All posts in “Blog”

The Future of Marketing: Business As Unusual

Over the last few months, I’ve been asked to speak more and more about the emerging strategic role of marketing, particularly as it relates to technology, something I first started to explore in 2012. The explosion of customer data provided by social and digital have put extreme power in the hands of marketers, if only we’ll learn how to wield it (this recent article in Harvard Business Review outlines the enormous opportunity for marketers as other parts of the business start to slow in their ability to deliver value). We’re entering a new era of big data, automation and the ability to drive business strategy by delivering real-time access to the voice of the customer. Is your team ready to let go of decisions made based solely on “gut feel” (though you shouldn’t entirely, for our brains are the most advanced supercomputers on the planet) and get ready for the Chief Marketing Technologist, who’s much more of a “quant” than a “qual”? Savvy, forward-thinking marketing leaders who “get it” can position themselves to deliver enormous business value and take a seat at the big table if they can figure this stuff out – fast.

The average lifespan of the CMO has increased from 23 months in 2006 to over 45 months in 2013. Forbes magazine suggests this is a reflection of the growing strategic nature of the role – and there’s enormous opportunity to solidify this position by delivering measurable business results, thanks to big data. Technology is playing an important role in this. By 2017, Gartner analyst Laura McLellan predicts that CMOs will spend more money on technology than CIOs.

At the moment, however, most marketers are falling down on the job – badly, especially when it comes to technology. A 2012 survey from ITSMA and VisionEdge Marketing paints a stark picture of marketers and their ownership of their own technology choices:

•    59% don’t specify marketing technology
•    45% don’t recommend marketing technology
•    46% don’t select marketing technology
•    15% DON’T HAVE ANY SAY AT ALL

This is a shockingly hands-off approach, and one that could very well come back and bite you if you allow it to continue.  The Wall Street Journal ran a story that suggested CIOs, not CMOs, should be responsible for digital leadership in most organizations. The article predicted that a new role, The Chief Digital Officer, would fall to IT because “IT is everywhere”. Russell Reynolds, one of the world’s top recruiting companies, describes the CDO as  “[someone] who can oversee the full range of digital strategies and drive change across the organization.” (I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something marketing should own).

And it’s not just technology where marketers’ chops are being questioned: it’s also the ability to deliver business and operational intelligence (real-time insight into business performance); two things that are of enormous value to the entire organization, and two things that marketing is uniquely well-positioned to deliver in the digital age because of your access to that same massive data stream.  In 2012, a survey of more than 300 US and Canadian executives that showed 93% of them believe they’re losing revenue because they aren’t able to access or act on information already available to them. And they are missing out on something – the New York Times referenced a study of 179 large companies that found those adopting “data-driven decision making” achieved productivity gains of up to 6% – that couldn’t be explained any other way.

So what’s your opportunity? To blend the “Art and Science” of marketing; the art is the storytelling (something you’re so very good at) and the science is the technology and strategic business value that you can deliver by leveraging big data generated by social media and other customer interactions online. This is a wellspring of fantastic intelligence, if you have the technologies and skillsets to process and analyze it. In Inc. Magazine, Brian Halligan described it as delivering to a “segment of one” – think about sites like Netflix and Amazon, which use a combination of individual leverage (the more I use the site, the more it learns about me) and group leverage (the more people like me use the site, the better the site can predict what I may want or like) to deliver a better customized, higher-revenue experience.

There are many examples of marketers who have leveraged big data in order to deliver business value. Steve McKee, who writes for BusinessWeek, has written about how his team took a look at simple web metrics and their relationships, the increases and decreases in media buys, and used that data to increase the effectiveness of a clients’ media spend by 9%. Pamplin College in the U.S. did a large-scale study to see what the relationship was between social media mentions and automotive recalls, and found a direct, predictive connection.

