digital marketing into a more prominent position within a marketing mix, that the true value will come from time spent digging deep into what adds value to the consumers life. How can your brand – in a world where anyone can publish anything in text, images, audio and video – create something so compelling that it becomes an integral part of a consumer’s digital experience. Well, it turns out that the pace with which consumers are ignoring advertising messages has not dissipated in a world where we have an incredible ability to target, customize, personalize and build a true relationship. According to a Research Brief news item published earlier this week titled, Four of Five American Consumers Ignore Online Ads Most Frequently, the digital world is having just as much trouble capturing a consumer’s attention. “82% of Americans ignore online ads, ahead of television ads at 37%. 92% of Americans ignore at least one type of ad seen every day across six different types of media,” according to the article about the first annual Goo Online Advertising Survey. “The online ads Americans are most likely to ignore included: online banner ads (73%), followed by social media ads (62%), and search engine ads (59%). The highest wage earners, those with a household income of $100k+ per year, were statistically more likely than those households making less than $50k per year (86% vs. 78%, respectively) to say they ignore online ads. Overall, the 65+ age group ignored the most, while the 35-44 age group ignored the least.”

Advertising revenue would beg to differ.

If that one study is reflective of the industry at large, the fire alarms should be clanging from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley. We continue to see a sharp increase of ad spend shift from traditional channels to digital ones in hopes that customization, analytics and targeting will create a more effective form of advertising. So, what do consumers really want? The Goo Technologies went on to report that consumers would like advertising to:

  • Look more interesting.
  • Not feel like an ad (whatever that means).
  • Be funny.
  • Be entertaining.
  • Have stunning graphics.
  • Have a sexy man or woman in the ad (I can’t make this stuff up).
  • Be more interactive.

Nothing new in new media.

If you’re wondering why all of that technology, analytics, retargeting and more is not moving the needle in your advertising, or why that last YouTube video didn’t find the viral success that you were hoping for, it turns out that consumers – no matter how evolved they are in their technological prowess around media channels, content creation and devices – are overwhelmed. There is a sheer brunt force of advertising everywhere. They are either completely ignoring advertising or simply want it to give them a chuckle or raise an eyebrow and move on. As simple as that sounds, not many brands are in the business of entertainment, and that’s the true rub. Consumers are online, connected, creating, curating, sharing and more. As intellectual and powerful as that is, nothing will get them to act on your message unless you can really entertain them. Smart advertising is good entertainment. Surprise! Nothing much has really changed in the game of advertising no matter how sophisticated and evolved the platforms and opportunities have become.

So, how entertaining is your brand?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


The Failed State Of Branding

How well do you think brands are doing?

Brands are going to have to face the music. It’s a ruse that has (probably) been going on longer than anyone cares to admit, but it’s something that has showed itself – front and center – in the past few months. What we’re seeing is something we may have known all along (but were reticent to admit). People just don’t care or think that much about brands. The entire engine of advertising is built on that truism. If people loved brands, there would be no need to advertise, right? Advertising is simply a financial engine that allows brands to pay to have access to an audience. This got very murky a little over a decade ago, when the Internet and social media collided. Suddenly, because all of the things that people think, like, share and create was made public, brands figured that they could suddenly engage and connect with anyone who makes mention of their favorite bubbly sugar water. It turns out that even if millions of people are liking a brand anywhere public, it doesn’t really mean that they care all that much about it, does it?

What are we seeing suddenly that should make us rethink branding in 2014?

Here are four different types of brand new content that all marketers need to read, watch and think about before they go out develop their next Pinterest or Vine strategy:

  • Are Consumers “Falling Out of Love” With Brands? That is the question that this Marketing Charts article asks. It is based on a study conducted by Mindshare called, Culture Vulture 2014 (but it also looks at some other reports), and here’s what the article states: “…consumers are ‘falling out of love with brands’ and that ‘brands are in crisis’… only 47% of North American consumers last year agreed that they like to pass on interesting things they see or hear about brands, with that figure having steadily fallen over the past few years, from 66% in 2010. The analysts take that as a sign that ‘a majority of brands are seeing their relationships with consumers weakening,’ and that brands need to better adapt to consumers’ expectations.” Are you surprised by this? Brands are busy trotting out how many followers, likes and friends they have, but consumers are busy not being interested or asking, “what have you done for me lately?”
  • Twilight Of The Brands. The New Yorker ran this fascinating article from James Surowiecki (who also authored the excellent book, The Wisdom Of Crowds back in 2004), that looks at consumer empowerment and access to information as a few of the key leading indicators as to why consumers are caring less and less about brands. From the article: “You can never coast on past performance–the percentage of brand-loyal car buyers has plummeted in the past twenty years–and the price premium that a recognized brand can charge has shrunk. If you’re making a better product, you can still charge more, but, if your product is much like that of your competitors, your price needs to be similar, too. That’s the clearest indication that the economic value of brands–traditionally assessed by the premium a company could charge–is waning. This isn’t true across the board: brands retain value where the brand association is integral to the experience of a product (Coca-Cola, say), or where they confer status, as with luxury goods. But even here the information deluge is transformative; luxury travel, for instance, has been profoundly affected by sites like TripAdvisor.”  This means that in a world where the experience is everything, a product or service has to do more than just bang a drum to tell the world how great it is… they actually have to be great. Which, for most, is a constant struggle.
  • Absolute Value. That New Yorker piece above featured this book (co-authored by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen). This brand new business book looks at why consumers really make the choices that they make, and just how much power a brand actually has in that relationship. The reason for writing this book? Both authors feel that branding and loyalty are losing their relevance, because consumers are more connected and informed. In short, consumers are making better choices that are more rational and this puts a lot of what we know about branding (and it’s power) in the corner.
  • Facebook Fraud. This video (which is embedded below) has been making the rounds this week. It’s highly controversial and it’s getting a ton of attention. When I first saw it, there were only a few thousand views, and now it’s creeping close to 1.3 million views. It has got a bunch of people up in arms. There is enough discourse surrounding the validity of the content, that it’s not worth diving into further here. Still, it fits the general thought of this blog post: in a world where brands are so thrilled and excited to get people to like them, follow them and share their content, what we’re seeing is that only a few people in the marketplace really care all that much to do so. Personally, I’m not sure why this is such a contentious issue with anyone? For most people, it’s enough to just see your commercials… they don’t need much more. Just because brands want people to follow them and share their content, it doesn’t mean that consumers really care. This type of activity might be perfect for the heavy users, but the vast majority of purchasers could probably care less. No matter how excited the brand is about the prospect.

