marketer

Some Questions About Your Questionable Content

Marketers, we have a problem…

Do you know how long an effective Facebook post should be? If I told you forty characters, what would your reaction be? A tweet should be 100 characters (even though Twitter affords you 140 of them). It makes perfect sense, right? I know that people like Tom Webster over at Edison Research is, without a doubt, rolling his eyes. I’m with him. But, that was the latest headline from Fast Company in an article titled, The Proven Ideal Length Of Every Tweet, Facebook Post, And Headline Online. All over the world, junior brand and community managers are building PowerPoint decks with charts, graphs and quotes from this article in an effort to demonstrate both how “in the know” they are, and how antiquated the upper echelons of the marketing and communications are. Those silly dinosaurs running the show in their corner offices, don’t even know how valueless most of what they do has become.

Don’t be fooled by the numbers (even if they are small ones).

Length does not equate to quality, value or substance. It’s an arbitrary number that is being allotted to a very crowded (and hyper-saturated) marketplace that hosts very finicky and tough to understand consumers who, in one instance, will “like” a picture of a dog licking itself and within the same brush of the finger also like a group denouncing human rights in Syria. Ahh, the human condition. So mystical. So difficult to pin down. The question is asked often, and in various ways:

  • How long should a tweet be?
  • How long should a Facebook post be?
  • What is the right balance between content and images?
  • How long should a podcast be?
  • How long should a blog post be?
  • How long should a business book be?
  • How long should a movie be?
  • How long should an article be?
  • How long should a… you get the point?

What matters more than the mechanics?

We get caught up in the mechanics and completely forget about why we’re creating anything in the first place. Ultimately, it should be twofold:

  1. Create value.
  2. Create awareness.

The answer to all of the questions above surrounding length is rather simple: content should be as long as it needs to be to create value. I’ve seen movies that have been three hours long and movies that have been thirty minutes long that have changed my life (and how I think about humanity). Research Brief posted a fascinating article – at just around the same time as the Fast Company one mentioned above – titled, Trusted Content Closes Vendor Selection. So, it’s not about the content… it’s about the quality of it and the level of trust that it inspires. It’s true, we often ask the wrong questions about the content that we’re creating and, in doing so, we wind up creating content that doesn’t get traction. The net result being a perception that either content marketing doesn’t work or that content marketing doesn’t work for our brands. Both are misnomers. Putting aside any kind of viral effect that some are lucky enough to achieve (do you believe in unicorns?), we need to be asking more profound (and real) questions about the content that brands are putting out into the world. So, before you put finger to keypad in an effect to pump out an extra few free impressions to a saturated social media channel, sit down and ask yourself the following:

  1. How trusted as a source of information is our organization?
  2. Is there a third-party who might be better suited to help us with our content?
  3. What is point of this content and who is it educating?
  4. Is this content “me too” or unique and additive to the current flow of discourse?
  5. Who are we looking to speak to with this? Customers in discovery mode? Qualification mode? Final selection mode?
  6. Once this content is created how will it be distributed? Our own channels? Third-party channels or platforms?
  7. How will this piece of content help the decision makers be influenced?
  8. How will this content help our potential customer make the best decision (and yes, this may even mean buying from someone else)?
  9. Is our content broad and expansive or is it myopic and narcissistic?
  10. Are the people we are speaking to more interested in fresh research and data or editorial-like content?
  11. Is our content the type of work that the industry influencers would pay attention to and share or is it closer to a de-jargonated press release?
  12. Does our content allow for honest commentary between us and the community?
  13. Is our content both findable and shareable to everyone that it needs to be?

The path to purchase is complex.

That’s the main thing that every brand needs to focus on. Content that understands and responds to the thirteen questions above will change the brand and help it add more value to the path to purchase. What this Research Brief article also illustrates is something that many digital marketing pundits (like myself) have been banging the drum about for some time: Yes, the path to purchase is complex, but “The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. 68% start their content sourcing at search engines and portals, 40% go to vendor websites, and 25% are activated by an email from a trusted source or peer.”

If you read nothing else, go back and re-read that last sentence.

If there was ever a case for digital marketing to lead all marketing initiatives (B2B, B2C, a small impulse buy or a year-long sales cycle) this is it. The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. This is a critical and key message. So, if you thought that the thirteen questions above are going to make you bang your head against the wall, start asking yourself a whole new set of questions about what your brand is truly doing to to engage with those who are simply kicking tires, those who are looking for a preferred vendor and those who are trying to validate the choice of vendor that they have already made. Too many brands are churning out this chum of content without the focus, intensity and voracity that is truly required to qualify any/all of this content marketing as a “success.”

Make no mistake about it… it starts with you. That being said, it all starts online.

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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?

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It’s A Small (And Strange) World After All, Brands

How much control does a company really have over their brand?

Never has this question in business been asked more than in the past decade. Technology, the Internet and social media have been a virtual can of worms for brands that has extended well beyond the marketing department, and has poured over into everything from customer care, business innovation, the reputation of individual leaders within the organization, how a company hires employees and more. It’s one of the fundamental reasons why I’m such a massive advocate for marketing to become a horizontal function within the organization instead of it’s current role as a vertical. We need everyone (from employees to consumers) to understand what the brand is and how the stories are told, because every single one of us has become a media entity unto ourselves. We can talk about the merits of social media as an engine of engagement and conversation for brands, but the simple truth is that it is nothing more than a public publishing platform. A place where anyone – in text, images, audio and video – can create content, applications and communities about anything and everything. It’s free (in terms of cost, not time and attention) and distributed globally for the world to see (also free, if you’re not thinking about your Internet and mobile monthly bills). While the past fifteen years has brought with it a lot of innovation and depth, we’re seeing how the nuances of the brand have started to shift in more dramatic ways.

What is the face of the brand?

Marketers wonder if there is a structured and prescribed way to dictate the sentiment and actions that we would, ideally, like customers and employees to have when they interact with a brand. What most successful brands still fail to realize is that in an environment of global interconnectivity, humans are also increasingly exposed to newer types of cultures and ways to connect. This means that newer ideas and ways to connect can be crossbred, much in the same way we’re currently breeding very different kinds of dogs to create newer kinds of dogs (care for a Labradoodle, anyone?) or fruits (hungry for a Grapple? – yes, an apple that tastes like a grape). Brands are quickly starting to feel, understand and interact with their own little Frankenstein versions of themselves.

What does a crossbreed brand look like?

