marketing industry

The End Of Liking A Brand In A Move Towards Anti-Social Media

Be careful which brands you like, friend and follow going forward.

That was the headline yesterday in The New York Times article, When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue. What may seem like legal side-stepping to avoid things like class action lawsuits or individuals suing a brand, feels like a massive movement by brands to force consumers with any sort of issue to seek arbitration over the courts. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it is becoming a major issue for major corporations. With that, this New York Times article points this issue into an arena that may shock the marketing industry. From the article:

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, ‘join’ it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways. Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.”

What does that mean to social media? A lot.

Marketers have taken issue with these sorts of things long before this breaking news. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and others are constantly being criticized because of their terms of service and usage regulations and agreements. They are long, legal, cumbersome and very infrequently read or understood by consumers. Now, imagine this layer of confusion being added to mix. So, as this theory goes, if someone likes your page on Facebook, they are suddenly waiving their right to sue the company should something negative come about. While this may work for other industries, this seems even more restrictive when we’re talking about food companies. Picture a scenario where you like this brand on Facebook and then months later are poisoned due to quality controls at the factory. Suddenly, you can’t sue or take part in a class action suit because you clicked a like button for a completely different reason. If you didn’t click that like button… does that make it fair ball to sue?

We have to get less legal about things.

No one will argue that we live in very litigious times. People suing fast food restaurants because they spilled boiling coffee on themselves by accident (how is that the brand’s fault? They should not make the coffee so hot or they should put a warning on the coffee cups that the contents may be hot… for real). It takes all kinds. Still, in a world where consumers have demanded transparency, and brands have responded by attempting to be more open and real (in particular, on social media channels), it’s astonishing that these types of antics will be – in some form or another – considered good customer advocacy.

Connecting the points.

What makes digital marketing truly fascinating (for me, anyways) is how it elevates brands above and beyond a world of advertising (shouting messages) into a bigger palette of marketing expression. With it will come challenges (as we have seen on numerous occasions). It forces everybody in an organization (from the CEO and CMO down to the people on the frontlines) to think differently about how they act, react, communicate and engage with an audience. On the the other side, if every attempt to do so is met with a need for the legal department to absolve the brand of any mistakes, we may be headed in the wrong direction. The article goes on to state: “Arbitration experts said courts would probably require General Mills to prove that a customer was aware of its new policy before issuing decisions denying legal action against the company.” Translation: we are pitting brands against consumers and vice-versa… all over again. Over a decade ago, we begun to usher in this new type of connection and communication. It made me proud to be in the marketing profession. I understand the brand’s perspective and their need to protect themselves from frivolous and unfounded claims. I also understand the consumer’s perspective and their need to take action against anyone who knowingly does them harm. We have a legal system for a reason. That being said, forcing consumers to waive their legal rights because they “like” a brand on Facebook feels like a terribly anti-social statement to be making.

We have to ask ourselves if these types of legal arrangements are really empowering and entrusting our consumers or does it spell the end for social media? 

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Let’s Stop Mixing Up Digital Advertising With Digital Marketing

I get into this fight all of the time.

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

How does a digital marketing agency fit into this?

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

Can you feel the difference?

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

That’s a lot of bank.

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

It’s about more than media.

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

Don’t dismiss advertising.

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

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

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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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Fame Is Exhausting, So Don’t Seek It Out

Don’t all famous people look exhausted?

Of course that’s probably just a simple man’s interpretation and can be easily psycho-analyzed to death. Still, I have been thinking a lot about fame lately. What does it mean? Why do we seek it out? What is the point? I have had a strange life, in that I have been surrounded (from a young age) by people who are famous. Even now, I can count some famous people as true friends, and when I take to the stage to speak, I am (more often than not) bookended by some pretty famous folks as well. The truth is that these people don’t look all that exhausted, and while they probably have similar issues that regular folks (like you and I) have – I’m sure they fight with their spouses, that they’re disappointing their kids, that they grapple with addiction and are faced with stress and anxiety – it seems like they are content with how things have played out. They’re probably just busier than the vast majority of us and are put in front of more opportunities because of the attention that they’re getting.

The secret about fame.

I was having breakfast with some colleagues and someone implied that I was famous. I brushed it off. It felt weird. No one was interrupting our meeting and asking for an autograph. I’m anonymous in my day-to-day life. The implication was that I may be too busy to do something. Anything. Too busy to respond to email. Too busy to look at a new business opportunity. To busy to help and mentor someone. Too busy to give some time to a local charity. Whatever. When I prodded them a little bit more by scoffing at the notion, they said that my content is everywhere and that it’s hard not to look at the digital marketing landscape and not see my name pop up. They were being kind. I was being defensive.

It’s not about the fame.

When I think of fame, I think of individuals who are solely focused on being famous. You probably know people who have a lot of friends and followers like this on social media. They like to let you know how much of a big deal they are on Twitter, and the like. You probably know some celebrities who are famous for being famous (*cough* Kardashian *cough*). It’s not about the fame. I don’t wake up and think (or dream) about being famous. In fact, most of the famous people that I know are the same. I wake up and want to make the marketing industry better and more respected. I wake up and want brands to find better (and more human) ways to connect with their consumers. I wake up and have a deep desire to uncover some kind of relevant nugget and share it with clients and you. If the by-product is that people like this, share this, connect with this and want to be a part of this, then that is magical… and it’s very flattering.