There is hope.

Not all is lost. These are important pieces of content that most brands should spend the time to consume, think about and build a true strategy against. The opportunities to connect and build a direct relationship with consumers has never been more promising. The challenge – for most – is that they are bringing a very traditionally-based advertising mindset to the fold, instead of spreading their wings and seeing the bigger opportunity in smarter marketing mixed with better consumer experiences. These next few years are going to be even more challenging for most brands, because consumers are becoming more connected and are consuming media in such new and interesting ways. Personally, this failed state of branding is probably a good thing for brands who are willing to think differently about what it means to create and share a message moving forward.

So, what do you think? Are brands losing their relevance more than ever?


What Is The Point Of A Website In 2014?

It’s not all about what the mobile experience will be about.

The one screen world. It’s a concept often written about in these posts and it’s an ideology that was created to force brands to start thinking about true customer-centricity instead of business and brand-driven silos (also check out my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete). We live in a world where the only screen that matters is the screen that is in front of me. We live in a world where screens are here, there and everywhere. They are in the palms of our hands, on our wrists, on our glasses, on our computers, and push out many forms of information and entertainment to us in a myriad of ways. Consumers don’t think about it any more. Screens are everywhere (and, if they aren’t there yet, they will be soon). Billions upon billions of connected people and connected devices. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this all means, and how it changes the dynamics of our lives, of business and the brands that need to stay afloat.

Still, don’t forget about your website.

It may sound cliché, but we live in a world where brands are increasingly leaving the information, data capture and power of building the direct relationship to chance or to someone else. We are seeing an increase in brands leaving their true engagement to social media (be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube or beyond). They are letting these online social networks do the heavy lifting of nurturing the brand narrative, while they focus on building mobile apps and other ways to connect. What we’re beginning to see (in a post-PC and post-Web browser world) is a knowing abandonment of the website, instead of re-imagining it to become the powerful engine of business that it truly can be.

What is the point of a website in 2014?

That is the question. If you go back in time (and we’re talking within this past decade), most companies used their websites in two way:

  1. To provide a level of information.
  2. To sell their wares.

Breaking that down a little bit more, brands used the Internet as a way to create more interactive brochures of their wares, or as a way to sell directly to their consumers. Nobody is going to argue that these still act as important functions in the business world, but there is something more. If advertising is a vertical function within the marketing department and the marketing department acts as its own vertical within the organization, we’re missing the bigger business opportunity and, with it, the biggest opportunity in developing a stronger brand.

Advertising is a vertical, but marketing becomes horizontal.

If you think about marketing in its purest form (the engines of developing and optimizing the product, it’s pricing models, how it is distributed – in both physical and virtual formats – and how it is promoted), we can’t deny that the role of marketing must adapt to meet the inter-connectedness of the world. In short, marketing has to move from a vertical within the organization into a horizontal functional that goes across the organization. Marketing, clearly, needs to touch everything. If the websites can think, act and demonstrate this variance, what we have is a new model of Web efficiency. It’s also the type of function that can’t be done efficiently on mobile (yet, but that could be changing).

What a Web of efficiency can look like.

Instead of letting the website wither on the vine, as the brand focuses on social media, content marketing, mobile apps and beyond, re-focus the website as the digital embodiment of the brand. In a world of micro-content and real-time marketing, this seems like the logical step for brands to take (but most are not). What is the first true brand impression that people receive? Even in a world where word of mouth has digitized with global reach, most people looking for anything will still default to some form of search prior to purchase (and, we’re even seeing layers of data to support that this is happening with “impulse buy” products as well). Whether it’s a Google search box or a post on Facebook, consumers turn to digital channels to better understand a product and/or service. This is nothing new. It’s been happening for close to twenty years, at this point. The difference is that brands can now use their websites as an engine to change the sales funnel and build better marketing interactions. It’s hard work, but it can be done. My close friend and colleague, Avinash Kaushik (Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and the author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0) best defines this by understanding what a true conversion is. Most brands define “success” or a “conversion” if a customer buys from them or calls for an appointment. This zero-sum race to a conversion is not the actual path to purchase for consumers (we know this, and it’s basic). Still, we build these massive websites, with hefty investments with that being the sole focus. What Avinash says is that we need to break this up. We need to think about all of the things consumers want on their way to make the purchase, and to quantify each of these steps as micro-conversions. This is when things start getting exciting. Maybe a consumer watches a video, signs up for an e-newsletter, likes your brand on Facebook, etc… each one of the touch points can (and should) be assigned a micro-conversion, with a scoring system attached to it (you can use points, dollar amounts, whatever). Using simple (and free) analytics, this information can easily be tracked, and then turned into a more realistic sales funnel that depicts both a path to purchase, and can validate just how good your creative and content is (or how poorly it is performing). This is all about efficiency and cutting the fat. It’s not about adding more stuff.

