On a warm, August evening I found myself contemplating the nature of change in, of all places, the courtyard of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.
I wasn’t there with family, I there with friends, it was just me. A 40 year-old, alone, running amok at a theme park with an American Express card and some anxiety to burn.
The trip was a lark – an exhalation of pent up energy after 18 months of an oppressive pandemic and an even tougher slog at work.
My job is to push a boulder uphill. I have to convince teams that have done something one way for years, to do something another way despite the fact it might not be as beneficial for them in the short term. It’s not en enviable position to be in.
Even in the best of circumstances, change isn’t easy. Throw in a global pandemic and the economic uncertainty that comes with it, though and you can understand why I would want to fine respite among singing audio-animatronic birds and ice cold dole whip.
I should also mention I was just getting out of a bad relationship – not romantically but professionally. My boss and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on things and I had done my best to be a dutiful direct report. However, in the words of Kim Scott, I couldn’t “forget to quit.”
Luckily, in this case I was able to switch roles. I was able to jump ship within my company to work for someone I had known before. Someone who I had much better report with and whose growth trajectory was better aligned with my own. More importantly, my new boss was also a “change agent” and knows what its like to wake up every morning knowing that the frequent think you will hear is “no.”
The thing about being a “change agent” – and we’re ALL change agents to some extent – is that to do it for an extended period of time takes two things. First, is determination. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, every day is usually pretty predictable. You’ll try your best to convince someone that your way is the right way and they’ll try their very best to resist the influence of whatever logic or incentives you’ve thought up.
Second – and this is likely more important if you want to stay sane and/or a remotely nice person – is empathy. It’s easy to dismiss people and processes that are older or outdated as less valuable as whatever change you’re trying to bring. However, when you look at the “why” behind those people and processes, you end up being able to understand a more about why “the way its always been done” ended up being the way things are done.
It doesn’t make it any easier or – at least- it feels that way. It does however soften the blow when best laid plans for change end up being thrown awry. Empathy creates connection in the “no” and helps inform how you relate to people.
In my case, my empathy had started to wear thin. I began becoming jaded and miserable. I no longer began to care “why” things were the way they are I became tired of fighting the “good fight” while feeling like I was loosing myself in a culture that was falling apart.
This is where the trip to Disney came in. It was the best place I could think of to recharge the wonder and excitement that drives my own empathy. Somehow among the crowds and the over-priced merchandise, I got lost in a sea of humanity just to be able to find myself again.
Change ins’t a bad thing. It’s in fact the most natural thing we do. However, when change is a way of life you do have to look out for yourself. Self-care becomes about caring as much about yourself as you do other people and having compassion for those who don’t want to change.
People and processes do change, eventually. The boulder you push up the hill eventually does get lighter. You even get to change a mind or two. The most important thing you can do to engender change is to not just believe it in but trust in it. It will come, particularly if you yourself are willing to change.
Just like fear you have to face change, yourself. Just like fear – as Roosevelt said – the only thing you have to fear is change, itself.
Only change can make you. Only change can break you. It’s up to you and how well you’re willing to treat yourself. And that’s why on that day at Disneyland, with that cold dole whip in hand, I knew that change would come, eventually if I changed.
One of the key challenges is that work has gone from congenial relationships with co-workers to working in what seems like the depths of one giant machine.
During times of uncertainty, machines are brilliant. They are designed to survive as long as the parts continue to show up and work like they are supposed to. It’s in that showing up, though, that is becoming increasingly difficult as the pandemic wears on.
So that leaves you, a human, trying to figure out how to be both happy and productive but doing so without loosing yourself in the machine.
I’m not going to claim I have any single solution. Like many people, I’ve used a combination of exercise, meditation, and adaptation to make it through to this point. However, I did stumble upon something interesting this past week worth sharing…the fact that you are not the machine.
I don’t know how many other people “are their jobs” but that tends to describe me and that little statement knocked my over with its simplicity and truth. I had to hear it and I have to repeat it.
I am not the machine.
If anything good comes of this time – including the ability for more of us to work from home – perhaps it’s that simple ability to gain better perspective.
Perhaps, just perhaps we can recognize our independence from the machine.
It’s about courage, curiosity, and a willingness to be candid.
Having spent the better part of the last five years going from one opportunity to another, a three-month break was just what the doctor ordered.
Keep in mind the break wasn’t exactly planned. I had accomplished a twelve-month project in just under six months, looked around at my professional situation and found myself stagnating in my growth. The question was, what exactly does growth actually mean?
At the time, I was reading a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott. In this book she imparts some important wisdom that if you’re not getting what you need from a situation; “you can’t forget to quit.”
Fresh off a huge professional win but with not a lot more growth ahead of me in that particular position, I heeded her advice. I packed up my stuff and decided to take a month or two off.
