Don’t Blame Brands (Always) In A Time Of Crisis

The tweet heard around the world.

There was a disaster somewhere in the world. I think it was the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. I was in France at the time speaking at an event. I was crawling into an early evening slumber when the news broke. As we do these days, I hopped over to Twitter. I was immediately taken by someone many would acknowledge as a social media expert who tweeted out something along the lines of “Attention brands: please turn off all of your automated tweets, etc… out of respect for the tragedy in Boston.” In the past, we’ve had many instances when brands (with good or stupid intentions) have firmly placed their proverbial feet in their mouths. It happens. It keeps happening. As bad and tragic as these events are, the world does not stop. I looked down to the pool/terrace area where the reception was continuing on without me (I was on a lower floor). You could see people scrambling to talk to one another and share the news of what was taking place in Boston. You could see groups of people huddled over mobile devices and the bar had changed the television channel over to CNN (or whatever the equivalent is in France). Still, the party raged on. Champagne was consumed, the buffet tables looked busy. Humans beings are a complex bunch. So, in one instance, we’re telling brands, don’t communicate anything during a national/international crisis, but on the other hand, the corporate parties and events keep raging on.

What is right in a world that has gone so wrong?

“Oh no. Not again.” That was the sum of my initial thoughts when I first heard about the Fort Hood shooting. Tragedies everywhere. People struggling with their own demons, and violence becomes their desperate cry for help/attention. Sadly, people (now victims) become collateral damage in these cries for help. As usual, I head online to get perspective, read the discourse and more. Once again, a very senior communications executive sent out a message (this time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) about a tweet: “#FortHoodShooting sweet Save 10% plus free shipping on your order at Acme Inc. use coupon code: BUY19.” The comment from the senior executive read: “The dark side of Twitter and hashtags. National tragedy unfolding and trending topic attracts marketing.” I changed the name of the company and the promo code for a specific reason. This company was now taking a lot of flack for looking very insensitive during these times. As if that weren’t enough, it is also (somewhat evident) that it’s probably some kind of automated tweet that gets triggered for any trending topic/hashtag.

So, do you HATE that brand? 

It’s hard not to be immediately disgusted by them. But, here’s the thing: upon closer inspection of this instance, you can easily uncover that the brand (probably) had nothing to do with this tweet. It looked like an affiliate marketer who gets a commission of their sales when someone uses that, specific, promo code. So, this unsophisticated affiliate marketer is doing the equivalent of spamming trending hashtags in the hopes of picking up a few bucks here or there. Still, the brands takes the brunt of the hit, pain and crisis management that ensues.

Having a media brain.

How many people do you think saw that tweet and were simply disgusted by the brand, instead of taking the time to scratch a little beneath the surface to uncover the truth? It’s just another example of how brands can take a hit without ever having done anything wrong. Yes, you could easily say that businesses need to be careful about who they do business with, and that all affiliate marketers should be vetted in a more professional manner, but let’s get real here: what’s stopping anybody from going online, saying something like this about any brand and attempting to make them look bad? It’s easier than you think. It happens all of the time. The general mass populous are not trained media professionals. It’s not their jobs (nor do they care) to vet these tweets for validity. The brand gets hurts worse than anyone else in this scenario, and it quickly becomes this massive pile-on. Personally, I feel bad for the brand that got caught up in this storm. But, it just goes to show you, that even if you’re doing everything right, in terms of using social media to connect in a more real and authentic way with you consumers, that little mishaps like this are sure to happen. And, no matter how much is done in the aftermath to correct-course, there will still be even more people who saw that terrible tweet and now have a terrible brand impression.

Is time to talk about brands and control again?


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:


Awards Worth Winning

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

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

On the other hand…

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


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

Earning it.

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

I’m really blown away… and proud.

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

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


The 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?


Netflix And The Future Of Television

Netflix has done what Blockbuster could not do. But it’s about much more than a streaming technology.

TV has become a fascinating new platform. Yup, it’s not the same old TV most new media pundits tend to trash in presentations. Netflix is a huge part…

The Blog Turns 20 This Year

Can you believe it? I had to re-read the headline a couple of times as well.