… And there is so much…

Multivariate testing, landing pages, leveraging targeted keywords to see what drives people where, and how engaged they become are just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even begun to think about eCRM, creating a testing and learning environment, getting smarter about where things go and how they persuade the path to purchase… and beyond. It’s enough to make your head spin. And, that’s the point. It’s 2014, and most websites still want you to read and/or buy, instead of being that true digital embodiment of the brand. So, if all your website does is sell or inform, it seems easy enough to leave it behind and let the online social networks do this work (because that is where people are congregated and connected), or to do this on a mobile app (because that is where people are, increasingly, grabbing or doing this type of stuff). What happens is that a massive chasm of business opportunity gets lost because brands live in dogma. Their old ways of doing things. The thing about these web engines of efficiency is that it’s not easy to do. You can’t just hire an agency to build you something. It’s a collaborative  process that is hard and requires a different way of operating (both internally and externally). It requires a brand to re-think how they get new customers and keep old ones. And, while this may sound scary, it also provides one of the biggest opportunities to truly grow a business. It’s (sadly) something that most brands are dismissing because of the classic shiny, bright objects that are out there or their belief that this new way of thinking is risky. This is isn’t about risk. It’s about efficiency. It’s about actually looking at how people buy and making everything (from you advertising to your content) work for you, instead of giving you more work to do.

Your website is – and could well be – the true heart of the soul of your brand, it just takes the courage to accept it and the hard work to do it.   


It’s All Just Dumb Luck

Selling a lot of books is very hard. Making a video go viral is very hard. Creating a billion dollar company is very hard.

It’s a story that I will never forget. Back in 2008, I was prepping the release of my first business book (Six Pixels of Separation). I was very excited because the book was going to be the lead business title for Grand Central Publishing – which is a part of the largest book publishing company in the world (Hachette Book Group) – and the senior-most executive at the publishing house wanted to meet with me. I was excited. I was nervous. If you could close your eyes and imagine what the head editor of the largest book publisher in the world might look like, you would have the right visual of this powerful, smart and compelling individual. A beautiful corner office with a view, that is decorated with awards, celebrity author paraphernalia, photos of this individual with Presidents, royalty and more. As we sat down on the couch for a coffee, they leaned in and quietly said, “Mitch… I love your book. We all love your book. It’s a fascinating space and you have captured it perfectly. We are thrilled that we’re publishing it and look forward to its success…” and then there was a long pause. They finished the sentence with: “now, all we need is lightning in a bottle.”

Wait. What?  

Write a book that one of the world’s most esteemed editors loves, get signed to a global deal by one of the largest book publishers in the world, get to be the lead title for their back to school season, and it’s all going to be dependant on how lucky we get? It’s a situation that I have known and dealt with for decades. Back in my music industry days, I would face this story on a weekly basis. A band would release an amazing album on one of the major record labels, that was supported with a ton of marketing, featured a great producer, with an amazing tour to come, and it would be crickets and tumbleweeds in terms of record sales, seats sold and general media interest. I could rattle off hundreds of bands who should have been huge from the eighties and nineties while others (some might even argue less-qualified) got the accolades, attention, fame, sex, drugs and well, you know.

In the end, is it all about luck?

I am thinking about luck a lot lately. I’m not the only one. Just yesterday, I saw two really interesting articles on Mashable about Facebook (titled: ‘It Was Just the Dumbest Luck’ — Facebook’s First Employees Look Back) and the meteoric rise of the most frustrating game, Flappy Bird (titled: How ‘Flappy Bird’ Went From Obscurity to No. 1 App).

Check out these quotes…

  1. Ezra Callahan was Facebook’s sixth employee. Here’s what he says about it: “It’s humbling to know I was part of something that became such a phenomenon around the world. Every day, I recognize how it was just the dumbest luck in the world to have been in the right place at the right time.” 
  2. Doug Nguyen is the indie developer who created Flappy Bird. He never did any type of marketing or advertising for the game and simply said, “The Popularity could be my luck.”

Is it just all dumb luck?

You can imagine how many articles, blog posts and book have been written on the subject of luck. I’ve often referred to this “secret sauce” that seems to have no known recipe in the success of things of other stuff. We would like to think that true success happens when someone can match passion, intellect, dedication and effort against a cause. We would like to think that if you just put your nose against the grindstone, something is going to give. We don’t want to believe in something “other” (and no, I’m not talking about any religious figures here). Still, when you speak to those we would consider the best of the best, they often default to some type of comment about just how lucky they got. Sure, go ahead and dump all of the catchy quotes below about how a lot of hard work makes people lucky, I still find it fascinating how there are always these random forces at play. The things that make one video go viral and another, equally compelling piece, be a dud. It feels like luck usually does have something to do with it, regardless of what the data jocks tell us and the puritan hard workers. 