The decision took a lot of courage. I was walking away from a job I had taken just that year. What would future employers think about a move like that? How do I explain taking time off for myself in a world where “hustle” is the thing?
I had to jump, though. I couldn’t go on the way I had been and I had to trust that something bigger and better was out there. The courage to walk away ended up being the first prerequisite of my growth.
The second prerequisite of growth was that – for the first time in a long time – I didn’t know what I wanted.
I ended up having dozens of conversations with former co-workers, friends, executive mentors, and recruiters. I sorted through piles of job opportunities, notes from feedback sessions, and professional evaluations.
What was interesting is that I found out that the opportunities where I was both the most successful – and where I built the best relationships – were the environments where I could focus on being curious.
Not all places I had worked enabled this. They might say they encourage curiosity but they don’t actually enable teams or individuals to be curious.
In my experience, at least, curiosity leads to questions and questions lead to challenging assumptions. If teams and leaders aren’t ready for assumptions to be challenged, I personally probably won’t be good fit.
This is where Kim Scott’s work comes back into the picture. During the three months I ended up taking off, I read an enormous amount including finishing up Radical Candor. One of the key points is that to grow you have to have an environment where growth is possible.
On the other hand, you can’t swing to the other side of the spectrum. Focusing on just being direct or just having open communication often encourages teams to throw empathy out the window. This situation ends up being what Kim Scott calls “Obnoxious Aggression” and it ends up promoting defensiveness over growth.
The Job Search
My goal was to find an environment where I could both care deeply about what I was doing and who I was working with. I wanted to care so much to the point that direct communications were a forgone conclusion. In other words, I wanted to find an opportunity where curiosity – both professional and personal – was the focus.
Now, this was a great insight for me personally, but this isn’t exactly something you can filter for on LinkedIn. I had to find a way to probe for this in my conversations with potential bosses and/or employers.
What ended up happening is that, during interviews, I brought up my personal experiences with radical candor. When the subject turned to how I work with people, I brought up examples in my career of using curiosity to balance caring about people and the job and how open and direct communications played into that. I was also candid about the times that I wasn’t able to achieve that balance and why.
Being honest about what I wanted and what I was looking for might have closed some doors for me. My interview-to-offer success rate was definitely impacted. However, the offers I did receive were not only better, but I was more excited about them. The fires of curiosity were stoked even more so by the open communication and honest empathy created through the interview process.
In the end, that was the key to finding the right growth opportunity. I decided to accept an offer with a company where I can bring radical candor to work.
I know they subscribe to candor not only because I asked about it, but because they brought it up themselves. I’ve been told my job is to grow the function by being curious about client opportunities, about the relationships we need to capitalize on those opportunities, and the ways the function can integrate and innovate.
I would tell you I’m excited but that’s an understatement. These last three months have been an unexpected gift.
As much as I’m glad to be moving on, there’s a piece of me that has loved the struggle of where I’ve been. By reconciling what I want with what my next opportunity needs I have found not just the right opportunity but one that will offer the kind of growth I’ve been looking for.
It’s also a nice way to sum up my learnings about growth. First, you have to have the courage to make a move. Second, you have to have curiosity to learn the truth between what you’ve been through and what you want. Finally, you have to be willing to be candid about what you want.
Executives say that 52% of “digital transformation” projects aren’t thought through.
In a recent survey, companies cited loosing $28 million per year, on average, because of poorly planned “digital transformation” projects. You know how this happens? Because most executives can’t tell the difference between an IT strategist and a digital strategist.
Sorry to get on my soapbox here but I have to say something. I have seen SO many projects started by “strategists” that push technology without thinking through what audience they’re targeting, what that technology should do, or how it impacts the overall bottom line of the company.
Here’s what the difference and how you save companies money…
You start with the customer journey – the entire customer journey. I’m talking offline, online, and everything in between. Use data to track where customers go and surveys to understand how they make decisions. If you don’t have data, give it your best educated guess. You deal with them every day. They pay your salary. You know more about them than you know.
Map that out on a step-by-step journey to figure out where the audience’s pain points are.
For instance, is your audience not getting enough information? Are they struggling with too much information? How valuable is the information they are receiving? Where should you insert yourself, as the brand/product/solution/etc. and what medium makes sense?
Sometimes you’ll find digital isn’t the answer. Sometimes sales is the answer. Sometimes product labeling is the answer. The point is to not assume the answer is technology.
IT strategists, like many consultants, see themselves as hammers and the world as a bunch of nails. That’s great. Technology is great. However, remember that the phone is technology too. In fact, that piece of technology has been pushed to the point of abuse so many times that the federal government had to make a friggin’ block list!
You avoid abusing technology as a solution by not just looking at the transformation project as digital but as an audience transformation project! You get the smartest people from around the organization and you talk through the journey.
If digital makes sense, fabulous! If it doesn’t – figure out what you really need. The point is don’t be goaded into a project that seems to good to be true. Vet the opportunity and the advice you get as an executive.