Yesterday, The Guardian posted an article titled, The blog turns 20: a conversation with three internet pioneers. It made me do a double-take. This blog, has been around for eleven years. With over 3600 posts and over 40,000 comments, it is much more than a publishing platform. It is much more than a place where I share what I am thinking about or tinkering with. It is an ongoing space where people come together to think differently about how brands can better connect with consumers. I can’t thank you enough for being here, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that blogging was invented.

Twenty years is a long time.

Brands struggle to understand digital marketing. To say that this is nothing new, is to acknowledge just how slow companies can be to adapt, and how adverse to change many people can be. You can head over to your local bookstore (if you still have one) and look at the most recent business books being published, and there will – without question – be several titles about how to get started with blogs and how important they can be to a businesses success. When I was writing the first draft of my second book, CTRL ALT Delete (which came out in the latter part of last year), I was genuinely anxious to use the word “blog” in the book. I felt like people reading it may misinterpret my use of the word and think that I was dismissing some of the newer channels, or that I had become an old man, clinging on to this thing that had lost its shiny luster and media darling position in the world. When I look at new media platforms like Huffington Post, Business Insider, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever, I just see some kind of variance on the blog. A blog – for my dollar – has simply become the catchall phrase for the ability that human beings now have to create content (in text, images, audio and video) and instantly share that with the world for free. Blogs were better defined as an online journal that enabled writers to instantly publish their content to the world for free (it could also be easily distributed through the power of RSS – a term that is also all-but-forgotten). Now, it’s not just words. It’s not just on a computer. Still, Instagram just feels like photo blogging to someone like me.

Twenty years… and it’s just getting started.

In a world of disposable technology (both the hardware and the software), I still believe in the power of words. In a world where books are moving from bookshelves to iPhones, I still believe in words. In a world where pictures can be sent via mobile and then destroyed so that no trail ever exists, I still believe in words. This hesitancy of brands to embrace these channels are both a personal frustration to me, but have also afforded me an incredibly rich life of work that continues to keep me inspired. Still, I have a hard time believing that the concept of blogging is two decades old.

If you love to write.  

Often, people will ask why I love to blog so much and so frequently. The answer is simple: I love to write. If you love to write. If you love to share… you should be blogging. To me, the notion of blogging is still as exciting and powerful as it was over a decade ago, when I published my first post. Back then, I could not believe that this piece of software existed. I could not believe that I didn’t need anyone’s permission (be it an editor or a publication) to reach an audience. I could not believe that if my words resonated, I would be able to find my own audience and build my own community. Twenty years later, I get that same tingle – each and every day – when I lift the lid of my MacBook Air and stare at the blank screen. I don’t often know where the journey will take me, or how easily the words will flow, but I am deeply grateful and forever thankful for the pioneers who built this platform.

It’s not about me.

As I read the article in The Guardian, I started to realize that while I am thankful that I was able to find a corner of the world to share my words, that I much more grateful that I am able to read, consume and engage with the thinking of others. I have met some of my closest friends because they are bloggers. Because they share. Because they write. Because they care. These people are real. More real than the digital pixels that transform and distribute their words instantly around the world. If you look to the left of this blog post, you will see something that says, “Check Out These Blogs.” Those people are just some of the big brains that I think about, read and follow with each and every passing day. In a world without blogs, I would be waiting years or months (at best) to hopefully grab a new book from them or an extended article in a magazine or newspaper. No more. Blogs destroyed the chasm that existed between writers and their audiences, by giving them the ability to share on an ongoing basis. I marvel at that more than anything else. I hope you do as well.

Happy 20th Birthday, blog! I’m looking forward to decades more of your goodness.

Feel free to share below what blogs mean to you…


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:


Change Your Marketing. Change Your Brain.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s plain to see, isn’t it?

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

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

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

Change your marketing. Change your brain.

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

Why marketing?

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

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

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


Let’s Face The Cold Hard Truth About Talent

I started taking electric bass lessons.