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?


Great Content Is The Least Of Your Worries

If a brand is looking to do something more than traditional advertising, what would be your recommendation?

The natural answer is: create content. And, to leverage that content through digital (re: social media) channels, so that consumers will see it, share it, talk about it, etc… Even that is not a simple and easy thing to do. We’ve seen – on a constant and consistent basis – just how hard brands struggle to get the right type of content into the right channels to see any type of movement happen. It’s still few and far between for most, as they grapple with defining what success (or ROI) looks like in comparison with their traditional advertising measurement models. With that, too many brands dismiss the myriad of other reasons why consumers like what they see. In the end, having great content or great advertising is a fraction of the work that defines success for a brand. 

What else are consumers looking for in a brand?

  1. Utility. As you know, utilitarianism marketing, is a huge part of my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete, and still remains a vastly untapped opportunity for brands. Consumers want to have a tool (or utility) that adds value to their already cluttered lives. Newsfeeds are filled with links and how-to articles. This is just more clutter for them to sort through. It’s not just about valuable content, but how that content is cased for them to actually derive a true benefit from it. The content that goes into this case is critical, but until a brand knows how much of a utility their apps, websites or wearable technologies are adding to their consumer’s lives, it will be hard to break through the clutter.
  2. Functionality. This can best be described as the opposite of “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Functionality is all of the small, smart and simple ways that your marketing creates value to the consumer by removing layers of friction and adding in thousands (hundreds?) or little things that make the experience of the utility that much easier and fluid than anything else they had used previously. Think about the “slide to unlock” functionality of smartphones versus the old days of multiple button combinations to get your device into working mode. The easier it is to navigate and use coupled with the valuable content will build more loyal consumers.
  3. Design. In two words: design matters. I’ve watched consumers – on countless occasions – attempt to navigate a website on a mobile device or try to work through a “mobile-friendly” version of a brand’s digital experience only to quit or calmly state, “this sucks.” Consumers don’t care about your IT roadmap or your marketing department’s apprehension to spend budget on a native mobile experience, they simple find it to be a brand weakness. Period. This isn’t just about mobile either. So few brands spend any semblance of time designing better experiences, that we wind up having two instances occur: One, a general homogeny, where it’s hard to tell the difference between one brand from another. Two, a brand that believes design is at the core and is able to create such a chasm between themselves and their competitors. Content surrounded by poor design is poor content.
  4. Integration. It’s a digital world. This pushes content well beyond the realm of simple text. We live in a world of text, images, audio and video. Consumers have an expectation to have that entire experience fully-integrated. They want access to the content as apart of the experience. Push this to think about ways to build a proper integrated player or embedding the right tools, so that the consumer can best benefit from a holistic experience. 
  5. Apps. This may be contentious to some, but apps are the new reality. Consumers are looking for new and interesting things on their smartphones and tablets. There is no reason why brands should not play an important role in this space. Sadly, most of the branded apps don’t follow the notions being put forward here and relegate themselves to narcissistic tendencies. They’re looking to pimp and shill over utility, functionality, design and integration. Consumers love and want more apps. Apps are the new websites. Brands need to get used to this.
  6. Alerts and notifications. If consumers love what you’re doing and creating, they want to know when more of that good stuff is coming. There is a balance here and subtlety that is hard to master, but the brands that consumers know, love and trust are also the ones that they want to be most connected to. Consumers do like alerts and notifications that are valuable. Don’t forget about that. And don’t be annoying. Remember, this is a very sensitive issue. Brands are trying to add value with alerts and notifications, not bulk up on impressions.
  7. Interaction. Arianna Huffington quite beautifully stated that “self-expression in the new entertainment.” Consumers love access. They love commenting, sharing, complaining and more. Do you know what they love more than that? Doing it in public. People love to share and tell stories and add to those stories. Great content is no different. In the early days of blogging, I used to say that the biggest difference between traditional media and blogging is that in the tradition world, the last period at the end of the last sentence is the end of the piece. In digital media, the last period at the end of the last sentence is where the story begins. Having great content without building in the hooks for people to have interaction, social play and commentary renders the content neutered.
  8. Distribution. This is something that I have blogged about on countless occasions. Content without an even stronger content distribution strategy is useless. This is a hard one for brands to understand. They want to control the content on their own platforms. Great content wants to be free. Brands can help with this. It means breaking down the walled gardens and finding new and interesting places where customers (and prospective customers) play and connect, and to get your content into those channels of distributions. Think about your industry trade publications or other, more adventurous, places for your content to live and breathe.

So, are you still just worried about the content side of things?


Change Your Marketing. Change Your Brain.

Don’t stop advertising. Don’t stop marketing.

Let’s agree to stop the madness. Do a quick search online for the “death of marketing and advertising,” and you will be shocked at the level of discourse out there. It has become so heated that an entirely new group of people called, Growth Hacker Marketers, seem to be the pinup dolls for a new way to build customers, loyalty and push sales (while calling for an end to the advertisers). These people claim to be hybrids of engineers, strategists and analytics specialists who are leveraging digital channels to build customer profiles with technology, but without any of the traditional avenues. In the end, it’s all buzzwords and jargon. For the most part, we live and breathe in an era when it has never been easier to find out just how big of an audience your product or service can have. The idea here isn’t to stop advertising; it’s to start marketing in a more powerful and effective way.

First, do you know the difference between marketing and advertising?