One of the biggest challenges behind turning social media data into business and operational intelligence is the need to make structured and unstructured data play nicely together (structured data is the stuff that’s easy to put into a database – often things like sales numbers, or numbers of clicks; things that are easy to count and don’t require any interpretation. Unstructured data, however, are text-heavy, things like conversations and facts. Unstructured data is irregular and requires analysis to be understood by everyone – it’s complicated). This will require skillsets you are unlikely to see in a typical marketing department today (unless you’re Target). McKinsey predicts that in the U.S. alone, right now there’s a need for 200,000 people with skillsets in data analytics. And the way you attack data will also need to change; Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist says that the ideal breakdown for big data resources should be 15% data capture, 20% reporting and 65% analysis. At the moment, for most of us, that’s flipped, with most resources devoted to capture and very little to analysis and actionable insight.

So what’s next? Like many others, I think it’s the age of the Marketing Technologist – the person who, in the words of Scott Brinker, is “Someone who has a hybrid between business and technology, a strong background in engineering and IT, is an early adopter of technology, but someone who also understands the pragmatic realities of scaling technology. But most importantly, someone who brings those skills and combines them with a deep love and passion for the marketing mix. This is a technologist that reports to the CMO, not the CIO.”

What do you think? And, even more importantly – are you ready for the pace of business as unusual?

How the ultimate selfie changed everything.

You need to know who you are, otherwise it’s impossible to change.

Sounds like a leadership slogan, but it’s also a perfect way to sum up how the environmental movement got started in North America in the late 1960′s and early 70′s. It wasn’t a great political announcement that kicked things off. It wasn’t a damning report on a toxic disaster. It was one, simple photograph. In 2013, we’d probably call it “the ultimate selfie”:

Earthrise. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared it "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken."

Earthrise, taken by William Anders. Nature photographer Galen Rowell called it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

Earthrise, the “big blue marble” (it’s almost impossible to imagine this) was the first time that humans had truly seen ourselves. That we’d identified our home, Earth, as a place, a thing. That sudden self-awareness was not only a near-religious experience for many of the NASA astronauts who experienced it, but also a powerful realization for those left behind. So powerful that it’s widely credited with kickstarting the modern environmental movement.

I was reminded of this moment in time (not only a lesson in the power of self-awareness, but also of what motivates people to change – but that’s another blog post) this morning while scanning Twitter. NASA has, over the last few years, been releasing stunning photographs taken by the International Space Station. This morning I came across an image of Cape Cod in the United States.

Cape Cod in the United States, photograph from the International Space Station

Cape Cod in the United States, photograph from the International Space Station

I see a lot of these photos in my Twitter stream as they’re shared by NASA via social media and then shared and re-shared by a lot of the people I follow. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of people see them every day. Far more than the number who saw Earthrise in the glossy pages of Life Magazine, where it was published in 1969.

Which got me to thinking. One could argue that these images, from all over the world, have the potential to be just as powerful, if not more so, than Earthrise. They’re up-close, personal photographs of our home. We can see things we recognize – both natural beauty and the impact of our activities. They’re real, in no way abstract.

The lights of London, by astronaut Andre Kuipers

The lights of London, by astronaut Andre Kuipers

As we find ourselves in what some scientists are calling another extinction event (this one sometimes called the Anthropocene, after its cause) we are and will be faced with tough, life-altering choices. (A friend recently did an assessment of his consumption. The good news was that his household required 50% less that the average Canadian home. The bad news was that if everyone on Earth consumed at the same level, we’d need six more planets to provide the necessary resources.)

I can’t help but wondering if these very personal images of our home planet, and what we’re doing to it, shared more widely than ever before possible thanks to digital media, will help motivate us to make the dramatic and difficult choices we need to.

Mid-Atlantic pollution haze, August 2006

Mid-Atlantic pollution haze, August 2006

Sales pipelines and non-linear pharmokinetics

When I ran my own business, I had a solid, tried-and-true, 3x pipeline. That was absolutely, 100% the math. For every $3 in prospective sales, we would see $1 in booked revenue, and this was the case for years. Until it abruptly wasn’t. For whatever reason, the ratio started to shift, and we began closing less than 30% of deals.