I used to play electric bass quite a bit (even studied it in a post-secondary environment). I worked very hard at it. I had private lessons, would attend jam sessions, played in a couple of bands and a whole lot more. At around the same time, I became much more interested in writing and managed to finagle a career as a freelance music journalist. I spent a whole lot of time interviewing lots of rock stars (hundreds… maybe even thousands… over the years). No joke. In 1989, my first assignment was interviewing Tommy Lee from Motley Crue (I jokingly tell people that my entire career has been downhill from there). Was I any good at playing the electric bass? I was. Was going to be the next Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke? Maybe if I just practiced harder?

It’s a tough talk to have.

I haven’t played the bass in over twenty years. I’m beyond rusty. It’s frustrating. On top of that, I’ve spent a lot of time watching what contemporary bassists are doing, and I am amazed at just how much progress has been made with the instrument. Have you ever heard of Michael Manring? Watch what he can do with the electric bass…

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I’ve been watching a lot of videos like this over the past few months, as my interest in the electric bass continues to grow. Personally, I find that it is opening up many different creative roads for me, and just thinking about the language of music has been inspiring (not a bad thing). I was thinking back to the time when I decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career as a professional musician because the calling of a life in media was far more interesting. The truth is that I also wasn’t that talented with the electric bass. I was good. I could play. But, I clearly didn’t have the “secret sauce.” It also became apparent to me recently (after watching several interviews with these stellar musicians) that they, themselves, were unable to communicate where their talent comes from. They all seem to chalk it up to practice and hard work. I don’t believe them.

Malcolm Gladwell is wrong.

In his bestselling business book, Outliers, Gladwell points to the now-famous notion that anybody whose work/art that we appreciate in the world has put in the hard work to master it. The 10,000 hour rule (as it has become known). I’m not so sure. Here’s my take-away: if you practice the electric bass really hard (let’s call is 10,000 hours), my guess is that the vast majority of people will know how to play the electric bass very well, but very few of them will be true bass players. You can practice writing for 10,000 hours, and my guess is that the vast majority of people will be better at writing, but very few of them will be true writers. The same goes for painting, photography… and maybe even the work that you do?

There are those who can play the bass and then there are bass players. Those that have a gift for it.

It’s a tough concept to wrap one’s head around, but it’s true. The real experts seem to be the ones who put in their 10,000 hours BUT they also have some semblance of a gift/knack/aptitude for it. Of course, there are varying levels of skills and people’s opinions as to who is great at something is relative. That’s fine. This isn’t a negative concept, either. I’d hate for anybody to think that this blog post is intended to deflate your tires or make anyone feel like they’re not great at the work that they’re doing. Talent is not always something that can be developed with a simple application of a little elbow grease. Talent is usually something that shines when one individual taps into something that they actually have an aptitude for and can then nurture it to their advantage.

What do you think? Can everyone be a bass player or will most people simply know how to play bass?


(Almost) No One Is Seeing Your Content

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

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

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

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

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

We need Twitter and we need Facebook.

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

This is where we wind up.

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

Next steps.

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

Fair is fair.

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

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


The Porous Web

Are we close to the end of owned media?

When we think of a solid marketing mix (from a promotional perspective), there is no doubt that brands need to now find balance in a world where paid media (buying ads) dances cheek to cheek with earned media (getting attention via media outlets without paying for it) and owned media (websites, blogs, e-newsletters and more). The holy trinity of balance is one that most brands struggle with, as they so easily fall back on paid media as the best way to garner attention, build interest, create desire and get consumers to buy from them (and stay loyal). Many marketing professionals (myself included) became overzealous with the potential of owned media when social media became popular (almost a decade ago). Along with that, the sentiment that the Internet is like an elephant (it never forgets) added fuel to the fire that brands needed to think beyond the paid and earned media models to owning the relationship with the consumer. Getting their email address. Getting them to their corporate websites. Getting them to read their blogs. Engaging with consumers and rectifying customer service issues in public for all to see. And more. The thinking was salient: no more gatekeepers. Own the direct relationship and everything that comes with it. Plus, if anyone ever does a search on a brand, that will be the raw brand experience (good, bad or neutral). With this massive history and memory comes the true brand story (and not just the one that is created by an ad agency).

But the Web is a technology, and technology evolves and advances quicker than most of us can understand.