The two terms are not inter-changeable. Marketing is the function of business that is (still) best summed up by understanding the Four Ps of your business (and, you would know these if you ever took a Marketing 101 course in college). Namely: Product, Price, Promotion, Place.

  • What is your product/service (and how is it unique in the marketplace/to the industry that you serve)?
  • How much does your product/service cost (and how is it priced to be competitive or unique in the marketplace)?
  • Where will your product/service be placed in the marketplace (how will it be positioned both in its physical state and in the mental awareness of your customer)?
  • How will you promote it? What will you do to get the marketplace to pay attention to whatever it is that you’re selling.

It’s plain to see, isn’t it?

Advertising is but a small sub-set of marketing. It acts as one of many levers within the promotion quadrant of the Four Ps. In fact, marketing – when done right – solves your fundamental business challenge: how do you get people to buy whatever it is that you are selling and tell others about how great it is. The problem is that people have been confusing and inter-changing the words “marketing” and “advertising” for so long, that when people think of either as a function for business, they think of expensive television ads or running a promotion in the local newspaper.

Marketing is everybody’s business. Marketing is your business.

Small, medium (and yes, even large) businesses will often complain that they don’t have the time experience or passion for marketing. They would prefer to leave it to “the creatives.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Change your marketing. Change your brain.

Starting today, you can make the choice to embrace the fact that the vast majority of your consumers have a digital-first posture. When they are faced with an issue that a business can solve, they grab their smartphones, head to a search box, tweet, update their Facebook status with a question or whatever. Where are you in this equation? It’s a fair (and difficult) question to answer. A small mindshift away from perceiving advertising as the main thrusters of engine power for your marketing (like, how many “likes” do you have on Facebook?) towards this idea of simply being present, active and engaged  (like, how many people on Twitter have you helped today?) is one small way to understand just how powerful marketing has become in the past few years alone.

Why marketing?

Never has there been a more important time for a business to embrace marketing. Primarily, because the gatekeepers (the media owners) are all but gone. Paid media is no longer the only way for a brand to build a business, and now all businesses can have a direct relationship with their consumers. As scary as this may be, in a world where most businesses struggle to find the time to just go about their day-to-day operations, the opportunities are boundless. Brands must be eager to embrace this digital-fist posture of this new consumer and be equally excited about the privilege of having such a direct relationship with these customers.  There is a new brand journey through marketing that is happening right now, and it could not be more exciting. From wearable technology and cloud computing to Instagram businesses and the continued importance of data and analytics. This intersection of technology, media and consumerism continues to shift and evolve.  But first, you have to change your mindset. This isn’t about advertising anymore. It’s about understanding these new marketplaces and what it takes to connect with these highly connected, untethered and empowered consumers. This is the type of thinking that will change your mindset from “what am I spending all of this money on?” to “how can I better connect with my customers and potential clients?”

Are you convinced? Are you ready to reboot your marketing?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


(Almost) No One Is Seeing Your Content

Certainly, this is not the most optimistic headline you are going to read on January 1st, 2014.

We used to tell ourselves a very powerful narrative about how the cream always rises to the top, and the struggle that most brands face when it comes to content marketing and social media is that they struggle to find a true sense of human-ness in the content that they are creating. How many brands can produce stories that people would want to (no, have to!) share? We seem to believe that the brands that are finding any type of success with this stuff are going big (skydiving from outer space, delivering gifts via baggage claim to unsuspecting airline passengers, etc…) and delivering on the production of great stories (one after the other). That bubble was (somewhat) popped by the issue of content distribution strategies. No matter how great the content is, it needs a meaningful distribution strategy behind it to convert into something truly valuable (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). So many brands actually have great content, but have a sub-par content distribution strategy where the vast majority of the work resides behind their own walled garden.

Now, even if you have a great story to tell, it could be that no one even knows that you exist. 

Do you find that hard to believe? Before moving forward, please read these two (short) articles:

  1. (Almost) No One Is Reading Your Tweets.
  2. While Everyone Else Whines, This Guy Makes His Whole Living Off Facebook Traffic.

We need Twitter and we need Facebook.

Twitter and Facebook (and there are many others) are no-longer “like to haves” for brands. If a brand is not present on these social media channels, there is a commonly held sentiment that they are simply uncaring or non-present in their consumers’ lives. While that is an arguable statement, it is undeniable that consumers now take to social media for resolution, information and more from brands. Some brands can harness these communications channels with ease and others grapple with it on a constant basis. Regardless, anybody in the marketing world would agree that these two channels alone reach a vast audience of customers and potential customers. So yes, they are important. Still, Twitter and Facebook are both faced with a similar business predicament that has yet to be resolved. On the one hand, they must protect the sanctity of their consumers by ensuring that their respective feeds don’t become overly polluted with marketing and advertising messages. On the other hand, they are a business and must generate significant revenue to please investors and the public.

This is where we wind up.

No, Twitter and Facebook don’t have the same business or consumer challenges, but these two instances point to one massive problem for brands: if these (and other) media channels continually tweak and throttle the content or misrepresent what gets seen by who, this instability will not play well with brands, media companies and advertising agencies. On the Facebook front, if brands have invested significant dollars to acquire and build relationships, but Facebook decides to pick and choose what gets shown to these individuals, marketers will have an issue. On the Twitter front, if almost all of the tweets are all but ignored, what is the exact business proposition to the brand?

Next steps.