Don’t confuse fame with chasing an audience.

In the massive hit song Fame by David Bowie, there’s this line: “Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame.” It’s a great line because it’s true. Brands try to get attention and (some) are willing to do just about anything to get it. What most fail to realize is that fame isn’t a destination. Fame is a minor outcome of doing something that people want to connect with. AdWeek reported yesterday that the Super Bowl ads for this coming year are sold out. The article states:Fox has sold the last of its available in-game Super Bowl spots, securing an average rate of $4 million per 30 seconds of airtime for the Feb. 2 broadcast. Media buyers said that latecomers who urgently wanted to break into the NFL‘s marquee event invested as much as $4.5 million per :30.” If you don’t think brands and people are desperate for fame, you are not paying attention.

The thing about fame.

Fame is exciting and it’s seducing. I don’t believe that I am famous (not for a minute), but I can tell you about its seduction powers by watching those that I know who have a modicum of it. Those who aren’t exhausted by it are the ones who aren’t thinking about what it is and the value of it. They don’t let fame go to their head (which is not easy). Instead, they are head down and deeply focused on creating whatever it is that is important to them. They want to know that it has meaning, because it gives their lives meaning. If you advertise for fame and not because you’re trying to inform people of something new, it’s probably going to blow up in your face.

Don’t think about becoming famous. Think about creating a impact with the work that you do. Let’s hope the Super Bowl ads deliver that kind of value.

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Keep Calm And Carry On – 5 Steps To Getting Rid Of Stress And Anxiety

Are you feeling a little stressed? Anxious? Having a panic attack here and there?

We all deal with stress and anxiety in a multitude of ways. People will often comment on how calm and collected I seem. In the back of my mind, all I can think about is a duck swimming across the pond. How calm and relaxed it seems, until you look beneath the surface and see how frenetic and chaotic it is scrambling to stay afloat. That’s me. I’m that duck. Quack. Quack. We’re all ducks – to a certain degree. I’ve been very interested in how many people have come forward – quite publicly – to talk about their anxiety, stress and depression. Successful people. People you would never suspect. In fact, I love it. There has always been a stigma around mental health, and it’s about time that we recognize how any illness in the mind is no different from any other illness we experience. The marketing industry is notorious for burning people out to the point of deep depression, severe anxiety and more (sexy, I know). Around this time of year, it gets exasperated for a myriad of reasons (end of the year rush, dealing with family through the holidays, the shift towards winter, that moron in front of you who doesn’t know how to park… you get the idea).

It’s all in your head.

Sadly, we still hear that a lot. I wish more people would end that sentence with, ” BUT… the mind navigates the body.” It’s easy to tell someone to talk their way out of how they’re currently feeling, so I came up with an exercise for those who think it’s as simple as “calming yourself down.” Here we go: think of someone you are desperately attracted to. It can be a celebrity, your spouse or anyone (but keep it legal!). Now imagine that they have reached out to you, they’re interested and they have declared that they must be with you. Imagine what that night would be like. Forget whatever relationship you’re in, let your inhibitions loose and really let your mind wander. Think about what they’re wearing, how they smell, where you would meet and how the events of the evening might unfold (make it really naughty, too!). How does your body feel? What are your thoughts? Are you turned on? Now, forget all about it. Don’t ever think about anything that you just thought about ever again. How did that work out for you? Impossible, right? Stress, anxiety and depression are typically a multiplier of that. Once those wires are connected (and they connect for a ton of different reasons – traumatic moment, a chemical imbalance, genetics, etc…) – it is ever-complicated to disconnect and untangle those wires. So, it’s never all in your head. It may start there, but it becomes very physical and very biological very quickly. The mind navigates the body.

It’s less about control and much more about acceptance.

Some people are more anxious than others. Some people produce more types of hormones and chemicals than others. There is no “normal.” We are all unique, and with that comes a unique sense of being. I probably spend too much time thinking about my finals days. For me, it is a key driver of success (I don’t want to waste a moment before those last ones), but it is one that can cause quite a bit of anxiety (the uncertainty of it all – from how it will end to when it will end to how sad I will be to leave my loved ones). With that, I can recognize that stress and anxiety is as much a human trait as joy, love and happiness. In fact, finding and accepting the balance is key here. Humans have a full spectrum of emotions. Just as you can’t be thrilled about life all of the time, you also can’t always be anxious or stressed (even though it sometimes feels like it). In the end, we all deal with this spectrum of emotions in different ways. Some have a drink at night to calm down, others smoke something funky. Some might jump out of a plane, while others might go looking for a Swami in the Himalayans. All of those are ways in which we self-medicate and try to tranquilize our awareness that we’re alive and ever-aware of our own mortality. 

Give me a break.