Clearly it was time to move to a 4x pipeline. If we were going to maintain the same amount of revenue annually, we needed to increase the number of opportunities were were pursuing. So that’s what we did.

*****

Let’s park this parable for a moment and jump to an article I came across last week. It turns out that a popular pharmaceutical contraceptive doesn’t work well for women who weigh more than 165lbs (75kgs) and doesn’t work at all for women over 176 lbs (80kgs). The article explained that the reason for this was something known as “non-linear pharmokinetics”. Essentially: taking y of a drug = x of the drug in your bloodstream. However, for some drugs, taking 2y does not = 2x in your bloodstream, it may still be 1x or even less, depending on your metabolism.

Which is why this particular contraceptive doesn’t work for women over a certain weight. Because of non-linear pharmokinetics, you can’t take enough of the drug for it to work if your body mass is above a certain amount.

And this is the connection I began to think about as it related to our sales pipeline long ago. Even though we created a 4x pipeline, our revenue did not respond accordingly. Because it turns out that there’s something very similar to non-linear pharmokinetics that happens in sales. According to a Sirius Decisions study released this year, B2B companies with 3x pipelines perform much better than those with 4x pipelines – by about 32%. The reason is explained as quality – when you increase pipeline, and lower expectations of productivity, we encourage sales professionals to reduce quality. That’s certainly what we saw in our own 4x experiment, which didn’t do a thing. We ended up refocusing our efforts on the right clients, instead of all the clients.

The reasons for these two different but similar phenomenon (put more of x into the system, which doesn’t generate linearly more y) is the multiplier. It’s an additional variable that we, in our quest to see simplicity where it sometimes is not, forget about. The good news is that these unconsidered variables in other circumstances can sometimes actually generate more value, especially in a knowledge-based business. You can read more about that in this fascinating article by Daniel Rasmus about the Serendipity Economy.

Do you have any examples of this from your own work?

TechEd Las Vegas – what I learned & what I saw…

In my new role at SAP, I am part of the team that puts together the amazing SAP TechEd events. This past week I had the great pleasure of kicking off TechEd Las Vegas (next week it will be TechEd Amsterdam, and early December we’ll be in India for TechEd Bangalore…) I can’t possibly do this tremendous event justice in one short blog post (hundreds of hours of educational content, 6500 live attendees, over 20,000 online, the events reach a total of over 200,000) and many others have posted their own thoughts and personal highlights. However, I would like to share a couple of small, but very interesting “Ah-HA!” moments I experienced over the course of the event – one of the things that makes attending great conferences and speaking with smart people such a joy. (think the Serendipity Economy).

Have the iPhone/iPad trained us to customize UIs (user interfaces)?

I remember reading a study in 2007 that talked about how Napster had shown many millions of Internet users that the web was not only cool, but useful. That the music-sharing site had, in fact, trained us to perform transactions online, creating comfort with behaviours that would support the rapid growth of online shopping as well as social media. In the context of a discussion around SAP’s acquisition development of Fiori, an apps-based user interface technology, Sam Yen (SAP’s global head of design and user experience) pointed out that, similarly, the iPhone/iPad has trained us to expect the ability to customize UIs. This is, of course, a relatively new space with an enormous amount of potential, not only to make the user experience better/more intuitive, but also to gather an additional layer of data (not only what you did, but how you set things up to best do it).

 

The “digital layer” is a given at conferences – but now attendees want to take their content home

This was a really interesting one. It’s been a given for a while now that conferences must have robust digital layers to meet attendee (and online lurker) audience expectations. No surprises there. But what happens when attendees have an amazing augmented experience via a highly useful mobile app? When they share pictures, make comments and connect with others – and then want to take that content home, or into another platform? During a lunch with the SAP TechEd app leaderboard winners (those who had used the event app the most) we had a lively discussion about how the content these folks had created could be exported from the mobile into a desktop (“If I could even get a Word document…”) or online experience (“What about if we could bring the content into an SCN forum thread?”). It was a great question that I had never heard asked before – and I expect it to come up again as the lines between online, offline and IRL continue to blur.

