big data

The Speed Of Brands And Other Stuff

What do you make of this whole high frequency trading scandal?

Personally, I am not surprised. At every turn, we’re seeing more and more businesses using speed (in almost unimaginable ways) to make more money. This past week, 60 Minutes ran a feature interview with Michael Lewis (famed author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and many more) on his latest book, Flash Boys. The book tells the tale of how technologists and financial analysts have built computer algorithms and hardware to help game the stock market. Without getting into the intricacies of it, these technologies are analyzing the movement of stocks and then jumping the queue to either buy stock at a lesser cost or run the numbers up post-purchase. They do this by optimizing the speed with which a purchase is delivered to the actual stock exchange (they understand the tubes of the Internet and making sure that they get to the stock first). It’s nuanced. It’s happening within fractions of a second, and these systems don’t hold on to the stock to see how the management team performs in Q2. They’re simply buying and trading stocks based on a computer system with rapid speeds. The types of purchasing and analysis that humans could never do. Ironically, this could be one of the best, biggest and most profound case studies of big data and business. Currently, the FBI is investigating these firms to figure out if anything illegal is happening.

All is fair in love and war and money and speed.

This isn’t about slowing down the pace of change. This isn’t about slowing down the speed with which technology changes our society. It is going to continue, and we will continue to be amazed at just how inventive the human mind can be. With that, brands have to understand the implications. Years ago, the concept of high frequency trading was introduced to me and it became quite obvious that this type of technology is already being used on consumers, as we speak. How much does a copy of CTRL ALT Delete (my second business book) cost at Amazon? The truth is that I have no idea. Some days, there is a significant discount, other days it is closer to the full retail price. The sale price of it has fluctuated so much since it came out towards the end of last year, that when people ask me how much the book is, my response is: “Whatever Amazon says it is at this moment.” With that, Amazon will also bundle it with other books to lower the price, so it’s even more confusing.

How can anyone price products like this?

It’s an impressive model that must work much in the same way that high frequency trading technology works. Amazon is probably studying a myriad of disparate data sets from personal usage, to demographics and psychographics to their own behavioral algorithms to see what makes someone click the buy button. The truth is that the average consumer on Amazon probably never knows what the initial price was, and how it has changed over the course of time. This is what digital does that makes the future of retailing so fascinating. In a world where there are no physical shelves, endcaps and stickers, the price of products (and even services) can fluctuate as much as a stock price and consumers will be none the wiser.

The pin that pops showrooming.

What if every product on the shelves at physical retailers had no prices on them, but just a barcode (or a digital price tag)? What would retail look like? You could scan a product and it could suddenly adjust to the right price, because it would know what all of their competitors were charging online at that, specific, time. Smartphones meet smart pricing. No work for the consumer. No feeling like you could have paid less had you gone somewhere else. Competition becomes fierce and suddenly the technology running retail looks more like high frequency trading systems that are customized than anything else. It also means that within a fraction of minutes (or seconds), I could be paying more (or less) than you. Is that fair?

It has to be about more than price.

You could love your investment advisor as much as you want, but if they’re not helping to make your money work for you, odds are that you would switch to a computer-based platform, even though it doesn’t dress as nice or pick up the lunch tab around holiday season. Beyond that, consumers want to be attached, connected and cared for when it comes to some of their goods and services. While they don’t necessarily need to be all the that engaged with their toilet paper company, they may want some kind of connection and loyalty from their supermarket. What we’re seeing – in this world of speed and technology – is that the underlying service, value add and help is becoming an ever-increasing unique selling proposition. The truth is, you can get most things for a little (or a lot) cheaper, if you’re willing to hunt for it and wait for it (plus there are consumer reviews to help you make a more informed decision). As technology removes the friction from that process (which several companies are working on), we’re going to see an entirely new definition of consumers and loyalty come to fruition. While there may not be any immediate need for a brand to react to all of this Flash Boys news, it is something to prepare for. The lesson is clear:

The speed of technology is something we are never prepared for, and most brands find themselves asking what happened instead of planning for the inevitable.


Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #197

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • I’ve tracked one year of sex and masturbation between [M]yself and my wi[F]e: activity tags, a look at the role of the menstrual cycle, and other trends – Reddit. “Add this to the list of things I didn’t know I’d share with you guys when we started this. Since we’re talking health data, well, in for a penny, in for a pound. One of the most common uses of new tech – whether it’s the printing press, the VHS, or the Web – is adult content. So, it’s no surprise that life-logging enthusiasts are turning their all-seeing eye to data. Here, a husband tracks sex patterns, and draws some interesting conclusions. I’ll let you decide whether you want to click or not.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • The Parable of Google Flu: Traps in Big Data Analysis – Science. “Since you asked about big data on Facebook, here’s a nugget. Last year, Google made big news by predicting the outbreak of flu. Or did they? One of the problems with a reliance on data for decision-making is that the data shapes our behavior, which changes the data. It’s like a big data version of the observer effect (or, as some have less politely described it, ‘algorithms dumping where they eat.’) In this case, changes to algorithms and media hype around flu outbreaks caused Google to overstate the number of cases of the flu. ‘Big data hubris’ is the often implicit assumption that big data are a substitute for, rather than a supplement to, traditional data collection and analysis.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • When one New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury, the results were surprising – National Post. “I love stories about unintended consequences. For instance, what if bending over backwards to make things (playgrounds, classrooms, etc…) safe for our kids actually raises the incidence of injury? Maybe what our kids need to stay safe is a pile of broken glass, some rusty barbed-wire, and some broken up 2 by 4s.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • Bitcoin’s Future – Hidden Flipside – The Economist. “Here’s an old tech innovator’s saw: ‘If you were to ask a group of smart people to create X with the technology of today, what would it look like? Nothing like the X we all know.’ We take many things for granted as facts of the universe, but if you think in depth about some things, they just don’t make much sense. Money is one of them. And, while Bitcoin itself might not win the day, Bitcoin as’”platform for financial innovation’ is a pretty exciting possibility.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Harvard’s Free Computer Science Course Teaches You to Code in 12 Weeks – Open Culture. “There was one thing that really stood out in my mind from TED 2014 in Vancouver. Something new and interesting was brought to my attention. It’s something called University of the People and its founder, Shai Reshef, explained it. Basically, anyone can apply to get a university degree. It’s online. It’s tuition-free. It’s got real profs. It’s accredited. Students pay $100 per exam. That’s it. Pretty cool. Pretty mind blowing. I don’t have a university degree… so yeah, I’m now considering it. Of course, you can study all kinds of courses online for free (have you checked out iTunes U yet?). How about a free computer science course that will teach you to code in twelve week from Harvard? Well…” (Mitch for Alistair). 
  • What are some great mind-blowing books? Why? – Quora. “Sick of lists online about what to read? I’m not only sick of them… I am guilty of creating them. I kind of rolled my eyes when I saw this question posted on Quora. Then, I checked it out (still a sucker for some good linkbait) and it did not disappoint. As much as you read, and as much as you may think that you are well-read, this list will show you otherwise. Some amazing books that I have never read, that I think that I should read. I’m sure you will find a few gems for yourself as well.” (Mitch for Hugh).  

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.


What’s Bigger Than Big Data?

How’s your big data business strategy coming along?

I jokingly tell colleagues in the marketing world, that you can’t throw a professional marketer down a flight of stairs these days without the words “big data” tumbling out of their pockets. There’s no need to benchmark brands against their competencies with big data because, quite frankly, most brands don’t even have a proper definition for what big data means. Plus, even if they did, there are but a small, few brands who have the technical and strategic capabilities to truly benefit from it. On top of that, most brands are still incredibly weak at leveraging their current data sets to improve outcomes in a faster, more efficient, way. Translated: you have brands worrying about big data, when they’re still pretty sucky at small data. That doesn’t diminish big data’s ever-growing importance or its pending dominance, but it does take a lot of the steam out of the shiny bright object syndrome engines that we’re all faced with these days. So, while some media pundits dive on big data like it’s a Superbowl football, you will also find many people looking to see what’s next.

What if what’s next is not about bigger sets of data?

What makes big data work is the lack of human intervention. It is the ability for technology to merge data sets normally inaccessible to a human being’s capabilities, and run it with a velocity that no human being could ever do. The output of this should be some kind of unique insight or new spin on the information that would be almost unimaginable for a human being to uncover and develop. It takes a massive amount of automation for this technology to be feasible. The question then becomes, what are human beings good for? At this moment in time, human beings should be looking towards real-time opportunities with analytics. No, this isn’t about Oreo and their famed Superbowl power outage ad from last year, it’s about bringing an entirely new philosophical approach to business outcomes.

Putting big data aside for real-time analytics.  

What do your ad campaigns look like? How are they performing? Most brand marketers get these interesting reports (some quarterly, some monthly, some bi-weekly and some even get them weekly). The question isn’t really about when a marketing report is delivered, but much more about what actionable outcomes are done once that report is viewed? The failing state of traditional advertising lies in the fact that once an ad is placed, it’s hard to do/know anything about it until long after the effects of it are felt on the economic value it drove to the business (if any). Don’t kid yourself, this is one of the main reasons that Google‘s market cap is currently riding in the $385 billion range. Their advertising business is based on the paradigm that advertising can be both performance-based and optimized in near-real-time. Now, we’re starting to see a slew of new marketing solutions-based companies deliver real-time analytics for all forms of digital advertising (including data on retargeting efforts like time-to-conversion and even time-of-conversion). Now, it’s less about what you can fix on the next ‘go round and much more about how to optimize and create in this real-time environment.

The problem with real-time analytics.