It’s not foolproof, but here are a five tools that you can deploy to manage the times when things get a little too stressed and/or anxious. It’s even a great path out of the occasional panic attack:

  1. Be prepared. The best way to deal with these emotions is to know that you will get them. So, when they come on, don’t act surprised, don’t question why this is happening to you. Just accept it. You’re anxious or stressing out or having a panic attack. It happens. Try reading the book, The Happiness Trap as soon as possible. It is chock full of great examples of how to better understand what’s happening in your mind and body. Having that knowledge and the skills within the book will allow you to be better prepared when you’re not feeling great.
  2. Stop time travelling. Most people know James Altucher as the angel investor, bestselling business book author and blogger (you can hear my conversation with James right here: SPOS #366 – James Altucher Wants You To Choose Yourself). He’s all that and more. I can’t remember where I read it, but James was talking about stressing out (something he knows a ton about) and he reframed that deep and dark moment by asking himself if he’s time travelling or not. Yes, time travel. Most people suffer with fear and anxiety over things that have either transpired in the past or thinking about things that have yet to happen. They’re time travelling (or as he says: “Don’t get lost in the future. Don’t get lost in the past. Turn off your time machine. Live right now. We need you here in the present moment. We need you because the world is a better place when you are here and not time traveling.”). They’re not in the present (where, more than likely, everything is actually just fine). Anxiety and panic sets in when we think about things that have happened in our past (which are sadly done and out of our control at this moment in time) or worrying about the future. Tony Blauer is a very close friend and my former close quarters combatives coach. He always says that fear is an acronym for: False Evidence Appearing Real. So, when we stress about the worries of the future, we are simply building a case with false evidence (you can hear my conversation with Tony right here: SPOS #355 – Overcoming Fear With Tony Blauer). So, the next time that panic sets in, ask yourself if it is legitimate (it’s happening in the now and you should be concerned!) or if you are time travelling. More often than not, you are time travelling. Stop time travelling.  
  3. Breathe better. Remember, the mind navigates the body. When we stress, it causes a chain physiological reaction that manifests itself into some very physical things. What most people don’t realize is that if you can better understand your body, it sends messages back to the reptilian brain that there is no reason for the fight or flight system to be triggered. One of the best breathing techniques I have uncovered is from Dr. Andrew Weil. You can see the full video of this simple three-step technique below (or see a more in-depth explanation right here: Take A Breather). The best part about this breathing technique is that it works. Really works. And, you can do this while being in a room full of people and nobody will be any the wiser. Along with this breathing technique, I’ll also recommend that you think about your jaw. This was something taught to me by Jim Fannin, who is a recognized expert in helping pro athletes get into “the zone.” I first met Jim because we were both speaking at the same event. The difference between us, was that it was my first speaking event and it was in front of thousands of people. When I cornered him in the hotel lobby and told him how nervous I was, he asked me to focus on my jaw. Loosening it. Moving it around. Open and closing my mouth to relax the jaw. When you watch pro athletes (think about Michael Jordan’s wagging tongue as he drives for the hoop), you will notice that the most trained professionals are in the zone and relaxed with a very relaxed jaw (you can listen to my conversation with Jim right here). Together these two techniques should help you better understand your body. Many people praise meditation. I enjoy meditating, but find these two techniques exceptional and quick.  
  4. Go with the flow. When the negative feelings happen, we tend to tense up, resist it, ignore or try to fight it. There has been countless pieces of research lately that will tell you how much worse doing any of those things can be. Don’t fight it, go with it. Here’s a simple visualization: when you’re feeling stressed or have anxiety coming over you, find a quiet place. You can sit, lie down or even go for a walk as it happen. Don’t fight it. Imagine you are standing in a river. Everything is safe in the water. You can go against the current or allow your body to float. Let the rushing water take you. Accept it. Go with the flow. Most people try to fight against the current. Don’t do this. More often than not, when you let go of fighting it and let it wash over you, it will dissipate a lot quicker and your recovery time will be much shorter. You’re accepting it as a a part of who you are and you’re letting it run its course. Another visualization (which I may have stolen from The Happiness Trap book I mentioned above) it to focus on the thoughts you’re having. However negative or strange that they may be, imagine that each thought is a piece of clothing on a clothing line. If the thought is a negative one, just unclip it from the line and let it go. If it comes back, just unclip it again. Our mind is full of stories, images and imagery. Most of it is random. So, when you have a negative one, unclip it and let it go. We have millions of thoughts every day. Some are helpful but most are random. 
  5. Get help. I don’t mean talking to a spouse or a loved one. Get real help. Don’t be ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We wake up everyday and look at our bodies and think about ways to improve our physical health. We do Crossfit, we go for a run, Yoga poses, we diet, we bike, whatever. Why don’t we take the same kind of care and training for everything that is above our shoulders? Talking things out with a professional (who is paid to listen and give an outsider’s perspective) will make you feel almost as good as finishing a marathon. Even if you don’t think you need it, you will be amazed at the self-actualization, empathy and better overall health that you will have when you can hash out your thinking with someone who better understands how our brains work and why we think the things we think. Mental training is as important as your physical training.

Thank you.

It’s Thanksgiving for many people today. I’m thankful for everything that has happened in my life. Yes, the good, the bad, the ugly and the stressful. It’s all a part of what makes me “me.” I am also thankful that I have you – out there – reading, listening, connecting and engaging.

With that, what are you best tips, tricks and techniques to find a better center space and more mindfulness?

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How Much Does It Cost?

Let’s talk about money.

The marketing agency business is a strange bird. Brands are strange birds too. It’s a complex web of relationships that is often confusing, evolving, thrilling, beautiful, painful and more. As the marketing industry evolves, we have all experienced massive shifts in how the business is won and done. First, there is the procurement component. More and more, the procurement department is leading the charge not only in the negotiation of fees, but in the running of the bidding for the business. That, in and of itself, is book-worthy content. For the moment, let’s put that aside and look at a more predominant and frustrating component of pitching. Let’s talk about when there is no budget allocation.

