Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

How I Did With My 2017 Predictions

Snapchat Stock

We’re in the home stretch of 2017. I don’t foresee anything dramatic happening between now and the 31st that would impact the assessment of my 2017 predictions. I’m using the same rules as I always do. Each prediction will be evaluated critically. An accurate prediction will garner 1 point. A miss, earns a fat 0. I try to avoid the middle, but if a situation should arise where a prediction could be considered accurate by some, it will generate 1/2 a point.

For a recap of my 2016 predictions, click here. The headline for 2016 was 8.5/15 or 56.7%. This was even worse than, my 2015 predictions where I scored a 6.5/10. I’ve been treading downward since the high of my 2012 predictions where 90% were right. The 2014 predictions had an 80% success rate, but that was better than my 2013 predictions, which scored 60%.

So, let’s get on with it! The original prediction from 2017 is listed first and in bold font. The analysis follows.

  1. “Voice” will be the new battleground and by the end of the year, we will see Amazon, via Alexa as the clear cut #1, in the category. As part of this, Apple will release a Siri home product, but it will not succeed in besting Amazon or Google. Ding, ding, ding! In June, Apple announced the HomePod. Originally scheduled to launch in 2017, it’s now been delayed til 2018. Apple has a long way to go to catchup with Amazon.
  2. The prevailing theory is that the iPhone 8 will be a revolutionary step forward for phones in the way the original iPhone was. It won’t be, as measured through new hardware and software features. Despite that, the iPhone 8 will outpace iPhone 7 sales, globally. This is the classic case of earning 1/2 a point. The iPhone 8 was not a revolutionary step forward, but it has not outpaced iPhone 7 sales. However, this comes with the caveat that I, nor did anyone else see the iPhone X coming.
  3. In a similar way to how vinyl is propping up music sales, we will see a renaissance in real books. Yes, books, the kind with actual paper, will see growth. Since this is supposed to be the “clear cut” section, I believe as a %, books will outpace the sales growth of digital/ebooks. This definitely happened. Per CNN, “The same trend is on display in the U.S., where e-book sales declined 18.7% over the first nine months of 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers. Paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period, and hardback sales increased 4.1%.”
  4. The term “predictive analytics” will displace “big data” as the buzzword du jour for marketers. This will happen as companies realize they already have lots of data, but they need to start using it in a way that isn’t about looking back. We will measure this with Google Trends. This did not happen, was not even close. Epic fail. I actually do think this is happening at organizations, but it hasn’t become mainstream enough for Google Trends to pick up on it.
  5. The Verizon-Yahoo merger will continue as planned. It will be the 1st of 3 large such mergers that will be announced or close in 2017. Consolidation is the only path forward, when 99% of the digital ad growth is split between Facebook and Google. This happene. Verizon and Yahoo! became Oath. What were the other 2? Well the AT&T – Time Warner merger was announced, but hasn’t closed. The other? Well, that’s the hotly debated Sinclair – Tribune merger.
  6. We will see a significant decrease in social media sharing, but not necessarily usage. There will be more consuming of “content” than there will be in sharing that content. This drop in sharing will be fueled by 3 reasons. First, with the continued rise of “gotcha journalism” and social justice warriors, people will think before they tweet, so to speak. The fear of retribution for posting something, initially thought of as innocuous, will decrease the willingness to share. Second, the rise in the combination of “pay wall” type approaches to content with “fake news” will make people less inclined to want to share. Third and last, as Facebook and others becomes more and more of media/content creators, the walled garden approach to building networks will stunt cross platform and network sharing. 20%!!!! That’s how much sharing is down on Facebook. Dang! Yeah, I nailed this one.
  7. Facebook will see the wrath of the new administration. In a similar way to how Microsoft was seen as monopolistic and anti-competitive, Facebook will be targeted for the same reason, in addition to being targeted for their perceived control over how what media is consumed. The attempts by Facebook to curb “fake news” will backfire. Fiscally it was a good year for Facebook. But, reputation-wise, it was not a good year. My prediction accurately forecasted that Facebook would be targeted by the administration and the attempts to fix fake news, did not work.
  8. In 2016 we saw a handful “startups” get acquired by the legacy companies they compete against. For example, Dollar Shave Club’s purchase to Unilever and Jet.com’s purchase to Walmart. In 2017 we are not only going to see more of this, but we’re going to see it happen in unique and unexpected ways. For example Whole Foods acquiring Instacart or Target purchasing Refinery29. So, yeah, this happened A LOT this year. Take your pick. We have Amazon buying Whole Foods. Then we have Ikea buying TaskRabbit. I still expect Instacart to be purchased by a retailer at some point.
  9. Twitter will sell to an unlikely buyer. For example, Bezos (not Amazon) will buy it and then bolt it on to WaPo. Another unlikely buyer would be someone like Microsoft, who would then integrate it into things like LinkedIn and Yammer! An example of a likely buyer would be Google. Fail. Total swing and miss.
  10. I’m bringing forward a prediction from 2016. I think I was spot on, but a year early. Snapchat will IPO, but the IPO will flop. Did I say flop? I should have said crashed and burned. The IPO started at $17 and then rose to $24. It sits below $15 now and the future does not look bright at all.