Imagine waiting in line for the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland, and suddenly coming across what looks like a Harley Davidson meets Fall Out Boy group of Disney fanatics. Tattoos of good ole Walt Disney on their calves, ripped jean jackets, piercings, patches of Daisy Duck surrounded in gang-like skulls and crossbones and more. It may feel like something out of a Tim Burton movie, but you have actually come face to face with the Neverlanders. This group of rag tags are more than 30 strong and were recently featured in an in-depth editorial piece by Vice called, The Punks Of Disneyland. It’s a unique story about passionate brand evangelists (the kind of people who visit these properties so much, that they are actually on a first-name basis with the staff and characters) who have taken their love of all things Disney into a dramatic and alternative realm. This is much bigger than the annual Disney conventions for fans (D23 Expo) and the Neverlanders are not the only exclusive, members-only, social club that roams these parks and resorts (there is Main Street Elite, the Wonderlanders, Jungle Cruisers and many more). In the case of the Neverlanders, this group formed through social networking. They began connecting and sharing in spaces like Instagram long before they formalized themselves as an independent social club (some people call them a gang).

What do you think Disney has to say about all of this?   

Here’s the official Disney quote from the Vice article about these roaming Disney fan gangs: “We are fortunate to have guests who share such a strong affinity for Disneyland Resort.” What would you do? What would your brand position be on groups of people who love what you are doing this much, but still run down a much more alternative path than the brand might publicly be comfortable with? Granted, this isn’t the challenge of all brands, but it begs an interesting question: If consumers are actually in control of the brand, and now they have the tools, resources and connections to do these types of things, what is the brand and what does it really stand for?

It’s not just Disney.

For every legitimate and corporately run group like Jeep‘s annual Jeep Jamboree adventure event and meet-up, you have groups like IKEA Hackers. Formed in May 2006 on a blog, this website is now full of passionate IKEA customers who build their own, unique, projects by modifying and repurposing IKEA products. They are embellishing and adding their own elbow grease to figure out new and interesting types of furniture that can be built through various pieces of IKEA furniture. So, whether you would like to build your own iPad kiosk or a laundry organizer from standard IKEA kitchen cabinets, the possibilities are now endless. According to the IkeaHackers website, IKEA does not pay the owner or in any way sanctions or endorses it. It is purely a fan-run website.

It’s a small world, for brands, afterall.

Brands now have a deeper optic into what, exactly, their heavy users want. In fact, what these examples demonstrate is that we can often never truly understand what consumers want, and when they do things like hack our products or roam our properties in a way that it was never intended, perhaps brands should be doing a better job of supporting, encouraging and helping them to be successful. Instead, most brands are attempting to keep them at arm’s length. Steve Jobs from Apple once famously said: “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Perhaps, in today’s age of connectivity and social media, brands need to pay attention when the reverse comes true as well.

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:

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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

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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?

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The Marketing Moral Compass

Are marketer’s the most loathed human beings on earth?

It is a question worthy of an answer. As a marketing professional, I often wonder where the vocation sits on the list of the most respected and appreciated industries out there. Without any material proof, I’m going to guess it’s way down at the bottom of the list, cuddled between the used car salespeople, drug dealers and assorted scumbags of the world. Maybe that’s being a little harsh, but our reputations precede us. Marketers have done so many nasty things to society that now require governments and laws to protect the public (think about spam, privacy and telemarketing). But, it is different times and a business’ success in marketing has a direct correlation to its financial health and walking the line, as Johnny Cash would put it.

Changing the marketing game.

While too many people try to strike it rich on Facebook and Twitter, the true value of social media is how it acts as a truth serum for brands. Companies that have spent any semblance of time online know this, in a profound way. Just look at any number of consumer reviews (on any site) and it’s plain to see: Brands are neither loathed or loved. They are not just purchased or dismissed. What social media has brought is the ability for every business to understand the tiny nuances that make consumers both appreciate or revolt against something. There is a ton of ambiguity (for every one person who can’t live without a product, there are five people who consider it a complete waste of time, money and effort). Regardless of these varying opinions, it is clear that there is one component of marketing that offers the opportunity to overcome the negative (without fail): a strong marketing moral compass.

The moral compass of marketing.

You can have a brand that people aren’t interested in, but if you’re always perceived to be doing the right thing (because you are doing the right thing), this will lessen the potential damage of negativity, while adding layers of comfort to those who are already in love with the business. So, what does your business stand for in relation to your consumers? What types of relationships do you want with your customers? Before you buy that first ad, before you ask for that first email address, before you post that next piece to your Facebook page, spend some serious (and quality) time defining your marketing moral compass.

Ask yourself the right questions.

Most marketers run afoul or try something that inevitably gets them into trouble, because they haven’t defined their moral compass of marketing and they have no bearings when presented with opportunities that could wind up messing with their cultural GPS. So, grab a notebook, a cafe au lait and start asking yourself these questions:

  • How do you want people to feel before, during and after they touch your brand?
  • What are you willing to do to get attention for your brand?
  • How important are the relationships that you have with your consumers?
  • How open, responsive and quick will you be when responding to consumers (positive, negative and neutral feedback)?
  • What should (and should not) be used in terms of consumer’s information? Do you have their permission and do they understand it?
  • What is the common good that everyone – within the organization – should be working towards?
  • What will be the measurement of a healthy marketing organization? Will it be by revenue? How many people are employed? What consumers think about your work? Something else?
  • Is the overriding success of the work going to be the company’s needs, the needs of others or something else? 

More questions.

Don’t stop there. In answering these questions, more questions (and hopefully better answers) will arise. This work is not meant to be a linear piece of work that ends up in a document, then a vision statement, then posted somewhere on a wall in your office as some kind of finished idea, or a slide in your PowerPoint deck. Your marketing moral compass is an ever-growing and on-going organic embodiment of what you stand for (and what you can’t stand). When it is roughly defined and in-line with the personal and corporate values of everyone involved, share it with your team, be open to their candid feedback and input, ensure that it is honestly in-line with the values of the company and the people that you keep. In a sea of brands who are willing to do anything for a click, a like, a follow, a friend, a retweet, a comment, a review, an impression and more, being vigilant about having and embodying a strong marketing moral compass will always keep your business on the straight and narrow. Ultimately, it will also be in the defining moments – like an opportunity to have a business benefit that may not be as good for your consumers, when the metal of your marketing moral compass will meet the road.

Having it fixed, in place and part of the culture will always help you to resolve these moments, and point your business towards the true north.

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:

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Hacking Art Education And The Creative Experience

Is an education worth it? Is an education in art school worth it?