Why would anybody pitch on a piece of business without a budget?

It happens all of the time. Agencies will be given these massive RFPs (Request For Proposals) or RFIs (Requests For Information) that take days, weeks and more to complete. These phases in agency new business are not only disruptive to the work flow (because agencies never know when they are coming in and then have to divert resources to make a run at this new piece of business), but cost a tremendous amount of money to complete. It’s amazing – after all of these years – how brands fail to understand the simple business model of the marketing agency (which is this: agencies charge more for a human unit of time than they pay for it). From there, it has been well-documented that these requests for proposals or information are usually littered with unreasonable requests (like providing strategic and creative direction for a particular problem with no promise of compensation). As a brand, to not afford the agency the courtesy of knowing and understanding the budget that is being laid against the request demonstrates a complete lack of understanding as to how this business works.

Harsh? But it’s true.

I have been in the marketing business since the late eighties. I’ve worked on the publisher side, the brand side and the agency side. From a brand perspective, this all makes sense. They can milk and bilk as much free information out of as many agencies that are willing to play along and then choose one, while still benefitting from the knowledge and insights of many. Smart. From the agency side, this is another story. This is why organizations like the American Association of Advertising Agencies (aka 4A) exist. It is also the reason that they have an extensive resource section on their website with documents like, Best Practice Guidance: Ownership of Agency Ideas, Plans and Work Developed During the New Business Process. Sadly, all of that hard work goes mostly ignored when there is an opportunity for a brand to grab a bunch of ideas off of agencies who are doing a ton of comp work on the front end to score the business.

What is the prize?

Most RFPs and RFIs have a section titled, budget. Sadly, in the past few years there has rarely – if ever – been a true, formal and final number assigned to that part of the document. More often than not, you will see language like: “we’re looking for a best-in-class solution and are open to defining the budget once we see the thinking and costing based on the agency’s work and ideas.” The unspoken truth here is simple: if a brand tells an agency how much they’re willing to spend, the agency will spend that entire amount (and maybe a little more). And, while that may have been true in the past, the argument could also be made that agencies simply want to know what the potential business reward will be against the amount of time, effort and cost it will take to complete the RFP or RFI in an effective manner.

Why else does money matter?

Here are some other reasons why allocating a firm budget to a piece of marketing business matters:

  • It demonstrates that the brand is serious and has committed the financial wherewithal to make it happen. 
  • A budget also gives the agency “rails” to work within. In a world where no budget exists, the brand will get a myriad of responses that are all over the map and will not allow them to compare apples to apples.
  • A budget demonstrates the brand’s knowledge of the space. When a brand doesn’t know how much something costs, it is an early indicator that they are not sophisticated.
  • A budget allows an agency to better understand if this is the type of client that they can work and grow with. I recognize that this may be a contentious issue, but it’s true. There are many agencies that are scaled to operate a certain way and budget is a prime indicator in relation to fit.
  • Budget is a two way street: in as much as the brand is trying to find the right agency, the agencies are also trying to find the right brands. Budget is a major factor in this.
  • How much is a house? Without a budget, you may as well be asking a contractor, “how much does a house cost?” It depends on the location, value of real estate, how big of a house, how many rooms, how many floors, what the needs are and beyond. If a brand doesn’t know what kind of house they want (in terms of the raw info) along with what they’re budgeting against it, what is the point?
  • Brands will get what they deserve. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. You have inexperienced agencies willing to lose money on the upfront to win a client, so they can add the brand logo to a PowerPoint deck slide to impress others, and the brand winds up getting cheap work with minimal (if any) impact.

It sounds like bitterness, but it’s really about transparency.

This isn’t about procurement or sour grapes, it’s about a healthy and transparent partnership because that’s what the best brand/agency relationships look like. If you’re hiding what the true value of the work is from the beginning, the relationship starts out in a deficit. This is the marketing business. In business, all parties should be clear on how the process will unfold, who the participants in the competition are and what the prize will be for the winner at the end. This shell game of fishing for ideas, creative and strategy with no commitment to following through on the mandate is a thorn in the side of the marketing industry that doesn’t need to be there. Things have, sadly, progressed to the point where agencies are putting weeks against a competitive pitch to only uncover that the project has been shelved, budget wasn’t allocated or the brand was simply kicking some tires to see if a better solution was out there.

Brands may think that this makes them smarter at the marketing game, but look at the overall results and costs for that effort? Sadly, this strategy seems like a lose/lose for all parties.

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Amazing People Are Everywhere. Meet Rae Hoffman.

This story needs a bit of framing, so please bear with me.

Back in April 2006, I was speaking at a Search Engine Strategies event. There was another speaker at the event who took park in a link strategies panel. Her name? Rae Hoffman (aka Sugarrae). I have a hard time remembering the full set of circumstances, but I took exception to a few things she said on stage about the power of reciprocated links, and I even blogged about it right here: Rae Hoffman On Links At Search Engine Strategies Toronto and then here: Rae Hoffman Responds. The truth is that shortly after our email exchange – which ended with a sense of mutual respect – I began following her blog and her thinking. I didn’t initially agree with her on-stage comments, I felt like a real jerk for calling her out on my blog, and then as I got to learn about just how smart she was (and still is), I felt even worse about my hubris out of the gates. To be honest, I don’t think I ever told her just how bad I felt about our exchange, how seemingly childish it felt at the time, and how much it affected my blogging from that moment forward.