So, how did I do? 7.5 out of 10. I missed on Twitter selling, predictive analytics over taking big data and the while the iPhone 8 was in fact not revolutionary, it did not outpace iPhone 7 sales. If we go back to 2012, my 5 year total to 71% (42.5/60). This was a good rebound year. Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on my 2018 predictions. There’s going to be a lot chew on for next year.

“What’s The Toughest Part About Being A Dad?”

Recently, we had some our best friends in town. As we were out touring Minneapolis, one of them asked me, “What’s the toughest part about being a dad?” I had to think on it. Talk about a meaty question. After a few seconds, I said, “well, I guess it’s the wondering that you haven’t done enough, or you could have done more. What keeps me up at night is the tension that comes from not knowing if I should have given one more hug, said one more thing, spent one more minute or read one more book and if it would have made a difference.”

Those thoughts keep me up and make for the toughest part of the “job”, because we want the best for our children. I got a bit introspective on the subject, the other night. Then, by happenstance, as I was researching videos for an internal presentation, I came across this great speach by Robin Williams, in the movie, ‘Jack.’

I’m a huge Robin Williams fan and I can’t believe I’ve never seen the movie. The full text is as follows:

You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry, thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day…make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

Parents, god bless you. Your “job” is so hard. I applaud all of you.

Tough To Find Whiskeys That You Need To Try

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

In 2017 I sampled some amazing whiskeys. From old, rare and collectible to new, limited in production and seemingly impossible to find, there were so many drams to try. Before I get into my list of thought to find whiskeys to try, I want to start with the one I missed out on. The white whale, if you will, was Bainbridge Yama. Never heard of it you say? You’re not alone. What first drew me to this dram was the description:

Bainbridge Yama is the first-ever non-Japanese whiskey to be aged exclusively in hand-crafted barrels made from rare Mizunara oak harvested from the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Tell me more…Ok, will do. So, then, I found out it was Whiskey Advocate Magazine’s 2016 whiskey of the year. Say what? How did I not hear about this? I tried unsuccessfully, 5 different times to purchase it on the secondary market and missed out each time. Definitely a bummer.

With that, here’s what I tried, in 2017, that’s hard to find (but can be found).

Booker’s Rye

Jim Murray anointed it the 2017 Whiskey of the Year. I concur. It blew my mind. Booker’s, in general, is a favorite of mine. The Rye took it to a whole other level. The right amount of spice. A wonderful finish. And, a killer color. Just about everything you want in a whiskey.

Westland Garryana

You’re saying, huh? My friend Eric turned me on this and I was not disappointed. Drinkhacker describes it best:

Who or what is Garryana? It’s short for Quercus garryana, a species of oak native to the Pacific Northwest, where Westland Distillery is based. While American oak barrels are traditionally formed form Quercus alba, a species of oak common to the midwest, Westland, as you might have guessed, aged part of this limited edition release of its single malt whiskey in so-called Garry oak, where it spent three years slumbering before hitting the bottle.

Intriguing, right? I don’t have a better way to describe it, other than, funky. It’s incredibly unique and unlike anything, I’ve ever sampled.