Remember – the best solutions are the ones that seem small in the beginning but make a huge difference in the experience of the customer.
HBR recently published a remarkable statistic that says that between 2013 and 2017, marketing leaders have largely seen data analyst talent stagnate.
Why is that and how do we fix it?
One upon a time I worked with a wicked talented group of data analysts. Seriously, these are the kinds of professionals that could come up with algorithms to save the planet.
The only hitch is that they were siloed like you wouldn’t believe. They were laser-like focused on the data so they kept their process “clean” by not allowing other disciplines to add to or be involved in data analysis or delivery. On hand hand, I can see their point. Often non-data professionals bring bias to the table.
What happened with this team, like anything in business though, is that their deliverables were very one-sided. In other words, when they worked alone they often struggled to solve actual business problems. They would present data, not insights.
Like HBR presented in a recent article, you have to have multiple viewpoints in order to solve business problems – particularly when dealing with data. In fact, they cite a remarkable statistic that says that between 2013 and 2017 that marketing leaders have largely seen data analyst talent stagnate.
They go on to say…
Some marketing analysts excel at math and coding, and some excel at framing issues, developing explanations, and connecting to business implications. A far smaller set excel at both. Companies either need to wrap these variegated skills into one person through training and accumulating different types of experiences, or, more likely, assemble a team that is sufficiently facile with the techniques that they can interact productively, ensuring that there is some mechanism to match the approach (and the analyst) to the problem. This match requires senior talent, with the breadth of perspective to align analytical resources and business problems.
What I love about HBR is that they are very solutions-oriented. The remainder of the article they go into the solve for this problem including bringing in cross-functional talent to data teams to 1) help define the problem in the first place, 2) map data to business problems and 3) synthesize data into insights relevant to solving the problem.
That last point is the killer idea, in my opinion. Insights are very different than “data solutions.” Insights bring together critical perspective, behavioral background of the subject matter, and – most importantly – what to do about it.
What I’m trying to do at Morrison is to build analyst talent into our strategy team so that it’s not about one perspective. Sure, the process is messy and it can sometimes cause lengthy discussions but that’s the point.
I wholeheartedly respect and encourage “clean” processes to be built into data analysis. I would never want to influence the outcome of data one way or another. However, to be useful we have to take that analysis, lay it out, and decide what to do with it.
Back in undergrad I had an ethics professor that was obsessed with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant basically said that morality is derived not from man but from nature. That actions that disadvantage one person to the benefit of another are inherently immoral no matter how we try to justify the outcome.
He called his principle the “categorical imperative” and it very much applies to agency professionals.
To be truly ethical, the results of our actions cannot disadvantage one person to the benefit of another.
Agency professionals – by the mercurial nature of the business – have a tendency to act out of an abundance of self interest and ego. We look for an edge and compete for attention like our livelihoods depends on it. We constantly try to seek out ways around the categorical imperative. Unfortunately, there is none.
For instance, I’ve even seen people look for ways to make hay out of ideas that aren’t necessarily theirs. Maybe it’s borrowing or maybe it’s outright theft but they justify their actions because “it’s the nature of the game.”
Luckily, I’ve found myself working for an agency and actually a brand new client that puts a premium on the categorical imperative. The net impact of our actions both as agency professionals and as corporate citizens is always taken into account. We have to ask if what we’re doing is really moral or ethical or is it taking undue advantage?
In this case, the formula for morality isn’t rocket science….1) treat others with respect 2) give credit where credit is due, and 3) if you’re going to make hay – you better damn well grow your own.
You see, Kant was a big fan of the mathematical and interconnected nature of ethics. In short he said just like we aren’t exempt from certain absolute laws of morality, we are also not exempt from the consequences of our actions.
The formula for morality isn’t rocket science…1) treat others with respect 2) give credit where credit is due, and 3) if you’re going to make hay – you better damn well grow your own.
Stated another way: what goes around comes around. Ask yourself if you’re ready for the consequences of your attempts to get ahead?
…Machines write bad stories and journalists struggle with mounds of data. So that’s why Reuters is building a “cybernetic newsroom” – marrying the best of machine capability and human judgment to drive better journalism, rather than asking one to be a second-rate version of the other.
It’s a smart play. Before anyone goes out and fires their copywriters though, you have to read a little more into the context of their AI’s use. Turns out that the program, named “Lynx Insight” will begin by writing short snippets of financial reporting data such as…
Johnson & Johnson has outperformed the S&P 500 Pharmaceuticals sector by 1.9 pct in the last month. In the same period it has fallen short of the broader S&P 500 by 3.8 pct.
Again, really smart. It’s taking tasks that are menial, repetitive, and simple and automating them. It’s piecing together data, forming sentences, and allowing human operators to evaluate and publish those statements as news.
