Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Marketing & Advertising

5 Reasons To Not Be Bullish On Snapchat


I like taking the contrarian point of view. I’ve yet to meet a better champion of the Devil’s Advocate. As Patton perfectly stated, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” I have found that there are 2 types of Devil’s Advocate players. The first, simply likes to disagree. They will always take the opposing point of view, just to feel the thrill that comes from a spirited debate. I know that person well. On more than a handful of occasions, I’ve seen that guy, staring right back at me, in the mirror. Now, the other type of Devil’s Advocate, is one who brings some type of data and insights to the discussion to back an opposing view. That’s the version I’m going to play today as I outline reasons you shouldn’t be bullish on Snapchat.

Before I get started, I think it’s important to get on the table that I’m saying Snapchat is a bad investment. I’m not saying don’t put your money there. I’m not saying, it will fail. There’s great value in playing the role of the Devil’s Advocate. As the CIA (yes, that CIA) states (pdf) in their training, The Devil’s Advocate’s “primary value is to serve as a check on a dominant mind-set that can develop over time among even the best analysts who have followed an issue and formed strong consensus that there is only one way of looking at their issue.” With seemingly a new “Snapchat is killing [insert competitor]” article, popping up every day, I thought this was a great time to introduce the Devil’s Advocate tool to provide some opposing views.

Bad Data For Advertisers

When Snapchat first launched, it required only an email address and a password. The core base of Snapchat’s power users were people who bought into the idea that anonymity and a self-destructing (as we saw from the repeated data breaches, not true) approach to content, created a safe space for them express themselves, without pressure. All you needed was an email address and a password to join. Realizing how bad of an idea this was from a future business potential standpoint, some time later, Snapchat started requiring a first name, last name, birthdate, username and a cell phone number. Better, but compare the rich data trove Facebook offers advertisers. It’s the equivalent of Snapchat bringing a paperclip to a gun fight. Beyond the core data in the registration flow, Snapchat can also track location. All of this, in theory, is pretty good, but not great. Data drives accountability and validation. You don’t necessarily need all the data in the world. Sometimes, you just need the right data.For example, Google, with their core paid search offering can track intent all the way through to direct purchase, despite not knowing your name, email address or birthdate. Today, the Snapchat is rudimentary, at best. They know that. It’s why they continue to increase the investment in their data stack. But, the more they ask of their users, the more the alienate the base…who bought in to Snapchat, for an ad-free and anonymous way to share.

The Fickle Nature Of Youth

Snapchat has a user base that 70%, under the age of 22. Their growth is from kids. The last thing kids want to do is be where their parents are. It’s a truth. As adults start joining Snapchat, kids will move to the next “it” platform. This is a cat and mouse games, kids have played with their parents, since the dawn of time. Snapchat needs the older audience to join. Need, I say. Why? Older people have actual money. They’re a more valuable marketing segment, because they’re also more trackable. They have credit cards, loyalty cards, etc. Those are important elements for matching ad impression data to purchase, to determine the value and impact of an advertiser’s dollars. Without that matchability, an ad campaign on Snapchat is the equivalent of taking a bunch of money, lighting it on fire and wondering if it drove sales. The blow back from the original customer base (aka young kids) is already happening in full force.

Kids don’t want to hang out with their parents; it’s simple as that. Balancing the need for adults and their money, while keeping the experience genuine for the core/original user base, is a difficult balance to maintain. When you consider that millennials use more apps and spend more time in apps, than any other consumer segment, there’s always another app vying for their interest. And, just as the youth was the first to MySpace, Facebook, Instagram and yes, Snapchat, they’re also the first to abandon that platform in the search for the next breakout platform…especially, when they’re parents start crowding their space.

Chasing Cheddar Ruins The Experience

Snapchat, at the end of the day, is a business. They have investors. They have employees. They need money to pay back investors and to keep paying employees. This is basic economics. So, how do you make money for an app that’s free? Well, that’s easy. The oldest rule in monetization for apps/platforms has always been, if you’re not paying for it, you are the product. That’s right, they make money, just like Facebook and every other social network, but selling information about its users to advertisers, who then pay Snapchat money to advertise. Again, not a new concept. But, here’s what happens, when you’re core group of customers (remember the young, under 22 year olds, who joined an add free app) start seeing ads.

Snapchat Users Hate Ads

Granted, every social platform goes through this cycle. The launch. They grow by focusing on the product. All the while, they’re harvesting user data and building an ad platform. Said platform is ready and they introduce ads. As they introduce ads, users say, they’ll leave. Most don’t. But, here’s the rub. Millennials “aren’t influenced at all by advertising. Only 1% of millennials surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. Millennials believe that advertising is all spin and not authentic. That’s why they use Tivo to skip commercials regularly and avoid banner advertisements on Facebook and various news websites.” – That’s a big problem, if you’re a Snapchat advertiser.

A Quickly Eroding Premium

To me though, what offers the most pause for being bullish is how quickly the Snapchat ad product went from being an insanely priced premium offering to being reduced, reduced and reduced again. The drop, inside of 2 years, from $750,000 to $100,000, is staggering. Glass half full people will say that the cost was reduced as the platform has scaled and now moved to an API offering, which means you can use a 3rd party platform or DSP to purchase media. Ok, let’s go with that. I will accept that. However, the minute Snapchat moves to a biddable inventory world, two things will happen. First, my point about lack of great data will become more apparent. When you can buy on age, gender, interest, device and an infinite set of options on Facebook (as an example) and can only buy on a limited set of targeting criteria in Snapchat, the data disparity becomes crystal clear. Second, DSPs are all about performance. That’s the reason you use them. DSPs also typically scale across platforms. For example, Brand Networks, one of the approved Snapchat DSPs, can also buy media across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others. That means, as a marketer, you’ll have comparative data for performance. Said, differently, when someone asks where you should spend your next $1, the data will be even clearer.