Ichiro’s Port Pipe and On The Way

I’m a big fan of Ichiro Akuto and his whiskey. I’ve yet to have a bad one. My first introduction to Ichiro was his “On The Way.” For such a young whiskey it was full of flavor and complexity. This year I tried On The Way and Port Pipe. They couldn’t be more different and yet, both, awesome. Port Pipe is rich, flavorful and almost sweet. On The Way is assertive, layered and warm.

Crooked Water Kings Point

I move to Minnesota and my buddy Kasey, a Minnesota native says, “you have to try Crooked Water bourbon!” Ok, I’m in. Not the easiest to find, but I’m glad I hunted for it. The Whiskey Wash describes it well:

It is described by Crooked Water as a two-year old bourbon that was finished for over six months in a used port barrel imported from Portugal from a 100+ year winery.

I always applaud distilleries that can create or extract flavor from young whiskeys. Crooked Water nailed it with the Kings Point bourbon.

Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon
I read about the hype. I read more about the hype. Finally, I broke down and took a flyer on a bottle. Initially, I was not a fan. It was not my cup of tea, I felt. But, After 3 or 4 glasses over a month, I became a fan. While not the best whiskey I’ve ever had, it’s very good and has an incredibly distinct taste. The boys in Texas really know what they’re doing.

There’s a lot of great whiskey out there. If you look hard enough you may find a sought-after gem.

I’m Joining UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare Logo

Our mission is to help people live healthier lives and to help make the health system work better for everyone.

That’s a mission statement designed to inspire and motivate. That’s what it did to me. I’m overjoyed to announce that I’ve joined UnitedHealthcare as Vice President, External Communications. In this new role, I’ll be leading Content and Social Media, our Regional Communications across the country and our External Corporate Communications. Additionally, I’ll be playing a role in our Corporate Social Responsability initiatives and of course, doing my part, every day, to help make the health sysetm work better for everyone.

I wrote to my world class Walgreens team, upon announcing my departure, “Be open to change. Consistency, while comfortable, will stop your growth. In fact, seek change. If you don’t drive the change you want, you are destined to be run over by change that’s less than desirable.” It’s a sentiment I’ve always believed. That mindset was instilled early on in my career by Pat Fallon. Pat was the pure definition of someone in perpetual motion. He boldly took Fallon into the future, before the future even knew what the future was. I learned a lot working for the agency the bore his name on the door. A willingness to seek, embrace and create change, was at the top of the list.

Minnesota Paddle State Fair Tee

Joining UnitedHealthcare brings about an enormous amount of change for me and the family. For starters, we’re leaving Illinois and moving to Minnesota. For our friends, yes, I know we just sold our condo in the West Loop, only to a buy a house in Evanston (that we loved) and yes, that means we’re selling the house in Evanston to buy a house in Minnesota. We Kmiec’s don’t make it easy. Try as I might to leave Minnesota, it continues to beckon me back. I’ll always be, just a kid from Brooklyn, but Minnesota has felt more and more like home, over the years.

Second, I’m leaving retail and CPG. For 15 of the 20 years I’ve been working, I’ve always been in the thick of retail and CPG. While joining UnitedHealthcare takes me out of that business, it keeps me very much in the middle of health care. There are few industries at the forefront of innovation that connect, touch and impact so many lives. UniteHealthcare, isn’t just in the middle of health care, they’re at the front, leading and embracing change.

The last big change, is my role. For the first time in the last 12 years I won’t be building or leading a digital marketing organization. This was actually one of the biggest draws of UnitedHealthcare. It’s rare that you get to reinvent your career, on your own terms, in a leadership capacity. To join a leading company like UnitedHealthcare, in a leadership role, working for an incredible leader, was an opporunity impossible to pass. If there’s one thing the Walgreen’s Leadership Model prepared me to do, it’s lead teams, where you aren’t the subject matter expert.

The team I’m joining is about as top notch as it gets. My peers are people I admire and respect for their accomplishments, thought-leadership and candor. The leaders across UnitedHealth Group, UnitedHealthcare and Optum come from ad-tech, retail, telecom and other fast-paced, dynamic and exciting verticals. Additionally, I’ve inherited a fantastic team. They’re bright, patient, collaborative and eager to deliver on our mission.