What the AI cannot do is provide the “why.”
You see, Reuters is selecting financial services as its main area of activation not because it requires context but because it doesn’t. Financial reporting is supposed to be agnostic of opinions. The same can be said of most sports reporting, the area that Lynx is going to be eventually rolled out to.
What I want to point out is that human copywriters are still needed to contextualize information. For instance, I would trust an AI like this to analyze digital performance data and create basic insights about how a program is performing vs. a historical baselines. What I wouldn’t do is ask the AI to explain why. Hell, I’ve seen way too many human analysts read out data and get it flat wrong.
You have to have a human that knows the qualitative landscape and provides interpretation of the data in order for real content generation.
If you need any proof of this, just take a look at some of the more epic AI content generation fails form brands like Burger King and BMW.
I guess my point is this – there are way too many overeager marketers out there that will only read the headline like this and extrapolate the idea that AI content generation is a great idea. What I’m saying is recognize the limitations of the technology, observe the nuance of the human-written content that works and go from there.
Redefining “Digital” In The Omni-Channel Environment
If you ask me, we’re no longer living in a “digital” world. We’re now living in what can be best described as a post-digital reality.
In short, what I mean is that the perceptual line between offline and and online shopping isn’t just blurred – it statistically doesn’t even exist. Take the convergence of two trends – webrooming and showrooming. Webrooming is where consumers browse online and shop in-store, whereas showrooming is the opposite.
Research into customer buying behaviors indicates that webrooming and showrooming have now reached the point where they are now equal. Customers are just as likely to engage in one as they are another. Let that sink in. We don’t think about making purchases in one channel or another – we just think about making purchases.
If online decisions are now being made offline and offline decisions are being made online – where does “digital” fit? The answer is that “digital” doesn’t matter anymore. At least not from a marketing perspective.
Too many marketers confuse marketing technology with actual marketing and call it “digital.” Don’t get me wrong – DMPs, AI, AR, and bots are all fabulous marketing tools. However, there are far too many applications of these technologies that really don’t do anything. They don’t enhance the customer experience, they don’t inform customer purchase decisions and they certainly don’t provide any added value. At best they’re novelties.
If you really want to make these technologies work, we have to look back to move forward. I’m talking back to the beginning of marketing “technology” – the door-to-door salesman. You see, the best door-to-door salespeople knew their territories and their customers so well that they could anticipate their needs. Customers didn’t even have to ask for something. The salesperson showed up at their door at just the right time with the right pitch for that specific customer.
For technologists who want to be marketers, ask yourself this question, what if we had an army of those kind of salespeople? What if we had enough salespeople to match every customer one-to-one – millions of them? What if we could send them around the world in an instant with all the information they needed for just the right pitch.
That, my friends is digital in a post-digital reality.
Customers would never again have to walk into a store or open their Amazon app because our salesperson would be there with what they needed before they knew they needed it. That’s what digital can do for the customer relationship.
It’s not that technology and innovation don’t have a place at the table or that we don’t need experts at commanding that technology. We just can’t take our eyes off the fact that marketing still happens just one sale at a time. We can’t forget that people buy things from people – and always will.
Too many times as marketers we become so enamored of our own creations – of new technologies – that we forget what got us into this profession in the first place.
In the end, the future belongs to those who find a way to create great things in service to the customer. The future belongs to great marketers who harness data, and technology, and innovation not for the sake of accolades and press mentions – but to place valuable and interesting information in the hands of the right decision makers.
That’s the future. That’s commerce. That’s marketing.
In the last three weeks, I’ve seen more negativity come out of otherwise responsible adults than I think I’ve ever seen in my life. I wish I was talking about politics but I’m not. I’m talking bullying instigated by agency professionals.
Maybe it’s insecurity or maybe it’s just a sign of the times but this behavior is stunning to me. What makes otherwise accomplished adults revert to pettiness normally only found in high school lunchrooms?
Seriously! Someone explain it to me because I have no idea.
The only thing I do know is that whether by deed or by word, this negativity does nothing good for the hater. Sure, there’s a momentary high and maybe even a sense of accomplishment in tearing down others. However, both are always temporary.
Take it from someone who has had to walk through decade of bullying.
While the target of the hater may end up stronger, the hater themselves sees that hate erode their core from the inside out.
The move was a long time coming. Despite the fact that I loved my experience at Moxie, the time and the opportunity came to move on.
Before the next chapter can begin though, there’s something much more important than packing up my things and turning in my laptop. That something is taking the lessons I’ve learned and try to make sense of them.
One lesson in particular is sticking with me – the importance of letting the score take care of itself.
Here’s the thing, when you’re at a big agency it’s hard not to try to keep score. It’s about how many project wins you have, how many awards you won, how many accolades you received, or people you managed. It’s the way you judge your presence as one part of a very large machine.