Snapchat seemed innocuous enough. An online social network that enables people to share photos with one, little, nuance. Once the photo is viewed by the person it is being shared with, it disappears. NSA issues aside, this type of platform opened up an entirely new type of Web experience. One where consumers quickly realized that there isn’t a need to archive every character or every type of engagement. There are moments when people want to share and hold on to memories, and countless other fleeting moments that have no need to become a part of any digital public record or legacy. Something I called, The Impermanent Internet, was born. With more and more consumers ditching their media collections for digital downloads and more and more of those consumers ditching their hard drives full of media for streaming services (like Netflix and Spotify), the Internet is quickly ushering in a new era where user generated content can have impermanence, content needn’t be owned (it can be shared, streamed or borrowed) and suddenly, consumers are becoming increasingly efficient and open to more communications and content while needing a whole lot less of stuff (digital and physical) in their lives. Everyone was aghast that Snapchat turned down a three billion dollar offer to be bought by Facebook, but this Business Insider chart demonstrates something powerful: Snapchat Now Has More Photos Uploaded Daily Than Facebook. Facebook can’t afford to let Snapchat (or whoever is coming after that) own the mobile – social – photo space. And, as it turns out, people are enjoying this new form of impermanence.

The impermanence and efficiency of brands.

Perhaps brands need to become more efficient by actively embracing this as well. While everyone talks in amazement about Oreo‘s massive year in validating real-time advertising, the true bleeding edginess of this brand is better illustrated in where the brand is putting its energy. The media pundits would tell the brand to leverage that real-time advertising moment to drive to owned media, but take a look at the Oreo Facebook page (close to 35 million likes as of this writing). The brand is embracing the notion of both impermanence and efficiency by allowing their Facebook page to do the heavy brand lifting in the digital channels. Those same pundits will tell you that this is a strategic mistake, because if Facebook’s popularity wanes, if something else comes along, if that platform matures too rapidly that Oreo will have no way of retaining those likes and transferring them to another hub. This may be true, but if you look at this trend of impermanence and efficiency, who cares? The brand could (and should) simply float along with their friends and followers to wherever they may roam.

The Porous Web.

What we’re seeing is a porous Web. It’s not one that stores every little bit and byte of data. It’s not one that drives a consumer to our owned properties where they navigate and flow through the website as we have designed it. What we’re seeing is a very different Web. It’s a Web where people have multiple platforms, multiple screens, multiple personas, multiple needs, multiple desires and they are all very porous. They drip in and out of one another. This is going to force marketers to up their game (even more) and get smarter (much smarter). It’s becoming clear that driving consumers to owned media is getting harder and harder, so marketers are upping their investments in places like social media and content marketing to drive that attention spike upwards. That’s a traditional tactic (similar to buying impressions) instead of thinking about how much more content a brand should be producing, it’s time to understand that a porous Web means a better content distribution strategy is necessary (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). Whether brands like it or not, the Web has become porous and with screens everywhere and an estimated 75 billion connected devices by 2020 (of which many will not have screens like we have known to date), the ability for a brand to have any semblance of owned media may quickly dissolve as consumers become increasingly interested in impermanence and streaming. Amazon Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, once said: “In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.” As we watch the Internet and connected devices evolve, those percentages may shift even more.

Brands are being put on notice. The porous Web is just getting started. Marketers are going to have to adapt (dramatically… and again).


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.


Katie Couric Will Give Us The Internet That We Deserve

What kind of Internet do we want?

Some might consider this a vague, daunting and even ambiguous question, but it begs for an answer. Anyone who has been online for a long time knows how interesting, diverse and different the Internet – as a medium – was (and can still be). It was very different from anything that we had seen before. In my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, I frame it in a more simplistic way: traditional media was very passive (it was created, edited and distributed for us and we consumed it in a very passive manner). Sure, there were “letters to the editor” and more, but most of this interaction was still strictly regulated by the media owners and highly edited to fit a specific format. While there is nothing wrong with passive media (I like to sit back and soak in an episode of Charlie Rose as much as the next dweeb), the Internet brought with it a dramatic change: active media. From sitting back to leaning in. From looking to touching. From consuming to creating and curating. In fact, it hasn’t been all that long since the Internet has been commercialized, and yet here we are at a fascinating moment in time when all of it can come crashing down in a massive heap of mediocrity.