I’m humbled by the trust the organization has put in me and I look to pay it back for years to come.

So, You Want To Travel To Cuba

Just a building in the heart of Old Havana.

I spent my 38th birthday visiting Havana, Cuba. I wanted to get in before the travel regulations were more stringent or before the first McDonald’s showed up. As a photographer and a history buff, I’ve always been fascinated with Cuba. A full detailed outline of their complex history can be found here. Something I rarely do, is hire a tour guide, but having never been, having no cellular reception and no credit card use, I thought it made sense. Our tour guide from Cuban Connections, was simply, amazing. His loose and high-level version of the island’s history was:

  1. Natives were here. Spain showed up. Slaughtered the natives. Imported slaves.
  2. Over time, you have large land owners. You have businessmen. There’s a revolution against the colonization. The slaves are told if you fight along side “us”, you’ll get your freedom. They do. The freedom isn’t exactly freedom.
  3. Post revolution #1, Cuba still basically has a free market economy. The original founders of Bacardi, for example, started in Cuba. The free market economy creates haves and have nots. There’s a 2nd revolution led by Castro, Guerra and others. They topple the government.
  4. To rectify the have and have not situation, the government tells the wealthy, you know longer own that, we do. Yes, they took someone’s business, house, land and their wealth. They take that and “give it to the people.” Sure, you can stay on, in your business and we will offer you a salary.
  5. The wealthy who are now robbed by the government, leave for places like Spain or Puerto Rico. Bacardi, based in San Juan, is only based there because after the government seized their assets, they fled to Puerto Rico to start anew. This is why Havana Club exists. The brand was built on the plantations, distillery and inventory of what Bacardi had left, before leaving.
  6. This habit of siezing wealth to fully redistribute to the poor drove out innovation and entrepreneurism, but provided things like government provided healthcare. The Cuban healthcare system is renowned and their medical advances, respected. It also meant that, no Cuban, would ever have to pay for a funeral. 
  7. When you “own” a house, you don’t own a house. The government owns the house. Your taxes pay for the upkeep of the outside. You are accountable for the inside, to a point. Think of this like the a country-wide Home Owner’s Association.
  8. Every restaurant we would eat at, is ultimately government owned. Restaurants fall into 2 basic categories. The first are called “Paladares” – these are restaurant concepts that are created and managed by a person. If you will, Adam’s Taco Joint. But, even though it’s my idea, concept and business, the government would need to approve it and they generally own the building being used. Most Paladares are above the 1st floor. The second category are government designed concepts. It’s their direct business. But, it employs the staff. If you’ve ever lived in Pennsylvania and contested with the state owned liquor stores, this is that concept, but for eateries. These restaurants are usually on the first floor. 

Pretty fascinating stuff, from a tour guide born, raised and trying to make a business work in Cuba. I’m not making a judgement on anything. I am and always have been a fan of history. Cuba’s is complicated.

La Guarida

But, you probably didn’t come here for the history, you came for the travel advice and the photos.

How to Travel to Cuba – The Basics

  1. We flew from Chicago through Ft. Lauderdale and into Havana, on Southwest Airlines. I can’t recommend them enough.
  2. You will need a Visa. If you book with Southwest, they help to decrease the cost of the Visa, to $50, per person.
  3. You will need to purchase Cuban Healthcare. Again, in your ticket purchase with Southwest, this cost is included.
  4. You can reserve a hotel online with a credit card, but U.S. credit cards are not accepted in Cuba due to the embargo. So, you’ll need to pay in cash for your hotel and everything else. We stayed at the Melia Habana. On a 2nd trip we would probably pick the Iberostar for it’s direct proximity to the city center.
  5. Customs in Cuba will require your luggage to be screened again. Total process is about 15 minutes.