Voodoo Math And A Lack Of Standards

As discussed above you need clean data as a baseline. Part of clean data is standardization. For example, if I asked you, do you weigh more than me? An easy way to determine the answer would be for both us to get weighed on a scale. But, if you used one type of scale and I used a different scale, we would have far too big of a variable, to trust the answer. But, if we both used the same scale, we’ve eliminated a critical variable. When marketers buy ads, it’s no different. The IAB, love them or hate them, has standards for every type of ad format out there. For example, how to measure an impression, what a click is and what counts as a video view. Really, I’m serious. Go check it out (pdf). Now, the IAB is pretty clear about what a video view is. They say, “a video ad is viewable when at least 50 percent of the ad’s pixels are visible on a screen for at least two consecutive seconds.” That’s pretty clear, right? Now, if you want to exceed the benchmark, more power to you. For example, YouTube counts a video view as being 30 seconds. Yes, 30. That’s 15X above the standard. Facebook and Instagram use a 3 second threshold. That’s 50% more than the IAB’s guidance. Why is this important? Think about your own mobile habits. How many times have you accidentally clicked an ad or started a video? More than you can recall, right? Well, those mistakes, shouldn’t count as a view. With Snapchat, they charge, on a $0.XX per view. When you market $0.03 per view, that sounds cheap, right? But, to get to scale (say 10 million users), where you want each person to see something 3X, that’s a $900,000 investment. Not chump change. But, if you’re a Snapchat user, you know how easily it is to click on something accidentally, you also know how quickly you can skip through snaps. By not even hitting the IAB standard of 2 seconds, you can’t compare apples to apples, let alone apples to oranges. Standards, matter.

I have no idea if any of the above means, Snapchat won’t be successful. But, part of evaluating any new partner, technology (eg Virtual Reality) or tool, is playing the role of the Devil’s Advocate. Taking the time to do that, is what helps ensure you don’t fall victim to Shiny Object Syndrome.

Something that’s really hard to do, especially if you have a passion for innovation, is to balance what might great for the business with makes a platform really cool for the user. The business might want more ads and more targeting, but doing so impacts the user experience. That’s the tight rope any company walks as they look for ways to drive revenue.

The other thing that’s far too easy to do is to point at the faults, without recognizing the upside. The sunk cost in failing can often times be more beneficial than waiting for everyone else to have learned, experimented and optimized from day 1.

That said, if you’re in the driver’s seat, in your organization, you have a responsibility to ask the tough questions, poke holes, understand the risks, generate agreement in why you’re going to do something and then drive accountability.

My Take On Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report

Christmas is in December, you say? On the 25th? Well, perhaps it is for society at large. But, for nerdy marketers like myself, Christmas is whatever day Mary Meeker releases her Internet Trends Report. It’s generally considered the official, “State of the Internet.” I like it because it takes a macro look at how global trends are shaping micro moments and decisions. With that said, here’s the report:

It’s always a great read. So much to think about. So much to unpack. It usually takes me a good month or so to form opinions that have implications to the work I do and who I do that work for. That said, we live a world of “now”, and to that end, I look for some immediate take-aways that make me go hmmm.

  1. Voice will overtake typing. I see it happening every day. My daughter loves to ask Siri questions. For her, it’s equal parts more fun and simpler. I struggle with it, right now. But, that’s because my expectations are too high and I want specific and precise answers. The core of voice is still the basic data structure and taxonomy foundation that makes traditional search work. It’s the non-sexy, but significantly important work around SEO, data integrity and APIs that allow voice to be beneficial. Companies who have invested in sound SEO principles, clean data and great content will excel in shifting from typing to voice.
  2. With more people than ever on the web and more options competing for their time, it’s no wonder inflation in digital media is so high. Earlier in the year, I forecasted that 2017 would see a digital media inflation of 12% – 20%. This report seems to substantiate and validate that range.
  3. Apps need to do more than one thing well, to be sticky. Slide 80, does a great job of hitting this point. I’d also add, if you want your app to do just 1 thing well, you might need multiple apps. This is exactly what leaders in mobile, like Facebook, have done. They unbundled the app and are reaping the benefits.
  4. Keep in mind, messaging is still in it’s early days. We’re just now being given the ability to leverage those platforms as a business/brand. But, considering the pace that things move at, just because it’s early days, doesn’t mean you can’t/shouldn’t be experimenting with how to find your place in this channel shift.
  5. Slide 45 is a big time moment for marketers who believe in digital (yes, there are those who still don’t). This is the first time, since the report has been coming out, that advertising spend in digital equaled or surpassed usage. That’s a big tipping point. But, wow, look how underspent mobile is.
  6. Walgreens was founded in the 1900s. Look how many retailers born after us are on life support or defunct. I feel that our longevity is a testament to the innovative spirit and the focus on the customer, that we’ve always had.
  7. Slide 78 is the one area where I’d pick a LARGE bone with Ms. Meeker. The data is very misleading. On the surface it looks like Snapchat outperforms Facebook. But, when you consider that Facebook measures a video view using the IAB standard or equivalent, but Snapchat counts a view, the minute you tap, this chart means is not fairly representative of reality.
  8. There are limited reasons today to outsource your media buying and optimization. In an ad/marketing-tech world, so long as you have the horses in your stable, you’re more efficient going direct, in digital. The toughest part, of course, is getting those horses. It’s difficult to get an unfair share of high talent, out there, today.

Those were my immediate takeaways. Anything you disagree with? What would you add? I look forward to all the dissecting that different people, companies and publishers will do.