Traditional media wants to becomes active. The Internet wants to be like television (and become passive?).

What used to be the most charming thing about the Internet is quickly becoming somewhat homogenous and frighteningly similar to prime time television. It used to be that blogging opened up our minds to individual perspective. We would share these online diaries, comment on them, dissect them and more. It used to be that the trendy topics on Twitter was a driver of new ideas. Things, events and ideas to explore. The stuff you would never find mentioned on CNN. Now, the trending topics on Twitter tend to look an awful lot like the breaking news tickertape graphics that scroll across the CNN screen. Podcasting used to be the home of independent and niche thinking, but the most popular podcasts today are mass media re-iterations of their content. Where has the diversity of these ideas gone?

What makes Arianna Huffington any different from Katie Couric in this day and age? 

That’s not a slight against either media personality. I’m a huge fan of all things Huffington Post (I contribute there regularly and Arianna was kind enough to endorse CTRL ALT Delete), but we are no longer seeing much diversity as consolidation and global behemoths battle for Internet supremacy. Look no further than Business Insider‘s The Future Of Digital 2013 slide titled, Value (and power) are still very concentrated. What you will see is that the market value online is divided up like this:

Compared to “old media”:

It’s not a true apples to apples comparison, but you get the idea.

Sure, Amazon is one of the world’s largest retailers, but they’ve also just announced more original programming like Betas and Alpha House (kind of like their own, little cable network). At the same time, Apple is still pushing iTunes Radio and Yahoo is making all kinds of waves this week by announcing that Katie Couric will be joining the company as their “Global Anchor” (does anybody know what that title even means?).

It’s a strange world.

Newspapers, magazines, radio and television companies are all scrambling to figure out how to be more like the Internet, digital and active media to make themselves more relevant, while these online companies are developing television shows, buying newspapers and poaching television celebrities. What’s going on here? We had too many people laughing at Google for things like Google Glass and driverless cars while we’re handing out belly rubs and lollipops in the boardroom any time new media does something so very traditional.

My kind of Internet.

I don’t know about you, but my kind of Internet is all about innovation, new platforms and the ability to do things with this technology that you can’t do on a television or in a magazine. I love television, radio, newspapers and magazines, but I want the Internet to do a whole more. In fact, I expect more of it. My hopes are that Pinterest can grow to the point where they can build whatever the next Instagram could be. That they push the frontiers of how we define media and what the media channels of the future might look like. If all they do, is scale and bring on Martha Stewart to run a bunch of boards, it’s going make me bored. We need the folks at Reddit to re-imagine the quirky corners of publishing, news and tidbits that will never have the mass appeal and scale to reach The New York Times. We don’t need another Lady Gaga AMA. We need these new media companies to focus on the “new” and to keep pushing whatever their agendas are to be unique, different and not the same old, same old.

I am hoping that we get the Internet that we need… and not the one that we deserve.


It’s Never Too Late To Start A Blog

Well, of course someone who loves to blog is going to say that it’s never too late to start a blog.

I was asked to give a presentation this past week in London for the London Bloggers Meet-up (many thanks to Bernie, Andy and David for pulling this together). The event took place at the spectacular offices of Google in London (don’t believe me, do a search on this office space, it has been featured in many articles and posts). There were over fifty bloggers in attendance and, instead of just presenting, we decided to do more of a Q&A-type of session. A deep-dive into the merits of blogging. Yes, we all recognize that it’s 2013.

Blogging as a euphemism. 

I use blogging as a euphemism for putting your thinking out there. For me, blogging has been that media. I do love the weekly podcast, writing business books, as well as being a contributor to Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review and others, but blogging is where my heart lies. That’s not entirely true. Writing is where my heart lies, and I publish that writing (primarily) on a blog. What I love most about blogging is the immediacy of sharing. The other publishing platforms typically have intermediaries, editors, time to publish and more. So, whether it’s a blog for you, Instagram, posting to Facebook, Pinterest or whatever, let’s (for argument’s sake) just accept blogging as the euphemism for putting yourself out there.

Start now.