If we wind up trying to “trick the system” by using off-channel techniques (like paying people to like and retweet or having some kind of agreement with a handful of other groups to always like or retweet their content in exchange for the same action), we’re missing the bigger point to everything. Social media enables brands to have real interactions with real human beings. I struggle to understand why the media, the advertisers and the media companies try to over-complicate this. Facebook would not have to throttle content if consumers weren’t complaining about the vast majority of it being sucky. It’s not Twitter’s fault that it became a massive (and noisy) place to post 140 characters. The issue here is not what Facebook or Twitter have become. The issue is that Facebook and Twitter (and others) have not bended to the way in which advertisers would prefer. If people using social media were getting tremendous value from all of this content marketing, we would not be faced with either of these issues. What we’re actually seeing is something that we’ve known about media for a very long time (but always want to forget): consumers aren’t consuming media for brands. They want moments of connectivity, delight and communication. Sure, that may include a brand at some point along the way, but it’s not their raison d’être.

Fair is fair.

If I were Facebook, I would open up the pipe. I would let users see and feel all of the content that everyone is posting and let them make their own choices about who they want to friend and like. If I were Twitter, I would do the same thing, but I would also allow consumers to time-shift the content. One of the biggest issues with Twitter is the real-time component of it. I may love following someone in the UK, but I’m usually asleep when they’re tweeting away. If I got their tweets adjusted to my own time zone, I may have a chance of getting more of these message through. Some of the brands having the most success on Twitter will schedule one tweet to repeat itself multiple times throughout the day to adjust, but that just seems like too much work and annoying for those who are actively paying attention. Consumers are smart. They will stay connected to those brands that are adding value. It’s pretty simple. The reason we have so much disconnect, trust issues and this ongoing throttling is that the companies like Twitter and Facebook don’t want to have people abandoning the channel because the content isn’t working for the users. We can wax poetic about this forever, but the facts remain the facts: brands are spending a ton of money, time and energy with social media and someone else is deciding what stuff gets seen by those who have already agreed to be connected.

If that doesn’t tell you something about the state of content marketing and social media, I don’t know what does.


Thinking Of You

It’s getting late.

Most of you are settling in to the holidays. Family and friends. I’m doing the same. Because regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you, we’re all human and ’tis the season. But, before I lay me down to sleep and the house goes quiet (yes, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse), I wanted you to know something: I am thinking of you. Seriously.

Watching. Listening. Reading. Smiling. Enjoying.

As hard as I am on brands about how much of an opportunity and potential that technology and connected networks have brought to our world (and why, oh why, are brands simply using this as an advertising channel?… it is such a waste), I still marvel at this technology with each and every passing day. I’m often pointed to as the guy that doesn’t respond to comments on this blog. I’m often misquoted on this topic or misunderstood. It doesn’t seem to satisfy people when I say that I am simply not good at it (I try… and I’m going to try harder). People seem irked that I would rather spend my time writing the next blog post, magazine article, book, or build a new presentation. That because I don’t respond to everything, it must mean that I don’t care. That’s simply not the case. I care deeply. I read, review, ponder and think about every comment, tweet, post and more. I’m so grateful, that I often find myself not being able to find the words. It feels to me like a simple, “thank you” is somewhat inauthentic.

It’s true.

Tonight, as the house got quiet, I looked at my feeds: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I didn’t look at the stuff about me. I was looking at you. Thinking about you. Watching your posts and pictures. The smiles, the families, the holiday cheer, the humor, the irony, the rants, the thoughts. It made me smile. It always makes me smile. No matter where you live, no matter how you celebrate, we do so together. Each and every one of us gives one another an intimate peek into this life (regardless of filter) and that’s nothing to take lightly. It’s so warming.

It’s about connections.

In a week where we also see the bad (online lynch mobs, political disrupt, warring factions, etc…), I reconnected with someone I was very close to many years ago. We met back in my early days of the music industry (late eighties). Through the years, we stumbled into one another, but because they never embraced technology, the distance and the changing lifestyles (for both of us) made it difficult to stay connected. We spoke for close to an hour this week, and it felt like family. The story goes that this individual was walking the streets after a gig and ran into an individual who not only recognized them, but was able to convince this individual to give Facebook a chance. We reconnected and through this connection, I feel like a big piece of my life is back. After nearly two decades – and because of technology – we are connected again. As I was trolling through their Facebook page, it was amazing to see the love that people (from all over the world) have for this musician, as well. Children have been named because of this person’s lyrics. Tours have taken place halfway around the world for people wanting to hear their songs. Magic. This stuff is magic. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

It’s a Facebook miracle.

People can make fun of social media all that they want. It’s no laughing matter to me. Each and every day on Facebook, I take a peek to see whose birthday it is. What a treat to send a little message to people that I don’t get enough time to connect with. What a treat to see so many people that I have met through these digital channels and – regardless of geography – be able to connect in a small digital way, until we can spend more time together in our protein forms. I’m thinking tonight of so many people who inspire me to keep on going. It’s an impressive bunch. Wow, this world is filled with passionate, smart and creative folks just waiting to connect to others who are likeminded. What a shame for those that don’t see it, can’t make the right connections, or simply fail to see how amazing this all truly is.

So yeah, before I go to sleep, I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you… and thankful for you.

Happy Holidays.


What Does Facebook Do Next?

I had an interesting conversation the other week with a senior marketing professional of a major corporation that represents many brands.