You don’t know people.

It was at that moment that I made a decision. I was no longer going to do the whole “attack” thing. On people or on brands. Critical with depth? Sure, but if I can change or hide the names of the individuals or brands without loosing any sentiment on the power of the story, I would use my editorial power to do just that. And I have. With that, I am fully aware that I don’t generate the same kind of linkbait that other bloggers do by calling out individuals or taking certain brands to task. Still, I have thin skin and that one lesson helped me course-correct so that I can both sleep better at night and have no issues looking at myself in the mirror. So, thanks Rae.

And then, something amazing happens.  

If you have been following along with this blog for any amount of time, you would know how much I love Jonathan Fields and his Good Life Project (I was very fortunate to be a guest on his show: Mitch Joel: Time to Ctrl Alt Delete Your Life). I’m even luckier that over the past few years, we have become personal friends. Just today, I got my regular email from him announcing his latest show with his guest, Rae Hoffman. It took a couple of seconds for me to make the connection to the SEO and affiliate marketing professional that I had that little blog tiff with so many years ago. What was she up to? How did she connect with Jonathan? What brings her to the Good Life Project? Well, I spent thirty minutes watching the first part of this two-part episode and was left in awe. She has an amazing story (because she is an amazing person)…

And you should watch this..

Amazing people are everywhere.

We know nothing about people. Even when we follow them on Facebook, Twitter, their blogs or whatever. Most people post nothing about who they really are, but rather the person that they hope other people will see them as. I am just as guilty of this as the next Facebook profile that you will see. It’s thanks to Jonathan and the courage of people like Rae that we can really scratch beneath the surface. I never knew much about Rae beyond her work in the marketing industry. If I would have followed her work more closely, I may have had more depth, but I get as lost in the haze of mass content across multiple platforms and channels as the next person. Watching this video made me realize one thing: amazing people like Rae are everywhere. I am so thankful that Good Life Project has brought Rae’s story to life and that Rae was willing to share something so personal with the rest of the world.

More Rae goodness:

Read this blog post: 11 Things My Son Taught Me About Life & Business.

Watch her presentation:

Thanks for sharing your story, Rae. Truly amazing.

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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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Leadership Skills For Life Or How To Ask Better Questions

Do you truly understand the things that are being said to you at your work?

This is a true story: I am often sitting in meetings with very senior marketing professionals who are either presenting or speaking to a group, and they’re saying things that …

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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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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Are Creative Types Just A Bunch Of Slackers?

When you think of creative types, what do you think of?

If they are creatives and they work in the marketing industry, most people think of individuals wearing shorts, t-shirts and bouncing rubbery objects off of their walls until its lunchtime or until an idea strikes. For others, it’s a scene out of the movie Limitless, where Bradley Cooper is a wannabe writer who has a publishing contract and a literary agent, but he spends his time seeking out inspiration by doing anything (and, I do mean anything) but the hard work of putting the words on to paper or a screen. It’s not wrong to say that creatives are often given a bad rap. For the most part, their reputations are often summed up in one word: slackers.

It’s simply not true. 

Recently, Jerry Seinfeld was on Howard Stern and it was one of the most fascinating pieces of content I’ve consumed in a very long time (you can listen to it here). Stern (like me) is fascinated with the mechanics of standup comedy and how Jerry puts together a set. Much in the same way that I love the Paris Review because of the way they not only interview authors but dissect their work environment and writing habits. Seinfeld is obsessive. He works on jokes like he’s sitting on the assembly line: day in and day out. Tinkering with it. Wordsmithing it. Perfecting the timing. It’s the complete opposite of doing nothing. You can’t look at authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and not be impressed with their output. It takes other authors years to pull together enough words to call it a book. It’s not a question of speed (some have it, while others don’t), but it is a question of habits. I was first introduced to the concept of bringing a blue-collar work ethic to the creative space in Steven Pressfield‘s amazing book, The War Of Art. It was re-introduced to me when he updated some of the concepts for the book, Do The Work (which was a part of Seth Godin‘s The Domino Project publishing imprint). I used to believe that writing (whether it’s a book, article or blog post) is a lot easier when you know you’re not the only one suffering to find the idea and the words to match it. I’ve since changed my ways. My views were further changed during my book launch event for CTRL ALT Delete that happened at the Google office in NYC a few months back. I was fortunate enough to have a live conversation on stage with Seth Godin. Someone in the crowd asked us about our writing output and Godin stated that he doesn’t believe in writer’s block because there is no such thing as thinker’s block or talker’s block and he likes to write like he talks (you can watch the video footage of our conversation below).

What it’s really all about.

I am about 70% through an amazing book called, Daily Rituals – How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. It looks at everyone from Hemingway to Kafka and beyond. The book features writers, painters, architects and artists. Some entries are short, while others are more well-documented. Through the ages, there are three common threads that keep coming up that, to me, that demonstrate why we consider these individuals great. It also demonstrates just how absurdly wrong our perception is of the creative class.