It may seem simple enough, but I labored over those two, simple words. I hesitate to tell you to start because I often find myself wondering if the world needs another blog, another tweet, another post about some wonderful place you’re visiting or how hard of a workout you just had at the gym. The world probably doesn’t need that, but it does need your thinking. Blogging has matured, evolved and changed. It’s no longer the place for random brain droppings (we have a multitude of online social networks that allow that). Blogging has, chiefly, become the publishing channel for those who love to write and to connect more directly with those who are interested in the words. Without a doubt, comments and other social media channels have allowed these pieces to have a sense of distribution and additive insights, but a blog still gives a more personal space to explore with words the critical thinking that is taking place between your two ears.

You have other options.

If you look at platforms like Medium, Quora, Huffington Post and more, they are not only providing a place to blog (if you’re not inclined to own your own space), but a platform of distribution. These spaces are like blogs with built-in audiences. The challenge with them is that – to a certain degree – for your piece to resonate within that channel it has to adopt the likeness of it. The best writers write for the channel. A book is not a blog post and an article on the Huffington Post is not the same as contributing to the Harvard Business Review. Finding the right match between your words, the publication and their platform can be challenging.

A blog is your land.

You can graze, decide what type of voice you want to cultivate, how often you would like to publish, how long (or short) you would like to publish. From there, you create the brand of the space. What the look, feel and vibe of the words will be. If anything, blogging has never been easier to do (check out WordPress), but on the other hand, it has never been harder to be successful at it because of how it has matured and because of the vast quantity of bloggers looking to grow their voice and audience. Still, I’m going to encourage you to either start a blog today or revive the one you may have abandoned.

If that doesn’t spark you to make the move, please watch this (it’s an oldie but a goodie from Seth Godin and Tom Peters):


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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of mobile.

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

That is true innovation.

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

The bigger picture of innovation.

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

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


When Important Websites Crash

The political punditry around the healthcare website crashing is laughable. People not getting access to their healthcare is serious business.

This isn’t about politics. It’s about technology. As the owner of a digital marketing agency, I frequently find myself in conversation with very senior marketing professionals on the topic of IT and technology. The truth is that I am not an IT professional (not even by a long shot), but I do understand the complexity of creating something in a computer language that was never meant to be commercialized the way it has been, and then put it on to the Internet – a channel that was never meant to support these types of media and work channels – with the expectations that once something is “live” it is as final and complete as a printed ad. It is not.

Technology is a very different form of business.

From programming languages to different Web browsers to Internet service providers to hosting solutions and beyond, actually creating something and getting it online is not as simple as it looks. Sure, businesses will tell you all about their guaranteed lack of downtime and how perfect and smart they are about building robust digital experiences that can withstand the pecking, prodding and pushing of millions of consumers, but in the end, there will always be crashes, bugs and more. In fact, if you’re in this business, you know that bugs and crashes are not only normal, but it is a part of how the product will evolve, improve and be tweaked even after it is live. There is a reason why brands like Google and others always label their live products as in “beta.”

The Internet is a living organism and not a final piece of print.

I read a funny tweet and/or Facebook post the other day (can’t remember who said it and I am paraphrasing), but it went something like: amazing how everyone is up in arms and calling the Obama healthcare website a disaster because it keeps on crashing or not working, but when Apple launches a new iPhone and the same thing happens to their website, it’s considered a huge success. Apparently, the media pundits on the news networks would much rather give their perspective on why a technology is failing rather than discuss the sheer volume and appetite that the public has and is demanding for these types of services.

Embrace the crashes and the bugs.

There is no doubt that heads are rolling down in Washington. The IT and software development companies responsible for this website are probably neck deep in trouble and pulling all-nighters to get it back up and working at an acceptable level. There is nothing funny about this. While it may be an extreme case of how these launches happen, not a day passes without hearing about how a brand or online experience has been hacked, or went buggy or went down for a myriad of reasons. This past week, Buffer was hacked (you can read more about it here: Buffer security breach has been resolved – here is what you need to know). This is problematic, because Buffer allows its clients to schedule the social media that it would like to share across a myriad of social networks. This social media management tool was suddenly pushing spammy comments on to individual’s and corporation’s public pages. Within hours the problem was resolved, and the team at Buffer performed what could only be described as a best practice case study in social media crisis communications, in terms of how they resolved and communicated the issues. And, while the impact of having some sketchy posts on a corporate Twitter feed gets less recognition than a stalling healthcare website, we’re still faced with the true reality of our digital economy:

Technology is a porous wall.