From the center of Old Havana

How to Travel to Cuba – The Tips

  1. Bring lots of cash. I would recommend about $200 a day, per couple, to cover 3 meals, bottled water, tips, taxi, drinks. Beer and mixed drinks are generally $3 to $4.50, but can creep to $6 or $12 at finer establishments. It was rare to pay more than $5. If you exchange money, realize you can only do it at the airport, a bank or your hotel (if they offer it). The exchange rate + fees, means you get $0.87 CUC for every $1 USD.
  2. Havana was safe and very walkable. Walk, talk with the locals and explore. I can’t say this enough. Every street, every corner is a new adventure.
  3. Cabs, both new and classic, are all over the place. You’ll never pay more than $30. When you aren’t hoofing it, this is the best way to travel around the city.
  4. Your U.S. cell phone service won’t work, or if it does, it will be very expensive. If you stay at a hotel, most offer WiFi for free. To make that work, while on the go, I recommend downloading AlaMesa, the Cuban version of Yelp, that works without an internet connection. This was invaluable.
  5. Drink the rum. Specifically, drink the Ron de Santiago 25 year. Trust me on this. Also, drink the daiquiri at The Floridita. And make sure to have a mojito or pina colada at the Hotel Nacional.
  6. Facebook, twitter, Instagram and email will work. No dice on Snapchat and most retail websites. For example, good luck visiting Target.com. I found FB Messenger to be the best cross platform way for keeping in touch with everyone.
  7. Tipping for good service is not expected. But, if offered, the standard is 10%. Some restaurants and bars will include a 10% feel automatically. Read your bill, so you don’t “tip” twice. 

We had an amazing time soaking up the sights, culture, food and drinks. I can’t say enough about the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people. Every person we encountered was kind, patient, helpful and pleasant. If you can find the time to visit, I highly recommend it. A full collection of my favorite photos from the trip can be found here.

“We’re Onto Cincinnati”

Clarifying Clinical Cannabis

Too much has been written on the concept of people leaving managers, not companies. While I’m sure people do in fact leave organizations they love, because of their managers, we need to be careful not to paint with such a wide brush. In my career, it’s rare that I’ve left an organization because of a manager. I’m wise enough to know how fortunate I’ve been to have had amazing managers, over the past 20 years.

My time at Walgreens has come to an end. I made the decision to leave the organization. I certainly didn’t leave because of my manager. Deepika Pandey, is unequivocally, one of the smartest digital marketers out there. Don’t take my word for it, just look at what Google has to say about her. She will push you, make you rethink what you think you know and coach you to be better. You’ll get autonomy and direction, along with accountability and trust. I learned more in the past 4 years than the previous 10 years. I grew more. I changed more.

I leave Walgreens, ready for the next adventure, better prepared to succeed and far more enabled to lead teams with individuals who have far more subject matter expertise, in an area, than I do.

The hardest part about leaving an organization, is the people. It’s always the people. You form bonds. You build relationships. You learn. You teach. And, if you do it all well, the gravitational pull that tries to keep you, because of them, is almost impossible to counter.

I wanted to share what I wrote to my team, on my last day, at the corner of Happy and Healthy.

Dang. You’re the best. No two ways about it. I thought a lot about what to write in a “farewell” email. Then, I realized, it’s probably not farewell. This is a small bubble we work in. The likelihood we’ll cross paths as colleagues, partners, competitors or team-members is incredibly probably. So with that, rather than pen a farewell email, I decided to craft one built on advice that I hope you take:

  1. Your word is your bond. Your integrity is everything. Always err on the side of being honest, forthright, direct and transparent. The sting your words may have will never last longer, than the feeling of betrayal that stems from a half-truth or boldface lie.
  2. You are not, order takers. Ask, “why.” Ask, until you feel comfortable. If you don’t understand the question or request, you are doomed to fail. Through asking, “why”, you may uncover a new path forward.
  3. Choose to play, “take it or leave it” sparingly. When you draw a line, realize there are only two options. There’s a 50/50 chance you walk out with what you want. But, through compromise, generally, via discussion and education, you can discover new approaches and options.
  4. For the most important topics, meet face-to-face. Email leaves far too much to interpretation. Furthermore, you will form better relationships through frank discussion. You can’t manage, let alone, lead, via email.
  5. Take your earned PTO. And when you take it, don’t answer your emails. Put your faith in your team, to cover for you, while you’re out. I promise to get this right one day.
  6. Be open to change. Consistency, while comfortable, will stop your growth. In fact, seek change. If you don’t drive the change you want, you are destined to be run over by change that’s less than desirable.