Treat Your Organizational Culture And Education Like Products

Of late I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of culture and educational initiatives. If you were to ask most leaders to describe their culture, you’d probably get a document that has a series of bullets, some key words or a few sentences. There’s nothing inherently wrong with documenting something as important as your organization’s culture. Documenting something makes it more “real.” But, simply documenting your culture, can often lead to a set it and forget it mindset. Culture, changes over time. It evolves. You could argue, it’s a living entity that has to be nurtured.

Google, “product development life cycle” – then choose images. You’ll see a number of similar looking graphics that depict how to go from need to launch and then eventually refinement. For illustrative purposes, I’m choosing this one from Concept Design.

Product Development Life Cycle

The most critical part of this workflow, is the dotted line section on the left. There’s a continual focus on refinement. Products are never perfect, out of the gate. There are bugs. There are things you had to compromise on, to hit the launch date. There are elements you couldn’t include, because the technology wasn’t mature enough. There are pieces you eliminated because your audience wasn’t ready for it. The point is, a product, is never done. There’s always an investment in time, people and dollars, to keep improving it and evolving it to reflect the current marketplace. That’s exactly what needs to happen with organizational culture. If not, your culture may reflect who you were, the day you created it, but be at odds with the company you have today.

Pivoting to organizational education initiatives, I think a product development mindset could benefit the effectiveness of these programs, as well. Here’s what happens in a typical organization.

  1. You have a bunch of unstructured lunch and learns
  2. Your external partners come in 1 – 3 times a year to share an outside in perspective
  3. You might a day or 2 dedicated to innovation
  4. You’ll send people to conferences. They’ll share recaps in a smaller meeting or in a mass email.
  5. Which leads to the worst offense, the myriad of internal email newsletters from different people across the company. Why do I call this the worst offense? Often the newsletters contradict each other, which leads to head scratching. I’ve seen this up close. There was a time when I would send out an internal newsletter, called, “Friday Five.” You had to opt in to receive it. It was a way to distill the most important and interesting 5 articles out on the web. The intent was to create focus. But, when you realize, that while you’re attempting to create focus, you’re still up against 10s, if not 100s of other internal newsletters, you realize, you’re more a part of the problem, than the solution.

But, what would happen if you took a product development mindset to education? Well, if you did, at a minimum, 3 things would happen.

  1. You’d have a product manager/owner responsible for understanding internal need, evaluating the marketplace options for education, developing a road map that ties into a strategy and then ultimately delivering against that roadmap.
  2. There would be a budget, objectives and an expected return. By having a budget and an expected return, you’d have a model for determining what educational initiatives fit and which ones don’t. Does it make sense to send 5 people Cannes? Maybe. Maybe, not. Should we leverage our advertising agency to present some outside in perspective on new breakthrough creative formats? Maybe that’s a great use of their time. Maybe, it’s a poor investment. The point is, now you’d have criteria to help you evaluate those situations.
  3. Constant an ongoing refinement would be part of the plan. Your education “plan” would be expected to keep pace with the changing demands of the business and of the employees.

In essence, you’d bring structure, rigor and accountability to something that’s usually scattershot and difficult to measure.

Culture and continual education are more than important; they’re critical for long-term success. Consider applying a product development mindset and I have a feeling you’ll be surprised with the results.

How Am I Doing With My 2016 Predictions?

With a 1/3 of the year gone, I thought it would be a good time to see how my 2016 predictions are looking. There’s been a lot of activity already. So much so, that I might need to add new predictions into the mix. The full list of predictions is available in the link above. I’m only going to focus on those that are heating up.

3. Marissa Mayer, will choose to pursue other opportunities and the board will thank her for her efforts and service. – Looking good so far, with activist investors looking to replace the entire board, sell Yahoo! and fire Ms. Mayer. The irony of course, if this were to happen, is that, it was activist investor Daniel Loeb who paved the way for Marissa to be hired. She joins a long list of ex-googlers who, while brilliant, couldn’t lead people.

4. There will be a major hack of either “connected” cars or the connected home. You will see a major exploit of something like HomeKit, Weave or BMW’s connected service. – No mass hacking…yet. But, every day, we see how vulnerable cars really are.

12. Twitter will rebound and regain 25% – 30% of its previous stock, high point of $69. – Well, we’re not off to a great start. To get to 30% of the original $69 high, we need twitter, to be above $20 a share. Currently, it’s at $15…and, it doesn’t look good.

13. Cell phones will reverse trend and get smaller, not bigger. – Well, hello, Apple iPhone SE

Not a bad first quarter. Where’s my drone delivery, Snapchat IPO and foursquare purchase?

Relationships Are Long Term. How 1 Vendor Failed To Grasp This Concept.

lake louise scope HDR

I get a lot of cold calls/emails. On a given week, between LinkedIn, my voice mail, my personal email account and my work email account, I receive roughly 60 pitches. I generally try to respond to every single one. Part of this is simply being respectful and part of this is self-preservation. If you don’t respond, often, the vendor will reach out to a bunch of other people at the company, who will then end up forwarding me the cold pitch email. By responding, I eliminate that email waste.

I completely understand the cold pitch process. People in sales, have to sell. They have quotas. They’re compensated on closing deals. I get it. What I generally ask for is the same respect I offer. If I tell you we aren’t interested, the timing isn’t right or we’re already working with you (it happens more often than you’d think); my expectation is that they respect that feedback. On the whole, I’d say 80% of cold pitches aren’t a fit, 15% are better suited for someone else on my team to evaluate and 5% are things I’m interested in pursuing a follow up conversation about.

Whether you’re part of the 5% or the 95%, you should always remember how small the world is and that relationships are a long term investment. When I say, the world is small, what I mean is, you may end up leaving and calling on me from another company…I may end up at another company and call you, because of how well we’ve worked together in the past…and, whether it’s a good or bad experience, we all have a small network that we rely on for feedback about companies and clients.