There are many marketers that have (or are even thinking about) art education. It will not be news to anyone, that most students leave college in tremendous debt. With that, there is no…

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:

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Reboot: Marketing With Inc. Magazine

WARNING: Self-promotional blog post ahead…

I am excited to announce that starting tomorrow, I will be a regular contributor to Inc. Magazine with the launch of my twice-monthly column, Reboot: Marketing. The column will focus on how technology and marketing is working harder than ever to make businesses better (and what entrepreneurs need to know to capitalize on it!). As usual, I will be posting the unfiltered, unedited version here on Six Pixels of Separation once Inc. Magazine’s final version gets published. The version on this blog will also include all of my regular slew of links, tags, etc…

Why would I write for Inc. Magazine?

In simple terms: content distribution strategy (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). Every week, I blog six times plus the Six Pixels Podcast on Sunday. My current thoughts are that this content should not just be shackled to my own platforms, but to extend the thinking into as many interesting and unique corners of the publishing world as possible. I will continue to be a regular contributor to The Huffington Post (look for my newest column next week) and I will be shifting my contributions to Harvard Business Review to a monthly format. All of those pieces will be posted here as well (in their original format).

But wait… there’s more!

With that, I am equally excited to be announcing that I will have an upcoming monthly column in Strategy Magazine (it will be published in the third week of every month). The focus of that column will be innovation in marketing. With all of that, my weekly Monday morning radio hit on CHOM 977 FM’s Mornings Rock With Terry And Heather B will continue on. Will there be other business books? Yes! More speaking engagements? Yes! Other new and interesting ways of sharing this content in new and interesting venues? Just wait until you see what will be happening in the coming months.

Too much content?

People complain that there is too much content. I am guilty of this from time to time. Still, I believe deeply in these digital channels and the ability for an individual to share their thinking with the world. I’m also a firm believer that so long as the content adds value to people’s lives, then it is a worthy pursuit. This is an exciting time for brands, publishers and marketers. But, I have another thought: I don’t believe that everything that I create should be consumed, shared and loved by everyone (I wish more brands would think like this as well). You don’t have to listen to all of my podcasts to derive value. Individuals can pop in and out. That’s great too (in fact, it’s my expectation that this will happen). Too many brands (and individuals) are on the drug of “more.” Thinking, hoping and praying that every new tweet gets a few more retweets or moments of engagement than their last. That is not the true spirit of creating a legacy of content. This blog post may not be of value to you. I’m hoping that the next one (or the one after that) will.

Until then… let’s Reboot: Marketing.

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20 Best Marketing Books Of All Time

What are the best marketing books of all time?

It’s a question that I get asked, multiple times per week via email. It seems like people just coming out of school or professionals looking to up their game want to know not just what the latest and greatest books are, but which ones would be considered the seminal books on the subject of marketing. So, if I were putting together a MBA program with a focus on marketing, and was gifted the privilege of providing the reading list, these would be the ones that make the final cut.

The 20 Best Marketing Books Of All Time (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Anatomy Of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen. Before word of mouth marketing became a profession unto itself, Rosen was busy trying to figure out why certain brands get attention and how they do it. This is one of those classic business books that every marketer should read.
  2. The Art Of The Pitch by Peter Coughter. If you are in marketing, you will have to get good at presenting and selling your ideas. I’ve read countless books on the topic, and this is the only one worthy of reading, studying and applying. Woe the marketer that doesn’t heed these words.
  3. The Cluetrain Manifesto by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger and Rick Levine. If you could point your finger at one book that changed the face of marketing, it would be this one. The entire social media movement came out of this book. Long before Facebook and Twitter, this visionary book told the tale of everything we believe and hold dear in these times of inter-connectedness.
  4. Seth Godin. I am cheating here (so, sue me). Not only could I not choose just one book by Seth Godin, but I found it hard to choose only five. So, I made my life easy by doing this. Buy and read everything Godin has published. Permission Marketing? Yes! Purple Cow? Of course! Unleashing The Ideavirus? You better! Linchpin? If you’re interested in a future, yes! The Icarus Deception? How could you not? I could go on and on (The Dip!), but I’m hopeful that you get the idea. Buy all of his books. You won’t regret it! 
  5. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. This book is not for the timid. Shirky is more academic than fluff, and this book dives deep into technology and social media with beautiful and high-brow writing. So well written and researched. It is a gem.
  6. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. When was the last time that you read a business book and laughed out loud? Yes, this book is that funny, but it’s also one of the best books out there on what makes an ad great, and how to push yourself to create a great one as well. Written by a copywriter, this book demonstrates the power of words and the power of spending the time to find the right words.
  7. Influence by Robert Cialdini. An incredible book about how we make decisions and what influences them (hint: it’s not what you think)… and this was published long before behavioral economics became so very cool. This is profoundly powerful because of all of the science and research behind this book. Most marketers haven’t paid any attention to this book, and it shows in the vast majority of terrible work that we’re exposing the public to.
  8. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. Marketing isn’t just about the ads. Marketing is also about the product and how to bring it to market. So many companies do everything right and yet still lose market share. If you’re interested in marketing and you haven’t read this book, it is a must-read.
  9. Life After The 30-Second Spot by Joseph Jaffe. Another one of those seminal books that you can look back at and marvel at just how prescient it was. This one is almost a decade old, but still resonates with some very deep thinking about where advertising is going.
  10. The Little Red Book Of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer. Don’t be fooled by the title. This simple, fun and short book is full of how to better position, market and sell both yourself and the products and services that you represent. In fact, anything by Gitomer is well-worth your time. This just happens to be one that I re-read each and every year.
  11. Made To Stick by Chip And Dan Heath. There have been countless books written on viral marketing and how brands should tell a better story. None of them hold a candle to this one. Perhaps one of the best books ever written on how a brand can (and should) tell a story (and how to do it).
  12. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. A key component to better understanding the power marketing is to learn about how to network and connect with others. I devoured Never Eat Alone when it first came out, and recommend that anyone trying to figure out how to better market themselves pick up this book. Stop eating lunch at your desk and get out there!
  13. The New Rules Of Marketing And PR by David Meerman Scott. This book has been updated by Scott many times over. If you’re looking for the ultimate primer on social media, what it means and what it can do, this is the perfect book to bring you up to speed.
  14. Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy. What would a list like this be without a nod to one of the most well-known Mad Men of our time? David Ogilvy had a passion for advertising. He believed that it was a noble pursuit and a profession that should be taken seriously. This book is a great example of how to think like an advertising executive whose sole purpose it was to help brands sell more. Sometimes, in our digital times, it’s fun to read books like this and re-think all of the analytics and optimization talk we have and get back to the advertising as a form of art.
  15. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is one of the “must have” books if you’re in marketing. It covers a ton of space on the topic of how to brand products and services and how to place them both in market and in the mind’s eye of the consumer. This should be the first book that anyone reads when they enter a Marketing 101 course.
  16. Re-Imagine! by Tom Peters. Not exactly a full-bore marketing book, but still Peters delivers in spades with this one. It’s also beautifully designed, which makes it fun to read. There are countless brand stories about excellence in this one.
  17. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A wise individual once said to me that Gladwell has a knack for writing books that business leaders feel stupid for not having on their bookshelves. Pretty poignant and true. The Tipping Point is great because it helps marketers better understand the inflection point that happens when a product is ho-hum and how it then takes off like a rocket. It’s not really science so much as cultural, but it’s fascinating.
  18. Waiting For Your Cat To Bark? by Bryan and Jeffrey Einsenberg. The Eisenberg brothers posses an expertise unlike any other. They are experts at understanding and explaining the power of marketing optimization. Sadly, this is one of the most important aspects of the marketing sphere that most professionals spend little-to-no-time working on. This book is chock full of practical and powerful advice about consumers and how to help them by making your marketing easier to follow.
  19. Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. If you have spent more than two minutes reading any of my content, you will know that I am an unabashed fanboy of Avinash Kaushik, the digital marketing evangelist at Google. In fact, the notion of Sex With Data from CTRL ALT Delete was heavily inspired by Kaushik’s work/thinking. Most marketers eyes glaze over when they hear the word ‘analytics,’ but thankfully Kaushik is here to help make it fascinating and important. This book is packed with ideas about how to think better about your marketing and what it’s capable of doing.
  20. Where The Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg. Most people in my world know Rothenberg as the President and CEO of the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). What most people don’t know is that in 1995, he authored this book. A book that is, without a doubt, one of the best books on the advertising industry.