  1. Hard work. There are no entries about people who wandered around the local pub scene, partied late into the night and magically were able to create great work. Some of these artists are early risers (we’re talking 4 am wake-ups), while others were able to work deep into the night (we’re talking about going to sleep at 4 am). All of them brought a rigid work ethic to what it was that they were creating and – for the most part – were somewhat obsessive with delivering something of excellence. This hard work and dedication is not about how many hours they spent on something, but every one of them spent countless hours during the day hard at work on getting the work done. It only be defined as the opposite of slacking and procrastinating. They were on a tight schedule. 
  2. Take notes. When these people weren’t spending their working day toiling towards perfection and on a schedule, they were taking notes. Some kept notebooks on their night tables, while others would frequently be seen out and about, but off in a corner taking notes or working through a problem. I’m reminded of a story that famed author Jeffrey Gitomer once told me about his father and how he would always be writing notes on a pad of paper that he kept with him. When Jeffrey asked him what he was writing, his father would reply, “I’m doing my homework.” The world’s most admired creatives do a lot of homework by taking a lot of notes when they’re not “on the job.”
  3. They walk. Through the decades, each and every one of these creative types took time – every day – to go for a long and/or vigorous walk. Yes, they would often stop and take notes as well, but they would frequently go out for an extended period to think, ponder or spend time with family and friends. While some would walk alone, others would walk with their spouses or partners. Each and every one of them found time to do some kind of deep and intensive physical exercise, but – more often than not – it was walking. It feels like it was done as a holistic exercise. One that moved the body, mind and spirit.

So, the next time you’re not feeling creative, it may be best to stop wondering about where that next idea is going to come from and ask yourself if you have dedicated daily rituals that will let the million flowers bloom. 

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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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You Should Work For Free. You Should Not Work For Free.

It is the constant debate of the marketing industry: should you do spec work?

There is a phase in the acquisition of a new client that usually requires a marketing agency to spend a lot of time pitching. This pitch work often consists of both strategic and creative spec work (for free – in the hopes that you win the big account). This work is masked as an exercise to see how well the agency understands the brand’s positioning and how well they can execute on work specific to the client. It’s a game that all agencies take play in, and it’s one that we all, constantly, complain about. There are a myriad of reasons (the work isn’t truly indicative of the experience that you get when a brand collaborates with an agency. That the work isn’t always being done by the actual team that the brand will ultimately work with. The fact that none of this work is ever used for an actual campaign. And the list goes on and on). Brands claim that this spec work gives them a much better perspective on what they can expect from the agency, but many would argue that there is nothing truly gained that couldn’t  be done through deep interviews with current and past clients and reviews of the agency’s portfolio through case studies.

The debate rages on.

It’s not just agencies that deal in the business of working for free. In the past little while, there were two divergent pieces published on the notion of working for free. The New York Times put out the article, Unpaid Interns: Silent No More, on July 20th, 2013, while Fast Company published, How To Write A Follow-Up Email That Will Land You The Job. It’s a sticky and contentious topic, to be sure. The New York Times piece: “What interns are demanding is hardly a mystery: respect for their work. In short, it’s time to start envisioning and putting into practice a healthy, effective internship culture. For better or worse, pay is the fundamental currency of respect in every modern economy. Unless it’s a bona fide training or volunteer position, an internship should be paid, open to all and transparently advertised — and should never result in the displacement of other employees.” From the Fast Company piece: “The psychology underlying this practice of unstoppability: By showing what you’re capable of and why the organization needs it in their life, you reduce the cognitive load of whether-or-nots for the hiring manager. In other words, we can make ourselves obvious hires.” Two very different scenarios. In one scenario, the individuals have accepted to be interns. In the other scenario, the individual is applying for a job. Still, do you think the individual applying for the job was then paid for her work, or was the “pay” the fact that she made herself the obvious hire?

Defining economics.

I often joke to my peers that since I started writing for free (on this blog and in other places that seemed good for me to bulk up my resume and visibility), that it has afforded me more paid writing opportunities that I ever encountered when I was a full-time freelance journalist many moons ago. The real joke comes in that I no longer even consider myself much of a journalist at all. What I do know is this: over the decades I have done a ton of free work. I’ve worked for others, consulted individuals, offered to be an intern, been writing this unpaid blog for close to a decade, and more in the hopes of not being paid or eventually getting full-time employment from these companies, but as a way to increase my experience and make me more valuable in the marketplace. Abuse of an intern (paid or otherwise) or any individual doesn’t add any true value to a company. Furthermore, in many of these instances, I think the abuse is a two-way street. If there is an agreement in place that the person helping out will not be paid and then accept this agreement, it should stand. Most companies are not going to meet the federal law’s requirement that “internships at profit-making companies are to be unpaid, they must foster an educational environment. (The rules are different for nonprofit and governmental agencies),” simply because it is increasingly difficult to define what an educational environment is. Personally, my best “job training” was happening not by doing anything, but by simply being a fly-on-the-wall and observing those who were being paid in action. I’ve also had instances when I was doing the physical work and wondering why an unpaid individual would do this. Those moments were often more illuminating to me than the observing ones. I was truly learning more that I ever could from some HR-guided presentation on what the company does in a classroom setting.

Bad bosses.

I was once fired. I didn’t like it. But, to this day, it was the most powerful business lesson that I have ever learned. It forced me to do a lot of self-reflection and it taught me about what I truly wanted (and didn’t want) in my life. There is no doubt that abuse of this system exists. There is also no doubt that the smartest individuals take these opportunities to work for free and convert it into something worth so much more than the minimum wage. We need rules to protect those that try to abuse the system in as much as we need rules to protect the individuals who don’t realize that they’re being taken advantage of. Beyond that, sometimes the best experiences are not the ones that you’re immediately paid for, but the ones that pay off – in dividends – for the years that follow. Work is sometimes not about the money that you make for a specific task, but much more about:

  • Learning a new skill.
  • Networking with interesting people.
  • The dynamics of teamwork.
  • Fighting towards a common goal.
  • Understanding how an industry operates.
  • Expanding your horizons.
  • Forcing you to think through a problem in a way that you never had.
  • Teaching you what you don’t want out of life.
  • …and so much more.