Finally, this is my favourite picture of all from the event, and I would like to know just how one comes to own their own personal SAP t-shirt cannon?? Sign me up!

Picture from "SCN is 10!" celebrations at DemoJam #SAPTechEd

Picture from “SCN is 10!” celebrations at DemoJam #SAPTechEd, courtesy Martin Gillet

So, two small (but interesting) discussion points from a rich, lively event that had thousands of attendees. If you attended or watched online, what did you come away with from #SAPTechEd? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

 

 

 

The Next Chapter: Pushing the Digital Envelope at SAP

As you may know, after seven years of running Social Media Group, which was one of the first (if not the first) pure-play social media agencies in the world, this spring I made the decision to downsize. It was time to do something new.

Saying goodbye to our amazing team and clients was not easy (nor without its challenges), but their support and understanding was tremendous. I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with and learn from each and every one.

And now, it’s time for the next chapter. Effective September 16th, I have joined SAP as the Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing, leading the Communities, Digital and Social team. My mandate is big one – SAP’s CMO Jonathan Becher (my new boss) has a strong vision for the future of marketing – agile, intelligent, marrying both art and science. In his words, I’ll be tasked with “Driv[ing] the next digital chapter at SAP, unifying our Web properties with our community presence through a social-first approach.” I’m thrilled by this new challenge and so look forward to working with this talented group of people to eliminate the line between “social” and “digital”.

I’ll continue to blog here as time allows, as well as on the SAP Community Network. Twitter, as always, will be where I share what I ate for lunch :-)

Finally, founding and running Social Media Group was an incredible experience that allowed me to work with brilliant people on groundbreaking initiatives. When we started, we were way ahead of the curve. I’m looking forward to a similar experience at SAP as we reimagine the future of marketing. Thank you to all of my colleagues, partners and clients. I have learned so much from all of you – you made this next chapter possible, and it’s going to be the best one yet.

You can read the official announcement here.

Big Data, Attribution and The End of "Spray & Pray"

What kind of ROI do your online ad dollars deliver? If you have no idea, you’re not alone – according to OptiMine, an online analytics company, 61% of advertisers say that they are challenged to reliably measure the ROI of digital advertising.

This is not a small problem – it’s foundational to the way advertising is conducted online. Display is a tremendous waste of money if you’re “spraying and praying” – buying media based on the loosest targeting imaginable. Additionally, you typically measure activities (impressions and clicks) rather than outcomes (leads and sales). Remarketing, content marketing and even the agency and publisher compensation structure (rather than points on media, how about points on performance?) should all be examined if you really care about getting to a reliable ROI. Clients should be pushing their agency partners to explore and scale new forms of paid on new platforms. Publishers and social media sites know that display is not the future; it has become the default in an unsustainable, cannibalistic sprint for revenue because it fits into existing models, not because it delivers value.

According to Mike Volpe, CMO of Hubspot, an inbound marketing company, you are more likely to do one of the following than click on a display ad: complete Navy Seal training, be accepted at MIT, get a full house while playing poker, climb Mount Everest, give birth to twins or survive a plane crash. In other words, most of us will never do any of those things.

Massive fragmentation of attention is partly culpable in this almost ridiculous state of online advertising affairs, with 43% of users having learned to completely tune out ads. Publishers have also made placements and formats so standard that they themselves are responsible for training us to ignore whole sections of the web pages we read.

Adding to this apocalypse of irony, sites like Facebook have exploded the number of impressions available for sale at the same time as they have come to rely on display advertising for revenue. This is borne out in the fact that, according to the Wall Street Journal, online ad rates have decreased by more than 50% in the last decade. There is an infinite amount of Internet, and supply and demand don’t unplug for anyone – just ask Yahoo! The company, in an attempt to stabilize ad revenues, reduced inventory last quarter. It didn’t work.