In business and in life, never trade the short term gain for the long term potential…well, when it comes to relationships (I don’t mean, if you’re Groupon, you should turn down $3B+ from Google).

Earlier in my career, I was leading digital marketing for a company. In building out our digital organization, we had to hire good people and find good partners. The company I was at, was a classic multi-brand organization. In essence, they were a holding company, with many consumer facing brands. Being a go-to vendor in a multi-brand organization, generally equals big upside. If you knock it out of the park for one brand, it’s likely you’ll get a call about doing work with another brand in the portfolio.

We were looking to add an external partner to help us with something. I say something, because saying what it is, may ultimately identify the company and I’m not looking to shame an individual or an organization. We had things down to 2 potential partners. Partner A and Partner B, had similar offerings, but Partner B was roughly 3x the cost. At 3x the cost, you have to deliver at least 3x the value. Given the wide range, we opted to bring them both on. Partner A, worked with Brand A and Partner B worked with Brand B. This would give us the ability to test both partners, their models, their processes and their approach to working with a large matrixed organization.

The final product from Partner B wasn’t fantastic in my eyes or the eyes of Brand B. This wasn’t 100% their fault. We certainly had to share the accountability for the end product. That said, Brand B wasn’t thrilled and while agreeing there was mutual responsibility, felt like they just paid 3x for something they couldn’t even use…a fair critique. To try and resolve the situation, I asked Partner B to offer some type of make good for Brand B. Just so we have some context, for the value of a make good, we’re talking roughly $90,000. Not a small amount, but not $9,000,000 either. I think, and granted, it’s been a long time, I also opted to split the difference with them. We’d fund $45,000 if they would too. They were firm on their stance, that we received what we paid for, and a make good was out of the question. Trying to offer a broader context, I explained, while I understood their position, it was essentially ending any possibility we could work together again, while I was at this company. Brand B, would tell all the other brands about the negative experience and then their reputation would be tarnished. Firmly, they explained that was a risk they were willing to take.

At that point, I would have been ok with things. It’s a business decision they were making. It wasn’t personal, to paraphrase, The Godfather. However, they then did 2 things that soured me on them long term

  1. They shirked any responsibility and accountability. Instead they put the blame on Brand B for among other things, not having an interesting enough product.
  2. They then chose to disparage Partner A. For context, we were clear that this was a bake-off between the 2 companies. Each company knew the stakes and who their competition was.

Both steps, showed a lack of integrity. And integrity, is something I value a lot in my partners. I want to know you’ve taken the time to understand my organization, the dynamics and my situation. I want to know, you’re thinking about more than 1 project or 1 contract. I want to know you’re invested in our shared success. It was clear Partner B had no interest in any of those things.

Fast forward a few years later and I received a cold email from their company. While I don’t normally save emails (I have a zero inbox policy), I did save these. I answered the email, politely declined and explained why I had no interest. What followed, was a validation of everything I experienced with them, in the past. The following is the actual email exchange. All I’ve done is eliminate personally identifiable information.

Cold Email

Hi Adam,

I hope this note finds you well. My name is XXXXXX and I am an Account Director with XXXXXX. I recently viewed your interview from the XXXXXX which outlined your thoughts on how to XXXXXX. It was a very compelling point of view and similar to XXXXXX approach of bringing the world’s XXXXXX.

I recently joined XXXXXX and was informed by the team here about some past conversations around working together. It would be great to schedule time with you to pick these up again and learn more about your thoughts on how you are evaluating the content ROI for XXXXXX to see if XXXXXX can help. Some recent news on our end is that we were recently named to the XXXXXX. Links to press on each are provided below:


Are you available to meet the week of XXXXXX?


My Response

I’d love to work with you guys, but honestly, I was burned really bad when I was XXXXXX. At the time, I told your leadership team, it was a short sighted decision they were making. They disagreed. Net-net, there’s no way I’d ever work with XXXXXX again. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news

At that point, it is what it is. But, instead, the same contact I worked with the first time, jumped into the conversation thread.

Appreciate the quick response to the team. I thought your title was futurist; I read this and it feels like we’re looking backwards vs focusing on the future:) If you ever got past the hangups around a XXXXXX from XXXXXX years ago; I think you’d learn alot about how us, the space and offering has evolved. You should talk to XXXXXX about us (great guy) ; we’re now an official XXXXXX partner (only XXXXXX in the mix), signed by XXXXXX and developing XXXXXX; have produced over XXXXXX and working repeatedly with the vast majority of the Fortune 100. That being said; if this is a case of He’s Just Not That Into You, you won’t hear from anyone in our company again; I believe in persistence but life is short and we’re all busy right?

Let me know.

PS You never thanked me for connecting you to XXXXXX by the way.

It took only 2 sentences to insult me. Then, we go to the quick sell. Then we go into a I should owe you, for introducing me to someone. So I responded.

Given that logic, you should have looked long term as realized the upside. As is, I’d never work with you guys and when asked about XXXXXX, I relay my experience and current preference to all who ask. I think he expression is have a great experience, your customer tells 10 people, but have a bad one and they’ll tell 100. Looking back on it, was it with $50k?

To which I got this…

Disagree; to cater to the whims of a confused organization and do things for free is not a good long term strategy. Guessing that is one of many reasons you left XXXXXX. Fortunate for us your former preference has gone out of business and your opinion hasn’t prevented us from working with great companies and great people everywhere.

I could give you a host of quotes and sayings around moving on , avoiding perseveration and overall empathy but sounds like it would be wasted words and effort.

I’ll leave it at this; you’ve always seemed like a smart guy; but I would reconsider and think about the way you treat people and view things like this with others. I can assure you helping vs judging and being open minded will serve you better than any type of vindictive behavior in your life and career.

God speed and best of luck.

This time, it took only 1 sentence to provide an insult. Granted, not an insult of me, but the company. Then, another sell. Then another insult (close minded and vindictive?). So I tried to clear that up for him.