In all honesty though, I think the most valuable thing I learned is that the score – in that sense – doesn’t matter. The score, like I said, takes care of itself.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t manage a ton of people. Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of my time making the case for a seat at the table to begin with. I spent a lot of time on the outside looking in, trying to focus on the things I could change. It ended up being the small things that I did that made the most impact.
Things like the detail and research I put in and the frameworks I had to build from scratch tended to be the most powerful and respected things I ever created at Moxie. It got the nod from clients and more importantly created opportunities to work together with disciplines that had, upon my arrival, been reluctant to give what I did the time of day. Those small things built up to be something much larger,
Such is the work of the truly great strategists. It’s not the big ideas, it’s the small ones that matter. It’s the dogged work that’s put into every deliverable that makes the difference.
That’s one of the greatest lessons I’m taking with me going forward – to focus on the “sincere hustle,” not the score. When all is said and done, your work either speaks for itself or it doesn’t.
I’m grateful for the time and the lessons I learned. However, the next chapter begins on Monday. The only thing the scoreboard reads is that it’s time to get to work.
Believe it or not, chatbots have been around for several decades. We just haven’t noticed. You could even say they went mainstream as early as 1966 when researchers at MIT created ELIZA, that cute little computer program that talked back to you.
The first question has an easy answer – if it adds value, do it! If it expedites consumer interactions, provides easier access to your company, or is even just for pure entertainment then the bot is probably worth the investment.
The second question – how do you make a chatbot successful – is a more complicated. To answer that question, I actually looked at several dozen chatbots and consumer reactions to them by visiting Chatbots.org. The site provides online listings and reviews for chatbots as well as all sorts of useful information. There are many disliked chatbots but just a few respected ones.
The difference between a good chatbot and a bad one, besides the logical question of if they intend to peruse skynet-like sentience, is their humor. Good bots are unafraid of being less than human. In other words, they don’t try to pretend they are a replacement for human-to-human interaction.
The best bots have an “awe dad” sense of humor about themselves. They will tell you up front what they are about and what they can or cannot do. One of my favorites, in fact, belongs to an Israeli startup named Imperson. Imperson creates personality-based chatbots programmed to mimic, but not replace humans.
I also love the chatbots that aren’t chatbots but more like active listeners and information navigators. Take the one created by the device manufacturer Peel, for instance. After you purchase, you can immediately opt-in to receive updates via Facebook Messenger. As someone that was eagerly anticipating my iPhone 7 case and wanted it to arrive at or before the device did, the Facebook-facing interactions were simple and easy to access. It was much easier than going back to their site and it even remembered my order number.
Again though, Peel’s bot didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. When I asked it a question it didn’t know – it referred me to other, more appropriate channels.
If the prevalence and development of apps were any indication, there is likely to be a rush to create chatbots of all kinds. The question is how many will be used and how many will make you come back for more?
By all indications, it’s the bot developers that think thoughtfully about what they should be vs. what they could be that end up cashing in.
Last week, Hillary for America launched Hillary 2016. The app is meant to empower the masses to take action on behalf of the candidate and her issues.
The genius isn’t that the app will be the absolute game-changer in the campaign or will make the kinds of headlines that Pokémon Go has. The genius, in my opinion, is how the Clinton campaign is harnessing two massive digital trends – “slacktivism” and gamification – into a single powerful tool that might prove more effective than any other single digital campaign asset we’ve seen this election cycle.
To start with, let’s define what we’re talking about. In short, slacktivism is term used to described being active in a cause online – posting, commenting, re-posting, starting flame wars – but not so much in real life.
def. slacktivism (noun)
actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.
This is where gamification comes in. If you don’t know what gamification is ask the closest millennial to you to explain Pokémon Go.
Ok…back to the Hillary app. What I love about the app is that it takes slactivism and gamification and connects the two together. For instance, you earn points for taking actions like learning about issues, RSVPing to a watch party, or passing along key messaging points. These points are redeemable for both virtual goods. You can “purchase” furniture for your virtual campaign HQ or even real-world rewards like an autograph from the candidate, herself.
Given the need for turnout and voter mobilization in this cycle, the process of collecting and redeeming stars is not only fun, but it helps the campaign.
In fact, I can’t help notice that the stars animation in the app looks exactly like the end scene from Iron Jawed Angels. In case you haven’t seen it, IJA is features Hillary Swank as legendary suffragette Alice Paul. As the 19th amendment to the constitution is ratified, Paul and her fellow activists are showered with yellow stars.
The same effect, almost down to the frame, happens in the HFA app. Maybe a coincidence but I like to think some UI designer was that clever.
The UI aside, I think this is a great play for politics and, in particular, for Hillary for America. This app finally bridges the final mile between otherwise online, passive activists and real world action.
By no means is this a replacement for going out to vote. Nor does the app replace an on-the-ground operation. However one, we haven’t seen all of the app’s functionality. Second, think of all the insights HFA will be able to gain from this user base.