I’m sorry if it hurts to also point out that the ad content you’re making is probably incredibly boring, and that’s just not good enough any more. You don’t know whom you’re targeting, you don’t know what they want, and you’re interrupting them with messages that deliver no value. So, uh… they’re ignoring you. Content is not going to get better until you can actually understand the role in plays in the purchase cycle. You need to start “thinking outside the banner” as David Zinman, CEO of Infolinks, a smart ad unit platform, puts it. Learn where and when to invest to support the important milestones in your consumers’ decision journey. If you are the right thing in the right place at the right time, they will click. And then they will buy.

So why do you keep spending your budgets on digital display? Mostly because you don’t know any better. Attribution (the ability to track users’ actions and assigning value to those actions as part of the sales cycle) is so poor, and most companies have such a lousy understanding of the true (online and offline) customer decision journey, that advertisers and their agencies are perpetually optimizing for the bottom of the funnel, where cause and effect are clear. You can see this play out in content recommendation widgets like Taboola, which offer “You May Also Like” links on publishers’ sites. A lot of it, sadly, is bait-and-switch direct marketing – taking users to gated content or a sales pitch. If this continues, it could potentially poison the well for yet another promising paid model that might have delivered relevancy and value in exchange for attention.

What’s the fix? Attribution standards need to be set. It’s technically possible to track users’ interactions with your content across multiple devices today.  Companies like DemandBase and OptiMine are trying to crack this nut by taking both structured and unstructured (aka “big”) data (IP addresses, search queries, clicks, conversions) and turning them into business intelligence that can help you better understand and optimize how your customers are getting to you. Online, however, there are privacy issues: in order to effectively track on the web and mobile, you need to drop cookies and tokens.  Consumers don’t really like that, one might argue in part because they don’t see the value – they’re giving you their privacy in exchange for what? Highly forgettable display advertising? Not a very compelling deal.

Jakob Neilsen has been warning us about “banner blindness” since 2007, and it’s magical thinking to believe it’s going to get better if you keep doing the same things. Good money after bad – the choice is yours.

[A modified version of this post originally appeared in Marketing Magazine]

Resources for Modern Marketers

Today Marketing Profs published a great resource for modern marketers who want to understand where their attention is best spent. Titled “Digital Marketers on Twitter: What They Share, Whom They Retweet” and based on research by Leadtail and Netbase, it’s a handy post that bubbles up the best resources based on which are shared most often, and by whom.

When it comes to industry media, (about 35% of the links shared overall), I’m thrilled to see that Social Media Today, an amazing aggregate resource of “The World’s Best Thinkers on Social Media”, is in the Top 10, neatly sandwiched between the estimable Venture Beat and The Next Web. I’m doubly thrilled because not only do I sit on the advisory board of SMT, but I’ve also been lucky enough to moderate their Best Thinkers webinar series for the last couple of years; something I enjoy tremendously, and which allows me return to my roots in journalism, if only for an hour every week or so.

If you haven’t yet joined us for one of these great and lively discussions (which are free!) you can register here for next week’s discussion, “Paid vs. Earned vs. Owned: What Does an Integrated Strategy Look Like?” These webinars are planned and programmed to provide differing viewpoints on some of the most pressing issues facing digital leaders today, and we don’t shy away from tough conversations and tough questions. All opinions must be accounted for with proof points, and our audience has come to expect and applaud this no-nonsense approach.

Finally, if you are familiar with and enjoy the webinars, then you must attend the first-ever Social Media Today “Social Shake-Up” conference in Atlanta September 15-17th. Two amazing days (plus workshops) of hard-hitting, to the point and real discussions about real problems – brands will share their experiences on stage, with a hand-picked selection of top-notch agencies and vendors providing a broader view of the marketplace. It’s going to be fantastic – I hope you’ll be able to join us!

 

Neiman Marcus is very serious about social.