“Treat people and view things” – something we can agree on. Offering a fair and honest perspective on an experience isn’t vindictive, it’s being a good colleague.

Honestly, this email exchange make same feel even better about my decision. Similar to XXXXXX years ago, your approach is to deflect and take on zero accountability.

If you’re doing well, great and congrats for you, but I wouldn’t do business with you at XXXXXX or at any company. I simply have no confidence that you’d have our best interest in mind, nor a long term relationship point of view. Good luck in the future.

This basically brought our email exchange to an end…basically, but not before this guy, couldn’t help himself.

And we’ll leave it at this…”Ditto”

I thought a lot about if I should write this post…and, if I did write the post, how much info to share. There aren’t many emails I save, but this set of exchanges stands out to me.  I opted for what I hope is a fine balance between taking the high road (after all, I didn’t need to write anything) and offering a view into what it’s like to get called on by vendors. My hope is that this post offers a perspective on why I fundamentally believe that focusing on the long-term relationship, is always the way to go. Ultimately, I want to hire people and work with companies that are committed to understanding our business, recognizing the current challenges, doing great work, being objective and taking a long term view on relationships.

Don’t ask which company this is about. I won’t tell you. The point of this post wasn’t to air the dirty laundry of 1 company. The point was to remind you to look at the bigger picture. If you made it all the way to the end, thanks. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

I Learned A Lot In 2015

Winston Churchill

In so many ways, 2015 was a transformative year for me. There was no denying that “change is the only constant” was alive, well and all so very true. Each year, following the sentimentality that comes from the New Year, I take some time to think back on the past year and outline what I’ve learned. Knowledge is a lifelong quest. To me, that’s always been the beauty of it. 2015, the year I turned 36, was a big one.

  1. For the first time in my career, I found myself leading a team of subject matter experts that were much more the expert than I. Earlier in the year, one of my favorite colleagues and best work friends, left Walgreens to pursue an amazing opportunity. His team was transitioned to me. What an honor. I mean that. What a team he built. Smart, hard working, efficient and definitely subject matter experts. Every year, they could forget more than I could ever learn, about their disciplines. A first for me. A humbling experience. So what did I learn? To start with, how much fun it is to be truly not be the smartest person in the room. Every would be, self-help book, always says, surround yourself with smart people, so that you’re not the smartest person in the room. After living it for the past ~6 months, it’s exhilarating. You listen more. You speak less. When you speak, you ask questions. When you ask those question, there’s a split-second where you wonder, if what you’re asking, is a dumb question (usually, it’s not). I always knew my friend’s team was smart, but had no idea, just how sharp they were, til I spent meaningful time with them.
  2. In leading this new team, it was somewhat comforting to know there were still many things I could bring to the table to help them become better. That’s always the question I have for myself; how can I help my team-members become better. For example, in quickly recognizing that I wouldn’t be able to teach them new tricks/techniques to improve their daily craft, I could play the role of connector and instead bring to the table other subject matter experts, from different companies, that they could exchange ideas with. If I wasn’t going to be the expert, the least I could do is introduce them to other experts.
  3. Time management became a challenge as our new team approached ~40 members. I had to learn how to prioritize better than I’ve ever done before. I also had to re-think how to allocate time to spend with my team. It would be impossible to spend an hour with each person, every week, but were there are decisions I could make to ensure the each person on the team felt connected. This is work in progress. When you have a large team, with staff in different states, countries and continents, who are working on initiatives big and small, it’s a constant juggling act to stay connected.
  4. Early on in my career, I was taught to make sure you understand how dollars flow, how decisions are made and who influences perception of risk. More simply put, make friends with finance, legal and business operations. In a year where we formally finished acquiring a company, changed many of the players in the C-level seats, lost our CMO and announced the acquisition of another company, that advice helped ease the pain of change. Understanding how to navigate a large complex organization, is a skill that can often supersede your subject matter expertise’s value.
  5. We’re still trapped by the usage of old methods to evaluate new opportunities. Learning how to frame up the future in a way that fits into the containers of the past, is a challenge. Organizations, by design, are not wired or motivated to make changes that can’t be substantiated by the models, tools and methodologies that are broadly adopted and historically accepted. For example, a colleague of mine, laments that his paid search budget, while showing a ~7X return in pure .Com performance ($1 a click leading to $7 baskets) would seem like a great thing, the overall spend for paid search in his organization, is not big enough to be measured by their Marketing Mix Analysis (aka MMX) partner. Thus, his spend has been flat every year, for the past 3 years. Old methods for evaluating new media are hindering growth.
  6. On the personal side, my continued investment in snowboarding has been rewarding. Ever since I turned 30, I try learning something new, every year. Last year, was snowboarding. I took lessons. Purchased gear. Visited Jackson Hole and Park City. What a joy! This year, I’m picking up boxing and target shooting.
  7. I finally understood the nervousness, passion and craziness that comes from watching your kids play sports. My daughter, Cora, plays league basketball and this year is playing on the traveling team. What a rollercoaster of emotions. Her league team went to the finals, where they lost. As a parent, theres such a balance to be had, in coaching your kids, but not pushing them too hard…in cheering, but not embarrassing them…in wanting to curse out the ref, but not issuing restraint. I think I almost had a heart attack in every game.
  8. Last year and rolling into the New Year, I realized, I’m going to have to learn how accept that at 8 and 6, these kids are becoming completely independent. Case in point, John decided he wanted to come to Chicago to celebrate New Years and hang out with dad. But, Cora, while appreciating the offer, declined, because she had “plans.” You’re 8! You have plans! But, that’s the new reality. We’re rapidly approaching the inflection point where dad is no longer cool and my kids would rather hang out with their friends!
  9. The hunt can sometimes be more enjoyable than the treasure. In 2015, I hunted down the 5 bourbons/whiskeys I’ve always wanted to own, but could never find. In order of price/rarity: A.H. Hirsch 16, Michter’s 20, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Parker’s Heritage: Promise Of Hope, Black Maple Hill Small Batch. The Hirsch and Michter’s, while universally celebrated were just good IMHO. Black Maple Hill’s hype never delivered for me. But, Promise of Hope…WOW! So good, I tracked down 5 additional bottles and grossly overpaid relative to MSRP. But, it was so worth it! That said, on the whole, the hunt was far more fun than the actual prize. I wonder if this is how Tinder users feel?
  10. Things are awesome. They really are. I have a drone (don’t fly it in the house, trust me), a hover-board (haven’t fallen, but once!), shoes, etc. But, it’s a handful of experiences, most of which were fairly inexpensive, that are far more memorable. In 2016, I’ll be investing more in experiences and less in things.