We see this everyday. From governments spying on other governments to e-commerce sites being hacked and revealing consumer’s credit card information to regular glitches and stalls. Who among us doesn’t get frustrated when a simple video on YouTube won’t play or when wi-fi connectivity in a hotel room is shoddy? If you don’t have the education or know-how to understand the many different layers, components and moving parts that keeps this all together, it seems easy to point the finger at one individual, but it’s not. Perhaps the easiest way to think about all of this Internet and technology development is to realize that it is one, big MacGyver moment (yes, the television action series from the eighties). What we have is a media and business platform that has been pulled together by hardware and software, much in the same way that Richard Dean Anderson would escape from a perilous situation by stringing together some chicken wire, bubblegum and a shoelace. Of course, technology is more stable and proven than this. Of course, over the years we have been able to produce much more scalable and solid platforms, but it is still very much all based on a very sensitive and fragile system. One that can collapse with just a few lines of bad code or a whole lot of people trying to do the same thing at the same time on a system that was even tested to handle that type of bandwidth (because tests are never reality).

Let’s not make excuses.

That’s the default position that most people will take. Everything is just an excuse. It should all work perfectly. That is simply not the case with technology. In fact, I would be happy to debate that bugs, crashes, delays and hacks are in fact not mistakes but rather a healthy and normal part of a truly functioning technology. It is as much of a component of what happens in the digital economy as passing gas and burping is to maintaining one’s personal health (smells, sounds and all). Perhaps, the opportunity in all of this hacking and crashing coverage is to better educate the mass population that these sorts of things are a natural part of the technological eco-system, whether we like them or not.

It would be interesting to live in a world where known bugs, crashes and more were expected by all, this way we can be surprised and marvel when technology works rather than being disappointed when it doesn’t.   

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:


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…


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.


5 Simple Ways To Get More Creative, Inspired And Smarter Every Day

Stop complaining about email.

We all get too much email. Most of the time it’s about things that should probably be discussed in person (or over the phone) or it’s spam. The truth is that the inbox continues to be a great way to get more creative, inspired and smarter every day. I’ve written about this before: I still love subscribing to a slew of great e-newsletters, but there is only a handful that I simply can’t wait to read, or I leave theme in my inbox until I get through them. It’s a high bar, but these five deliver with each and every email.

5 e-newsletter that will help you be more creative, inspired and smarter:

  1. James Altucher Insider’s List. For my dollar, I think James Altucher is one of the best bloggers out there. He writes about inspiration, motivation, spirituality, finance, and entrepreneurship. He’s honest. So honest, that you will often find yourself wondering where he finds the courage to be so honest. The amazing thing about Altucher is that his email offers up much more content than he publishes on his blog, and every one is worth the read for a myriad of reasons.
  2. First Look Access. I have been on a Steven Pressfield kick for a long while. Recently, I signed up for his e-newsletter called, First Look Access, and it has been incredible. It is chock full of deep thinking about the habit of writing and the projects that he is working on. As the author of The War Of Art, Do The Work and more, I can promise you that even if you’re not a writer, the content is transferable to everything that you do in your daily work routine. 
  3. Seth Godin. Unless this is your first time here, you know that I am a massive fan of all things Seth Godin (did you think that I am bald because of Mother Nature’s cruelty alone?). Godin blogs daily, and having his posts pop up in my inbox every morning, provides a quick jolt of business, leadership, marketing and human motivation. Subscribe to his feed, so that you never miss a moment.
  4. Media REDEF. I have no idea how Jason Hirschhorn does it – each and every day. You could spend hours scouring blogs, Twitter and Facebook for amazing links about media, technology and pop culture only to discover that Hirschhorn has already done all of the heavy lifting (and more) for you. In short, you could be offline forever and simply subscribe to Media REDEF, and you would have missed absolutely nothing. Bonus: because he has a background in the music industry, he also combines links from that fascinating industry as well. It’s gold… or multiple times platinum (if you’re into music industry jargon).
  5. Quartz. They call themselves “a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.” I love the news. When I’m in a hotel room (which is often), CNN is on all of the time. When I’m on a plane, I’ll tear through 2-4 newspapers. Yes, I’m an infovore. Still, I think that what Quartz pulls together in their Daily Brief will keep you totally informed about what’s in the news coupled with some interesting curated links from around the globe. So, if you don’t have time to watch, listen or read the news, this one keeps you in the zone where you will know enough about the world to be dangerous in a cocktail conversation at the local chamber of commerce.