I’m delighted to announce that Neiman Marcus is Social Media Group’s newest client partner. As part of our mandate, I’ll be working closely with their communications and marketing leadership to help this iconic retail brand focus their already impressive social and digital activities on delivering significant, measurable business value. A long-time fan of NM (and follower of their many robust social channels – these folks know how to make great, compelling content!) I’m thrilled to be working in partnership with them to accelerate their efforts.

I’m also very much looking forward to my upcoming visit to their spectacular flagship store in Dallas, Texas (purely for research purposes, of course).

Women who don't self-promote are letting us down.

I don’t care how distasteful you find it. Or, perhaps it’s not even modesty, but rather a feeling that giving that interview or speaking at that conference is not a good use of your time. You’re too busy. Whatever the reason, I’ll make this very clear: women who want to “change the ratio” but don’t self promote are letting all of us down.

I’m publishing this post (in which no names shall be named) in response to my recent experience on a writing project. I’m interviewing amazing founders and CEOs, talking to them about their businesses and how they got there. I am committed to ensuring that the voices that make up this story are diverse – I’d like to have a decent ratio of women to men (50/50 is probably ambitious, but I’ll try). Thanks to introductions from well-connected and helpful friends, I’ve interviewed some of the best-known names in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and their stories have been amazing, compelling, and strikingly humble.

The problem? Most of them are men. Why? Because less than a third of the women I’ve approached have responded or agreed to be interviewed. All of the men have.

At this rate, I’ll have to approach three female tech CEOs for every single interview I’m able to book. I invite you to pity me in my attempts to “change the ratio” – something that now appears to be a mathematical impossibility.

So I’ll just say it: women who don’t self promote are letting us down. This isn’t going to happen by magic – this is your responsibility.

Without a proper value exchange, social media is just a channel

And it doesn’t work a whole lot better than the ones we already have.

While doing some research for a client project, I came across this great post from Chad Warren on the Adobe Digital Marketing blog. In it, Chad discusses (in an admittedly creative mixed metaphor) the “seri­ous dose of real­ity [dropped] on everybody’s golden goose” by some new research from Forrester, which indicates that only 15% of consumers trust content posted by companies on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I found that fascinating, and started doing some more digging into the state of trust online. This spring, Nielsen released a report that shows fewer than 45% of people trusted most forms of digital advertising “completely or somewhat”, and the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that the three most-trusted sources of company information are academics or experts (68%), company technical expert (66%), a person like yourself (65%) and regular employees (50%). Soooo… in summary, it would appear that we trust company technical experts the most and digital platforms in the middle. However, by some magic formula, we trust the combination of the two least of all. Even though that content is very often posted by our most trusted sources on channels that allow us to question it.

Riiiight.

Now, of course I am using these dueling (and probably incomparable) stats to make a couple of smartass points, first: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” and secondly (and most importantly; you really ought to know that first one by now): I believe there actually is a pretty big problem with how many organizations are using social media, and it’s making those channels perform poorly. Just as poorly as the interrupt-and-repeat approach brands and agencies are still so hooked on.

I’m going to state the obvious: if you produce content that no one cares about, they’re going to ignore it. It doesn’t matter how you distribute it. We saw this firsthand when we worked with some of the pioneering platforms in the content marketing/paid social space, years ago: we were able to generate CTRs that were 4-6x (and sometimes up to 10 or 15x) what you’d see from display advertising. This was because we were thoughtful about both the content and the presentation of that content to the audience we were trying to reach. We then watched our media agency brethren eagerly jump on many of these sites/tools and fail spectacularly, delivering CTRs in the 1% range. Why? Because they were using marketing content, ads. And. No. One. Cared

If you find that your social accounts are waning in effectiveness or not delivering the results you’d expected, you have a content problem, not a channel problem. Basically: you’re doing it wrong.

The funny thing is, I (along with many of my esteemed colleagues in this space) have been saying this since the middle of the last decade. Hopefully smart brands are finally getting ready to listen and become the rule, rather than the exception.