Like I said, 2015 was a big year. Lots learned. Lots to build on!

What’s Going To Happen In 2016

Future of Transportation

For reference here’s a recap of how I did with my 2015 predictions. Before we get started, a few house rules on how I do my predictions:

  1. My predictions generally cover the marketing, advertising and technology industry. On occasion, I veer into pop culture.
  2. I try to avoid softballs. Mashable is so good at it, there’s no sense in serving them up.
  3. Predictions are made with no insider info. They’re based only on what I think will happen.
  4. What I think will happen and what j want to happen, are, in fact,2 completely different things.
  5. At the end of the year, I grade myself on how I did. Each prediction is analyzed and either 1 point (completely right), a .5 point (partially correct) or 0 points (totally missed) are awarded.

With that out of the way, here we go! For 2016, I’m going with a high volume approach. I’m going to list out 15 predictions in total, in order of most likely to happen to least likely.

  1. VR, be it Oculus Rift, Cardboard or whatever, will fail in a manner only bested by Google glass. The price point will be too high, the platform too closed and the novelty too limited.
  2. FourSquare will be purchased for less than 60% of it’s high point valuation. It will sell, not to Microsoft or Yahoo!, but to a platform like Yelp!, FitBit or OpenTable. Basically, it will sell to something unexpected.
  3. Marissa Mayer, will choose to pursue other opportunities and the board will thank her for her efforts and service.
  4. There will be a major hack of either “connected” cars or the connected home. You will see a major exploit of something like HomeKit, Weave or BMW’s connected service.
  5. A major sport will adopt digital technology in a way that changed their game and starts to make humans obsolete. For example, we’ll see a chip put in footballs and in the pylons to determine if a touchdown is a touchdown.
  6. Tesla will start or continue, depending on your point of view, it’s long, slow, death spiral.
  7. Chip credit cards will bring retail to such a slow crawl for checkout, that NFC forms for payment (eg Apple Pay), will become promoted by retailers, thus doubling, if not tripling, NFC transactions.
  8. Tied to #7, walled garden payment systems, like Walmart Pay, will fail miserably.
  9. Social media will influence the election in a way that will bring about changes to how elections are run. For example, it’s well known that when you tell a population X candidate is winning by Y%, voter turnout suffers.
  10. When Donald Trump wins the election we will see a re-writing of how the role that the media plays, in general. This will be the tipping point for the decline of mainstream / traditional media and the rise of platforms (particularly, social media) as more important than TV and companies like CNN.
  11. Snapchat will look to go public. It’s IPO will flop.
  12. Twitter will rebound and regain 25% – 30% of its previous stock, high point of $69.
  13. Cell phones will reverse trend and get smaller, not bigger.
  14. Drone delivery will happen. Amazon will be first, followed by Taco Bell.
  15. Uber will face a period of growth flattening, due to democratic/blue states siding with unions to restrict growth. This will force Uber to seek new avenues for growth, beyond its core transportation delivery business or via other markets.

There ya go. Check back in a year to see how I did!

How I Did With My 2015 Predictions

It’s always easy to make a bold prediction about what will happen. It’s much harder to hold yourself accountable for what you predicted would happen. Every year, I evaluate, with brutal honesty, how I did with forecasting what would take place in the current year.

For reference, her was my post last December that outlined everything I thought would happen in 2015. Additionally, please keep in mind, my 2014 predictions had an 80% success rate , my 2013 predictions saw a 60% thumbs up rate and my 2012 predictions were 90% right. While my 3-year average of being 85% on the mark, is great, it’s by no means an indicator of how this pas year’s predictions will go. If you will, sometimes, it’s better to be lucky, than good.

Without further adieu, here are my 2015 predictions, with analysis and scoring in bold font.