You would think that these types of advancements in marketing measurement would be heralded as the future by marketers (and adopted a lot quicker than their passion for big data). It is when it comes to things like being quoted in the media or taking the podium to present for an industry function, but go ahead and ask the people in the foxholes just how excited brands are about this newly-available opportunity? They’re not that excited because it’s simply not being done. Massive opportunities lie ahead for advertising. This sudden interest in real-time analytics is not only driving a significant amount of venture capital investment, but it is ushering in the opportunity for brands to make even better (and more informed) decisions. What we’re currently faced with is a world where the data is available in real-time, but actions to do anything about it are still very “human.”

Making “human” the opportunity.           

We live in a world of real-time bidding for media purchasing, real-time analytics to track performance, visualizations of data through dynamic dashboards and hoards of performance-based marketers shilling paid search optimization along with retargeting as a engine to grow dead email lists. Almost anything seems possible as an engine for marketers to digitize advertising, and make it seem that much more efficient. With that, you might think that the machines are taking over. They very well may be, but the trick is to leverage all of this data, analytics and performance in a way that machines can’t. Imagine a world where we take all of this new and amazing information and add the human element into it. To think differently about how to advertise, when to advertise and how to optimize it. We’ve been heading down this road for close to twenty years, at this point. The technology and data is simply getting faster and easier to understand. Now, it’s just waiting on us, the humans, to take action quicker, to iterate, to optimize and to think in real-time, instead of campaigns based on seasonality, yearly quarters and the holiday season.

The data is waiting for your human input.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. 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:


Reboot Your Business: How To Ride The 5 Disruption Waves That Will Sink Your Competition

That’s some title, isn’t it?

On Tuesday, November 26th (at 3 pm eastern), Danny Iny from Firepole Marketing is going to be hosting a webinar that will dive deep into the core concepts of my latest book, CTRL ALT Delete, and it’s 100% free! But you do have to sign up, which you do right here: Reboot Your Business: How To Ride The 5 Disruption Waves That Will Sink Your Competition.

Here’s what we’re going to talk about:

  • How the revolution of direct relationships matters to your business.
  • Why the key to reaching your customers is utility… and how to harness it.
  • The critical difference between passive and active media, and how to leverage both.
  • What big data (and small data, too!) will mean for you in the coming years.
  • How the one screen world of computers, tablets and phones will impact your business.
  • Why and how to “squiggle” your business to reach a brighter future.

Two bigger brains will join us as well.

If you’ve had enough of my blathering, I’m also thrilled that Gini Dietrich (founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, co-author of Marketing In The Round, blogger at Spin Sucks and co-host of the Inside PR podcast) and Marcus Sheridan (all things Sales Lion) have agreed to take part in the conversation. Both Gini and Marcus are amazing thinkers and good friends, so I am sure that the content will unlike anything I’ve published around CTRL ALT Delete before.

Please feel free to join us all on November 26th. Just register here:

Reboot Your Business: How To Ride The 5 Disruption Waves That Will Sink Your Competition.


Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #176

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Frankenstein Reassembled: Monster – Eyestrain Productions. “My good friend, Shane, has a newly-tweaked blog, which every reader of these links should subscribe to because Shane is brilliant and funny and subversive. This week he dusted off a comic of a story he wrote, which he can now publish online, about Frankenstein. Seems appropriate for Halloween, or as some call it, ‘Goth Christmas.’” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Nordtsrom’s Big Data. “I was at Strata in New York this week. Since we launched the event two years ago, it has grown from 500 to nearly 3500 people, driven by a burgeoning interest in Big Data across nearly every industry. One of the companies that presented was Nordstrom, and they took us behind the scenes of how they analyze data. It’s fascinating–and beautiful. They also posted their content on GitHub for all to see.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • U.S. drone operator says he’s haunted by time in squadron that killed 1,626 by remote control: ‘The number made me sick to my stomach’ – National Post. President Obama, it turns out, is the most ironic winner of the Nobel Peace Prize since Kissinger. Obama has expanded and embraced a policy of global assassinations the likes of which we have never seen, with ‘unmanned drones’ – pilotless aircrafts -  raining down death on bad guys and children alike. Historians will someday debate whether the tradeoff between dead jihadists and terrorized civilians was worth it (Pop quiz: how many jihadis do you create when a drone strike kills an innocent family? Answer: who knows?). But regardless of the morality, or effectiveness of American drone assassinations, one thing is sure: drones make pretty grim work for the people who wield the joysticks back in Nevada and Utah.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • Researcher Controls Another Person’s Brain Over the Internet – The New York Times. “In another decade or so, we’ll be saying: ‘Remember the quaint old days when people used to complain about the lack of jetpacks? Who needs a jetpack.’” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • How the TED website is being rebuilt from the ground up for a new generation of people and devices – TNW. “If you had to build a website today, would you just build a website? Of course you would not. Now, people watch videos on their smartphones, iPhones, websites and more (think Apple TV, etc…). So, when it was time for TED to think about what their digital experience should be, they went deep. Very deep. This isn’t just about building something that millions of people can use. It’s about thinking differently about what consumer’s need in this world. I called this ideology, The One Screen World in my second book, CTRL ALT Delete. Thrilled to see the people at TED embracing it and sharing their thinking with others, because every brand needs to start acting this way.” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • Remembering Lou Reed – Grantland. “For my dollar, Grantland could be one of the most fascinating online spaces for creative journalism and op-ed writing. Seriously. I was heartbroken to hear about Lou Reed’s passing (as others were). The difference for me is that I had the chance to meet him a couple of times over the years, when I was working in the music industry back in the nineties. Beyond having a deep respect for his work, I have to admit that I was never a fan of his work. I knew it, but it just wasn’t my genre (as I got older, my feelings have changed). In this awesome piece, Chuck Klosterman (who is awesome), pays respect.” (Mitch for Hugh). 