Anything missing? What would you add?

(special thanks to Jean-Philippe Belley for asking the question again to me today via email, and for inspiring me to pull this list together by roaming through my personal book collection).

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What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 3

Is Gartner right about Chief Marketing Officers spending more on IT than the Chief Information Officer in the coming years?

A very senior Chief Marketing Officer at one of the largest telecommunications companies in North America leaned over my shoulder after someone mentioned the famed Gartner report at an event, and sighed, “if I hear about this report one more time, I am going to blow a gasket.” Still, it is hard to argue that every business is now a digital business. We’re not just talking about the availability of that much more consumer information or data to help brands make better decisions and connect more powerfully with their consumers (you can read more about that in the last installment: What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 2), we’re talking about the actual infrastructure of the marketing department and what keeps it humming along.  

Are marketers still scared of technology? 

When we started Twist Image in 2000, the vision was to help the marketing community understand and embrace the power of the Internet. The timing was – somewhat – precarious. Back then, if the brand even had a website, it was being developed, handled and maintained by the IT department. As the commercialization of the Internet increased and brands began to understand the power of e-commerce, online ordering, social media and more, the best-in-class players extradited the website from the clutches of IT, but a lot had to happen for this to work. Back in 2000, it was common for marketing professionals to be scared of technology and the IT department (that being said, there are many marketers who still have their collective heads stuck in the sand), and the IT department didn’t trust the marketers with the technology (that being said, there are many IT pros who still don’t, and think we’re mucking it up pretty good). Fast forward to this date and things have improved, but we still have a vast chasm that needs to be collapsed.

Can we get the CMO and CIO to shack up?

You probably won’t find a CIO who doesn’t think that they need better alignment with the CMO, and the feeling from the marketers is mutual. As data and analytics take a more predominant role in business decisions, marketers are going to face a world where IT (both hardware and software) to operationalize the department of marketing is going to hit some exponential growth curves.  

The strategic partnership between marketing and IT.

Here’s what we know: the social layer of technology is still running at full bore. Brands are diving deeper and deeper in the realms of digital marketing, and we are seeing the media dollars continue to shift (especially as mobile ramps up on advertising). From the TechCrunch news item, Digital Ads Will Be 22% Of All U.S. Ad Spend In 2013, Mobile Ads 3.7%; Total Global Ad Spend In 2013 $503B, on September 30th, 2013: “mobile is growing seven times faster than desktop Internet spend, with mobile ads growing by 77% in 2013, 56% in 2014 and 48% in 2015., driven by the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets. Globally, internet advertising will grow at an average of 10% a year.” Marketing departments are going to soon push beyond the data and media component as newer needs arise. Currently, we are seeing strong investment in technology companies that specialize in contextual marketing solutions. The wealth of information that provides marketing context now extends well past things like simple location. Because of smartphones and tablets, the ability to understand environment, emotion, culture and economic factors is here. Wearable technology and the Internet of things is only going to push this further. Yes, we have ten billion-plus wireless connected devices today, but it’s looking like that number will triple by 2020 to over thirty billion devices (more on that here: 10BN+ Wirelessly Connected Devices Today, 30BN+ In 2020′s ‘Internet Of Everything’, Says ABI Research). If everything that can be plugged in or has a battery is also online, just imagine the technology infrastructure that brands will require to better connect messages and products to their consumers?

The humanization of technology.

Technology has removed technology from technology. Look no further than the iPad for proof of this. A simple button to turn on and it works like electricity (switch it, and it’s on… no boot up time). Also, no instruction manuals. These devices are as easy to use as plugging in a lamp and flipping the switch (just slide to unlock). Because we have arrived at this inflection point, it’s safe to say that everything from cloud computing, personalization and localization are going to become increasingly more relevant for marketers to pay attention to. What this leads to is a world of marketing automation (yes, more IT and technology). What sounds like more buzzwords and a means to scare the professional marketer, is really just another way to say this: if the CMO does not become increasingly adept at IT and technology, they will get left behind. These tools, services and applications aren’t just engines to push advertising conversion in a more positive direction, they are quickly become core tools of the marketing trade.

The technology can’t be stopped.

As the CIO’s role continues to evolve within the organization, the CMO must be deeply connected to the technological infrastructure that will be driving business results. It doesn’t take much more than some general sniffing around Google to see how profound and dramatic the infiltration of IT and technology in the marketing department has become… and how much more pervasive and important of a role it is going to play. The marketing function of an organization is a technology-driven one. That fate has been sealed. Now, we just need the marketers to accept, embrace it and work with it.

What does this mean for media and communications?