  1. Apple Will Launch A Music Streaming Service, It Will Rival Spotify, Crush Small Players, But It Will Not Be A Universal Success: See #2, but I don’t think an Apple streaming service is going to push out Pandora. I actually think Pandora is going to thrive. Apple’s streaming service, because it will be pre-populated on every iPhone, iPad, etc. will have massive scale, but will struggle to convert users from rival services. It will pave the way for 2016 though, when I think Apple’s streaming model will take off. This was a home run, across the board. Apple purchased Beats, turned it into Apple Music, launched a free trial and now has nearly 1/3 the number of paying subscribers as Spotfiy. Depending on how you cut the data, it’s either #2 or #3 in the marketplace. As they propelled forward we saw upstarts like Tidal flop and mainstays like Pandora and Last.FM are beginning the death spiral.
  2. We Will See A Resurgence In Radio: Similar to vinyl’s growth and comeback, I think the shift toward a streaming and on-demand world is going to propel radio forward. Additionally, people’s desire for local information and knowledge will keep them coming back. We might see some consolidation in radio stations or a consolidation in large network holding companies, but, the overall health of radio will be much better than it has been the past few years. A mixed bag here. If you look at radio as being live traditional radio, digital radio streaming (eg I Heart Radio) and satellite radio, I was wrong. It’s flat or slightly down. But, if you account for podcast usage, I nailed it. Podcasts (who knew) are driving radio growth. Given that Nielsen and other reporting services consider podcasts, “radio”, I’m taking this as a win.
  3. Google+ And Google Glass Will Be Retired: Google may evolve these products and then call them something else, but you will not see Google+ and Google Glass as platforms or products, come the close of 2015. Depending on your perspective this was a 50% right or 100% right, perspective. Google Glass is dead; yes dead. Officially, Google+ isn’t dead and it’s shifted as to being a connection platform . But, that’s like saying, technically, Tidal isn’t dead. By technicality, I’m going with 100% right, because I didn’t say Google+ would die. I did say it might pivot, which it has.
  4. A Governing Body, Most Likely The FDA, Will Crack Down On The Wearables Market, Forcing Many To Fold: Ultimately, these products are edging closer and closer to medical devices. But, manufacturers aren’t treating them as such. They’re instead treating them like casual gadgets, when they are obviously more than that. This is going to cause a problem for these who didn’t take the time to work with governing bodies to ensure they’re products were legit, honest and legally factual. Total miss. Never happened. The FDA even said, they have no interest in regulating this industry, right now.
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens Will Become The Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time: Technically, this won’t happen until 2016, but the movie launches in 2015. The total worldwide sales will make Frozen look pedestrian.
  6. Google’s Search Business Will Have A Down Year: Yes, I’m serious. Their dominant core product is going to run just a tick above flat. I want to make sure I’m clear here when I say “core product.” At the end of the day, Google’s core product is making money of off search results. The majority of those results take place in the traditional Google.com experience. It will retain it’s overall dominance on broad searches, but as people continue to browse and discover, we’re going to see search volume shift to places and platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify, Flickr, fourSquare and YouTube. Yes, YouTube. Instead of going to Google and typing in “Star Wars Trailer”, people are going to start going directly to YouTube to perform those searches. Net-net, we’re going to see a big shift from “search” to browse and discover. No matter how you look at it, Google had a down year for traditional search. Here’s two great articles, one from Business Insider (yes, Business Insider) shows the macro shift and this article covering Google’s Q3 financial results, shows search to be struggling, though not failing. Revenue up, CPC’s are down and usage is down, except in mobile. This prediction came true.
  7. The Apple Watch Will Be A Success For Apple, But Will Fail To Propel The Smart Watch Category Forward: You might be saying huh? Ok, let me explain. Apple has a problem. Specifically, they have a problem with the iPad. The core iPhone business is great, but the iPad is so good, it doesn’t require people to upgrade often. The Apple Watch will fill the void of the slumping iPad sales, but it won’t be a big enough to make smart watches a must have accessory for the broader consumer market. Happened. It’s a billion dollar business. The Apple Watch is #1 in the smartwatch category, but the smartwatch category is still tiny.
  8. There Will Be A Major Cloud Services Hack That Will Take Down A Number Of Major Platforms: I don’t know which service is going to hacked. What I know is that something is going to get hacked and it’s going to have a major impact. For example, imagine Pandora getting hacked and having that hack impact all the cars that have Pandora installed. It’s going to be something like that. There were some pretty hefty data breaches. I’m looking at you Snapchat…again. But, there was nothing that was widespread to the point that it acted like a daisy chain and impacted dozens of companies. I missed on this.
  9. The C-Suite Will See A Major Overhaul: Two things are going to happen. One, we’re going to see a premium on digital experience and background. For example, instead of seeing the traditional CMO model (brand management + MBA), we’ll see someone that comes from a tech background. Additionally, we’ll see a premium on ethics and “clean” backgrounds. You can’t pull another Gurbaksh Chahal and stay employed. It just can’t happen. To be bold, I think we’ll see 3 C-Suite execs, from startup/tech organizations, eliminated because of public / negative PR. Additionally, I think we’ll see a major organization, like Target, follow the Walgreens playbook and elevate a digital leader into a CMO role. So, I went big on this one. It’s a mix of right and wrong with the predictions. Let’s start with the C-Suite emphasis on digital. I nailed this one. Take your pick on the examples. You have Barnes & Noble, The White House, LVMH and so on. C-suites are recognizing the need for digital talent at the most senior level. What hasn’t seemed to happen, which is surprising to me, is that the people taking these roles aren’t younger or from more non-traditional backgrounds. I imagine that will change in time. With respect to the job eliminations, there weren’t many to speak of, which is a good thing. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t drama or a lot of firings for doing or saying dumb things. But, there wasn’t a C-level person at a large organization or startup that was relieved of his/her duties for saying/doing something that society deemed unfit. Net-net, this was a 50/50 prediction.
  10. Publicis Or Another Large Agency Holding Company, Will Take A Run At A Major Merger: Following the failed Publicis-Omnicom merger, we’re going to see pride, ego and financial pressure force an attempt at another mega merger. I could see IPG and MDC combining forces, or WPP and IPG. This will happen, if for no other reason than the world isn’t big enough for 5+ holding companies. Total miss. Never happened. There were some minor things done by Publicis. But, there was no mega merger, and apparently, for good reason.

Not bad. Not perfect. But, not bad. By my count I was correct on 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7. I whiffed on 4, 8 and 10. 9 was 1/2 correct and 1/2 wrong. The jury is still out on 5, but there’s no doubt it’ll be the highest grossing movie of all time, based on the early sales performance of pre-purchased tickets. With that in mind, I’m taking it as a win and will modify if proven wrong. Thus the tally is 6.5 right and 3.5 wrong, for a 65% hit rate. Considering how much bolder these predictions were, I’ll take it! That brings my 4-year tally to 75.7% (26.5/35). If this were Vegas and I was playing the tables or sports book, I’d be rich. But, alas, there are no prizes here.