I don’t believe in working for free, but I sometimes do.

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Free Summer School For Marketers

Spoiler alert: I dropped out of university.

It’s true. I entered university with the best of intentions. At the same time, I was already publishing a couple of music magazines that were becoming successful. As I ventured down the road of burnout by trying to be both a publisher and a full time college student, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my parents. In a very non-traditional fashion, my mother said, “If the magazines don’t work out you always go back to school, but if you stay in school and stop publishing those magazines, you will never know what could have been.” While I dropped out of university (and never went back), I never let not being in school get in the way of a higher education.

Education has never been easier… and cheaper.

There is no substitute for what a deep-dive into a full-blown masters program can bring. The intensive study, camaraderie with peers, access to professors and time spent collaborating on both what you’re learning and how you’re learning, is a unique moment in most people’s lives. The fact remains, that many of us either can’t afford the material cost to attend these types of schools or we can’t afford the time and dedication needed to get this done because we’re older, have been in the workforce for several years and have a family that needs to be supported. Beyond that, individual’s don’t naturally invest in their own education willfully. It’s the odd business book or conference and that’s the extent of our personal development. No surprise, the Internet provides a ton of resources that – when approached in serious manner – offers up a wealth of amazing resources and education. In short, it has never been easier to invest in yourself and your education.  

Following are some of the richest and deepest places to grab a master’s level education in marketing… for free (free of cost… not free of time, effort and homework):

E-newsletters:

  • AdWeek. One of the marketing industry’s premiere trade magazines offers up a slew of free e-newsletters that are chock full of information and insight. Check out the Advertising & Branding e-newsletter along with the Technology Today one.
  • Almost Timely. A weekly (and free) e-newsletter from Christopher S. Penn (co-host of the podcast, Marketing Over Coffee, and author of the book, Marketing White Belt) who brings together a slew of links and tweets from some of the Web’s biggest (and smartest) thinkers. Between Media ReDEFined (see below) and Almost Timely, if you read nothing else, these two will keep you in the loop without any gaps.
  • Marketing Charts. This is one of those “it’s hard to believe that it’s free,” ones. This daily e-newsletter is filled with tons of free articles and insights on the bleeding edge of research. Warning: you can get lost in these articles and research reports.
  • MediaPost. Simply click on “publications” and then be very cautious. You will be overwhelmed with the breadth and depth of options here. Interested in marketing to moms? They have a unique e-newsletter for that. Real Time Bidding? Yep, one for that too. I’m a major fan of their Online Media Daily and Mobile Marketing Daily newsletters.
  • Media ReDEFined. Jason Hirschhorn is the former co-president of MySpace. Currently, he is curating and aggregating this amazing resource of information. Forget the website and simply sign up for his free, daily e-newsletter. If something interesting happened in the digital realm, Hirschhorn has you covered.

Websites:

  • Fast Company. Still an amazing magazine in print, the Fast Company web experience is an even more amazing wealth that also extends into sites like Co.CREATE, Co.DESIGN and Co.LABS. Smart business writing that has been edited by experts.
  • Harvard Business Review. Long before I was a contributor here, I was simply a fan of the marketing blog posts that you can find here. Inevitably, the deeper I dug, the more often I found myself picking up the physical magazine or purchasing digital reprints of specific long-form articles.
  • LinkedIn Today. It turns out that LinkedIn isn’t just for poaching your competitor’s best talent. LinkedIn Today is full of fascinating articles and blog posts that can also be organized by what is news, what influencers are posting or even by specific industry/channel.
  • MarketingProfs. With a focus on Business-To-Business and a slant towards content marketing and social media, MarketingProfs is filled with fascinating articles, blog posts and interviews. While there is vast majority of free content on this site, once you dive in you will find it hard to not upgrade to a paid Pro Membership level.
  • Seth Godin. There are thousands of marketing blogs on the Internet. There is only one Seth Godin. Short blog posts (sometimes long ones) that will get you thinking differently about marketing (and business). Along with having well-over ten bestselling business books, Godin is one of the few marketing experts online that is actually an established expert. He brings years of experience and skill to his blog, instead of hyperbole and posturing. It’s rare to have a seasoned veteran offer this much constant and consistent quality content.
  • Sparksheet. A highly underrated and not well-known-enough website that focuses on content marketing, but veers into fascinating general marketing themes. Published by Spafax (a branded content and custom publishing agency), Sparksheet is a great, little gem.