They had asked me what I thought the percentage was of posts that get through to the News Feed on Facebook from brands to people who have liked the Page? You would think that the answer is 100%. You would be wrong. There is so much sharing happening on Facebook, that the company throttles access to the News Feed (not just for brands for people too). They do this as a way to preserve and balance the diversity of content that we see on it. They also do this, so that brands (and individuals) don’t monopolize the feed. The more cynical might argue that Facebook does this as a business model. If you want more access to the News Feed, you can buy your way in with sponsored stories. I’ve heard brands say that anywhere from 12% – 18% of their posts make it through organically (without paying to promote it). It’s kind of shocking that a brand will spend so much time, money and effort to get as many likes as possible and only be able to connect with about 15% of their content/efforts, even if 100% of those people have agreed to stay connected. It is the Facebook business model: once you get a follower, you have to pay to connect with them. This senior marketing professional of a major corporation said that he is seeing percentages drop as low as 2% for some of the brands that this multi-national represents. Another analytics marketing professional told me that they are seeing the same meager numbers.

What is Facebook for brands?

I then asked the frustrated marketing professional what they are going to do about it? Are they going to allocate more dollars for advertising and sponsored stories? Are they going to continue paid fan acquisition strategies? This was their response: “we’re treating Facebook for what it has become: an advertising platform. Nothing more. Nothing less.” If you’re going to read one article this week, you may want to check out the Business Insider piece titled, Facebook Is A Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight. It’s definitely a negative piece and slanted (so take it with a grain of salt). It’s hard to not argue that Facebook is still a viable and valuable place for brands to be, but it does point to a contentious issue that Facebook is grappling with: if everyone is sharing everything on Facebook, how realistic is it to assume that anybody is really seeing anything? From the article: “In August, Facebook revealed that ‘every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.’ Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible. Facebook knows it has a problem. It planned a major redesign that gave users more control over the News Feed. But it was scrapped when the first batch of users showed low engagement with the new design.”

A victim of their own success?

The people who populated, connected and grew Facebook were none concerned about the marketers or how the organization was going to find a business model. Much like any online success, once the exponential growth rates start kicking in, it becomes nearly impossible to manage success. Brands will often ask me how to best define if something has “gone viral,” and my standard answer is: when you can’t handle the results of your work. Success in the online sphere is often overwhelming to the point of near-collapse. The Business Insider article also points to newer challenges facing Facebook (couldn’t resist) like mobile as the real social platform. You don’t need to stay inside Facebook’s walled garden to share a photo (Instagram or Snapchat), to chat with someone (messaging or WhatsApp) or play a game. The social nature of the smartphone and the apps make switching from place to place completely frictionless. As mobile becomes the more dominant screen in the consumer’s life (which it is), Facebook is going to have to do more than nurture an acquisition strategy to maintain their relevance and dominance in the online social networking sphere.

What makes Facebook interesting.

For marketers, Facebook is interesting because so many people are there, connected, sharing and spending a lot time with it. For Facebook, it is attempting to ensure that as it grows, it can still enable each user to have a higher and more valuable level of engagement. Somewhere, in those last two sentences, lies the answer to what Facebook can do next. If the WestJet Christmas Miracle viral video sensation of the past few weeks has shown us anything, it’s that 30,000,000 (plus) people will spend a whole lot of time connecting with a brand, if it can tell a good story, add value to their day and give them a moment of thoughtful pause. Facebook has millions upon millions of people who are spending a whole lot of time engaged on the platform. When brands start using that opportunity to truly connect, instead of abusing that moment with an impression and repetition-based mass media mindset, they probably won’t see Facebook solely as an advertising platform, but rather a place where deep and powerful marketing connections can be built, nurtured and leveraged.

Facebook is not collapsing.

Most brand’s Facebook strategy is failing. They’re just looking for someone to blame. It seems to me like Facebook is throttling the News Feed in a bid to keep their consumers engaged and sheltered from brands doing very boring or traditional things. As this platform becomes more powerful on mobile, Facebook is going to have to be even more diligent in this process. Does this mean that Facebook is faltering, or is it that brands aren’t doing the very hard work of figuring out how they can add value to the online social network?

The more consumers share, the less consumers will see. Brands have to find their own way in this cluttered world. Obviously, more clutter is not the solution.


The Future Of Digital 2013

Business has changed.

This was the pure sentiment of my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, which came out this past summer (and, if you’re so inclined, I would love for you to pick up a copy of it today). A couple of interesting events have transpired since it first launched in late May of this year. First, it has received 120 positive reviews on Amazon (with a average rating of 4.5/5 stars). This past week, it was named by Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2013 in Business and Investing. Then, yesterday, Business Insider released their research report, The Future Of Digital – 2013, at the Ignition event that further validated the thinking in CTRL ALT Delete. While there is no direct correlation to the research of Business Insider or how I came to create the contents of the book, it is clear that there is a lot of validation from one piece of work to the other.

Business has changed.