In the next post (in about two weeks time), we will look at how the Chief Marketing Officer is dealing with convergence, disintermediation and the massive shift from advertising as a means of producing revenue to a world of true business solutions (where advertising may just be one of the many mechanism that a brand will use to inform the public of something new and/or different). We will look at the transition to the one screen world (where the only screen that matters is the one that is in front of the consumer) to how CMOs have been at dealing with the signal to noise ratio in a world where content is both king and so easy to produce and distribute.

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…

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The Price Of Personalization

What kind of advertising do you want?

It’s a serious question. It’s a question that most consumers don’t ask themselves, but they should. I was invited to speak at Vogue magazine’s leadership conference in New York City the other week. One thing is certain about that magazine: people buy it for the ads as much as they’re buying it for the content. They’re not the only ones. Many people can’t wait to go to the movie theater to see which previews they’re going to show. When an upcoming movie is going to be previewed before certain movies, there are individuals who go to the film just to catch a glimpse of the preview. Personally, I look forward to the monthly editions of Wired and Fast Company in paper format, to not only enjoy the content, but the ads that are a part of it.

Sometimes we forget about the role of advertising.

Advertising doesn’t have to be a nuisance or annoying. The true role of advertising is that it acts as a commercial vehicle of information delivery. The intent of it is to create interest, desire and even action in consumers. Not all consumers. Just the ones that it is aiming to appease to. Sadly, we have spent decades being bombarded with ads everywhere (and not very good ones at that). So, here we are. The day and age when certain types of media outlets can now target and deliver an ad that we, the consumers, might find that much more relevant. We’ve seen it in the nascent stages of behavioral targeting and now in a much more pervasive way with remarketing.

But, there’s a big problem with marketers today.

In my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete, I delve much deeper into the problem of how marketers have done a terrible job of explaining the difference between privacy and personalization. It has become such a problem, that the pitchforks came out when I suggested that personalization is a good thing in a recent national newspaper article (Financial Post – Bell’s move to track customers’ web history, TV viewing sparks probe by privacy regulator). There are a couple of things that must be better defined for everyone to understand why I (and all marketers) feel so strongly that personalization creates the best win-win scenario:

  1. Private account information must remain private. That highly personal and sensitive information (who you are, where you live, your account information, payment methods, etc…) should never be shared or used without the explicit permission of the account holder.
  2. All other information that is being used to create a more personalized experience must be both anonymous and clearly explained to the account holder.
  3. Permission must be granted by the account holder to have their usage tracked for marketing personalization.
  4. The ability to opt-out – at any time – must also be clear and permitted.

Why we must not confuse privacy with personalization…

I believe this to be an amazing moment in time for brands, advertisers, media companies and yes, the consumer, as well. The more personalized the advertising, the more useful and good the experience will be for the consumer. The more personalized the advertising, the more media companies can charge for ads (hopefully, this means that the quality of ads will improve along with the price of admission). The more personalized the advertising, the more brands will ensure that they’re not wasting their time, money and/or energy on people who are only being annoyed or disrupted by the engagement (that would be an expensive waste). Still, we can’t get over this whole “privacy” thing. It’s too bad. If you ask consumers – over the history of time – what kind of advertising they would prefer, the answer has never changed. In all of the research, you will always see the same answers. They want “relevancy,” “personalization” or ads that, “speak to them.” Well, that time is here, and instead of embracing it, they’re rightfully being scared off because marketers have done a terrible job in the past of both protecting their privacy and rights, and clearly explaining that we can now personalize and optimize their experience without breaching any real privacy issues that can uniquely attribute their usage to anything but the usage.

It’s too bad.

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Growth Hacker Marketing And The Rise Of Engineers In Marketing

If you’re a brand and you don’t believe in advertising, what do you do?

The default position is to use social media. Create real interactions with real human beings. To be useful. To create content that makes a brand more likeable. Let’s face it, there are so many brands on social media, that’s it somewhat hard and ambiguous to say which ones are truly being effective. There isn’t (nor should there be) a common or unified metric to define success in these channels, and most brands may be investing heavily (in terms of money) but haven’t done the long, hard work of defining what the end-game should be. In the Marketing Charts news item, Too Many Companies On Social Media? Almost Half Say Yes, they state: “Within the US, almost half – 47.1% – of respondents who had been active on any type of social media in the previous 6 months indicated some level of agreement,” that they had “negative attitudes to social media marketing.”

Do you know what that means?

Marketers are being annoying (once again). And yet, brands like Uber, AirBnB, Dropbox, Instagram and many more Silicon Valley startup darlings have built magnificent and defendable brands without any of the traditional advertising fare and relying only on word of mouth within the social media channels as a form of awareness and validation. It would lead some traditional marketing practitioners to wonder if these brands have uncovered the true secret to viral marketing, or if there is something much more substantive underneath the hood? There has been a lot of attention on the idea of Growth Hacking. Some call it Growth Hacker Marketing (and it’s the title of Ryan Holiday‘s latest business book, Growth Hacker Marketing, as well). These Growth Hackers are engineers, coders and entrepreneurs who don’t know (or follow) the traditional marketing path (because it’s not something they have studied or practiced). They don’t sit in the marketing department or have optics into the CMO’s office. Instead, these people spend their entire day testing acquisition strategies and leveraging technologies like split A/B testing, web analytics and social listening tools to get people to try, share and loyally use their products and services. There is the infamous story of how Hotmail gained fame and fortune with their free email service by dropping the line, “P.S.: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail,” into every note that went through their digital mail system.

Will data trump gut?

In a marketing world of real-time bidding, programmatic buying and more automation tools than you can shake a TV ad at, it would be clever to state that engineers and data are can easily overthrow an advertising system that is archaic, in a world where we understand human nature and what humans are doing online in ways most of us could never have imagined. Brands enter into the social media fray as a way to build community, conversation and connect with influencers with this military-like mentality that every media channels must be conquered and infiltrated with their marketing message or brand dilution will set in. In the same breath, it’s hard to argue that the 22-year-old engineers who are Growth Hacking aren’t the next generation of where the marketing industry is headed.

Pushing the envelope.

Technology has a way of turning professionals into quibbling toddlers. Human beings resist and fear change, and yet we push technology to unimaginable lengths. The truth is that there has never been a more profound time in the history of marketing to be a professional in this industry. In the next half-decade we are going to see a dazzling amount of new technology, channels, data and opportunities for brands to make themselves truly relevant to consumers. We have moved from advertising as an engine of attention, to content as an engine to engage, to context as an engine to personalize and optimize. With this, we’re already seeing a more sophisticated consumer that understands both their role as a consumer and what technology does to make them more connected, informed and empowered. Growth Hacker Marketing is a new name for an old marketing strategy: customer acquisition. The true innovation in this field comes from the low-cost, no-barrier-to-entry to try, iterate, optimize and maximize the outcome. That’s the scary part, if you’re an advertising agency that really just sells ads (even if they are digital ads). The ante has been upped for marketers. This is a good thing. A brand new opportunity.