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.


What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 2

The Chief Marketing Officer must better understand how information is created, stored, shared and capitalized upon.

There is a strange default position that most businesspeople (mostly marketers) take when they don’t understand why something is happening in the business world. How could Facebook buy Instagram for close to a billion dollars? What was Yahoo thinking when they acquired Tumblr for nearly the same amount? What was the point of Publicis merging with Omnicom? There is a collective scratching of the heads, the shrugging of the shoulders and then, one word tumbles out of someone’s mouth (“data!”) and everyone else nods in all-knowing way, when in truth the vast majority of Chief Marketing Officers have little-to-no knowledge of what exactly this all means.

It’s a generalization, but based on what we see in the marketplace, it is true.

In the last post (What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 1), we looked at how the Chief Marketing Officer must regain their status within the c-suite and the overall corporate function. The truth is that the CMO has never had this much access to this much information. So, if the true gold in these multi-million dollar deals that roll into the billions of dollars is about data, then why isn’t the CMO leveraging all of this data in a way that engenders them to become the true gatekeepers of the brand? We used to live in a world (pre-Internet) when brands were starving for more consumer data. Now, we quickly dove into a world where brands are, literally, drowning in the data. I jokingly tell audiences that you can’t throw a marketing professional down a flight of stairs these days without having the words “big data” tumble out of their pockets. It’s as if this part of the business has completely capitalized on the traditional reams of data, and they’re now elevated to the point that they can actually do something more. The vast majority of Chief Marketing Officers extolling the virtues of big data seem to think that it’s just like the data we have known to date… but more of it. That’s not big data… that’s more data. That’s just a lot more of the same data. As these CMOs continue on their verbal admiration of everything that big data will bring to the industry, it becomes abundantly clear that we’ve entered into the realm of marketing jargon bingo.

Why big data doesn’t matter (just yet).

In my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete, I have identified a movement (something that has fundamentally changed business forever that most brands are doing little-to-nothing about) that I dubbed, Sex With Data (chapter 4). The idea is that most brands have a tremendous amount of (what I call) “linear data” (this can anything from traditional advertising metrics to email capture to customer service information). It is the standard – or linear – data that brands collect on a daily basis. The Web has brought forth an entirely new type of data that I have called, “circular data.” This circular data is not something that brands can collect and own. It is the information that consumers are willfully creating and sharing online and on social media channels. It is everything from their personal profiles (think about LinkedIn and Facebook) to what they’re thinking (look at blogs, Twitter, Pinterest and beyond). Suddenly, brands can better connect to these individuals through these social channels, and this creates a more holistic connection to “who” their consumers truly are (pushing well beyond the standard demographics and psychographics). Sex with data happens when brands are able to bring together that linear data with the circular data to create something more personalized and valuable to the consumer. Now, before we all start getting hot and bothered about the notion of big data, how many brands have wrapped their heads around the intersection of this linear and circular data as it sits today?

The big joke of big data…

Is this: why worry about big data when the CMO is sucking at small data? It’s not about access to this information or having the technology to slice and dice these two dynamic forms of information. The technology exists, and it’s a fairly cheap process to have what my friend, Avinash Kaushik (Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0) calls a “data puke.” It’s the hard work of turning this data into something actionable. It’s not just mining the data for insights and turning that into some kind of campaign that demonstrates how data will always beat a random creative idea. It’s about understanding the new sensitivity that consumers have not only about their personal information, but what they’re doing online and how it is being monitored. Consumers can easily get creeped out when brands use too much familiarity. And this, is the true challenge of the CMO going forward. Beyond the practical marketing needs of data and analytics, how does a corporate brand deliver such a high level of value ad personalization that the familiarity is warranted? In a world of behavioral tracking, online social networks, and constant digital public displays of attention, brands can easily know that much more about their consumers and have a profoundly powerful direct relationship with them. In this world (which is the here and now), the CMO’s role is less about how the data and analytics influences the creative advertising, and that much more about what these varied data sets look like, the governance of this data, how it is used, who owns it and how is it being optimized against the overall business strategy.