In 2008, Obama took the humble email list and made it the most powerful digital tool in a campaign. In 2016, Hillary Clinton could very well have done the same thing for an app. Either way, digital strategists like myself will be watching the app performance closely.
We’ll be watching to see what we can learn about human behavior. We’ll also be watching how we slacktivism and gamification come together to impact an organization and a brand.
The problem with AdTech is simple: we have way too many over-engineered hammers looking for too few verifiable nails.
It almost conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland-esque humanoid tools, blindly shattering browser screens with reckless abandon. At least that’s what I like to think the dreams of my paid media brethren have been filled with the last 5 years.
To avoid being stuck holding the bag like so many bad mortgage loans, allow me to point out those lies in very simple terms…
First, AdTech Is Built On Data Of Questionable Integrity
When an AdTech firm sells you a programmatic solution, you’re actually being sold two different things. You’re being sold both technology and the data it runs on.
I’ve seen this technology and can tell you there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. In most cases, it’s actually well thought-out and theoretically sound.
However, the challenge is when you start fueling the technology with bad data.
Think about gassing up your car with fuel that hasn’t been verified, has more fillers than anyone would like to admit, and is going to get you just about as far as the next filling station two blocks away.
The data we’re being sold is just that unreliable.
It’s a blend of shopping cart preferences and third-party data bundles. In it are ridiculous broad-based assumptions that more often than not segment consumers into ill-defined categories for the sake of expediency rather than accuracy.
For example, I’ve seen data sets from programmatic vendors that purport to accurately identify high-value, affluent consumers. Eager to design strategies to target these individuals, I wanted to know just what parts of their behavior caused them to appear in this group.
It turns out that the segment was called “Country Club” and that the only thing you had to do to be categorized in this group was to show an affinity for brands like J. Crew. Suffice to say, pointing out the absurdity of this correlation didn’t win me any fans among the AdTech people on my team.
Therein lies the problem. As media professionals we’re OK with the lie as long as the results reach the absolutely ridiculous, low single-digit benchmarks that we’ve taken as gospel.
Second, Creative Isn’t Changing
Unlike fisherman who change their bait based on the specific fish they want to catch, the creative we’re using isn’t changing to meet the audience.
You would think this is a huge missed opportunity and it is.
If you are lucky enough to find a verify a prospect through programmatic, you would think that media professionals would put their best creative foot forward.
You would think they would spend just as much on developing really great, specific ads that are drawn from deep-seated understanding of the audience you’ve worked so hard to find. You would, of course, be wrong.
But what about the technology? Isn’t finding the audience half the battle? Not really.
As Mark Duffy points out, the reason that ad-blocking technologies continue to grow in popularity despite the promise of programmatic is that consumers are still seeing the same pre-adtech creative.
This is why we’re still mired in such lousy response rates.
In fact, ask anyone who does one-to-one sales. They will tell you that if you know who your audience is, and can effectively find them, even a cold-approach should net you a 1 in 10 chance of a conversion if you put any mental effort into the pitch at all.
What these two truths add up to is a well-intentioned, wildly expensive way to get the same result as you would without the technology.
I wish this wasn’t so. I wish the data was better and that media teams would wake up to the fact that creative needs to be just as much priority as the technology.
In my experience though, if wishes were angels…In other words, this is why I’m a bigger fan of owned and shared media than I am paid.
Though paid is a great tool and isn’t going away, there’s going to be a lot of cleanup to do when the industry wakes up to so many shattered dreams.
To preface this, you have to know that I’ve been on a home automation kick for the past two years and my latest obsession has been training my home to respond to voice commands. Of course, this isn’t something new as Apple’s HomeKit is built on Siri integration. However – as any of you who use HomeKit know – it comes with some serious limitations, the most glaring of which is the (current) inability to use logic to build scenes.
Instead you’re stuck with either a) controlling one device at a time or b) dealing with the insanely buggy and ecosystem-limited Insteon Hub Pro.
In the time I have owned my home, I have automated lights (Hue & Insteon), temperature (Nest), sound (Sonos), device power (WeMo) and security (ADT Pulse & Kwikset Kevo). To say that making each of these things play nicely which each has been a challenge is an understatement.
The addition of the Amazon Echo – though not without its own issues – has brought order to my home automation galaxy.
First of all, it understands and responds to voice commands WAY better than Siri. The microphones are so well-tuned that they can hear over music, tv, and even my boyfriend complaining about the constant changes I’m making to my house’s wiring.
The killer feature though is that Amazon Echo team is on a mission to make Amazon Echo integrate with the vast majority of technologies one way or another. To do this, they’ve made strategic integrations with SmartThings, Hue, Insteon, and most importantly IFTTT, the logic recipe-based “glue” of the internet.