Podcasts:

  • Foundation. Kevin Rose (ex-Digg and currently at Google Ventures) hosts this video podcast where he deep-dives into conversations with many startups from Silicon Valley. While this isn’t a formal marketing podcast, Rose’s depth of knowledge and subjects he chooses to have a conversation with always has some kind of bent towards marketing and how to make some noise.
  • HBR IdeaCast. Putting nepotism aside (because there isn’t any), this Harvard Business Review audio podcast is not one to miss. Recent episodes have looked at everything from pricing strategies and business intelligence to finding great talent and creating a business for longevity.
  • iTunes U. You won’t have a hard time finding a ton of marketing podcasts to download and enjoy for free by heading over to iTunes and looking in the Business – Management & Marketing category, but many people fail to realize that iTunes U gives you free access to some of the world’s leading educational facilities (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc…) for free. Dig through both the Business category along with the Communications & Media one. Hours upon hours of amazing ivy league lectures (all free).
  • On The Media. This NPR radio program brings the bluntness of public radio with the biting side of media pundit, Bob Garfield. You don’t want to miss these shows if you’re looking for an angle that lies in between what brands want you to believe and the raging ridiculousness of what they often do to get a consumer’s attention.
  • TED Talks – Business. As more and more TED Talks get published online and more TEDx events are held all over the world, the good people at TED have tagged over 200-plus talks as “business” and many of those have a heavy marketing slant.

It’s all there… waiting for you.

The above is just a sample of what’s out there. What you will quickly begin to understand is this: there has never been a moment in the history of business like this. Never before have individuals – like you and I – had this much access to this much education and content for free. The challenge is no longer in accessing this content. The challenge is in finding the time to immerse yourself in it. In the next couple of week, things will naturally slow down as we move into the summertime. As things slow down, you may want to find some moments to learn, grow and expand your marketing and business horizons. Everything is just a few clicks away.

What other top-shelf marketing resources would you recommend?

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

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The Pageview Industrial Complex

Eyeballs still matter.

Ultimately, advertising has two objectives:

  1. Create awareness that something exists.
  2. Sell something.

Do pageviews still matter?

Whenever you pull up a piece of content, you are creating a pageview. The frustration that certain marketers have with pageviews are well-placed. Unlike a physical page (in a newspaper or magazine), clever online editors do sneaky things like create slideshows or paginate articles so that consumers have to click through multiple webpages for content that would have traditionally appeared on one page. In short, they’ve turned one page of content into many. This generates the ability to serve an incremental amount of ads for the same piece of content. Good for the publishers (in terms of revenue), good for the brand (looking to get their message in front of as many eyeballs as possible) and questionable for the consumer (lots more ads and lots more clicking around for a single piece of content). Due to the exponential growth of mobile (driven by both tablet and smartphone usage), content publishers are struggling to figure out what will replace these banners ads and/or how to make their pageviews as lucrative as possible in a post PC world.

The complexity and challenge of new media.

This struggle is real. Publishers are feeling the pressure to generate revenue in a world where print advertising is struggling to return to its former glory. Because of the lack of scarcity in online advertising, online publishers are trying every trick in the book to generate substantive advertising revenue, in an attempt to validate online publishing as a credible revenue model that will match (and, hopefully, surpass) that of traditional print advertising. Still, the reality is the reality. We live in a digital world that has an ever-growing abundance of advertising inventory. It can pushed and manipulated to create more (as needed). The cost of standard run of network advertising is relatively low. Consumers have never been fond of clicking on these ads (so much so that we changed the nomenclature from “banner advertising” to “display advertising” in the hopes of validating the model as an amazing engine for branding purposes). Banners have become digital clutter. Even the most refined of webpages seem engulfed in images that blink, ping and prod for attention in a world where every eye-tracking advertising test to date has demonstrated that consumers have developed a keen “banner blindness” ability.

Is ignorance bliss?

It’s hard to argue that most content-based webpages aren’t all that annoying, but there is a cost for access and there is a cost for this content that must be paid by the consumers. Whether this is a paid-subscription model to underwrite the profitability of the business or ad-supported as the model, consumers have to accept that advertising and pageviews are going nowhere. Recently, DigiDay ran an article titled, The Pageview is Dead. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Pageviews may be a poor metric. Pageviews may be something that most online publishers manipulate for their own revenue-generating endeavors, but pageviews are as important today as circulation is to newspapers.

We have to suck it up.

Yes, our world needs better digital advertising creative. Yes, our needs the ability to track engagement and create more contextually relevant advertising for consumers. Still, even the hottest forms of online advertising (think native advertising or Google‘s AdWords platform) still require consumers to generate pageviews. On top of that, while earned and owned media are the new darlings of the new social media world, let’s not forget that there is still a vast majority of businesses and brands that absolutely must pay for that quick impression (be it online or otherwise). It’s doubtful that a thirty year-old bran cereal brand is going to get much earned and owned media simply because they’re launching a new line with dried strawberries in it. All they really need is a hefty media spend and something that will capture the consumer’s attention but for a moment. They are paying to share their corporate information.

New media is hard to reconcile.

It’s admirable to want the metric of pageviews to die. It’s admirable to desire that brands do a whole lot more to engage their consumers, rather than disrupt them, but it’s also hard to bucket all brands into one homogenous group. If someone is looking at content and multiple display ads are pushed to them, instead of screaming that pageviews are a wrong metric, perhaps the marketing industry needs to take a greater step back, and ask even more profound questions: are display ads and the pageview model the most compelling way for a brand to create attention online? Is there a better way to create attention in a world where consumers are connecting to content on a myriad of screens in a vastly different contextual experience? Ultimately, the problem may not be the pageview, but rather the entire financial and creative structure that the pageview is simply a minor player in.

What’s your side? Do you see a day when the pageview goes away? 

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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Marketers, Let Your Egos Go

What if your ideas didn’t matter?

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