The better question is this: will these Growth Hackers even have an interest in working for the advertising agencies?

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The Failing State Of Content Marketing

Simply put: there is too much content in too many places.

While some may contend that the “cream always rises to the top,” when it comes to great content, there is another worthy argument that goes like this: there is too much cream and there are too many tops. Everyone is publishing – in text, images, audio and video. All of the time… and to the world. Of course, this is nothing new, and you will find instances when brands (think American Express and their Open Forum platform or what LinkedIn has done in recent months to become a top content provider with LinkedIn Today) are breaking the mold and busting through the immense amount of clutter, but the lessons about what works (and what’s just adding to the clutter) seem to be somewhat formulaic.

How do you make your content resonate? Here’s what the experts will tell you:

  1. Tell a great story.
  2. Tell that story in a new, fresh and interesting way.
  3. Tell that story in a quirky, weird, strange or random way.
  4. Tell that story in a way that will make them cry or feel deeply emotional.
  5. Tell that story in a timely way… be the first to uncover something new.
  6. Tell that story in a honest way.
  7. Tell that story in a shocking way.

That’s it. Easy. Right?

It’s true, that when you can nail the components of what makes a story come to life (and, if you’re struggling with this, make sure to read Joseph Campbell‘s The Hero With A Thousand Faces), you have a higher propensity for success. It’s also true that you don’t have to nail all seven components to have a hit on your hands (people have created stellar pieces of content using just one of the rules). Still, in a world of tweets, Snapchats and Facebook status updates that move faster than the ticker at the bottom of the screen while you’re watching CNN, getting any content to resonate is becoming increasingly more challenging. The half-life of content is a brutal beast in this day and age.

Why the content fails.

Some may point to the fact that the content is nothing more than marketing blather thinly veiled as genuine content, or that the vast majority of stuff we’re calling “content” is merely the publishing of a press release that has had its jargon surgically extracted by a former journalist. The truth has become bigger than what is being published. What the biggest publishers in the world tend to shy away from, when it comes to explaining how content becomes successful, is the distribution of it all.

If it’s good content, the content will be found. Not really.

This past week, MediaPost ran a great little news item titled, Failing Distribution Strategies Smother Great Content. The article is based on a recent Forrester report titled, Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing, that touches on this exact point: content needs proper distribution. More often than not, brands and their content marketing (or branded content, or blogging or whatever) leave that content within their own walled garden. The assumption is that people will come to them. The best publishers in the world make sure that the consumer can get their content on their own terms… on their preferred environments. Content without a deep and meaningful distribution strategy is never going to properly convert into anything for any brand. It’s painful for brands to hear this, but it’s true.

Plant your content seeds.

A personal story: I am often asked about why I chose to write two business books (Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete)? Why do I blog so frequently? Why do I contribute to Huffington Post? What about Harvard Business Review? And now, a spot on the radio every Monday morning? What’s the point? In a word: distribution. In order for my content to be effective (and the net result I am looking for is that our digital marketing agency, Twist Image, is easily recognized as a potential agency when brands think about their digital marketing needs), I need to ensure that our thinking is distributed far and wide and to different types of audiences in different states of circumstance. Does this mean that I will put this content everywhere? Absolutely not. I have spent a significant amount of time (over a decade) looking for new and interesting venues to put our thinking out, in order to increase the distribution. Traditional magazine publishers look at more than how much money they’re making from individual magazines and subscriptions by closely gauging increased circulation numbers and where those copies of the magazine are being sold. They are tinkering with growing distribution opportunities to maximize revenue potential.

The true success of content marketing.

If your brand is trying to identify why the content isn’t working, please take a much closer look at what the distribution strategy is of your content. You do have a distribution strategy for your content marketing platform, right? The sad reality is that many brands still struggle with a consistent editorial calendar and haven’t really thought all that much about what the distribution model looks like (and what it can become) beyond posting it on their own sites. I recently spent some time with an individual who has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the most beloved bloggers in the world. The strategy for success is more distribution that creation. They test things on Facebook, and then blow it out into a newsletter article if it gets traction on Facebook. Once they get the analytics from their email newsletter, they decide which pieces have done well enough to be blogged about. From their, this individual has a handful of very diverse third-party publishers interested in their content. What does this equate to? For every hour of writing a piece of content, they spend two to three hours working on the distribution of it – within their own channels and beyond. The frequency of publishing is reduced in order to spend more time on the distribution of it.

Great content means great distribution.

This isn’t just about tweeting about a new blog post or copying and pasting an article into a Facebook update (I am guilty as charged on this one). It’s about thinking of new ways to distribute your content and getting it to connect to a much broader audience. From the MediaPost article mentioned above: “Skinner, the author of ‘Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing,’ explains that placing too high a priority on content may help to close sales, but marketers miss the opportunity to reach a larger audience. The proof comes from a SAP Web content audit where the company discovered the content was only relevant to a minority of its target audience. After focusing more on distribution, SAP’s site grew to more than 200,000 unique visitors per month in 18 months.”

So, do you have a lot of great content and are you distributing it properly?

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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…

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The End Of Privacy… The Beginning Of Personalization

Marketers are at a precarious crossroads (whether they know it or not).

In my latest business book, CTRL ALT Delete, I lay out five movements that have fundamentally changed the brand forever (that most businesses are doing little – to nothing – about). One of these major movements is something I call, Sex With Data (with a hat-tip to Avinash Kaushik, the digital marketing evangelist for Google and author of the bestselling books, Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0). In this chapter, I also identify that one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is their ability (or inability) to better explain to consumers the chasm that exists between privacy (knowing a lot of personal information) in contrast to personalization (knowing what people are doing online to create a better experience for them). Those who argue that these are simple semantics are completely missing the bigger picture. Amazon‘s ability to create such a highly personalized experience is core to their retail success (and consumer satisfaction), but as the company begins to roll out their Amazon Media platform, the world will be better able to see what happens when a company understands so much about their consumer, that all of the advertising associated with the experience will – at the very least – be highly relevant (if not substantially more transactional than most of the online advertising that we’re exposed to). My bet is that if Amazon plays its cards right, it will have capabilities as personalized and profound as Google’s AdWords.