I’ll have my 2016 predictions up by Christmas. Thanks for reading.

The Incredible Difficulty Of Focusing

Steve Jobs Quote, Credit Tribal Rain Makers Club

Think about this for a second. In a given year, you have 1800 hours to allocate, at work. 1800 hours? Do the math. A “traditional” work week is 40 hours, with 1 hour of lunch each day, which means 35 hours a week. A traditional vacation time, is 2 weeks, which means, you’re working 50 weeks a year. 50 weeks a year X 35 hours is 1750 hours, rounded up, is 1800 hours.

Now, yes, I realize, the typical person doesn’t work 1800 hours. Many of us work north of 2000 hours. But, for all intents and purposes for this blog post, let’s call it 1800 hours. Each one of those hours is precious. An hour chasing down a really “cool” idea, while invigorating and exciting, might be time poorly spent, if it takes you away from your core focus.

This is something that sales staff members on LinkedIn, who spam your inbox, don’t comprehend. If I have an extra hour (which never happens) and my choices are to listen to a random cold call pitch or spend an hour reviewing progress against goals, meeting with my team, etc. – I can tell you the cold call pitch, won’t be at the top of the list.

Additionally, it’s why, over the years, I’ve pared back the number of conferences I attend. There’s no shortage of great conferences to attend, but with each one you eat into those 1800 hours. That 3 hour flight is expensive; maybe not in actually dollars, but in time. The 3 days at the conference, while beneficial, needs to be weighed against, what else you could be doing.

Focusing is hard, because it requires you to say no to the wrong thing, so that you can say yes to the right thing. And often times, saying no, can make you come across as difficult or not a team player. Saying no, also means, you may not pursue something that excites you. It requires discipline.

5 years ago, my point of view, on focus, would have been much different. As it would have been, 10 years ago. A decade back, all I wanted to work on was the interesting, sexy, cool and of course, potentially award winning, projects. I raised my hand for every would be, could be, might be, fun project.

Today, that’s just not possible. There are so many cool, fun and interesting initiatives, that I’d love to participate in. Even if only to listen to how my team is going to tackle the challenge. But, realistically, it’s just not possible. To get something, you often have to give up something. To stay focused on the objectives I have, unfortunately, I miss out on many things that stoke the flames of my interest. That, however, is a conscious choice.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but there are 3 things I do to keep me focused:

  1. Have a clear understanding of my objectives and how they ladder back to the division and company objectives. But, equally important, is understanding how you’ll translate them into something meaningful, tangible and measurable for your team members. Every week I chart the progress towards those objectives and every month I manage up by asking if they’re still relevant and if there are any new objectives, that we haven’t accounted for. You can’t set and forget your objectives. They aren’t written once at the beginning to the year and then evaluated at the end.
  2. I create filters to manage requests. I’m sure your inbox is filled with meeting invites, “quick questions”, so-called “emergencies” and 1-off projects. If you say yes to all of them, you’re doomed. But, you can’t say no to them all, either. When I get a request, I ask myself 2 basic questions: 1, will this help drive my core objectives? 2, will this make the organization better. Ideally, the answer to both, is yes. If, however, you have something that, isn’t part of your core objectives, but could improve the organization, that’s a conversation worth having.
  3. I find an hour every day to do two things. I make sure to “walk the floor” and check-in with my team and my colleagues. Sometimes just stopping by, opens up a dialogue, where I can be helpful. Walking the floor, also gets me out of my office, provides a well needed break in the day and provides accessibility to my team. Additionally, I make time to work on pet projects. This could be something I’m pursuing on my own, or something I’m helping someone else with. Either way, I make sure to plan for these types of initiatives in my 1800 hours.

That’s it. Simple as they seem, it’s incredible challenging to stay to the plan. There’s always something vying for your attention. But, remember, you can’t get something, without giving up something. It’s all about choices. No one is busy, they simply have a priority that’s more important than your priority.

Bring Digital DNA. All Others, Need Not Apply.

Yesterday, we learned that Sona Chawla, our CMO and President of Digital would be leaving Walgreens. It’s safe to say, without Sona, Walgreens wouldn’t be the Omni-Channel leader, it is today. She will be missed.

Sona Chawla - Photo Credit, Chicagobusiness.com

But, what an amazing opportunity for her to join Kohl’s, in the newly created role of COO. As said in the article:

We are looking to make the connection for customers between our stores and our online experience in a way that is seamless and unique,” Mansell told Fortune. “In order to do that properly, you absolutely have to have someone who is responsible for all of those different functions.

Amen. Today, it’s a digital DNA that companies want in their Sr. leaders. Well, in Sona, they certainly picked a great one

In a world, where we talk about glass ceilings, far too often, this announcement makes me smile. There is no person, more deserving of this opportunity than Sona. To be clear, I don’t mean, there’s no woman, more deserving. I mean, there’s no person. She is, simply put, exceptional.

For me personally, I’m equal parts sad and thrilled. Sona brought me into this organization in 2011, as the company’s first head of social media. She’s also a big reason why I rejoined Walgreens, in an expanded role, in February of 2014.

It’s nearly 2016 and in so many organizations, digital, is still an afterthought. Digital talent is still swimming upstream, pushing for a seat at the table. Not at Walgreens. In the 7 years Sona was here, she took us from virtually nothing to a worldwide, recognized leader in digital and omni-channel. We’re a destination for great talent and a place that companies want to partner with.

She will be missed. But, we have such an incredible team and unwavering support for digital across the company. Frankly, that’s the hallmark of a great leader…to build a team, that’s bigger than any one person. She’s leaving us much better off than we were, when she joined, nearly 7 years ago. I’m excited for what’s next for her and us.