This is the true convergence.

The Chief Marketing Officer of tomorrow will have as much knowledge and experience in understanding data, as they currently do when it comes to running an advertising campaign or putting their brand name on a sports arena. So, while advertising agencies trot out the old slogan that the work is all about the convergence of data and creativity, we are starting to see the nascent stages of that agency marketing rhetoric become the true convergence point for these marketing leaders. It also engenders a marketing model that is more agile, while moving marketers away from quarterly and seasonal campaigns. Agile will best be defined in the marketing department as a place that is in a constant state of testing and learning. Small, incremental tests and iterative adjustments where true lifetime value of a customer meets a mathematically sound cost per acquisition strategy. The data and analytics allows for these types of definitive metrics today.

Maybe some CMOs will see this as panacea. Maybe other CMOs will see this as true performance marketing.     

In the next post (in about two week’s time), we’ll look at how the Chief Marketing Officer must have closer ties to IT and technology. If Gartner is right, and that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, what does the marketing department of the future look like? How does technology (beyond data and analytics) affect everything from personalization and localization to contextual marketing and automation tools? The next few years are going to get increasingly more technical and technology-driven for the CMO.

And, in case you missed it…

There are five core foundational reasons why the Chief Marketing Officer’s role within the organization is in such a fragile state. Over the next few months, we will deconstruct the following five areas that the Chief Marketing Officer must pay increased attention to, in order to figure out what the next decade of marketing will look like for businesses.

The five areas that Chief Marketing Officers need to pay attention to:

As always, please feel free to add your perspective below…


What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 1

There is no doubt that the current role of the Chief Marketing Officer is fundamentally changing.

What was once considered to be one of the most interesting and creative positions within the corporate environment, has now become one of the most contentious job titles any business professional could have (if they can even hold on to it). It’s hard not to imagine how challenging of a position this can be, in a world where the marketing landscape has shifted so fundamentally in the past decade. It’s not just about how technology, the Internet and social media have changed the way that brands connect to consumers, and how consumers connect to brands (and to one another). It runs much deeper than that. It runs much deeper than financial meltdowns, funky things out of Wall Street, a mortgage crisis, globalization, and more. It wouldn’t be brash to say, that there are those who feel that there is no longer even a need for a Chief Marketing Officer within an organization. Don’t believe me? Google it.

Heresy you say?

There are five core foundational reasons why the Chief Marketing Officer’s role within the organization is in such a fragile state. Over the next few months, we will deconstruct the following five areas that the Chief Marketing Officer must pay increased attention to, in order to figure out what the next decade of marketing will look like for businesses.

The five areas that Chief Marketing Officers need to pay attention to:

  1. The corporate function.
  2. Data and information.
  3. IT and technology.
  4. Media and communications.
  5. Talent and recruiting.

Let’s start with the corporate function…

Peter Drucker once famously wrote that a company only has two key functions: marketing and innovation, and that all other functions within the organization should support this. It feels like nothing could be closer to the truth in this technologically advanced and sophisticated day and age, and yet it feels like the Chief Marketing Officer’s stock within that mandate continues to plummet. If you take a close look at some of the world’s most respected brands, the Chief Marketing Officers are not much more than Chief Advertising Officers. If we are going to go back to the fundamentals of what marketing is – as a function of business – it’s hard not to think of the classic Four Ps of Marketing that we all learned about in college: product, price, promotion and place. Think deeply about just how much the marketing department truly affects these four areas of business. It’s quite obvious that the “promotion” piece has become the bread and butter of the marketing department. Most marketing departments act, fundamentally, as brand stewards and have little insight and input into what the product or service actually is, and how it better serves customers at large. It feels like the true marketing work is actually being done by the COO, the CFO, and the R&D department. Marketing is usually brought in way after the fact, to figure out how to best polish the look and feel of the product or service, and make it look sexy for the customers. At best, the marketers are also responsible for what happens after the product is purchased. Congratulations, these marketers are linked to customer service, and maybe get a chance to actually own the Twitter feed.

What is marketing?

Volumes of books, articles and blog posts have been written by some of the smartest business minds out there, attempting to define what marketing is? You could ask the top ten marketers in the world to define what marketing is, and you would get a different answer from each professional… and there is a possibility that you might even get a different answer from the same individual on different occasions. A definition that we can all wrap our arms around isn’t going to happen in this column. What we do know is that marketers might get a much higher level of credibility, if they, themselves, could bring some clarity and definition to the practice. If marketers can’t easily define what the role and function is within the organization, how can we expect the CEO to give us the keys to the car? Simply put: most people don’t know what marketing is anymore. If marketers want to improve their position within the corporate organization, a clear definition of what, exactly, marketing is would be a prime place to start.