I have, in so many ways, enjoyed working with all of you. Early mornings, late nights, fire drills, the office banter, celebrating our successes, dissecting our misses and debating the tough decisions; they made good days better and the hard days, just a little bit easier.

Thank you all. Don’t be a stranger. If you need anything and yes I mean anything, reach out.

An embarrassment of riches. That’s how I would describe my team. Thankful to have had them for as long as I had them.

Onto Cincinnati“…and by Cincinnati, I don’t actually mean I’m moving to Cincinnati. It’s a lovely city, but our future plans won’t be taking us there.

In A Biddable World, Does Buying Power Matter?


Read the history books. Take your pick. Ogilvy on Advertising? Juicing The Orange? Where the Suckers Moon? All of them will paint a similar story, when it comes to media and media agencies. Consolidate your spend with a partner and they’ll offer value in the form of buying power. Additionally, if you commit to buying all your media “upfront”, the publisher also returns some type of value to the buyer.

This has been the case for decades. Media agencies consolidate their clients’ spend into one large spend with a publisher. Where possible they try to orchestrate one giant upfront purchase, By consolidating that spend into one giant spend, they generate a more favorable rate from the publisher and then pass on the savings to the advertiser…well, most of it.

For example, company X wants to buy media on Yahoo. But, so do companies Y and Z. Yahoo, in theory wants to have that money, committed, as far in advance as possible. For this example, let’s assume, companies X, Y and Z all work with the same media company. That media company, now takes the consolidated investment from companies X, Y and Z and uses it as negotiating power to drive down cost and/or create more value for the spend.

Theoretical “buying power” was and is, still a reason, for selecting a media agency partner. Better buying power should lead to better rates, better value and in theory, create cost savings. All of the above made sense 50 years ago. It made sense 10 years ago. But, does it make sense, now, today, in 2017?

What’s changed? Well, buying power works in a world, where there’s a fixed cost to negotiate off of. Let’s say you live in a condo building with 9 other tenants. All of the tenants need to replace their front door. The cost of the door is $500. But, if all 10 tenants can agree to purchase their door from the same company, that company might be willing to decrease the cost by 10% to ensure they get all 10 tenants to purchase from them.

But, what happens if the cost is no longer, fixed? When that happens, the idea of buying power, goes away. Let’s use search engine marketing, as our example. Companies bid on terms, with the winning bid (s) showing up as a paid ad on Google. So, if company X bids $1 and company Y bids $1.25 and company Z bids $2, company Z wins. That $2 bid might have been good enough to win on Tuesday at 3PM, but on Wednesday at 8AM, would be been lost to someone bidding $2.10. That type of dynamic marketplace eliminates 2 things:

  1. The idea of paying upfront for the media. Try asking Google if you can purchase $1MM of SEM, in advance. You can’t, because the value isn’t fixed. That $1MM in spend could equal 1MM clicks, it could also equal 2MM clicks or zero clicks. Because you on only pay on a click and your ads are only shown if you win the auction, there is no way to lock in a rate. It’s no different than buying stock.
  2. The concept of buying power. Whether you buy that keyword directly or use a company, the cost per click is still going to be a variable rate. There is no savings that comes, because you spend 10X more than the competition.

Search Engine Marketing was the first true biddable marketplace for digital advertising. But, today, most everything in digital marketing is biddable / represented in a dynamic marketplace. You have programmatic display, video, social, etc. All of them offer some type of biddable buying option. This is a big deal, when you consider that, today, more than 50% of marketing dollars are in digital, not traditional advertising mediums.

Does “buying power” exist, when everyone can purchase the same thing, at the same cost? Of course not. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with a media agency. However, it does mean, if buying power is the biggest reason you’re choosing to work with an agency, you’re thinking about it the wrong way.

Happy 10th Birthday Cora

Cora's 1st 9 Birthdays

10 years. My word, didn’t they go by in a blink. Who is this girl in front of me? I remember you screaming, barely 7 pounds and entering this world with authority. I knew it, the day you were born and I know it now, you, Cora Madison are a force to be reckoned with.