Many business professionals will tell me that business is changing. I candidly reply that business has changed and that most brands are (sadly) not paying much attention to these massive shifts. If you’re going to look at anything today, I would strongly recommend that you review the slides from Henry Blodget‘s presentation on the future of digital yesterday. The crux of the five movements that have changed business forever in CTRL ALT Delete that most brands are doing little-to-nothing about can be correlated to a ton of the data that will – without question – leave you jaw dropped from Business Insider. Without giving away too many goodies from the presentation or the full-on depth of CTRL ALT Delete, it is becoming increasingly evident that most brands are

  1. Still failing at developing a profound direct relationship with their consumers.
  2. Under-utilizing the vast amounts of information, data and analytics that are available to make their marketing more effective.
  3. Not truly embracing the reality that creating utility as an engine of marketing is the future of advertising.
  4. Not understanding the true context of their consumer – not just their location, but everything around context.
  5. Unsure about how to create engagement in what I define as the one screen world (where the only screen that matters is the screen that is in front of me).

The opportunities are massive and everywhere.

If you are interested in the future of digital by better understanding where the world is today, you should hop over and read through the amazing Business Insider slide deck: The Future Of Digital – 2013.  

If you want more CTRL ALT Delete…

Please feel free to watch this conversation that I had with Seth Godin about CTRL ALT Delete at the Google offices in NYC this past past June:


What Facebook Knows About Innovation (That Every Brand Should Pay Attention To)

Blogs posts, articles and books have been written about Facebook and their ability to grow.

When people think about the company and their state of innovation, they will often align them with a myriad of Silicon Valley types. They’ll look to things like collaborative environments, the way meetings are held, how they attract clients and their head-down obsession with everything “hacker culture.” There’s no doubt that it takes a certain type of individual to work at Facebook, and it takes a certain type of online social network to have broken through like they have. It’s easy to argue that they simply had a strong product, but it met with a certain zeitgeist and luck that others (Friendster, MySpace, etc…) just couldn’t capture, retain and innovate on top of. Connecting people of the world seems to have worked out pretty well for Facebook, by all accounts.

It wasn’t always belly rubs and lollipops, was it?

We can pinpoint moments (many moments) when it looked like Facebook was going to stumble or crumble. From early attempts at monetization through advertising to privacy and policy changes. Still, the company persisted and pushed on. Sometimes they listened intently to their audience, and in other instances they chose the Steve Jobs method of motion (i.e. consumers don’t know what they want, it’s up to the brand to show it to them). For good or for bad, Facebook happened to become the shining light and beacon (no pun intended) of all things social media and online social networking. They are building a deep chasm between themselves and any would-be competitors, and they’ve made an interesting investment (a billion dollars worth) in Instagram to own the ability to leverage social photographs in the mobile state. That wasn’t a big innovation. That was a big bet. Now, as Instagram begins the journey of introducing ads, we’re about to see just how engaged their users are. If history is any indicator, consumers will continue to snap and share photos knowing that the ads are the cost of a free admission to such a powerful, fun and friendly photo sharing experience.

Speaking of mobile.

If you look at Facebook’s current stock price and how pervasive the social network is for every connected consumer, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago when Facebook almost stumbled over the entire mobile thing. Their mobile app wasn’t even really a native app, it was more of a mobile website. It was slow, with very limited functionality. Users complained, but Facebook wasn’t focusing on it. People were still getting acquainted with the newsfeed (something Mark Zuckerberg pushed on the audience that was pushed back on, until users realized how awesome it truly was). Most brands were in the same position as Facebook was. Mobile was becoming increasingly more ubiquitous, but it was hard to tell when would be the ideal time to deep-dive into mobile, suck it up and make the significant investment. Facebook pulled the trigger. It wasn’t a two-year IT roadmap with complex inter-departmental politics. A company of that size with a product that was built for the Web browser pulled a one-eighty and had something very powerful in market within a handful of months.

That is true innovation.

When marketing professionals talk about innovation, they’re quick to look at something new instead of this moment in Facebook’s short history. This company changed their core product and even adapted all of their monetization schemes to match it. If I were to ask you if you think that Facebook is a mobile-first company today, how would you answer that? Because, it is exactly that… without question. We tend to our Facebook experiences primarily on our smartphones and tablets. The Web browser version has become something other. Don’t believe me? Just look at the mobile usage, growth and time spent on their recent earnings call. The media is focused on the non-growth in the teen segment and not spending enough attention on the massive reality that Facebook is not the same Facebook that it was. Instead of admiring the company for embracing, what I call in CTRL ALT Delete, the “one screen” world, media pundits tend to look at things like new ad formats or functionality on brand pages as some kind of indicator as to the company’s propensity for innovation.   

The bigger picture of innovation.

Take a look at your own brand (or the brands that you represent) and stop looking at the little/newer introductions of features and whizz-bangs as innovation, but at the grander shifting of consumer behavior. Are you truly at the vanguard of that moment in time? Facebook was smart, quick and adaptive to the environment. They didn’t let the shift from mobile be a force of resistance, but rather surfed the wave at all costs. Currently, it’s clear to see how many brands are stuck in a major conundrum. Their mobile experiences are terrible at worst or a tempered derivative of the website at best. They’re busy optimizing their websites, thinking about e-commerce (or online ordering) and worried about social media, while the IT departments tend to the mobile version or the app development (brands made this, exact, same mistake back in the early days of the Internet’s commercialization). Brands are struggling with IT and budgets to figure out how to adapt to a world that has already changed. In short, they’re making the same mistakes that they have previously made, while admonishing or dismissing the value of what Facebook has to offer. It’s a shame. Facebook is one of the most innovative companies out there. It’s a model that all brands should study. Facebook is big. Facebook was very different. Facebook innovated and changed their physical self in a matter of months. Facebook deserves more applause than they’re already receiving.

If that’s not innovation, I don’t know what is.