It’s a numbers game.

Our world is filled with people who are financially illiterate. Just look at the credit card debt crisis in North America. You would think that after decades of advertising and communications from banks and investment advisors to help people better manage their money, that things would be better. You would be wrong. Recent studies suggest that financial literacy is at an all-time low. Some of the most telling articles on the topic start off by saying that the vast majority of Americans lack basic money skills. Why should we be surprised that marketers are any different? For the Chief Marketing Officer to regain their credibility within the organization, there is a dire need for them to become much more financially literate. Marketing needs to be directly linked to both sales and the overall corporate performance in terms of the P&L. Associate Professor and Distinguished Professor of Marketing, Kenneth Wong, from Queen’s School of Business often says that no marketing should be done unless it “adds to the economic value of the brand.” Business is a numbers game and marketers – who should be nothing short of rabid over the math – have somehow relegated themselves to the more touchy-feely parts of the business. It’s time to break out the abacus and find a balance between the creativity and the numbers. Chief Marketing Officers will struggle desperately through the data and information phase, if they can’t wrap their heads around the foundational numbers first.

It’s a global jungle.

Why should marketing be any different? The mass globalization of corporate affairs has struck at the heart of marketing as well. There has been global consolidation of marketing and communication services from most of the major brands, and we have even seen mass consolidation from the advertising agency networks themselves (think about the Publicis and Omnicom mega-merger). On the brand side, we’ve seen the purchasing of marketing and communication services become that much more of a procurement-driven process than anything else. If you look towards the industry at large, there seems to be more brands moving towards agency partners that are completely integrated. An agency that is able to provide both traditional mass advertising services along with digital expertise, coupled with direct marketing, experiential marketing, promotional marketing, partnership marketing and beyond. While brands seek out these “pink unicorns,” and the large advertising agency networks continue to PR that their networked agencies can provide such seamless integration, we have yet to see an integrated shop that is unified and integrated. What this has led to is the commoditization of marketing. With every large agency claiming that efficiencies can only be achieved through this model. A desire to have a truly integrated agency – in a world of deep personalization with media fragmentation across a myriad of platforms, channels and technologies – is more myth than reality. This idea that one agency of record to rule them all can beat out specialists – each with their own deep, rich and knowledgeable pool of experts and experience – has yet to be proven. At the corporate level, the Chief Marketing Officer is going to have to get a lot more knowledgeable about how to build “teams of record” rather than an “agency of record” relationship. Creating alignment with multiple agency partners (across multiple departments) in a bid to ensure that “best in class” isn’t just something that will score them some points in marketing jargon bingo is another prime directive.

Once the corporate function of marketing is secured, the Chief Marketing Officer can get down to the real work of data and information.

In the next post (in about two week’s time), we’ll look at how the Chief Marketing Officer must straddle between the future promise of big data, while grappling with the reality that they’re not doing nearly enough with the reams of data and information that they currently have. Along with that, we’ll dig deeper in the paradox of privacy and personalization, and how the link between data management and creative services must evolve, as our world begins to look more and more like George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As always, please feel free to add your perspective below…


The Problem With Big Data (It’s Not Me, It’s You)

Big data. There, I said it.

For the past little while, I have watched – in astonishment – the amount of times a senior marketing professional (both from the agency and brand side) have spouted off about the opportunity of big data in this brave new world. As they continue to speak, it becomes abundantly clearer that they probably don’t even know what big data is. By my estimation, the vast majority of people extolling the virtues of big data seem to think that it’s just like the data we have known to date… but more of it. That’s not big data… that’s more data. That’s just a lot more of the same data. As these marketing professionals continue on their verbal admiration of everything that big data will bring to the industry, you quickly begin to realize that it’s nothing more than jargon to these people.

The problem with big data.

The problem with big data is that most marketers suck (big time) at the small data… or the data they’re currently using. How many different flows of data do they have (email lists, web analytics, search engine marketing campaigns, traditional ad campaign results, research and more)? Do those individual streams of data flow into a larger ocean? If you dig beneath the surface, my guess is that most organizations have what my friend, Bryan Pearson (CEO of LoyaltyOne and author of The Loyalty Leap) calls “data ghettos.” These clumps of data that sit in silos and rarely (if ever) speaks to one another. Is big data something important (and big)? Yes. Are businesses truly ready, willing and able to act on it? Unlikely (at this moment in time). Currently, data is hardly being amplified using real time technology, and even fewer brands are actually taking the time to create tests and iterations from these traditional data sets. Let alone doing that form of marketing optimization on a daily basis. Sadly.

What big data can look like.

Take this definition from Smart Data Collective: “A phenomenon defined by the rapid acceleration in the expanding volume of high velocity, complex and diverse types of data. Big Data is often defined along three dimensions- volume, velocity and variety.” What is this telling us?