It’s an amazing thing to bring life into this world. At that moment you know, you will never do anything better, more meaningful or world changing.

Cora, to think, at 10, all the lives you’ve made better, and yet, there are so many more more lives for you to impact.

2 years ago I said to you, jokingly, “Cora, you’re like my best friend.” And you, ever so cooly, said, “I’m your only friend.” Now, I don’t know if you’re my only friend, but I have no doubt, you are my best friend. For we have a bond, that will be timeless and unbreakable.

Continue to be bold, honest, assertive and kind. You’ve only scratched the surface of the woman you will one day become.

2017 SXSW Recap – A Marketer’s Point of View

SXSW March 10 - 19, 2017. Credit SXSW.com

Earlier this month, the annual SXSW Interactive Festival, took place in Austin, TX. I attended, along with my colleague. We divided and conquered the massive amount of content, sessions, trade floors and vendors, over 5-days. The following is a recap of key themes and implications.

SXSW @ Macro Level

  1. SXSW was once the place for major announcement and releases. For example, foursquare was launched at SXSW is 2009 and twitter in 2007. This year’s SXSW followed a theme from the past 5 years or so: it’s less about major launches, more about iterative improvements. You could see this on the trade floor, where magic mirrors are no longer large, heavy and expensive, but smaller, lighter, thinner and nearing a price point for the average consumer.
  2. SXSW was founded on the idea of bringing people closer to “tech.” 10 years ago, brands/non-tech companied realized there was value in descending on SXSW to connect with tech companies. 5 years ago, brands started to have a sizable presence. It was only 2 years ago that McDonald’s spent more than $10MM+ to “own” SXSW and connect with millennials. This year, there was a notable shift. There were very few brand activations. Filling their spots were media, entertainment and marketing platforms.
  3. The “main stage” and the official conference schedule were once the big draws. This year, there were certainly some major headliners. Former VP, Joe Biden discussed fighting cancer and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, tackled, among many things, diversity and inclusion. As important as the main stage was, this year was all about the rise of the small stage. Seemingly every tech and media company hosted their own 1 to 2 day event of content. For example, my colleague and I, took in a great day of content, hosted by our partner, Bazaar Voice. The day ended with a panel featuring Ja Rule. Yes, that Ja Rule. He owns a media company now and is disintermediating the business of connecting artists with brands. Basically, you don’t need a SXSW pass to get great content.

Connected Consumer and Retail

  1. Wearables are moving from bracelets and watches that track things, to “fabric” that connects you to the world. After initially being announced at Google I/O, summit attendees could try on the Levi’s/Google smart jacket. There were smart socks, smart shirts and smart sunglasses. Wareable.com has a great recap on all things wearable at SXSW 2017. Also, this session did a great job of saying what must be said; consumers now expect their tech to be fashionable. If it’s not, they won’t wear it.
  2. Last mile delivery is killing every industry. At least that was the prevailing theme from restaurants, clothing retailers and big box stores. I watched more than one panel express the fact that business models like GrubHub are simply not sustainable. Restaurants are paying GrubHub 30% on the value of the order, potentially eating the delivery cost and then losing ~18% on each order. Traditional Brick and Mortar retailers are feeling the same squeeze. The name on everyone’s lips was Amazon. And how could it not be when you could check out their delivery drones?
  3. Politics aside, the clear universally agreed to pro of the new White House, was the focus on deregulation. As a SXSW attendee, we saw the problems of over regulation, up close. Uber and Lyft, both pulled out of Austin due to increased regulation. Austin is a city with virtually no public transportation and a limited taxi service. When you have 100K+ people ascend on your city, transportation is a big deal. With Uber and Lyft gone, several new startups came in to fill the void. Under normal demand, they’ve done just fine. But, the increased demand of SXSW crushed them and exposed several weaknesses. I suspect we’ll see Uber and Lyft back. It’s not just ride-sharing where deregulation was prominent. The business of legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana was everywhere. There were sessions devoted to everything from supply chain to its positive benefits on pro sports athletes. If there’s a supply chain rife for disruption and innovation, this is it.