What this means is that I am able to give my Amazon Echo a voice command that controls lights, device power, temperature and music all at one time. Personally, I’m OK leaving my security devices as isolated systems for obvious reasons but the rest is a breakthrough worthy of Tesla, himself!
For anyone looking to replicate my success, I will put out one or two recommendations out there…
Not only is it cheaper, the 2245 is the only one with the Amazon Echo integration. Yes, it’s choosing sides AGAINST Apple but even for the most ardent fanboy, you can see that Siri and HomeKit aren’t quite ready for primetime.
The SmartThings hub is not only the critical link between my Amazon Echo and Sonos but it allows you to create virtual devices that help IFTTT trigger actions that bring critical components together. For instance, it can tell Sonos to play a specific track at a specific volume, at a specific time.
For now, I get to play and explore as that’a what the Amazon Echo is built for. If you have other tricks and tips, let me know. On my end, as I tech my Pringles can new tricks, I’ll pass them along, as well.
Whether you call it adtech, martech, marketing automation or programmatic, far too many marketers are treating technology solutions like they’re a panacea for our ailing relationships with consumers.
Don’t get me wrong — marketing technologies are amazing. They allow us to reach greater numbers of consumers with an increasing level of personalization. However, since the dawn of the printing press, countless marketers have looked at buttons as a way to turn their brains off. These technologies somehow make them believe they can get great — even better — results by reaching more people with the same tired, old pitches.
For instance, with the invention of the printing press, marketers thought volume was the solution. So they flooded the streets with flyers, which consumers promptly threw away. And with radio, these marketers tried to get noticed by turning up the volume, which only inspired consumers to turn the channel.
Many marketers today are playing the same game with digital communications. They replace community managers with auto-responders and try to use adtech to serve millions — if not billions — of “personalized” creative.
Here’s what these marketers are missing: with each advance in marketing technology, consumers also get smarter. They find new ways to tune marketers out. And that’s why we’re staring down the barrel of a crisis in advertising. This desire to find some peace amidst this deafening and relentless marketing chatter has spawned an entire industry — one dedicated to helping people completely block markets out.
The Solution? Training Our Brains as We Build Technology
The single greatest technology marketers have is the one square foot between their ears. As we improve our ability to serve more people in the same amount of time, we have to train our brains to keep pace with that evolution.
Rather than turning our minds off, we should advance our exploration of consumer behavior, research and creativity in step with technological progress.
I know — it’s not as fun as pushing a button, but ask anyone at any gym on the planet and they’ll tell you that all the technology in the world can’t substitute for the raw effort that comes from continuously challenging and pushing ourselves.
Think of it as a proportional sunk cost in the development of new technologies: as you calculate the costs and efficiencies of marketing automation, raw time and talent have to increase at the same rate. Only then will we be able to scale the creativity and innovation that consumers demand of us — and ideally grab their attention (not to mention their business, loyalty and advocacy) along the way.
My grandfather was legendary for his ability to haggle. In fact, he would often say there wasn’t just one price for an item – there were three. There was the price the shop owner wanted, the price that he wanted, and the price that the item would ultimately sell for.
My grandfather used this line over and over again to disarm even the most contentious salesman. It’s part of what made him fun to work with and left a lasting impression on anyone who did business with him.
Despite his passing, his voice still rings in my head whenever I enter into negotiations with anyone. Most often, it’s applicable not just in prices, but in ascertaining truth in a situation.
Think about it. We’re all motivated by something. Oftentimes we’ll spin the truth in our favor if we think it’s going to help our cause. Put two people together with two different sets of motivations and you’ll likely get two different versions of the truth.
The thing is that there aren’t just two versions of the truth – there are three. The third and final version is the actual truth of the situation, sans any spin or backend motivation.
In negotiations, almost no one wants to acknowledge this version of the truth. The reason for this is that the actual truth doesn’t help anyone. In fact, in most cases, it finds fault and value in both parties.
The more I experience in business, the more convinced I am that this third truth is what we should be aiming for. Rather than trying to forward my own version of the truth, or trying to discredit yours, why not do what my grandfather did? Why not cut through the cross-talk and acknowledge the differences?
Rather than viewing differences as weaknesses, we can view as them as a part of the truth. Perhaps then we can spend more time working towards what really needs to get done.
The funny thing about my grandfather’s technique was that he often didn’t get the best price for what he was asking for. Then again, the shop owner didn’t get the best price, either. Ultimately, the price fell somewhere in the middle. The funny thing is that the more you look, the middle is also where you’ll most often the truth as it actually exists.
If you’re looking for what’s next in marketing, you only have to look back — way back. I’m talking back to the turn of the last century.
In the early 1900s, culture and society had been redefined by the industrial revolution. Machines had literally re-engineered our way of life and, in their transformative wake, forced businesses from railroads to retailers to rethink what consumers wanted. The new era that dawned was known as modernism, and its trademark was the rejection of traditional ways of thinking. People in every industry and trade set out to remake everything in novel and inventive ways.