  1. Big data is data that can be manipulated (slices and diced) with massive speed.
  2. Big data is the not the standard fare that we use, but the more complex and intricate data sets.
  3. Big data is the unification and integration of diverse data sets (kill the data ghettos).
  4. Big data is based on much larger amount of data sets than what we’re used to and how they can be resolved with both speed and variety.
  5. Big data extrapolates the information in a different (three dimensional) way.

What does this mean?

The net result is that big data delivers new and previously unavailable opportunities to drive business efficacy. That’s it. Plan and simple… and hard. A tonnage more of your traditional data mixed in with what big data really is and what you have is a world where marketers are drowning in their data. Bring in the analysts, because the only people who are going to turn big data from a shiny, bright object of jargon into a functional place that drives business solution will be these data analysts coupled with marketing strategists. Together, these people may be able to unlock the Da Vinci Code of big data to churn out actionable insights (as my good friend, Avinash Kaushik, calls them). Everything else is simple hype and hyperbole.

Watch this.

I recently appeared on The Agenda With Steve Paikin. The full thirty-minute conversation will air Friday, July 26th, 2013 on TVO. As a bonus, Steve asked me about the business of big data, and this is what I said:


An Advertising Tide Probably Won’t Raise All Of The Boats

There has been a lot of talk online about the end of advertising lately.

Whether it’s a new book on social media, some pundit pushing for social business or someone who is very excited that Instagram now affords their consumers the right to shoot 15 seconds of video along with their filter-tinged pictures, everyone is screaming that advertising – as we have known it to date – is dead (and/or dying). You can’t throw a marketer down a flight of stairs without hearing the words “big data” tumble out of their mouths and smart, smart people like Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) is banking on newer business spaces like the collaborative economy, while Jay Baer is pushing for something he calls, Youtility (which he defines as smart marketing that is created by helping consumers and not just hyping at them). It’s not a stretch to know that I fully (and categorically) back a lot of this thinking (see my latest book, CTRL ALT Delete for more on that).

But, there’s this thing…

As much as I can’t stand brands that are chasing likes on Facebook for the sake of chasing likes, or the ones who are doing nothing but shilling on Twitter, it’s hard to argue with the effect that it is having. Yes, these channels are gateways that allow brands to have these amazing direct relationships with consumers where they can be helpful, provide levels of utility and create levels of engagement like never before, but still there have been many instances when the numbers don’t lie. It turns out that chasing likes, shilling on Twitter and more have helped these brands increase their followers by impressive leaps and bounds, and that all of that pushing of products and services has created a level of activity that the brands are happy with. Crazy, right?

Maybe we don’t blame the brands?

It’s easy to sit here – as a marketing pundit – and take jabs at brands that are using social media as a megaphone to generate nothing more than free, cheap and easy impressions. It’s kind of like owning a guitar and insisting that there is nothing more to be played on it but crude power chords. There are dynamics and intricacies at play here that could engender the brand in a completely new and fascinating way, and yet they’re still doing whatever they used to do in traditional media by simply copying and pasting that model into these very different platforms and channels. Think about it this way: what if that’s what consumers know, want and expect? Sure there may be a segment that knows and understands how much more marketing and advertising could do because of these new tools, but what if they either don’t care or are simply used to (and accept) the advertising as they have seen it to date? Ask people if they like marketing and advertising. What do you think that they will say? Over the history of marketing, I’m going to guess (because I have no actual research to back this up) that when asked, the vast majority don’t like marketing and advertising and simply “deal with it” as a part of life (like death and taxes). If that’s the expectation – and it’s an understandable one because of the deluge of marketing messages that marketers place everywhere and anywhere – perhaps our own desire to evolve the medium is simply that – our own desire.

Advertising doesn’t work.

We like to say that advertising doesn’t work, but what do we really know? What if advertising works just fine, but the challenge is that there is simply too many choices (and a lot of bad advertising)? Not exactly rocket science, but we many of the new(er) media folks like getting their knickers in a knot when they see brands doing the selling game on social media instead of the long term value and relationship play. An advertising tide probably won’t raise all the boats, but it will for some (if not many).

We advertise to sell stuff.

Lest we forget. This is the reason that we are in business. Yes, we are here to add value. Yes, we are here to build brands. Yes, we are here to get excited. Yes, we are here to get people passionate about the things that we do. But… if they don’t buy, none of that matters. Many brands have (and only require) one imperative: create some kind of distraction/disruption in a consumer’s patterns to let them know that the brand, product and/or service exists. It’s a game of inches in a very crowded marketplace and, sometimes, the best way to do it isn’t by trying to be everyone’s best friend over the long haul, but to simply get in front of those eyeballs, let them know that you exist, make an offer and them get out of their way so that they can get back to the more important things in their lives.

Sometimes to sell, brands have to push. We may not like it, but there are sometimes no other way to get a very distracted person’s attention. Don’t believe me? Go play with some young kids for a bit.