Losing Steam

  1. Snapchat: every panel lambasted the platform and indicated it was an example of a new bubble.
  2. VR: as the head of ecommerce for a major retailer and brand said, “I want to make real money, not virtual money.”
  3. Wearables: as mentioned above, there’s less interest in the traditional wearable, which looks like a watch, bracelet, wristband, etc.

Health, Beauty and Bots

  1. Health topics were at the forefront of panels, sessions. Even the interactive badges promoted health thanks to the sponsorship by Austin-based tele-health startup, Medici who had street teams around town promoting the ability to text with a doctor services in their app. The overall theme is something we’ve known for years, technology and health go hand in hand. From AI capturing data to predict early signs of disease or health problems to blood tests that will identify the foods that work best for your body, there is no shortage of improved ways of monitoring consumer health.
  2. Decoded Fashion hosted the best beauty panels for brands and influencers outside of the main conference sessions. Panelists stressed the importance of using data to tell the story. This allows brands to understand the needs and patterns of the customer to provide the best beauty recommendations and experience. The use of the influencer can help the success of the brand but it’s important to note that this doesn’t have to be the person with millions of followers. E.L.F. Cosmetics is taking the approach of engaging their best customers on Instagram as “micro-influencers.” These influencers who have a thousand or less followers on Instagram have an 8% engagement rate compared to the 1.7% on average when the base grows to a million followers. Beyond panels, the expo floor showcased the updated technology for the beauty customer. The Hi-Mirror scanned your face to alert you of any current issues or upcoming risks like sun spots or wrinkles and provide recommendations of the best products for your skin.
  3. Rise of the bots was not only the name of one of the many panels but it seemed to be the catchphrase of SXSW. Many sessions made some mention of using chatbots as a means for intelligent conversation with a customer. When considering a chatbot implementation, there should be a clear use case for a problem you are trying to solve for the customer. To avoid falling into the trap of the latest gimmick, companies need to keep the conversation simple and know the audience. As the usage of the bot grows, so does the intelligence making it more predictive and better for customers. SXSW introduced their own chatbot Abby who answered over 56,000 questions during the conference. The top users of the bot became more active each day which alludes to the stickiness of bot. Even though chatbots took over SXSW, it was still to be determined if consumers will be as receptive.

Other Good Recaps to Read

  1. Bazaar Voice has 2 great recaps. Check out this one and this one.
  2. HuffPo discusses retail, women in power and the hype around VR/AR.
  3. Fortune talks empathy and AI.
  4. Mobile Business Insights covers everything from autonomous cars to health tech.

If you made it this far, thank you. We know it’s a lot to digest. Please pass on feedback and/or questions.

Social Media and Philanthropy, Start Early

Every year, my kids look to raise money for the American Heart Association. It’s a program their school supports and they’ve become quite the philanthropists. I think it’s equal parts “doing good” and the competitive nature of, who can raise the most funds, that keeps them motivated.

Together they hold the record for most donations, in a single year, with over $2,200. That was 2 years ago. Since starting this program, they’ve raised more money, together, than half the school has. The $2,200 was somewhat of an anomaly, but a great example of using your platform to support your mission. In 2015, Cora, on her birthday, participate in a fireside chat, at iMedia’s Commerce Summit, in Minneapolis. Yes, at 7, she presented…and she rocked it. At the close of her session, she told the crowd about the Jump Rope for Heart program and the donations, came rolling in!

This year, they’re looking to crush it.

What I like about what they’re doing is the realization that it’s harder and harder every hear and it requires even more creativity to drive action. 3 years ago they used their parents’ email accounts. Then 2 years ago, it was twitter and YouTube. This year it’s twitter, youTube, Instagram, Facebook and a twist on the experience. They realized that they couldn’t just do 1 video and call it a day, especially after participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. So, this year, they created a model where they’ll do certain things, when the donation amount hits a specific threshold. For example, they might donate their time, do some yard-work or write letters to veterans.

As a dad and a marketer, I couldn’t be more proud. I encourage you to donate or offer words of encouragement. Visit their page to learn more.

Remember, if you donate, I’ll buy your daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies, donate to your kid’s project to save a rare half turtle-half horse, in Australia or help drive whatever project is their passion.

If we don’t start them thinking about social, philanthropy and good, early, we all lose out.