Today, we’re dealing with the aftermath of a much different revolution — one driven by the dual forces of digital and social innovation. Yet, much like its predecessor, the digital and social revolution has forever altered the very core of consumer behavior. And in this new era of marketing, the old rules not only don’t matter, but they can also undermine a brand’s bottom line.
That’s why 2016 isn’t going to be about a particular technology, app or device. It’s going to be about something bigger: How brands adapt to meet consumers’ demands for more meaningful engagement — and more control — than they have had at any other time in history.
2016 is going to be the year that digital modernism takes hold.
So What Exactly Is Digital Modernism?
The modernism of the early 20th century and digital modernism of 2016 share the same core principle: the reinvention of art, science and culture based on the impact of new technology.
Digital modernism, in particular, is about how brands are dealing with things like the proliferation of social media, the rise of mobile devices and their new balance of power with consumers.
Though these elements have been considered mainstream for upwards of half a decade, only now are they becoming the norm. Digital modernism is the next phase for these trends — one where the platforms themselves are no longer “new,” yet the ways that brands use them are.
Think about it: Even the most staid, traditional brands — conservative financial brands like Lloyds of London, legacy construction brands like Caterpillar and even the super-secretive CIA (@CIA) — have now bought fully into digital. It’s not enough to simply have a presence on digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or to be active in digital advertising. A brand’s success today is defined by its ability to innovatively and creatively target and reach one consumer versus another.
Digital Modernism’s Impact on Strategy
Digital modernism’s most acute impact is on the world of strategy. Previously, strategy was about answering the question, “How?” Now we need to answer the question, “Why?”
Enter the era of modern digital strategy.
Like Michael Porter’s impact on business strategy itself, modern digital strategy isn’t just about the means in which brands articulate themselves in digital, but also how they use it to create a competitive advantage.
Digital Modernism’s Impact on Analytics
Analytics is the second area impacted by digital modernism. With the social and digital revolution specifically, we’re now looking well beyond the ability to track consumers, their conversations and behaviors.
Thanks to the combined forces of big data and digital modernism, our purview now encompasses millions of other aspects of consumers’ personalities, preferences, habits and more. We can now generate deep, actionable insights that enable us to enhance consumer relationships and privacy — at the same time. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but it’s one that presents new opportunities for brands. And brands that can leverage big data to create experiences for their consumers that are progressively more relevant, meaningful and customized will be most successful.
Digital Modernism’s Impact on Creativity
Creativity is no longer about coming up with new ways to dazzle and captivate consumers. With digital modernism, it’s now personal: Brands must be able to use new technologies and consumer insights to craft not just one amazing experience but millions.
This type of creative won’t just be disruptive. It will have immense impact on the success rate of everything from banner ads to emails. Instead of measuring CTR in terms of halves of a percent, we’ll see many brands launch into double-digital success. By harnessing multiple customized creative ideations for each channel, brands will be able to become more relevant and more connected than ever.
Opportunity, With a Caveat
Whether we’re talking about strategy, analytics or creative, 2016 promises to be an exciting year for brands — and one full of unprecedented opportunities. The key question is how brands will respond. Remember, modernism wasn’t just a time for innovation, but also for natural selection in commerce. Ford’s Model T ignited the automobile revolution, but it also spurred competition. And competition can make or break brands. Digital modernism will no doubt bring similar pressures. Each brand’s ability to thrive will depend on how well it adapts and innovates.
One of the things I love about social media is that it’s impossible to fake great content. This is a lesson that seems to be lost on the majority of advertisers trying to circumvent ad-blocking technologies.
If you haven’t heard about the battle between ad-blockers and advertisers, you should check out this article on DIGIDAY. It details not only the ways advertisers are getting around ad-blocking technologies but ways that advertisers can now actually buy their way past them.
All this effort, money, and frankly ethically grey behavior begs one question – why are advertisers trying to force something on users that they clearly don’t want?
Again, I refer back to social media. When a social media user doesn’t like a piece of content, it doesn’t get read, or liked, or shared. In response marketers have to come up with better content. In the end the users is – and hopefully will always be – the arbiter of whether a message gets through.
Personally, when an ad fails I look at the content, I look at the audience, and see if I missed some piece of the puzzle.
Almost always, I am trying to force my language on the audience versus speaking to the audience in theirs. I adjust the messaging and/or the format and see if I can’t make a connection with the audience that helps them solve a problem or realize a need. If I can’t do that in an appealing and compelling way the ad doesn’t deserve to be served. It’s that simple.
If you’re an advertiser; please stop wasting your money on these kind of technologies. Spend it on getting to know your audience or on great copywriters. In the end, your dollars will go way further and your clients will be much happier.