But what about the rest of the Web?

Tracking is such a contentious issue that no matter how anti-tracking a marketer may be, eyebrows will be raised by the mere association of the profession to the action. Yes, it has become that dire. Every day, more and more traditional media outlets are warning about the nefarious actions of marketers in capturing all of our children’s information, in an effort to abduct them and force them into an international sex slave ring (ok, I made that last part up). But it’s true. When people see how their online usage is being near-freely traded on the digital market, it’s a far hop, skip and a jump to think about how much more personal information they would take (and abuse), if offered. Cookies used to be a tasty treat, now we’re all worried about our digital cookies and what crumbs we are leaving behind in an effort to use more cool free stuff like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

It’s time to come clean.

Did you know that Google accounts for close to a third of the worldwide online advertising revenue? I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off of the floor. It’s true. So, how would you feel if Google did away with the cookie – as we have known it to date – and introduced a little something called AdID? That is what USA Today is reporting in the article titled, Google may ditch ‘cookies’ as online ad tracker. From the news item: “Google… is developing an anonymous identifier for advertising, or AdID, that would replace third-party cookies as the way advertisers track people’s Internet browsing activity for marketing purposes… [it] would be transmitted to advertisers and ad networks that have agreed to basic guidelines, giving consumers more privacy and control over how they browse the Web… on condition of anonymity.” It’s not hard to imagine the online squabbling that this is creating, as online advertising associations, ad networks, media professionals and more worry about how much more significant power and information this would give Google (and how this might affect the financial growth of their own businesses). Granted, I am an unabashed Google fan boy, but I would embrace this type of initiative, because it answers to a higher calling (hopefully). It removes the privacy issue (hopefully… and if done well) and brings the true power and glory of the Internet and online advertising to life: the ability to generate, distribute and engage in much more personalized advertising as a way to compliment the user’s experience. Say what you will about Google’s advertising platform, it is hard to argue that it is one of (if not THE) most efficient advertising platforms that exists. From simplicity and creative to distribution and consumer adoption. As much as people say that they hate advertising, the most cynical of consumers will admit that Google’s solution is the “best of the worst,” if pushed for an opinion.

Performance marketing for all.

Whether or not it’s Google’s AdID or something else, as a marketer we need to both applaud and get on board with these types of initiatives. We need these types of transparent and powerful solutions. It could lead us down a magical path, where brands are using this information to better segment and create advertising that… actually works! (believe it or not). Imagine that? The original promise of banner advertising – when it was first introduced – was all about putting an ad in front of a person that is relevant, and that the consumers could interact with. Sadly, the bulk of those ads sucked so bad, and were so annoying that users tuned them out. As an industry, we started calling them display advertising, because of the basic impressions that they could generate (yes, we went back to eyeballs and branding). What if this idea of personalized (without the worry of breaching any privacy) brings us full circle back to that original promise? What if Google (or someone else) builds a better mousetrap, that helps advertisers better understand how to personalize their creative without any transference of personal data? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Imagine, if as an industry, we could get behind this type of solution. Imagine what could be…

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A Simple (But Hard) Truth That Will Change Your Marketing Forever

It’s about something more than authenticity.

It is, somewhat, amazing that we live in a day and age when people talk about brands and authenticity like it is some kind of given. Just because brands have been forced to engage with consumers in a much q…

If You Have Ever Been Rejected… Be Like Bono

The letter read…

“Thank you for submitting your tape of ‘U2‘ to RSO, we have listened with careful consideration, but feel it is not suitable for us at present. We wish you luck with your future career.”

They were kind enough to end the letter by saying, “sincerely.” So, that’s something.

How many times have you been told “no”?

It’s not that The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Museum doesn’t have tons of eye candy, videos and collectibles that would get the most cynical of music enthusiast smiling. It’s full of that. But, after spending several hours there today, in Cleveland, it is that short letter for Bono and the boys that I took a picture of, and will constantly refer back to when someone tells me no or rejects one my ideas. Thankfully, U2 kept going. They believed in the work that they were creating, and they persevered to the tune of massive global stardom. U2 is the type of iconic band that can sell out any stadium that has electricity. They’re just that big. They’re adored by millions. There are thousands of stories about rejection like this one. What’s most interesting is just how much things have changed. The record industry (like the marketing industry) used to be based on a scarcity model. Without the right music, look, feel, management, resources, network and more, the odds of making it would shrink exponentially. Record labels could only release a handful of albums each and every year, and there was only so much shelf space in record stores for all of these artists. Gatekeepers had to do their best to reserve these coveted spots for “sure things.” 

From scarcity to abundance.

Technology has added some dynamic layers of abundance to this. Now, any artist (or marketer) can share their ideas – in text, images, audio and video – instantly and (mostly) for free with the world. You can post your music to SoundCloud, a video to YouTube, or you can pique someone’s interest via Facebook, Twitter and beyond. It has never been easier to share, because the cost of distribution has slipped to zero along with the barriers to entry. It gets even crazier when you think about the cost to record that music when compared to the days of recording studios and more. There’s nothing new in that. We’ve been banging this drum for well over a decade already. Still, not a day passes by that someone isn’t down in the dumps over being rejected or told that they can’t do something.

If it’s important to you.

When I think about rejection. When I think about quitting. When I think about all of the people who have ever tried to hold me back (including my own beliefs), I think about two books:

  1. The Dip by Seth Godin.
  2. Do The Work by Steven Pressfield.

They are small books with massive ideas that will help you figure out how to start something and/or when to end it. Both are important. Now, I have a picture of this letter that some record company wrote to U2. I can slide to unlock my iPhone, select my photos and just read it. In two seconds, I can then decide if whatever rejection I’m facing has merit beyond someone – with their own ego issues – getting in the way. This doesn’t mean that other people’s opinions and insights don’t deserve any attention. Constructive criticism and feedback is often good and may very well send you on a different and more successful course. Still, people will reject you and your ideas for a myriad of reasons… and a lot of the time it has very little to do with your skills, talent, artistry and hunger. Always remember that.

If you’re feeling rejected, just read that note to U2 over again, and be like Bono. Keep at it.

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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…

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How Did You Do That? It’s Magic!

You can blame The Ninja on this one.

I call Christopher S. Penn, “The Ninja,” for a myriad of reasons. He also happens to be one of the most practical and well-thought-out working professional marketers that I know (and I do not say that lightly). Years ago, we were discussing topics like persuasion and presentation skills during one of our not-frequent-enough chats, when he introduced me to the book, Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz. Penn’s reasoning is sound: if you really want to master the art of presenting, there are few people as amazing at presenting than a great magician, and this book is over-the-top with insights about how to work an audience, and how to turn a presentation into a spectacle (in the best way possible).