The New Face Of Content Marketing

How much content is too much content when it comes to a brand?

It’s a slippery slope for most brands when it comes to their engines of content creation. We live in a day and age when the term, “content marketing” stumbles out of a brand’s mouth almost as much as “big data” and “native advertising.” Woe the brand that is not creating, publishing and curating relevant content. Still, many brands struggle with their digital content. They struggle with everything from the strategy to the editorial content to the creation of it, and even the best places to publish and share it effectively. Many new media pundits will tell you that the brands that are moving the needle are enabling their success by having in-house newsrooms or former journalists on the payroll to help uncover the more interesting stories to tell, and how to get those stories to spread. Regardless, we also live in a day and age when the half-life of content is shorter than ever. In a river of tweets or a flood of a Facebook newsfeed, even the most interesting of content will last a few hours (maybe a day or so… if you’re lucky). This is further complicated by the fundamental nature of social media: which is the place where friends and acquaintances connect and not, necessarily, the ideal place for a brand to try to make some noise.

So, what’s a brand to do?

Gary Vaynerchuk has a platform (or two). He built his initial following by producing an irreverent wine tasting video podcast that he converted into a massive Twitter following (closing in on one million followers), two best-selling business books (Crush It and The Thank You Economy) with a third one on the way (Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook), a lucrative speaking career and his ever-growing social media marketing agency, VaynerMedia. He responds to almost all of the inputs he gets (from tweeting to leaving comments on blogs) and created a tiny tempest in a teapot last week by declaring that he plans on, “tripling down” on content – because doubling down doesn’t begin to describe how important he thinks it is,” according to the Forbes article, Why Gary Vaynerchuk’s New Social Media Strategy Should Change The Way You Do Business. With that, he has also hired a social media content assistant to help him capture, create and nurture whatever is brewing under those eyebrows to keep the pace increasing. And, that’s where the tempest started brewing. Ford Motor Company‘s global head of social media, Scott Monty, responded with a blog post titled, The Last Thing The World Needs, citing this as more “digital clutter” in a world where individuals are struggling to capture anything and everything they already have in their feeds. What are these poor consumers going to do if every brand follows the Vaynerchuk strategy of tripling down? Will this push consumers to the breaking point? Will this have them running for the virtual doors at Facebook, Vine, Tumblr, Google + and beyond? 

In a word: no.

Some will find themselves having an internal dialogue about the classic “quality versus quantity” debate. In rebuttal to the pushback that Vaynerchuk’s comments received, he astutely asks, “why not both?” Why can’t brands create a lot of high quality content? Sure, some of this content will work and some will miss the mark. Not all attempts will result in a viral homerun, but we live in a real-time world, where individuals are increasingly looking for more context from their content. Content providers are going to have to play a very different game. A personal case study comes to mind. On May 21st, I published my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete. Along with a digital experience to compliment the launch of the book, my digital marketing agency, Twist Image, took the interesting stats and data from this experience and created a SlideShare titled, 25+ Mind Blowing Stats About Business Today – CTRL ALT Delete. Instead of simply tweeting and sharing the link throughout my online social spaces, I respectively shared some of the unique stats (which would be akin to Vaynerchuk’s tripling down theory). My impression was that this deluge of content would upset my online community, and that there would be some semblance of negative comments and pushback. Much to my surprise, the SlideShare quickly surpassed 100,000 views, and the amount of new followers and friends coupled with the retweets and shares sent my overall analytics through the roof. Yes, creating what Monty refers to as “digital clutter” seems to have been the most effective strategy to get the word out. How did this happen? People aren’t “on the ready” just because I decided to hit a publish button. The frequency of posting matched with the quality created a greater attention and focus on the message. It’s a tough lesson for new media thinkers to hear: traditional tactics like frequency and repetition work.

What we think vs. what is.

Those who follow Gary Vaynerchuk, respect him. They like him. They seem to want more. By creating more, he is not only appeasing his most heavy users, but he is also giving them (and those who don’t even follow him) additional opportunities to find out more, share his thinking and help him spread his own gospel. Tripling down on mediocre content helps nobody. Tripling down on relevancy, being contextual and adding value will always help a brand to expand its audience. Is this hard to scale? Absolutely. Will every brand get this right? Absolutely not. What Vaynerchuk (and other successful content creators) knows is this: the pulse of his audience. Through the years, the smartest content marketers are the ones who understand not only the pulse of their network, but how to pulse out that content in a way that is congruous with the audience. Vaynerchuk may be gambling by tripling down on his content creation, but while some may rightfully see it as clutter, my guess is that Vaynerchuk (and other successful content creators) will be analyzing the results and tweaking it until they uncover a formula that works better than their old one, which is a million times better than those who have no vision, no formula and are simply worried about the clutter that they’re creating.

What do you think? Is the future of content a tripling down effect?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. 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:


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