Yes. it’s a diverse group. What are your must-reads from the Web?


Are Most Advertisers Asleep At The Wheel?

Advertising used to be easy.

Brands would work their respective agencies, make a media buy, create the ad, place it (in a newspaper, on the radio, television, etc…) and watch to see if anyone cared. In the golden age of advertising, you could – literally – buy your way to the top. As the industry evolved, grew and matured, things changed. Prior to the power of the Web, most media planning was done several months in advance, they worked in fiscal quarters and were highlighted by moments-in-time like holidays and seasons to attract new customers and bring the loyal ones back. The Internet changed everything. Not just in terms of changing the distribution and media models, but in how advertising is planned and managed.

Sadly, there is still too many brands that manage their advertising with a very traditional planning mindset.

You can call this the “set it and forget it” mentality. Media is bought, ads are placed and metrics are gathered post campaign. It seems simple enough, but in a world of Google AdWords, real-time bidding, Facebook‘s newsfeed and more, you can iterate, optimize and build different destinations (or landing pages) for a brand to test and learn – in real time – what is working and what is failing. At a primal level, this means that you can spend your money sparingly and strategically to work towards a better outcome before the media is all spent. There is no need to do a post-mortem to figure out what happened. Instead, you can work towards a better conversion rate when things start to fall apart (as they often do).

But, here’s the thing…

You can’t blame digital advertising for not working if you – as the brand lead – are not doing the hard work. Check this out: Small-to-medium-sized businesses waste 25 percent of their search advertising spend. Re-read that. According to the AdWeek article, Smaller Businesses Waste 25% of Google Search Cash, we’re simply throwing our money into the garbage. From the news item: “The biggest problem is that SMBs only tweak their keyword buys only every 90 days or so, said WordStream chief tech officer Larry Kim, and don’t spend enough time zeroing in on relevant lead generation tactics… What’s more, Kim’s firm found that 95 percent of SMBs don’t have a functioning click-to-call button for their search ads, eliminating the opportunity for countless phone leads.”

“My advertising doesn’t work!”

Here’s a clue: advertising works better than most marketing professional could ever imagine, they’re just not willing to do the heavy lifting required to make it efficient. If AdWeek numbers are true results for SMB’s, what do you think the numbers might look like for larger corporations? I shudder to think. This past week, I spoke at a few events around the continent and would regularly hear the hallway chatter that Facebook advertising doesn’t work or that brands aren’t finding ROI with Twitter or that their Google ad spend isn’t performing like it used to. Advertising is hard. Bringing to it a traditional mindset of defining keywords, then simply running it against budget without putting into place a much more rigorous, real-time accountability plan to iterate and optimize doesn’t make the advertising channel ineffective. It simply means that advertisers haven’t changed their philosophy and approach to digital. In fact, it feels like they’re simply trying to make digital adapt to their traditional ways of planning. That’s the true waste.

Things need to change.

We used to find out about brands in a very different way. We waited for brands to announce to us what they were up to. Now, consumers are infovores. They are on the prowl for information and details about what is the best widget, and why people think it is the best. They’re looking towards their peers for answers. They’re looking to strangers for answers. They’re looking to see if the brands are awake and at their beck and call with answers. They’re using very different media channels and sources to find these answers as well (think: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and beyond). We – the marketing professionals – need to reverse engineer how we make great advertising happen. It needs to happen now. There is only one place to point the finger of blame, in a world where analytics, information and sentiment dances in real time.

It’s on us.