And then, it hit me.

When I was a kid, I was into magic. Really into magic. I loved it. I bought tricks. I had one of those old-fashioned hardcover suitcases that eventually became stuffed with all kinds of magic tricks. Yes, I used to perform at kid’s birthday parties. I’m not sure where that passion went (it probably evolved into some of the words that you’re reading right now), but it wasn’t something that I had thought about until I was halfway through reading Strong Magic. That book sent me back down another rabbit hole. One of watching magicians, learning how tricks are done, but – most importantly – reading a lot about magicians and how they weave their craft (hat-tip to Mark Levy and Steve Cohen as well).

It’s all magic.

The overall sentiment I share with those who ask me about my fascination with magic is this: if you understand how magic works, you know things about the human condition that most other human beings don’t know. While the tricks are simply tricks, it’s the manipulation of thought and suspension of belief that makes magic more real than most people know. In fact, it’s all about the presentation. One of the true masters is David Copperfield. Kevin Rose recently had an amazing conversation with Copperfield for his latest episode of Foundation (still, one of the best video podcasts out there). There is a ton of meat in this interview, and many interesting thoughts about how Copperfield blends magic with entrepreneurship and yes, even technology.

You have to watch this…

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Please Track Us

Every brand you like online (Amazon, Facebook, Google and more) are monitoring your every move.

Are you creeped out? They’re monitoring you for many reasons. Some are doing it to better understand if what they’re creating works, in terms of how you view, click, touch, move and share through a digital experience. Others are tracking you to better understand how one piece of content leads to another. This way, they can test and learn what types of things you may be more inclined to look at. Some are tracking you in order to put more relevant ads in front of your face. So, if you were looking at a pair of shoes on Zappos and find yourself on some other website later in the day, you may find a Zappos ad with the exact brand of shoes in it that you were looking at earlier, with a call to action (like a discount code or free shipping). This is called retargeting, and it’s a contentious component of online advertising, because of how your information is being shared beyond the confines of one specific site (with many potential third-parties) and because it has become an increasingly effective way to advertise.

All marketers are liars.

There is an inherent and well-deserved truth to the title of Seth Godin‘s 2005 seminal book, All Marketers Are Liars. It’s no surprise that the marketing profession has a bad reputation. You could even call it ironic that the marketing industry is in such dire need of a better marketing campaign (and in even worse need of a complete rebrand). Editorials, like the one published in The New York Times‘ Sunday Review this past weekend (see: Don’t Track Us), are not helping either. Privacy advocates and policy makers are naturally reacting to the public outcry that online tracking of consumers has gone from something many didn’t want to openly admit to doing, to a realm where marketers who are engaged in these types of activities may not even be aware just how much of this consumer data is floating around out there, who has it, what they’re doing with it and more.

What’s best for the consumer?

It’s clear that this entire component of the marketing industry needs a thorough review. It’s clear that consumers, brands and agencies need to have a much more transparent approach to what is being collected, how it is being used, how it is being shared and more. Ultimately, consumers should have some say in what they’re comfortable sharing, and what they would much prefer to have kept as private or unavailable to these websites, ad networks and third-parties. But there is a much bigger elephant in the room that needs to be drawn out, approached, copped to and discussed: this type of tracking works and consumers are loving it (because the results prove it: Study: What Actual Marketers Feel About Retargeting, FBX & More).

Pitchforks, tar and feathers.

Before you start lighting up those pitchforks and come after us marketers with a mix of mass hysteria and moral panic, take a look at your own online behavior and ask yourself, which scenario you prefer? Go to Amazon and start shopping (presuming you have been there before), and ask yourself, “what is the experience like?” Now, go back to Amazon, sign out, clear your web browser’s cache and go back to Amazon, without logging in, and ask yourself, “what is the experience like?” The answer is always the same: when Amazon doesn’t know who you are or have your viewing/shopping history, the experience is pretty gruesome. There’s simply not much to see because you can see everything. When Zappos is better able to show you inventory because they know you’re a female, what your shoe size is, and can cater the entire experience to your past shopping habits, we marvel at the ingenuity. The lesson is clear: relevancy and a more personal experience makes for a happier consumer and a better brand experience. The same is true about ads. Consumers will tell you that they hate advertising, but if they have to see ads, they prefer that they be relevant, personal and contextual.

The enigma, wrapped in bacon wrapped in a paradigm.

What consumers (and brands) really need is a win-win scenario. Digging deeper into that New York Times editorial piece, it becomes abundantly clear that we’re not there yet: “For the last two years, a group of Internet and advertising businesses and experts has been working on this problem. It is hoping to create a voluntary standard that would be adopted by companies that make Web browsers, the ad networks and Web sites. But advocates for greater privacy and groups representing advertising and marketing companies remain far apart on several important issues, like what constitutes tracking.” Perhaps we need to better define what is privacy and what is personalization? Instead of privacy advocates on the case, perhaps we need a healthy dose of personalization advocates. All of the “do not track” initiatives seem more like platforms to complain about advertising, than ones that help consumers understand what a world without personalization looks like. These groups – and other media pundits – are blurring the lines between what we’re anonymously doing online versus who we are. What we’re doing is the personalization part of the equation,  and who we are is the personal stuff. If we can better help consumers understand that better brand experiences happen when these channels understand what you’re doing, but not who you are, by collecting usage and not personal information, we may be able to achieve a result that truly is mutually beneficial.

The case for tracking.

Policy makers stepping in and unilaterally making the case that all tracking is a form of capturing personal information has the same whiff as all consumers thinking that their personal information is being shared when it may only be anonymous usage. This idea that “one size fits all” for tracking is silly in a world of social media, e-commerce, websites, smartphones and tablets. It’s not good if the current hyperbole over tracking wins, and it’s definitely not healthy if it entirely dies on the vine as well. Consumers need to better educate themselves and have the options to make intelligent decisions instead of a generalized position that will, ultimately, make the consumer experience, bland, impersonal, and so generic that their frustration over being tracked will be trumped by platforms, channels and brands that are giving them nothing personal or of value other than generic ads and products/services that they don’t care about/need. We need to start asking the tough questions: what information is personal versus what information is creating a better personalized experience? What is a better experience: ads, products or services that are based on my usage and preferences or non-targeted ads and no ability for a brand experience to know me?

What do you think consumers would truly prefer? A world of no tracking or a world of personalization and context?

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:

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